Friday, February 15, 2008

WOLVERINE versus FANTASTIC FOUR
Enemy of the State: Part 3 (Marvel)
Where:
Wolverine #22 When: January 2005
Why: Mark Millar How: John Romita Jr

The Story so far...
When Wolverine makes the trek to Japan to investigate the disappearance of a child, he finds himself at the mercy of Hyrda and the Hand, working in tandem under the direction of a young mutant killer calling himself - The Gorgon.

Defeated under ambush, Wolverine is momentarily dead, allowing the Hand to turn their mystic powers to resurrecting him under the control of the terrorist empire of Hydra. In doing so, they instigate plans to make Wolverine their ultimate weapon, designed to perform recon missions, as well as infiltrate and forcefully recruit powers within the American superhero community.

Having already dismantled a SHIELD collective and fought his way through former Hand assassin, Elektra; Wolverine is sent into the lion's den when Hydra seek possession of the world's greatest inventive intellect in Reed Richards.
Having infiltrated the Fantastic Four's headquarters before, Wolverine is even better serviced by technological upgrades from Hydra, but against the combined might of Marvel's first family, does a lone mutant stand a chance?...

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: Leinil YuARTWORK: Andrea DiVitoStrength: Thing 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Mr. Fantastic 6 (Genius)
Speed: Wolverine 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Wolverine 6 (Generator)
Agility: Mr. Fantastic 6 (Rubber)
Fighting Ability: Wolverine 6 (Warrior)
Energy Powers: Human Torch 7 (Cosmic)


- 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.

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.

- The Fantastic Four are: Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, and Thing.

The original Fantastic Four were exposed to cosmic rays when Reed Richards led the team in a race to beat the Russians to space. Without sufficient preperation time, the shuttle lacked the shielding needed to filter the cosmic radiation, resulting in unique transformations in each member.

The team's adventures take them through time and space, where they regularly do combat with entities and individuals capable of cosmic manipulation. Their amassed allies and enemies exist throughout different galaxies and dimensions.

The team's line-up is typified by Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, and Thing, but has been expanded to include the likes of; Crystal, Sub-Mariner, She-Hulk, Medusa, Black Panther, and Storm; among others.

The Math: Wolverine (Avg) Fantastic Four (Ttl) Ranking: Wolverine (#3)

What Went Down...
Having penetrated the unrivalled security of the Fantastic Four HQ, Wolverine ventures into the inner sanctum of the team's hi-tech facility, using air vents to gain a vantage point for reconnaissance. The Hydra puppet observes Thing and Human Torch engaging in domestic activity, but intel takes a backseat when DNA scanning detects Wolverine's presence.

With permission to inflict lethal force, Thing takes the opportunity to launch Johnny Storm's prized hotrod in the vague direction of Wolverine's hiding place.
The space made by the launched vehicle gives Human Torch opportunity to fly ahead of his rocky companion, flamed on. The Torch pins Wolverine to the wall, searing nerves as he scorches the mutant's wrists with the knowledge of his nigh-infallible healing factor.

Unfortunately for the Torch, Hydra's upgrades include a series of hacks in the FF security systems. Utilizing the hacks, Wolverine activates the fire extinguishers with a verbal override, soaking the flaming hero in thick retardant foam.

Recovering from the searing effects of the heat, Wolverine pops his adamantium claws, which still glow with an emenating heat. Before he can inflict any harm on the youngest FFer, the Thing marches through the foam, putting a stop to the assault with a blow that destroys the flooring.

The trio tumble through the shattered level to the area below where multiple observation screens monitor time points, intergalactic junctions, and points around the Earth. The tech-filled zone reminds Wolverine of the odds the Fantastic Four are used to facing, but the Hydra voice in his head keeps him in the game as Thing swings wildly with a massive conduit of cables.

Wolverine slices and evades his way through the maze of piping and cables, navigating toward the Thing. His superior agility gives him the opportunity to get close where he is able to plunge his invincible adamantium claws deep into the rocky bicep of the FF powerhouse. Thing drops to his knees.

Invisible Woman sees to the safety of the Richards children by sending them twenty minutes into the future, in communcard with Mr. Fantastic while he heads toward the battle. Attack robots pick up the slack in the mean time, distracting Wolverine from the badly wounded Thing.

