Redrawing the New York-Comics Relationship

Subjective Ramblings and Peripheral Thoughts from the Edges of a Comics Studies Project

Comics Review: “Wolverine Noir”

Writer Stuart Moore and artist C. P. Smith’s Wolverine Noir was the fourth volume of the Marvel Noir imprint. It is probably among those that most clearly lives up to the label, although in a way that has to be qualified.

Private detective Logan and his partner are hired to find out who is following a client and why, and the latter goes to investigate but never returns. When Logan sets out to find what happened to his partner, he becomes enmeshed in a tangled web of intrigue that has its center in his own past.

As was the case with Daredevil Noir, the catalyst is a woman, who enters Logan’s detective agency office in an almost stereotypically noir way and is described in stereotypically noir narration as a “[c]lassy dame. Like a ray of sunshine at midnight. Like diamonds in a coal mine.” Wolverine also continues the Marvel Noir franchise’s frequent use of high-contrast shadowing that was particularly noteworthy in X Men Noir, even having the introductory scene play out almost entirely in silhouette.

These elements of the series bring to mind what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, in my review of Mark Bould’s Film Noir. There, I quoted Bould as noting that some recent noir cinema (with Sin City as a prime example) reduce “film noir to its image(s) and the desire not to make a film noir but to somehow put the very idea, the megatext, of film noir on the screen” (p. 114). Noir-like as Wolverine might be because of the introduction of the above-cited features, it remains in crucial ways a classic Wolverine yarn, complete with ninjas and claws, albeit here not extending out from the protagonist’s body.

Setting-wise, Wolverine practices tell more than show, with Logan repeatedly noting that “this is the Bowery” as if it were a mantra (and reference to Chinatown’s classic final line). It is supposed to be a run-down and crime-stricken place, and as such reflect Logan’s inner state. But the streets are always empty and, although just as dark as everywhere else in the series’ world, do not look particularly poverty-stricken (as opposed to Spider-Man Noir’s Bowery, which is figured as a poor place in both text and image). Having been written as a grumpy, violent, cynical, but honorable character, Logan fits well in the noir mold. Perhaps one of the most successful character transpositions in the Noir imprint, Victor Creed (aka Sabretooth) has his personality moved over to the new setting without bringing any superhero genre baggage with him. Dropping his claws and healing factor, he is a sadistic, mean-spirited human monster at home in the worlds of both Raymond Chandler and his contemporaries and in some classic film noir.

Fans of Wolverine and hard-boiled detection stories alike should find some enjoyment in the reading. But, again, the superheroic origin of the source material prevents a fully successful transposition into classic film noir territory that was promised at the imprint’s launch.

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