Monday, January 14, 2008

Enemy of the State: Part 1 (Marvel)
Wolverine #20 When: December 2004
Why: Mark Millar How: John Romita Jr

The story so far...
For the slow-aging mutant called Wolverine, Japan represents many things. A lifetime ago he took a wife, and it's those family ties that bring him back once again, despite the painful memory of her murder.

One of his late wife's cousins, a limousine driver for a far richer man, becomes desperate enough to contact the X-Man when police fail to garner any leads in the search for his kidnapped son, who had apparently been mistaken for the richman's son with which the child played baseball.

Wolverine turns his expertise to finding the child, and before long he is ready to make contact with the gangsters who are willing to trade the boy for substantial amounts of cash. Unwilling to negotiate, Wolverine soon comes to realise that something sinister is lurking beneath the surface, and the identity of the kidnapped boy may be far more pertinent than previously realised...

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: Leinil YuARTWORK: John Romita JrStrength: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Gorgon 5 (Professor)
Speed: Gorgon 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Wolverine 6 (Generator)
Agility: Gorgon 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Gorgon 7 (Born Fighter)
Energy Powers: Draw 1 (None)

- Born a mutant late in the 19th century, James Howlett's life would be a long and arduous one. Baptised by death, he would discover his latent mutant abilities during the traumatic murder of his parents during his adolescence.

This history would become lost to Howlett's own trauma, and the many manipulations he would suffer through decades of his life as a vagabond.
The interferences of veiled agencies and enemies would help shape a life of turmoil and rage, creating various interruptions in a life peppered with service, and training in the arts of war and combat.

The convoluted details of his past would lead Howlett to a defining milestone in his life when he would become involved with the tenth iteration of a secret program funded by the US, and conducted by Canada's Department K, called Weapon Plus.

As a subject of Weapon X, Howlett's mutant healing factor made him the perfect subject for a delicate procedure to brace his skeleton with the unbreakable metal called adamantium. The metal was even added to Howlett's retractable mutant claws located in his wrists, making them far more effective offensive weapons than their previous bone state.

Code-named Wolverine, James "Logan" Howlett would eventually find more permanent station with an invitation into the paramilitary group, the X-Men.
Wolverine's keen tracking abilities, healing powers, fighting skills, and dedicated grit would make him one of the most active heroes in the superhero community, seen in his more recent admission into the Avengers.

- Tomi Shishido is a gifted mutant and child prodigy with a range of skills and abilities. After hatching various schemes he was able to earn his way to the top of the criminal organization, Hydra, but not before leading his own death cult from pubescence, called Dawn of the White Light, and later fighting to earn admission into the ninja sect, The Hand.

Through his childhood Shishido accomplished feats as an artist, operatic composer, philosopher and mathmetician, but it would be in his teens that he would manifest his mutant ability to turn men to stone with but a glance, earning him the nickname, The Gorgon.

Having trained with The Hand, Gorgon becomes one of the world's most skilled warriors, earning him the reputaiton of having the ability to kill anyone whom he lays his eyes upon. This becomes an extension of his mutant ability.

The Math: Gorgon Ranking: Wolverine (#3)

What Went Down...
Having met his friend's kidnappers in a Christian graveyard, Wolverine soon discovers exactly what lies beneath when instead of cash, he hands over two large dufflebags of packaged shirts.

Two of the armed gangsters fall before Wolverine's swift blades, but the leader is able to call for help, summoning the eerie guard of an army of unfeeling ninja from the Hand sect. They burst from the hallowed ground, weapons drawn, undetected by Wolverine's keen senses due to their lifeless mystic qualities.

Wolverine tosses the bodies of the two dead gangsters, and charges at the the Hand ninja, claws drawn. Already known for his killing prowess, Wolverine shows little regard for the lifeless sacks of animated meat.

As he battles the stench and the onset of even more descending ninja, Wolverine begins to realise the larger plot at play. He slashes cleanly through handfuls of ninja, spraying stinking smoke and green where humans would normally leave entrails. Even if it isn't a trap, Wolverine's going to give them hell for every lousy detail of his trip, and his life, and their folly.

The ninja fall like dominoes, while from the perch of a tree, their leader watches on with morbid curiosity about Wolverine's abilities. He is the Gorgon, and it is his plan that has brought Wolverine and his connections into this conflict.

The Gorgon holds the finishing blow, leaving his pawns to tire Wolverine out, arrogantly implying the certainty of his victory.

Wolverine processes his predicament in an orderly fashion, dealing with the slaying of his many undead adversaries in a similar manner. His body becomes a living weapon, skillfully slicing, dicing, and doing away with the ninja. His methods prove brutal, unforgiving, but above all else, efficient.

With the last of the ninja violently dispensed, Wolverine again turns his attentions to answers only the mobster leader can provide. Having left him alive, Wolverine presses the pudgy Japanese man against a tombstone and threatens to earn him one of his own, brandishing a fist full of adamantium.

