It's been a while since Marvel last put out a story that so obviously looked as though it had received a visit from the rewrite fairy.Zeb Wells and Joe Madureira were the creative team on the first three issues of the team-up book Avenging Spider-Man, and this story was originally slated to appear in that book.And Spider-Man dutifully appears in the first issueonly to disappear entirely and resurface for a cameo in the coda.
It seems reasonable to infer that he was originally planned to have a larger role, and it's far from obvious why he's been removed, given that the story could certainly have used somebody in the outsider/comic relief.And given that a decision has been taken to downplay him, it's no less clear why he's still in the story at all, particularly considering that he's the Peter Parker version of the character, thus placing the story massively out of sequence for no clear reason.
My best guess would be that chapter one of this story was completed when it was still meant to be in Avenging Spider-Man, only for work to be derailed by yet another of the inordinate delays that have plagued Joe Madureira's output in, ooh, the last fifteen years or so.When I say that Madureira's reputation these days rests on work from the 1990s, I don't mean that his output has deteriorated since then (in fact, these are three good-looking issues), so much as that it has more or less ceased to be.While Marvel have historically been quite tolerant of this sort of thing, it's not something that they put up with very much at the moment.Throw in an out-of-date Spider-Man who contributes nothing, and a plot about a struggle for control of the Hand which ends up seeing publication concurrently with another entirely contradictory Wolverine story also about a struggle for control of the Hand (Japan's Most Wanted), and it all starts to look like an exercise in recouping costs.
At any rate, there's old rule of thumb that if you can take a story and delete or replace the lead character without problems, something's gone wrong.This arc has done exactly that, and the result does indeed feel weirdly inchoate, despite some good ideas floating around.
Part 1 is largely devoted to setting up the idea that Wolverine is the lone killer on an Avengers roster of conventional heroes, with Spider-Man set up as the lighter guy trying to reach out to him.Elektra shows up to enlist him for some mystery task, which he goes along with out of gratitude for her help back in "Enemy of the State".It turns out that Elektra is working for the Kingpin, who has been challenged as leader of the Hand by Ziro, a rebel who's invoked one of those convenient rituals that writers like so much.As Kingpin has explained it to Elektra, this ritual involves them sending a reanimated Bullseye after him as an assassin, to see if he can win - hence Elektra's interest in helping him.
Part 2 sees Wolverine and Elektra fighting their way through the Hand to try and get to the reanimation ceremony, only to get sidetracked by the Arbiters themselves.They also learn that the Kingpin had lied to them anyway - the Hand are reviving his late wife Vanessa, and Bullseye isn't the story at all.Meanwhile, zombie Vanessa shows up at Kingpin's office.And then part 3 sees a face-off between Kingpin and Vanessa (whom he ultimately re-kills, which we're supposed to take as him symbolically killing the last bit of good in his soul), while Wolverine and Elektra - no longer remotely interested in helping the Kingpin, and thus without any particular mission to drive them - do a bit more fighting with the Arbiters before they all just go home.Oh, and Ziro got killed somewhere.That's a bit of an afterthought.
There are some nice striking designs for the Arbiters, and the closing monologues give some reasonable idea of what Wells was going for here.The idea seems to have been to present the idea that despite his life as a killer, Wolverine is still judged by the Arbiters as a man of honour - but at the same time to suggest that the Arbiters' code of honour is so skewed and bizarre that their endorsement is really no endorsement at all.That could have worked; there's potential in a story that takes the old trope of Wolverine as the honourable killer, and asks what possible value such a system of honour really has.I think that's what Wells trying to do here, but it doesn't really work here, for a variety of reasons.
For a start, he's writing a very out of date take on the character, a throwback to the "berserker rage" interpretation that prevailed in the mid 1980s.It's the classic reading, but it's not really the modern one, and it makes it rather odd when Wolverine is then written as apparently getting drawn into unnecessary fights because of his violent urges.The story is undermotivated because Wolverine no longer has any goals once the Kingpin's ruse is revealed at the end of chapter 2, so that there's nothing much at stake for anyone other than the Kingpin himself (a plot thread that never loops back to tie in with Wolverine again).And honestly, this would have been a better story at four issues and with Spider-Man in it, to offer the perspective of someone outside the perverse ideas of honour that drive almost every other character here, and provide a counterpoint so that Wolverine doesn't end up as the most heroic character in the room by default.
There are good bits in here; Wells has always had an ear for dialogue, and there are some nice comic touches which undercut the Arbiters' more pretentious pronouncements without undermining the characters.The story certainly has a distinctive take on Wolverine, and one that tries to both embrace and challenge some of the familiar tropes associated with the character.There's a promising story in here, but it doesn't manage to hold everything together.