Monday, May 04, 2009

Weapon-X: Chapter Eleven (Marvel)
Where: Marvel Comics Presents #83 When: 1991
Why: Barry Windsor-Smith How: Barry Windsor-Smith

Strength: Wolverine 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Professor 5 (Professor)
Speed: Wolverine 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Wolverine 6 (Generator)
Agility: Wolverine 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Wolverine 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Draw 1 (None)

Math: Wolverine
Ranking: Wolverine (#6)

Whoa! Keep your hat on, true believer! Not that Professor!
Following on from our previous entry [X-Men (2000)] we're bouncing off of the cinematic release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine to induct the best there is at what he does into Season 2009 on the Infinite Wars! That means delving deeper into the mysterious past of one of comics' most popular and enduring heroes!

Previews of the Wolverine solo movie left me pretty cold, but all the X-citement at least spurred me to go back to issues of the early nineties Chris Claremont/Jim Lee comics, and the cartoon that they inspired, to relive some of the character's defining adventures. On reflection I could really appreciate just how much the Wolverine character has changed over the past decade. He's a little taller, a little prettier, and a lot more personable (at least to his friends).

Change in superheroes is a peculiar and lumbering beast.

Corporate dedication to characters who've endured decades of publishing has forced a shift in the perception of originality in this medium. Reactionary to even subtle and nuanced shifts of perspective; superheroes have found longevity and excitement in spite of their many cycles of variation and repetition.
Sometimes, as with Watchmen, this momentum comes from the manipulation of familiar ideas that prescribe to originality as an application of concept and method, rather than the invention of wholely unfamiliar material. When added to characters designed to occupy a shared fictional universe, this derivative practise can create a greater understanding of the versimilitude of storytelling, and contribute vast contexts to any and all small additions.

Wolverine entered the Marvel Universe as a fairly typical costumed character, albeit, as an opponent for the Hulk in late 1974. Once recruited by creator Len Wein for his 1975 "all-new" X-Men special, the character began a path toward a mythology that would redefine him as one of comics' great superheroes, but this was far from instantaneous success. The diminutive Canadian was selected for the revamped on-going series (written by Claremont), but was initially an effective supporting character to the many extravagant mutants featured.
It wasn't until John Byrne replaced Dave Cockrum and championed his cause as a Canadian (and creator of Alpha Flight), that the complexity of Wolverine's backstory and rebellious nature as an anti-hero, really began to shine.

During the eighties; Wolverine developed extensively as a character through Claremont's collaborations with Byrne as well as writer/artist, Frank Miller. By going back into the loveable loner's private past, new layers were built upon a gruff exterior that drew heavy inspiration from the honor-bound traditions of samurai. Though Wolverine became a creature of increasing complexity, he remained a fleshed out character with a history that was not completely his own.

The coming of the nineties would bring a new proliferation of anti-heroes born of the success of the grim 'n' gritty movement of the eighties. Wolverine was ready to be a headlining feature in a growing series of titles, including Marvel's mixed bag anthology, Marvel Comics Presents.
As the main feature to short stories and serials starring second-stringers and unlikely lead protagonists; the long awaited exploration of Wolvie's origins answered as many questions as it posed, building upon his original connections with shady government operations to create comics legend: Weapon X!

By now, the Weapon X project has become a household name through the mass media consumption of the concept through television and cinema.
Weapon X featured prominently in segments from the seminal X-Men cartoon series (produced by Saban Entertainment), and has since become a key piece of the film mythology, providing a throughline of mystery from Wolverine's first appearance in X-Men, to the adaptation of the story in X-Men Origins.

The cultivation of the Weapon X mythology spanned much of the 1990s, culminating in the 2000 reveal that the "X" was indicative of it's role as tenth incarnation of the Weapon Plus projects. As if the the vast conceptual adaptation of the idea hadn't already contributed enough, the convoluted secret government experimentation was granted one final connection, folding modern incarnations into an Ultimate-esque relation back to Weapon 1, Captain America. A reveal quite expertly crafted by Grant Morrison, who managed to avoid bogging himself down in the decades of confusion that had come before, opting instead to drop a single atomic bombshell in the course of his New X-Men run, which changed the way the last sixty years of Marvel Comics could be observed, if you were so inclined. Otherwise, it was just another chapter in the saga of mutants as guinea pigs and the war mongering contradictory madness of humanity.

