Savage Wolverine #1
Writer & Artist: Frank Cho
Colorist: Jason Keith
If there is one overall fan perception of Wolverine, it’s that he’s overexposed. Logan appears in the X-Men and Avengers families of books, he just ended a long run as a member of X-Force, and fans can count on a myriad of appearances any given month as a guest star. In reality, Wolverine’s exposure is a good thing. He sells, which helps our friends, the retailers. It spreads the rabid fan base around to many different books, and the complex nature of the character adds an (ahem) x-factor to any book he pops his claws in. The key to keeping Wolverine fresh is to find different settings and purposes for him so readers don’t feel like they are getting the same reading experiences twice. In this, Savage Wolverine and Frank Cho succeed.
With the Marvel Now! initiative, Marvel canceled Wolverine’s solo title and relaunched it as Savage Wolverine, helmed by famed cartoonist Frank Cho. The mission statement of the new addition to Marvel Now! is simple: Wolverine in the Savage Land. That’s it. No mutant politics with his X-Men, no cosmic jaunts with the Avengers, no soul searching journeys through Japan — just dinosaurs, claws, jungle action, and leopard print bikinis. Fans of Frank Cho will know this is a good thing.
To fully appreciate the insane nature of this book, one must examine three elements, the jungle adventure genre, Frank Cho, and Wolverine himself. The jungle adventure is one of the oldest genres in comics. In fact, it stretches back before the pulps and helped build the foundations of modern comic storytelling. It’s a genre that should have stood the test of time, but somehow, became archaic. Perhaps this is because the old stories are fraught with themes of colonialism, racism, and a general sense of European self-importance. Marvel solves all that by not setting their jungle in South America or Africa, but the Savage Land, a jungle in the Arctic where dinosaurs co-exist with Neolithic tribes and a bestiary of imaginary monsters. Not even the most liberal sociology major can protest as Ka-Zar rules over a tribe of cavemen. The Savage Land allows storytellers to take race and social Darwinism out of the jungle, and just leaves the adventure.
Along with the adventure itself, another lost comic trope is the jungle queen. Throughout the golden age, comics were filled with ladies in leopard print bikinis fighting poachers, witch doctors, and apes. It is understandable why this trend faded, as the modern world doesn’t really have a place for Nyoka, the Jungle Girl or Jann of the Jungle. The last remaining jungle queen in mainstream entertainment is Shanna the She-Devil. Shanna has been a part of the Marvel Universe for decades starting with the inception of her own title in the early 70s. Shanna was part of a well-intentioned but poorly executed initiative to take advantage of the feminist movement by producing three new titles starring new female characters. Claws of the Cat, Shanna the She-Devil, and Night Nurse were all clumsily executed and poorly received but each title showed a refreshing dedication by Marvel to not limit their storytelling perspectives.
While each title only lasted four issues, Shanna never faded into obscurity. She has hung around the Marvel Universe as Ka-Zar’s wife and equal for decades, and Frank Cho, with his attachment to jungle queens, utilizes her to her full potential. Shanna is a minor but vital player in Marvel history, and it is fun to watch a creator that adores her and utilizes her as an equal to Wolverine. One can argue that this is Shanna’s book, with Wolverine providing the heavy lifting, and if this book shines the spotlight on Shanna then it will be a fun ride.
Cho utilizes the jungle setting in every panel. Each moment bursts with life and color. This isn’t a deep story, but it sure is a pretty one. The story focuses on a team of SHIELD agents, including their guide, Shanna, that crash while on a survey mission in the Savage Land. Wolverine is mysteriously transported into the lost jungle and runs into Shanna who, after stabbing him, explains her plight. Wolverine must discover why the ship crashed and fight his way through the jungle to safety.
That’s it, but what else is needed? The story might be simple, but Cho fills it with moments and visuals that could fill ten comics. No idea is too crazy, whether it is Wolverine waking up to a dinosaur trying to bite his face off or Shanna’s raft being swallowed by a primordial fish, each panel relishes in its archaic insanity. Make no mistake, this is an adventure story a step removed from the overall narrative of the Marvel Universe. Having to participate in the elephantine present day continuity of Marvel would just dilute this title’s insanity, and no one wants that.
The other factor to consider in the experience that is Savage Wolverine is Frank Cho himself. Fans of Liberty Meadows and Cho’s previous Marvel work, like his 2005 Shanna the She-Devil mini-series, will know the cartoonist plays to his strengths. Actions, dinosaurs, and babes are the meat and potatoes of Cho’s work, and no one does it better. Cho is not the deftest wordsmith, and his pacing is sometimes weak, but no one does big moments like him. There is a bursting of pure delight and energy in every page. His layouts are second to none, and he will switch mediums at the drop of a hat. When you go on a Cho ride, you know what you bought your ticket for, and he delivers in spades. Cho understands the sub-genre he is working in, and that understanding shows in the lovingly rendered madness that is Savage Wolverine.
Finally, Wolverine himself, Wolverine can do period adventures, he can do noir, he can do sci-fi, and he can do straight ahead super-heroes. Not many heroes are this malleable when it comes to genre shifting, but Wolverine is. The character is naturally cast in the Tarzan role, and Cho has no trouble adapting him to a roller coaster, dinosaur slaying adventure. The instant that Logan wakes up in the Savage Land he is popping his claws and skewering velociraptors. The character comes with a built-in history with the Savage Land, and Cho plays up that familiarity nicely.
Rest assured, as this book continues, there will not be much navel gazing. What there will be is Wolverine alongside statuesque females killing dinosaurs and swinging through trees. There’s a perfect synergy here, with an amazing artist playing with a forgotten genre and a popular character. Savage Wolverine #1 is the book for you if you love Wolverine, and quite frankly, it’s the book for you if you are sick to death of Wolverine.