Wolverine: Enemy of the State
Collects: Wolverine (2003) #20-32
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: John Romita, Jr.
By Peter John Rios
I was a little hesitant to pick up Wolverine #20 (Dec. '04) because, at that time, I was already six issues into the Millar / Dodsons Marvel Knights Spider-Man run and I was not enjoying it at all. Truth be told, a year later, I can't even remember what happened in those issues. What I do remember, other than the nice art (but again on those black pages — what's with that?), is that the issues felt like I was hearing Millar's voice in my head. By this I mean, the narrations, witty banter, setups and the villains' speech patterns all felt like Millar. Everyone seemed to have a snarky tone. Even Spider-Man. A snarky yet "I'm smarter than you" tone. It's not evident in all of Millar's works, but it rang out loud in MK Spidey.
So, I sat on the Wolverine issues month to month. I would occasionally flip through some issues just to look at the Romita Jr. artwork, but not long enough to absorb any of the plots or surprises. Finally, two months after the final issue in the arc shipped, I sat down to read the run.
And didn't stop until I was finished.
(You know, in the 80s, when I was 12 and 15 and 17, I could read comic after comic and not be distracted or fall asleep. Now that I'm 30something, and have more on my mind day-to-day, I can barely get through one comic without my eyelids drooping. But with the "Enemy of the State" and "Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." storyarcs, I just kept going and going and... you get the picture.)
The Millar / Romita Jr. / Janson / Mounts, etc. collaboration is exactly the type of Marvel story I enjoy. A set up, a conflict, guest stars, cliffhangers, great art, great covers, a few twists, lots of nods to unique Marvel aspects and a central figure that the whole story revolves around. It starts you off at square one, fills you in when it needs to, rewards long time readers while embracing newer ones and doesn't try to be so witty that it takes five issues to figure out what's going on. It moves, it delivers and is superhero comics done right.
I really don't enjoy reviews that give you a book report on the events in the run, so, if you want to know what happens, read the issues for yourself. But I will say that the plot, although not new, was fun and well paced for the most part. We follow Wolverine as he tears through the Marvel Universe and he remains the central character throughout. Even though Nick Fury, Elektra and S.H.I.E.L.D. all have their say, they didn't overshadow the title character. Even when a scene revolved around the supporting characters, I wanted to get back to Wolverine. And the mere fact that I keep calling him "Wolverine" is a testament to Millar's strong characterization. He didn't bother to get into the head of Logan, he didn't touch on James, he just showed us Wolverine. Wolvey. No man vs. himself here. It was man vs. the enemy. And it works.
Millar uses everything he can in the Marvel playground. The Fantastic Four, S.H.I.E.L.D., the Hand, HYDRA, Cerebro, the X-Men, Sentinels, even a Slinger! This is the real example of Joe Quesada's "consistency over continuity" comment. If he wants to stick by that mantra, then this is how Marvel should be written. It was the best use of the Fantastic Four's power in a long time. It was the best use of Elektra in a long time. Even Spider-Man has a cameo in a true off-beat Spider-Man-type moment. Millar assumes we know these characters. Instead of moving us from the inside out, he shows us outside in. He reminds us just why these characters are cool and unique. Not only in their individuality and the way they interact with each other, but why they are unique to the Marvel Universe. Not because of a head trip or a fault or a personal demon. But because these characters are kick-ass and have way more potential than most people realize if they could only get out of the soul-searching rut every new writer wants to put these characters through. The more that writers show us a hero's feet of clay, the less cool they become. If you show us why they are heroes, we rally right behind them.
On the flipside, the villains in this piece don't spend pages upon pages explaining themselves. There's no long tortured monologue. No explanation into their childhood. No revenge tale. They are villains because the do evil and want power and because they are nasty. They are villains just because they need to be. And sure, the Gorgon is an all-powerful mutant just like so many before, but he was still fun and still creepy enough and kept to the sidelines for the most part throughout the story so that the final confrontation with him was well worth it. It's comics right? Do we really need to know why villains are bad?