For Wolverine; the legacy of Weapon X was one of violent context.
The details of his transformation from "Logan" to "Wolverine" were always known to have been shady, but the brutality of the project that bonded unbreakable adamantium to his skeleton and tampered with his mental state went far deeper than mere Canadian government superheroics. A precedent of understanding was retroactively achieved for a character whose very nature seems vicious and animalistic, but is in part forever reflective of the torture he endured.

Few scenes remind us that Wolverine isn't the fun loving Hugh Jackman we've all come to know than those in Marvel Comics Presents #83. Naked and bloody with tubes and machines sticking out of his body, Wolverine stands beneath the burning lights of a creator who intends to destroy him. The Professor, as he was then simply known, watches over the monster he created with utter contempt, intent on destroying it for all it's triumphs and discretions as something far greater than he had ever intended. Alongside his Weapon X, one of the staff whose misfortune will come as an incidental accompaniment to Wolverine's.

Wolverine - Weapon X - escapes a nuclear deconstruction beneath the Professor's purging fission-gate, resisting what seemed to be inevitable. While his own demented body heals the smouldering of his flesh and burning of his hair, Weapon X presses on through sheer force of purpose. A veritable human torch, he climbs from the pit that was to be his deathplace, and looms over his creator who describes him as a walking dead man. A fitting irony of symmetry.

Weapon X lunges through the glass of The Professor's observation chamber with the claws of his right hand already unsheathed. He pins the feeble Professor to the ground and struggles to break through the physical and psychological torture that has robbed him of his identity. Is he alive or dead? Man or animal? The Professor, with utter disregard for the man who is now "Weapon X," claims the latter, and deservedly seals his fate.

Logan plunges his claws into the Professor's gut furiously and tosses him across the control panel of his machines. Even as death stares him in the face, the Professor's disregard for the potential of Wolverine eludes him. He reaches desperately for a button to summon help, security, but they are already dead. As is he. With a wave of his claws, Weapon X brings an end to the futility, severing the hand that damned him and now desperately seeks salvation [pictured above].

Weapon X, becoming more human by the minute, returns his claws to their hiding place within his forearm and elaborates on his actions, "Now we both... got our paddles... bollixed. D'ythink... that makes... us... even?"

Unsatisfied, Weapon X gives in to the very human temptation of revenge, but he takes no discernable pleasure in the moment. In it's way, the act is as much a gesture of kindness, self-preservation, and condemnation, as it is vengeance.

Naked and alone, Weapon X looks forward to a future of pain and uncertainty as Wolverine. The time that follows leads Wolverine to discover, and rediscover, old and new enemies. Some come from within, others the symptom of an act of inhumanity that continued to create new creatures designed to be part of an inglorious whole assembled high above the Earth. That, however, is a story for another time, in a place of greater certainty than this version of a dark past.

To those who've embarked on the journey to cinemas (and put up with the lateness of this slightly rushed entry), I strongly recommend delving deeper into the character with some of these classic tales. The Miller/Claremont series, Weapon X, and maybe even Origin, all develop the character in ways the film mimicks but fails to live up to. Of particular disappointment, in my eyes, is the completely lack of style the Jackman vehicle shows, failing to differentiate itself from the core X-film franchise in any distinct way.

Personally, I had hoped for something steeped in the Japanese mythology that once stood at the core of the character, with a stylized visual simplicity to compliment it.

The Fight: 4 The Story: 4.5
Winner: Wolverine

Don't know who you are? Suffering from false memories implanted by evil government scientists? The Infinite Wars Secret Archives contain a host of stories to help catch you up on the past, with conviently located purchase points for collected editions of most stories, much like those embedded above. For a wider selection, the Gift Shoppe offers a wide catalogue of titles, including "Weapon X" and other Wolverine stories. By using purchase links, you help sponsor future entries on the Infinite Wars, and also claim back a shred of your humanity.
Stay tuned for more belated Infinite Wars!

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