This review contains light spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »
Some books are of legendary quality, classics reprinted again and again because of their ongoing relevancy and lasting strength.
And then there’s the Marvel Legends series of collections. The banner up top comes with a weighty claim, yet most of these collections are long out of print and very hard to find.
Are they legendary like the city of El Dorado, sought after for the adventure involved in the search, delighted in for their scarcity – but possibly long picked over and sadly disappointing?
Or is there still gold to be found?
This book, Wolverine Legends Vol. 1: Wolverine / Hulk, certainly seems to glimmer upon first sight – it’s written and illustrated by Sam Kieth, undoubtedly a master and one of the most memorable artists from my own childhood. It stars two of Marvel’s heaviest hitters. It’s worth noting at this point that the book should not be confused in any way with Hulk Legends Vol. 1: Hulk / Wolverine: Six Hours, which will no doubt show up in your ebay searches.
Marvel Legends seem to hold to this formula: popular characters with well known and talented artists. My focus as a reviewer (and reader) is often on the story though and I’ll tell you right away that many of the Legends books are lacking in this area. They’re usually self contained and light on continuity, which can be nice, but they’re often out of character and/or downright confusing.
And while it’s nice to see a line of greenish numbered spines on your shelf, reading these books straight through might leave a sour taste in your mouth.
This is the first of the Wolverine Legends books and one of the harder ones to find. It’s not quite as bad as Snikt, which can go to a couple hundred in good condition for some reason. But it’s still selling for twice the cover on Amazon.
Is it worth it? Yes, yes it is.
The plot, which involves our two grumpy heroes trying to rescue a little girl, is full of overlong exposition and heavy handed foreshadowing. The dialogue can be a little clunky and obvious.
But even though I could see the end coming from a mile away, the book still gets me every single time.
Perhaps the art is just that good.
So while it may not be as subtle a psyche study as Ojo (which it’s thematically and visually similar to, at least in the design of the little girl) or any of Kieth’s other independent work, it’s still a good gateway into his world.
Because it is a Marvel book, the superhero meet up formula is followed – there’s a fair amount of Logan vs. Hulk action here before they’ve gotten their act together.
And the book has slight references to the Marvel U in the form of a couple cameos and discussion of Po’s place in Banner’s past. But it’s never really explained why the two heroes are out in the middle of a frozen tundra (and then, for some reason, a “lake” in the middle of a desert.)
It’s not important. Kieth isn’t interested in exploring physical landscapes past the challenges they allow him to render for the occupants – obstacles acting as symbols of mental and emotional barriers.
Deep pits, frozen wastelands, an angry mother polar bear, and even each other – they’re all stand ins for the actual struggle against the pain of loss that heroes with such long (and often dark) pasts have to deal with.
And the numbness and loneliness associated with their violent lives.
Likewise, Kieth’s art is shapely and crafted but never “realistic.” In fact, he often shifts to the childlike perspective of Po, with crayon-like lines and simplified faces.
The dialogue is similar, sometimes from her perspective, sometimes from that of Logan or Banner, at times talking to themselves, each other, or directly at the reader.
The heroes slip quickly from exaggerated caricatures to deeply moving renderings.
The necessary traits are still there, of course, with Wolverine bristling with wild hair and The Hulk’s shadowy bulk bursting out of the panels.
It’s wildly creative art and while there were times where I felt like the story could have been told at a quicker pace, I was thankful for the opportunity to see more of Kieth’s drawings on each page.
They never disappoint, in turns hilarious and heartbreaking, with a healthy amount of outrageous action.
For this title, “Legend” is fitting.
There’s no real indication that any of this “really happened” but it’s a powerful book.
This book doesn’t even make an attempt to fit into continuity at any time, but it does a good job of fleshing out the involved characters and doesn’t conflict anything I know of.
It contains one of the best Hulk moments I’ve ever seen, on the final page (that out of context might seem a little hokey, but works here.)
You may enjoy this book if you are an existing fan of one or both of the characters (and Wolverine collectors are probably the most likely to have hunted this down) but I think the average pop culture knowledge of the two may be enough to let you jump in. It’s pretty self contained.
The next book in the Wolverine Legends series is Vol. 2: Meltdown. But it’s totally unrelated and is a Havok crossover. Since I knew nothing about that character, it wasn’t my favorite book.
Instead I’d recommend getting more into Kieth’s work, starting perhaps with the novel I mentioned above, Ojo. Beth has said she may review it for us soon.
Another Keith series I liked a lot was Zero Girl, and his most well known work is The Maxx, which I’m lightly familiar with through the show that ran while I was growing up, but I haven’t had the pleasure of reading yet, unfortunately.
Probably because it can be so darn expensive to find in trade. New print run, please!