Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The X-books in 2008, part 3

Wolverine. Wolverine, Wolverine, Wolverine. Wolverine.

Come to think of it, that pretty much sums up Marvel's publishing strategy for the character, doesn't it?

People have been saying for years that Wolverine is overexposed to the point of absurdity, and even Marvel make jokes about it, but it's never been more true. The character currently appears in three monthly solo titles - Wolverine, Wolverine: Origins and Wolverine: First Class - with a fourth, Wolverine: Weapon X, to be added in 2009. On top of that, he has enough miniseries and one-shots to amount to a de facto fifth monthly title. He's in both Astonishing X-Men and Uncanny X-Men. He's in New Avengers. He's literally ubiquitous.

At one point, I would have said that overusing Wolverine in this way risked damaging him in the long term, by making his appearances less special. But let's be realistic: we passed that point years ago, and it's doubtful that Marvel would ever have the nerve to pull him out of circulation to rebuild his mystique in the way that they've done with B-list characters like Nick Fury or the Scarlet Witch. (Which is a shame, actually, because it works. Look at Thor - keeping it off the market for a few years convinced everyone that it was a really big deal. Before, they didn't care about it at all.)

The batten-down-the-hatches economic climate means that Marvel are likely to play it even safer than usual over the next couple of years, and chances are that means even more Wolverine. So, how's he doing?

11/03 Wolverine #7 - 78,734
11/04 Wolverine #22 - 81,841
11/05 Wolverine #36 - 85,969
11/06 Wolverine #48 - 99,991
11/07 Wolverine #59 - 65,725 (-21.6%)
12/07 Wolverine #60 - 63,194 ( -3.9%)
01/08 Wolverine #61 - 60,857 ( -3.7%)
02/08 Wolverine #62 - 69,698 (+14.5%)
03/08 Wolverine #63 - 64,475 ( -7.5%)
04/08 Wolverine #64 - 64,871 ( +0.0%)
05/08 Wolverine #65 - 62,451 ( -3.7%)
06/08 Wolverine #66 - 112,469 (+80.1%)
07/08 Wolverine #67 - 96,651 (-14.1%)
08/08 Wolverine #68 - 92,182 ( -4.6%)
09/08 ---
10/08 ---
11/08 Wolverine #69 - 88,910 ( -3.5%)
6 mnth (+42.4%)
1 year (+35.3%)
2 year (-11.1%)
3 year ( +3.4%)
4 year ( +8.6%)
5 year (+12.9%)
Wolverine isn't really an ongoing title so much as a series of miniseries. The first half of the year is largely Jason Aaron, killing time during "Divided We Stand" with a fun few months of Wolverine hunting down Mystique. Aaron also wrote the similarly throwaway but equally enjoyable Wolverine: Manifest Destiny, and he's going to do the upcoming Weapon X series, so chances are it'll actually be one of the better Wolverine projects of 2009.

Starting with issue #66, we have Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's "Old Man Logan" arc, which, as you can see, has already spiralled off schedule. It's certainly sold pretty well; personally, though, I find the Wolverine-meets-Mad-Max stuff a bit self-indulgent at eight issues in length. Still, Marvel have taken an interesting decision by running an out-of-continuity story in the regular Wolverine title rather than as a miniseries. I think it's probably paid off, and we might well see more of this in future.

There's no point making guesses about the quality of Wolverine in 2009 - it changes entirely from arc to arc.

11/06 Origins #8 - 91,585
11/07 Origins #19 - 55,999 ( -6.7%)
12/07 Origins #20 - 53,548 ( -4.4%)
01/08 Origins #21 - 51,919 ( -3.0%)
02/08 Origins #22 - 50,324 ( -3.1%)
03/08 Origins #23 - 49,633 ( -1.4%)
04/08 Origins #24 - 49,299 ( -0.7%)
05/08 Origins #25 - 52,907 ( +5.9%)
06/08 Origins #26 - 48,059 ( -9.2%)
07/08 Origins #27 - 47,540 ( -1.1%)
08/08 ---
09/08 Origins #28 - 49,950 ( +5.1%)
10/08 Origins #29 - 58,841 (+17.8%)
11/08 Origins #30 - 50,359 (-14.4%)
6 mnth ( -4.8%)
1 year (-10.1%)
2 year (-45.0%)
Still trudging on. As you can see, Wolverine: Origins seems to have settled down to relatively steady sales in the high 40Ks, despite not being particularly good. Unlike Wolverine itself, this book does have an ongoing storyline: Daniel Way is bolting a convoluted conspiracy plot onto Wolverine's history.