It is unclear if it's Wolverine or his employers that the mobster fears, but either way they prove warranted, the interrogation cut short by the penetrating sting of a long blade. Wolverine, sandwiched by his victim and his attacker, soon gets the awful answers to his question, delivering mercilessly by the Gorgon.

And with that, Wolverine's disbelief turns to darkness as the Gorgon delivers the killing blow. So begins the path to making Wolverine an Agent of Hydra.

ARTWORK: John Romita JrThe Hammer...
Time and energy are rare enough commodities to come across at the best of times, but you can thank Wolverine's blasted thirty-year history of bull for the delays on this one. Good grief! Thankfully I was able to load up on some tournament sport (tennis), and get my energy levels high enough to bring the Gorgon's victory!

For those of you just joining us, we're counting down the top ten heroes of 2007, giving them the first opportunity to join the ranks in 2008!
If you don't understand what all of that means, then be encouraged to surf around the site and devour what is essentially a superhero fight league!

I could be accused of spending too much time on Mark Millar, particularly given that it was only last week we talked a little about another Millar project from 2004 [Marvel Knights: Spider-man #1], but they're both stories I've really been itching to revisit, so... I'm making the executive decision!

We've touched on Enemy of the State a handful of times in our two year period, and it was a later chapter that marked our very first [Friday] fight, way back in 2005! [Wolverine #25] As a story it's premise is reasonably thin, but as much as we all pride the Infinite Wars as a source of astute discussion, the spine of the site is controlled by superhero fisticuffs -- and that's what Millar brings to Wolverine, arguably a long time overdue!

Enemy of the State does away with exactly the kind of hogwash that made writing Wolverine's tape entry such a chore, and simplifies the character down to a seventeen [counted] kills, rampaging claw machine. It puts him in a situation that is almost exclusively physical, and while that doesn't sound like the makings of a great twelve issue run, the pure popcorn of Millar's writing has made this one of the few memorable arcs in the title's recent history!

Like MK: Spidey, there's an element of this being a tour of characters.
Everyone from Daredevil, to the X-Men, to the Fantastic Four make appearances, with Elektra serving in a prominent supporting role. It manages to connect itself to a lot of events that would be spun in and around, without bogging the thinly veiled plot of carnage down with references, exposition, or embarassment.

With so few new characters coming from the big two companies, it's almost a shame that Gorgon serves as a finite villain. He is unique to this story, but ultimately, that's exactly what makes him such an appreciated contribution.

Gorgon isn't a particularly unique villain. If you saw Kill Bill, Tomi Shishido's history is going to feel very familiar, but as much as this is a character built on familiar clich├ęs, he manages to do one better than many of his contemporaries.

We touched upon the ceremony of certain villains [Captain America #4] and how that often undermines a character who should be supremely efficient, but must sustain an on-going franchise. Gorgon is free of this constraint, able to unleash his powers on the pseudo-immortal Wolverine, while also suffering that same level of punishment at the end of his twelve issue role.

There's a lot of talk about the future of comics, and a popular theory amassing that the prevelance of the paperback trade will swallow up storytelling. While I don't necessarily believe in the immediate relevance of pseudo-manga packaging, I do think there's something interesting to be said of chapters or sagas in the serialized storytelling of superhero comics.

I think we've seen the foundations of this notion, at least from a presentation stand point, done particularly well with the Hellboy/BPRD franchise.
To the betterment of new readers it's probably not well known that each series often very specifically recalls previous events, but gets away with it largely because of an in-built aura of mystery, and strong intrigue-based writing.
It's almost the happy medium between the ideals of indefinite superhero franchising, and more encapsulated storytelling.

I like the notion of a character like Gorgon being chief antagonist to a 264 page adventure. I especially like the idea of giving a character that license to exist in a very vivid context, even if it means the most honest conclusion is to eliminate them at the end. In the vaguest sense it really does recall ideals more commonly seen in manga, but I think also speaks the message of the importance of investment in characters.

Gorgon might not be the best example of a strong, original creation, but I don't think the notion of deeply involving backstory should distract from more trivial qualities of characterization. Gimmicks work when there's an investment there to justify it in that context; something big two new releases often lack.

But, as this discussion becomes increasingly disjointed, that might be best left to another entry. Stay tuned as we wrap up the top ten, and be sure to drop a comment and browse the archives!

The Fight: 4.5 The Issue: 5

Has your interested been piqued? Why not check out more on Enemy of the State, as previously featured on the site, and think about using! By using Infinite Wars referrals you can find Amazon's best price, and help fund future entries in the Infinite Wars! Make up your own mind about Gorgon, Hydra, and Wolverine, as he becomes a murderous puppet of the terrorist organization, and is turned against his greatest friends and allies!