To relate to a comment made a few paragraphs back, I really couldn't tell I was reading a Millar-penned tale. I just was reading a well-written comic. The one time I really "heard" Millar's voice was in issue #30 with the Special Forces / Bunny tale. (Read it and you'll see what I mean). It has that "I know more than you do" feel. But for the rest of the story, Millar takes us along, turns us here, twists us there and gives us a great superhero yarn. And damn does Millar write a mean Emma Frost. Her description of Elektra in issue #23? Sheer madness. Loved it.
To go along with a good read are all the good cliffhangers. Each one set up the next issue and made me jump right to the next comic. Each issue was worth its cover price and, had I read this month to month, I wouldn't have felt cheated at all. Yes, the arc is broken up into two six-issue chapters, but I didn't get a strong "writing for the trade" jive like from other stories. And the ending isn't safe, isn't happy, isn't appeasing. Okay, Gorgon's end was a bit easy. It even was a little predictable (well, maybe not until I heard the "snikt" anyway). But I didn't mind at all. Wolvey took his beating but still managed to come ahead. However, Wolverine managed to put only a little closure onto the main setup of the story. And it's nice to know that not everything is perfect, even in comics.
Now, this may be blasphemous, but I don't think this is Romita Jr.'s best work. It's not 150%. It's more like 110%. Which is still pretty damn awesome. The panel layouts, the use of wider panels stretching across both pages, splash pages, well paced fight scenes, etc. all made for a better appreciation of the man's craftsmanship. Romita rides alongside the tension that Millar creates, helping to push the story, slow it down, set it off on all cylinders. Is it because at the time he was also doing Black Panther that, to me, it's only 110%? And maybe his Gray Area solo work? Not sure. But I'll take his art at 110% over photo-realistic art any day.
I was also surprised that the inking was done by Klaus Janson and yet I couldn't really tell. Over the years, I've grown used to Janson's inks being a little more overpowering. Meaning, you see his style before you see the penciler's. But not here. Only in a few places did I look and see Janson more than Romita Jr., such as #21 page 2, #25 page 20, and a few pages in #29. Paul Mounts' coloring was a perfect compliment to all of this: muted in some areas, murky in others; warm when it needed to be, bright when it made sense. The coloring also wasn't overpowering. The whole art team came together as one on this project.
About the only criticism I can level on this book is the violence — but not about the violence in the comic. My critique and question is — even though thousands die, most by Wolverine's hands or actions, there is no thread on any message board about it. No "How can they glorify all that killing just for revenge?". No "A hero shouldn't act that way!". No "It's not right to expose readers to such wanton acts of violence!". Thousands die, people. But everyone's still bitching about Blue Beetle and how that violent act shouldn't have been "onscreen"?
I do have a few questions now that the run is over:
— Will they do something with a now-brainwashed Northstar?
— How does HYDRA's appearance in this story mesh with their appearance in Amazing Spider-Man? Or New Thunderbolts?
A few highlights:
— The Daredevil and Wolverine fight.
— The attack on S.H.I.E.L.D HQ.
— Realizing just how many B and C-list villains Marvel has.
— The Sentinels. Whoa boy the Sentinels. Ha!
— The covers: Great! Even #30's homage to Dark Knight Returns #4 (yes it's there, go look at it again). The only cover that was a bit of a let down and didn't really have anything to do with the interiors was #29 (sorry, Joe). I dislike iconic image covers.
There have been plenty of discussions on Wolverine's past and what makes him tick. But in this story, Millar leaves all that behind and just shows us the part of Wolverine that makes him cool: the kill-first-and-ask-questions-later son-of-a-bitch that isn't afraid to mix it up with villains or authority and just never, ever, ever backs down. The best example of all this is the following line from the climactic battle: "Now show this punk — why you're the best there is."
Hot damn! Now that's Wolverine.