It’s been established that Wolverine is one of Marvel’s most famous characters and a lot of that can be credited to Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. The pair are responsible for creating Wolverine’s original solo series, which redefined the character. Claremont and Miller introduced Japan as a major part of Logan’s backstory and here’s my review of the graphic novel.
Caught between two worlds
The story begins with Wolverine tracking a grizzly bear that has killed several people. Driven mad by a hunter’s poisoned arrow, the bear had lashed out. Wolverine fights the bear and mercy kills it. Logan regrets his actions, but decides there was no other choice. This sets up one of the key themes of the series, with the bear representing the animalistic side of Wolverine’s personality.
Feeling dirtied, Wolverine resolves to fly to Japan to reunite with the woman he loves, Mariko Yashida. On arrival, he finds out that Mariko has been married off to an abusive husband by her father Lord Shingen. Wolverine infiltrates the Yashida homestead and tries to reconcile with his love. Mariko confesses that she still loves him, but she needs to honour her duty to her family. This leads to Wolverine being poisoned and Shingen engaging him in one on one combat with wooden swords.
Drugged and slowed, Wolverine is beaten into submission and humiliated in front of Mariko. Logan sinks into depression, only to come face to face with an assassin called Yukio. The two of them fall in love, with Yukio encouraging Wolverine to succumb to his bestial instincts. The duality of Wolverine’s character is represented perfectly by his love for Mariko and Yukio. Mariko symbolises his humanity and his desire to be a better man, while Yukio appeals to his reckless pursuit of death.
“No matter how hard I strive for inner serenity, I screw up. So, why bother? That’s Yukio’s philosophy – Be what you are, why fight it? By nature, we’re both scrappers. We like it. An’ when the need arises, we can kill. Yukio wants me the way I am. Mariko makes me want to change, to grow – to temper the berserker in me.” – Wolverine
It’s revealed that Yukio was sent by Shingen to earn Wolverine’s trust and kill him. However, she gives into her feelings and can’t go through with it. Wolverine learns of her betrayal, though it doesn’t stop him from teaming up with her to save Mariko from Shingen.
Logan engages in a vicious brawl with Shingen and kills him. Freed from her father and husband’s influence, Mariko and Wolverine announce their intentions to be married. The X-Men fly to Japan for the wedding, though Viper and the Silver Samurai aim to sabotage the festivities. The ending is bittersweet and leaves the reader wanting more.
“The key isn’t winning or losing. It’s making the attempt. I may never be what I ought to be, want to be – But how will I know unless I try? Sure, it’s scary, but what’s the alternative? Stagnation – A safer, more terrible form of death. Not of the body, but of the spirit. An animal knows what it is, and accepts it. A man may know what he is, but he questions. He dreams. He strives. Changes. Grows.” – Wolverine
An important motif of the graphic novel is a samurai’s devotion to duty. Wolverine is a failed samurai who wishes to temper his rage and live a more peaceful existence. He constantly battles against his own nature and tries to be dutiful to his friends and loved ones. This is personified in a dream that Wolverine has about trying to rescue Mariko. He plays the role of a courageous warrior who tries to win the princess’ hand, only to be cut down and called dishonourable by the woman he loves.
The concept of honour is brought up again and again. This is exemplified in a Kabuki play about the 47 Ronin who set out to avenge the death of their lord. Logan remarks that “it’s a tale of honour, of loyalty, of the samurai determination to see a course through to its end, regardless of the cost. It embodies all the qualities the Japanese revere most in their national character and heritage.”
Claremont’s writing is phenomenal and the story reads like a novel or script. It’s a throwback to an older style that seems to have been lost in modern comics. He gives Wolverine a tragic, noble element that has come to define the character. Miller’s art is dated compared to what contemporary readers are used to. Yet it holds up well for the time in which it was drawn and there are many dynamic panels.
Wolverine tells one of the most timeless stories in comics and features many themes that can be applied to everyday life. If you’re a fan of the character, or have an appreciation for Japan, you need to read this graphic novel. Buy it now on Amazon.