The robots soon begin to retreat, but before Wolverine can recognise the smell of, "Blood and plastic. Meat and gum.", a circular 4 on the ground stretches upward to reveal Reed Richards! He quickly wraps Wolverine inside a sphere of his own elastic flesh, but Hydra is able to compensate with a limited teleport jump, placing the mutant approximately sixty feet away.

While slashing his way through attack droids elsewhere in the compound, Wolverine finds himself suddenly unable to breath. With the scent of Dior in the air, Wolverines witches to infra-red vision which allows him to witness the translucent visage of the Invisible Woman, who delivers a stern warning, before using her powers of invisibility to render Wolvie blind.

Hydra come to Wolverine's rescue with an aerial attack on the Fantastic Four headquarters. The explosion rattles Invisible Woman enough to free Wolverine from her invisible grip, giving him an opportunity to run for the broken window, where a hovering Hydra vehicle waits outside.

The Human Torch returns to the fray, leaping into the night sky to pursue his attacker. Wolverine leaps from the rescue vehicle, catching the Torch mid-air.

With his skin and flesh roasting away under the extreme heat of the Torch's flame, the Hydra-possessed Wolverine wrestles the youth with sinister intent.
Careening out of control, he steers their descent toward "something pretty", landing in the streets below with a devestating explosion.

EMTs soon arrive to pull a gravely wounded and burned Human Torch from the wreckage, unable to find remains for the assumed disintegrated Wolverine.
As you might imagine, the Torch emerges from the rubble under his own steam later in the piece, revealing a healing Wolverine who slashes his way free of the ambulance, and back into the public domain where he can wreak mayhem.

The Hammer...
Okay. A lot of you are probably used to scrolling to this point and drawing your conclusion from image-recognition, before you read the sentence. You might be wondering how I could possibly reason a draw given the destruction and carnage handed out by both parties.

I agonized over this one, because there are three very distinct arguments here. Wolverine (with Hydra) successfully incapacitates all but Mr. Fantastic, getting the better of the Human Torch on two divided opportunities. On the other hand, the Fantastic Four manage to contain the threat of Wolverine, and keep him under their influence the entire time until he resorts to fighting to escape.

Everyone, Johnny Storm included, walks away in relatively good shape, with no definitive final stroke blown by any character. Thus, we call this one, a draw!

We're running a little behind schedule again.
Right now it's the creaky end of Saturday night better known to many as early Sunday. My brain is sending signals through nerve networks to order my fingers to tap away at the keys, but at this point, I'm not sure how much cognitive thought process is going on here.

Though we aren't reviewing the releases of the week, the Infinite Wars endeavours to continue to reflect the zeitgeist and characters of the surrounding moments. This week if you headed to the comic store there's a good chance you were looking for what will no doubt be one of the highest selling books of the month: Fantastic Four.

Mark Millar, the man behind sizable chunks of Ultimate Fantastic Four, returns to the brand under the pressures of the core franchise, for the first time. Despite any conceptual increase in expectation and responsibility, Millar's FF is eagerly anticipated by a wide variety of fans that made up his 200k-plus sales figures on Wolverine, which brings us full circle.

Millar is also set to return to Wolverine with a post-apocalyptic story set in a desolate alternate future. Each project boasts familiar names accompanying the Millar writer's credit; Bryan Hitch and Steve McNiven following up respectively on the two titles likely to share the shelves. While I don't personally regard these pairings with particular emotion, it's undeniable that they have each been catalysts for a formula of success.

We've spoken ad nauseum about Millar's penchant for bombastic action pieces, and it's with pleasure that we add another instalment from his initial run on the Wolverine book to our list. Infinite Wars historians will note that our very first entry was indeed an issue of Enemy of the State [Wolverine #25], not at all by accident.

If you've been following the our X-centric Cover to Cover features [on Sunday], you'll also be familiarized with our awkward relationship with the X-Men books.
Notorious for sub-par storytelling, Wolverine has epitomized the style over substance claims that have crippled the X-franchise's credibility. It's here that Millar enters the fray, putting forward a Wolverine book that makes no attempt to apologise or exceed the character's roots as a tri-colour action superhero. In fact, for the first time in decades, Millar is able to ramp the character up to a point where, under the control of Hydra, he can mercilessly plunge his claws through flesh, and inflict wound upon even the sacred cows of the heroes!