This still seems like a thunderously bad idea to me. Contrary to popular belief, Wolverine's back story wasn't particularly complicated: he's an old guy, he travelled the world a bit, he was a secret agent for a bit, and then you hit Weapon X. All quite straightforward, and all very flexible - writers had plenty of settings to choose from. But Wolverine: Origins has hammered Wolverine into a tiresome straitjacket where everything has to be about the Big Conspiracy. Not only is it a lousy story in its own right, but it limits the sort of good stories you can tell with him. Retcons don't get much worse than this.

Origins has actually improved in 2008. In part, that's because the pace has improved from the soporific glacial musings of early issues. And in part, strangely, it's because artist Steve Dillon left the book. Dillon's a wonderful artist, but he was woefully inappropriate for this title: his hangdog, down-to-earth characters only emphasised the stupidity of the plot. A shift to more conventional and melodramatic artists has been for the better, because at least the art is now in synch with the writing.

Even so, the best thing of the year was the crossover with X-Men: Legacy in issues #29-30, which managed to make Wolverine's son Daken seem somewhat interesting, and which removed the book's weird air of being built around a major retcon that nobody else paid any attention to. But with issue #31, we're back where we started.

A part of me hopes that Origins is building to its conclusion, or at least might become a Daken solo title (since he's being added to the Dark Avengers and should be due for a push). However, I suspect it's going to drone on for another couple of years yet until the big story runs its course - and then be politely ignored for a few years before getting quietly brushed aside.

03/08 Wolverine: First Class #1 - 35,695
04/08 Wolverine: First Class #2 - 25,610 (-28.3%)
05/08 Wolverine: First Class #3 - 22,430 (-12.4%)
06/08 Wolverine: First Class #4 - 20,199 ( -9.9%)
07/08 Wolverine: First Class #5 - 18,788 ( -7.0%)
08/08 Wolverine: First Class #6 - 19,443 ( +3.5%)
09/08 Wolverine: First Class #7 - 16,168 (-16.8%)
10/08 Wolverine: First Class #8 - 14,936 ( -7.6%)
11/08 Wolverine: First Class #9 - 13,857 ( -7.2%)
6 mnth (-38.2%)
Another all ages book, although despite the title, it's actually about Wolverine and Kitty Pryde. Set loosely in early eighties continuity, it's perfectly readable in a retro sort of way. But like X-Men: First Class, it seems to be descending into a parade of guest stars and becoming a de facto team-up book, which is something of a disappointment to me. Surely team-ups are what you do when you can't think of any stories about the lead character?

In fairness, I realise that the First Class writers have a very difficult job here, since they can't tell any stories that would deviate noticeably from established history, and that limits what they can do. But I'd like to think there are better ways around it than dusting off the likes of Jack Russell, Werewolf By Night. And although Wolverine: First Class is an all-ages book, it often feels more like a nostalgia-fest for fans in their mid thirties than a book intended to attract kids. (The spin-off mini Weapon X: First Class - a kiddie-friendly retelling of Wolverine's kidnap and torture - suggests that Marvel themselves are thoroughly confused about what they're trying to achieve here.)

Peter David is writing some stories for the book in 2009. I have high hopes for that; I think he can work well in this format.

But paradoxically, even though we have too many Wolverine titles already, it's the new one that I'm looking forward to most. Jason Aaron did some good work with the character this year; I'm really pleased to see that it's got him a longer run. Chances are they'll be the best Wolverine stories of 2009.

In the final part, we'll look at the assorted spin-off X-books.

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