Shiny Shelf

Wolverine #32

By Jim Smith on 16 October 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Shortly after the first ‘X-Men’ movie came out I found myself using one fact about it as unimpeachable evidence of its brilliance; ‘X-Men’ is a super hero movie so certain in its tone – and so sure in its purpose – that it was possible for it to have a scene set in a Nazi death camp which was neither crass nor exploitative and didn’t appear inappropriate.

It remains very difficult to write more than a few words about the holocaust in any context. Even writing this review now I am troubled by having to type the very word; concerned that simply mentioning that which transpired in Nazi occupied Poland in the context of a site which reviews the trivia of popular culture I am doing a disservice to the millions who died as a deliberate result of others’ naked hatred. I sincerely hope I am not and if I am, I apologise.

I mention my own liberal angst in this context not to equivocate myself but to illustrate how difficult I feel it must be to create works like that scene in ‘X-Men’ and, and we finally come to the point here, the most recent issue of ‘Wolverine’; both are works that are able to refer to, and even present, fictions connected with the most horrific actions ever undertaken by the human race without belittling the subject matter. Of both of these objects I am, I will admit freely, deeply admiring.

‘Wolverine 32′ has words from series regular writer Mark Millar and pictures by Kaare Andrews (whose work graced the short-lived ‘Spider-Man’s Tangled Web’). Like the opening scene to ‘X-Men’ it takes place in a Nazi death camp and it also uses chooses to link the holocaust to the X-men’s corner of the Marvel Universe’s general theme (intolerance and oppression). Evoking the heights of the EIC ghost story (or one of Serling’s better ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes) it combines that with a narrative conceit which references Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and allies both to a contemporary political relevance which is clear without being obvious, striking without being pat. Unflinching in its demonstration of the unimaginable horror of what it’s dealing with, the story remains true to its (on other occasions, largely throwaway) lead character and manages to be both readable and purposeful, characterful and meaningful.

I have a somewhat chequered history with Mark Millar’s work. I adore his first eight issues of ‘The Authority’ and beam like an eejit whenever someone brings up his contribution to ‘The Flash’. ‘Superman: Red Son’ has, I think, the authentic touch of creative inspiration to it, but I really dislike ‘The Ultimates’ and I find his work at times (perhaps wilfully) lacking in the sensitivity required to deal with complicated subject matters (I’m thinking of ‘Ultimates 6′ here). I’ll freely admit, if you’d told me that he was writing an ‘X-Man’ story set in a death camp I’d have been horrified; and I’d have been wrong, utterly wrong, to have doubted him – this is an astonishing achievement not just for Millar but for the medium and the best work of the writer’s career.

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