This isn't a book for the intelligencia, but I think sometimes acknowledging your weaknesses and adjusting accordingly can be the greatest sign of practical and tactical intelligence. Millar does that in spades, giving us a tour de force of dream battles pencilled with clunky violence by JRjr, and a host of guest stars.

Having just seen Resident Evil: Extinction, I was talking a bit about zombies, which inevitably got me talking about some of my disappointments in the Marvel Zombies franchise [noted; Marvel Zombies #5]. The glaring omission there, for me, is the reality of the spread of the zombie plague, and more important to the Marvel take on the genre is the way the powers and personalities react.

I love that Millar is able to throw Wolverine into this world with some sense of reality. Direction is scattered, but then, as a terrorist sect that's just come into posession of an exciting new toy, you probably can't blame them for acting on their ambitions, and avoiding potential undermining of intelligence gathering.

Wolverine's incursion on the Fantastic Four HQ is reminiscent of favourite moments in inconsequential history like his unlikely infiltration of Four Freedom's Plaza during the Infinity War [Fantastic Four #366]. Though unreferenced, the longterm reader might also sense an inflected impending tension on the basis of the now classic showdown between Thing and Wolverine, that left the rocky hero disfigured by an adamantium claw slash across his face. For the trivia buffs, this was what provoked the early-nineties fashion faux pas of Thing's metallic helmet.

There's also an underlying savvy beneath the fanboy fantasia.
Wolverine makes his escape at the end of the issue utilizing very overt terrorist tactics. He ensures massive damage in a populated and public area, before returning to terrorist activities with Hydra motivated by an atom-smash combo of science super-fiction, and post-9/11 super-fact.

I don't know if anyone could call this story important, but I think these remain a high point in Wolverine's recent mediocre history, and as always, are a welcome addition to our superhero fight club, cum sports club.

The Fight: 4.5 The Issue: 5

Wolverine: Enemy of the State is collected in the trade, and is required reading for any fan of the character keen to see what he can do when cut loose in the Marvel Universe! You can check out the full story at a reasonable price by heading over to Amazon, where by purchasing using links provided, you can help sponsor future entries in the Infinite Wars! Outstanding!

4 comments:

Krod said...

I've never been much of a FF reader, and often see Wolverine used in a way that makes me ambivalent. But this story used both to the best of what could be expected. 'A good pick, Mike.

It's safe to say that without John Romita Jr.'s artwork, I would not currently be a superhero comic reader. I read comics a bit as a kid, and one day a couple years ago I found a book of this guy drawing Spider-Man. It was from his work with JM Straczynski. It sucked me right in.

This guy is great at everything in comics. From character distinction and emotions, to body language (I like when artists use it), to setting a scene physically and/or emotionally. This guy does it all. Oh yeah, don't forget the ACTION.


Any other readers here have thoughts on this artist?

Mike Haseloff said...

I would have to agree that Romita Jr's Spider-man has to be some of his strongest work.

It's a good question to ask, because it's undeniable that I tend to overlook the pencillers in favour of talking about plot and writers. I guess that's a symptom of my perspective, although, I take a great interest in art direction in comics.

A self-referencial fun fact is that Romita Jr is currently #13 on the Infinite Wars creator rankings, sandwiched between John Byrne, and Alvin Lee.

Personally, I always appreciate JRjr's ability to tell a story and communicate a lot of action, but he's very far down my list.
I'm not all that keen on his blocky characters, excessive use of lines, and sometimes weak backgrounds (exhibited in this very entry, I think).

I've enjoyed his work on Iron Man and Daredevil, but he isn't a favourite.

buzzlefett said...

Don't we find out in a later book that Wolverine stole an important CD or something from FF headquarters and got it to Gorgon? Wouldn't that give him a victory since he walked away after defeating 2 of the members of the FF in combat and still achieved his objective? I may be remembering the series incorrectly...

Then again maybe I just like Wolverine a bit too much...

Mike Haseloff said...

In the vaguest possible terms, I look at a situation like this in boxing style terms.

There's no definitive conclusion, so it comes down to a decision on points. As much as Wolverine was able to put Thing and Human Torch through the wringer, he took plenty of potentially lethal shots from the two of them, and was also thoroughly controlled by Invisible Woman.
Without the intervention of Hydra agents, this would've been a flatout loss for Wolverine.

Grabbing a disc might be good for Hydra, but it doesn't win fights! ;-p

Cheers!