At some point in our lives, we’ve all felt like an outsider observing lives more interesting and dynamic than our own. This sense that our story isn’t really our own is something that tends to fade with youth, as we become more confident in ourselves and our identities.
By Gary Moloney
This uncertainty of self can linger in the corners of our minds. Indeed, for creators it never goes away and instead they steer into it. They dedicate themselves to the exploration of lives much more interesting than their own. Sometimes they that underlying feeling itself into their works and when they do, the results can be truly special.
It is no great surprise then why the “outsider point of view” is a trope that writer Greg Rucka has returned to again and again over the course of his long career in comics. Wolverine #1 (Vol 3) is a gentle reminder of why he’s one of the best at what he does.
Although it didn’t initially carry the Marvel Knights branding (that wouldn’t come until #13) Wolverine’s third volume owed much to its tradition of soft-relaunches that focused on a more ‘mature’ brand of storytelling. The influence of the Morrisonian era of X-Men, and the first two films, was still being felt across the line. Gone was the classic yellow suit of old, replaced with biker jackets and flannel shirts. Logan’s superhero persona was a distant memory. This series would focus on him as a wandering vigilante just looking for a semblance of peace. The Logan of this series never looked for trouble but would not hesitate to right wrongs as he found them. He was Logan first and Wolverine second.
This is what drew a younger me to the title. Ultimate Spider-Man had been my gateway drug to mainstream comics, but for all its divergences from the established canon and renewed focus on the man behind the mask it was still a book about classic super-heroics. Wolverine was something different. As a child of the 90s, reared on X-Men: the Animated Series, this series was the first time outside of the films that the real tragedy of Wolverine began to crystallise in my mind. It not only dared to highlight his pain, but also the pain he was forced to watch others endure around him.
It showed that the greatest contributors to human suffering didn’t wear costumes. The villains you should be most afraid of weren’t plotting world domination; but were heading up drug and human trafficking rings. It was a book that I probably shouldn’t have been reading at that age, but that made it all the better and its message
The humanising of Logan and the emphasis on grounded villains were exemplified in this first issue by shifting the focus away from our title character. Whether it’s Doctor-lite episodes of Doctor Who, BTAS’ “The Man Who Killed Batman”, or certain Punisher storylines (and Rucka himself would write one of those later on), turning the spotlight on a secondary character serves two important functions. First, it provides an accessible jumping on point for new readers who learn about the world with our POV characters. Secondly, it allows us to examine our protagonist, and their impact on the world, from a more objective perspective. Even when writers lovingly commit to comics’ guilty pleasure, the internal monologue, there is an acceptance that they never truly capture who the character is. After all, the hardest person to be honest with is yourself.
The outsider prospective offered by this plot device allows us to judge them by their actions and, if you subscribe to the Bojack Horseman school of there being no better person “deep down”, see them as they truly are. On a more fundamental level, there is also a joy in relishing in the dramatic irony of knowing more than your POV character. The comics faithful know who Wolverine is and what he is capable of, so watching others learn this for the first time reminds us of what that felt like.
Wolverine #1 is a fantastic example of the outsider perspective as both entry point and character building exercise. Our POV character is Lucy Braddock (no relation to a certain Union Jack clad captain), a waitress in a small-town diner who is unsatisfied with her lot in life. Her narration is filled with melancholy and longing, hinting at a tortured past that is quickly catching up to her. It is this search for a simpler life and for an escape which leads her to obsess over a familiar pair of sideburns. The turmoil of Lucy’s life leads her to seek out stability wherever she can find it and for a personnel connection, however fleeting. For her, Logan is just a regular customer and even though she doesn’t ostensibly like him, she finds comfort in his being there. She later discovers that our Canadian friend has moved into an apartment across from her and while initially perturbed, begins to rest easier because of it.
There is little-to-no explicit action in this issue because Lucy is the lens through which we view the events. More specifically, Lucy’s diary is our window into Wolverine’s world so that when she disappears our only clue as to how or why are the hints she herself provides. What we are left with is the implication of violence. This takes many forms in the comic – whether it a noisy neighbour spying into shared hallway as Logan pulls a knife embedded in his leg, or the aftermath of the attack on Lucy’s apartment. It is this economic approach to storytelling that embedded itself in my mind.
It is significant that Logan enters our story not slicing his way through Sentinels or fawning over Jean, but simply enjoying a good book over a cup of coffee. In fact, most of Logan’s time in this issue is spent reading, honing his mind as much as he hones his fighting skills. This gives him a worldliness that certain depictions of the character lack. Logan may have a rough exterior – Lucy goes as far to refers to him as “the mean man” – but he isn’t dumb. Every day brings with it a new book and with it a new perspective, a fact that doesn’t go unnoticed by Lucy.
It’s incredibly telling later in the issue when we see the inside of Logan’s apartment and learn that his only real possessions are books. He’s a man whose past eludes him and so it makes sense that books as the distillation of knowledge and experience would be of value to him. It is a poignant reflection on Logan’s search for meaning wherever he can find it, a knowing nod to the character’s Ronin sensibilities. He’s here the hero of spaghetti western, a man of violence just looking for some peace. As the end of the issue makes clear, Logan isn’t going to get it any time soon.
There is, however, a lingering elephant in the room. There’s something obviously disturbing and problematic about introducing a female character whose sole purpose is to die so that our hero may avenge them. Comics, in particular, have a poor track record in this area, giving name to the “women in refrigerators” trope. Wolverine, both as character and series, is a persistent offender in this regard. The easiest way for a woman to die in comics is to become involved with Wolverine in some capacity, and it is hard to argue against this issue contributing to that idea – even if the storyline it leads to is a thoughtful examination of the horrors and exploitation that trafficked women face.
So whilst this issue can be viewed in that overall context, it is just as important to recognise its failings in contributing to the notion that women are forced to be passive characters in their own lives. Lucy deserved better and the story served better by avoiding such tropes.
What made Lucy’s death so important to Logan that he would go on a one-man mission to avenge her? There is a budding platonic friendship between the two as they recognise a mutual desire to escape from their past lives, but more than that: they are a certainty to each other. A fleeting connection between two strangers created by routine. It is those little features of our lives that give us comfort. Lucy essentially becomes a stand-in for that peaceful life Logan longed for. Her death robs him of that quiet, certain existence. So once more, Logan resumes his wandering… even if it’s without the familiar yellow outfit.
Many the Wolverine comic has been raked over the coals for not offering anything new or interesting to say, but Greg Rucka’s run on the character certainly avoided that trap, for me. For all its flaws, its first issue opened a door to a harsher world than was traditionally seen in the Marvel universe. Its impact would be seen in the line for the years to come. Lucy Braddock was a tragic character who above all else wanted to be remembered. Readers will certainly never forget her and neither, I suspect, will a certain clawed hero.
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Darick Robertson
Colourist: Studio F
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos