15th Apr2020

Wolverine Wednesday #33

by Ian Wells


During these uncertain times for everyone and the comics industry I want to wish everyone positive vibes and say we will all come out of this stronger. Now a lot of people are doing comics reading recommendations the #NTYCBD ) New To You Comic Book Day is proving rather popular on social media. For Wolverine Wednesday rather than compiling an ultimate reading list of Wolverine comics (I might need to do that months down the line)! I thought I would look at a Wolverine prose novel.

Over the years I have had mixed responses to comics characters appearing in prose novels. In the 90’s prose novels based on Marvel characters were ten a penny and there seems to be some resurgence in recent years. The trouble I find with the latter is that they tend to be based on popular comic book stories like Avengers: Breakout and The Death of Captain America. Where as the earlier novels were original stories and personally I prefer that take. But it is a hit and miss field of books to choose from. There are a lot of X-Men novels to choose from I would pick Mutant Empire as one to seek out and The Chaos Engine trilogy as one to avoid. On the Wolverine side of things the Weapon X prose novel by Marc Cerasini from 2004 is very good at launched a whole range of Wolverine novels. But the book I am going to review is X-Men: Codename Wolverine.

Now I read Codename Wolverine last summer at the age of 32. Admittedly this novel is probably aimed at a younger audience, but I genuinely love it. I’m a mark for a good Wolverine story and I’m a mark for a good spy novel this offered me both! Codename Wolverine is written by Christopher Golden. I first saw this novel advertised in a comic years and years ago and the cover always appealed to me. The art is by Luis Royo and depicts a Wolverine head shot flanked by athletic sexy renditions of Mystique and Black Widow, with further flanking from the less eye catching Sabretooth and Banshee. Sprinkled through the interior are illustrations by Darick Robertson a very talented artist with a realistic gritty style. He has worked on both Wolverine and Punisher MAX in the past. Maybe it is the quality of the paper or a case of a comic artist submitting work not for a comic but the images do not do his work justice! But then again the images do fit with the vibe of an 80’s Cold War caper that this story just oozes.

Codename Wolverine was published in 1998, which is sort of an odd time for the X-Men and comics as a whole, which might explain the venture into prose novels. The comic market was very slowly back on the rise after it crashed. X-Men comics were still in print but they weren’t at the peek of their previous powers. The animated series was over and the movie was still two years away. I think these factors pay into the story not been clearly defined as one thing or the other. Obviously it uses the instant recognition of Wolverine, Sabretooth and Mystique from the animated series but then deals with much darker themes. If you were coming to the novel at the time from comics you would have the advantage to of knowing Black Widow, Maverick and the well a handled cameo of Nick Fury. This book doesn’t follow the Jim Shooter philosophy that a comic is someones first comic. Golden gives very brief character description, thus assuming the reader has prior knowledge of them from other media. Even to most comics fans Maverick and Wraith are not household names. To be honest I could easily have read a Maverick solo prose novel with Cold War vibes. Other prose novels I have read I have stated at the beginning if it takes place around a popular comic storyline.

Which leads me to believe this story is meant to stand alone. But then the blurb gives such details as Maverick now suffering from the Legacy Virus which roots it in a specific time. The first chapter indicates that Mystique and Sabretooth are currently working for X-Factor which puts it a more than a few years before its publication date. At the back of the book is a chronological order of all the prose novels. However it is like negotiating a minefield. I think you would have to of read them all and have the list on your wall like the guy in Seven. All of that aside lets dive into the story. The narrative shifts between the present and a Team X mission from the past. Which seems pretty standard Wolverine story telling. If it had kept to these basic elements it would have been fine. The inclusion of Black Widow seems too much but obviously her character is a perfect fit for the story. The inclusion of Banshee is even more of an over indulgence to include more characters. I know he was Interpol before he was X-Men so again he would fit into the flashback element. But his characteristics seem off for the character who was established as a nice guy and fan favourite in the comics. The story does slow down in the middle and at times it does just seem like a novel way to tell a Sabertooth/Mystique love story.

If you are coming to this story either from the comics or the animated series there is plenty to keep you interested. The characters are well rounded out by Golden so if you were coming to the story from one or the other you could easily lock into them (Banshee aside). All in all Codename Wolverine is a good entertaining read if, at times, the plot gets overly confusing for no real reason and comes very close to tying itself in endless knots. The book is esaily available on eBay for under £5.


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