When Will Eisner Met Wolverine
Posted September 5, 2009on:
When it comes to Marvel books, I am crazy picky. I mean, it’s not like Marvel is bad or anything; hell, the first comics I ever bought with my own money were beat-up copies of the first four issues of both Excalibur and West Coast Avengers. It’s more like I grew out of the action-driven books of Marvel in the nineties and grew into the character-driven books of modern DC. Occasionally, however, I’ll stumble across a Marvel story that I absolutely adore. I found the two volumes of Wolverine: Enemy of the State by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. in a 50% off bin and it quickly became one of my all time favorite story arcs from ANY publishing house.
The basic premise of Enemy of the State is kinda complicated. Wolverine goes back to Japan (for the first time since he had to kill his old flame, Mariko) to play the Denzel Washington role and help an old buddy get his kid back. Turns out that it was all a trap set by the Hand, the Dawn of the White Light (led by some fucker named the Gorgon, but not the one from the Inhumans) and HYDRA to get him to where they were, kill him, resurrect him, and turn him into their own personal zombie contract killer. Wolverine ends up squaring off against Elektra, Nick Fury (and the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D.), the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and the X-Men, even going so far as (big ol’ fuckin’ spoiler, everybody) killing Northstar (but it’s Marvel, so nobody [Jean Grey excluded] stays dead longer than, like, a volume at the most).
But the best thing about this run didn’t happen until the last issue. The Wolverine vs. the Marvel universe plot only lasted 11 issues and Millar had one left over. So what does he do? Inadvertent collaboration with Will Eisner, engage!
Featuring Wolverine in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, Wolverine #32 was beautiful and strangely depressing. According to an essay by Mark Millar, he wanted to tell this story SO BADLY, but couldn’t figure out how. Wolverine’s familiar voice seemed out of place in a story like this (calling anybody at Auschwitz “bub” might be a smidge insensitive) and Millar didn’t know what to do. Then, while he was a banquet, in comes some old dude to sit next to him. They strike up a conversation about Millar’s problem. The man’s solution to Wolverine’s churlish lingo?
“Then don’t make him talk.”
Turns out, the clever old man was Will Eisner. If you want the whole story, it’s in the trade. Go get it.
Anyways, the silence worked beautifully. Wolverine keeps using his quick-healing ability to torment the head of the camp, who is bent on killing him. Every time they attempt to execute Logan he comes back and just grins at them, never saying a word. Eventually, Head Nazi ends up accidentally killing himself while trying to personally execute Wolverine in a fit of rage. And Wolverine just keeps grinning. Every time he pops back up is one of those important comic book “oh shit” moments that we all love. Shot in the face? Doesn’t matter. Set ablaze? Whatevs. He’s back and he’s smiling and he’s silent and he’s creepy as fuck (to both the Nazis and, for some reason, me). Extremely haunting, highly recommended, read this issue with a glass of Fancy Scotch on the rocks.
Of course, the issue is dedicated to Will Eisner. As far as I know, with its release in 2005, the last issue of Wolverine: Enemy of the State was Will Eisner’s final actual creative contribution to a comic book. It was a hell of an issue and a hell of a way for Mr. Eisner to add a flourish to his final bows. Even though this technically is NOT an Eisner book, this is the story that makes me want to go back and read Eisner’s body of work I added Fagin the Jew and A Contract With God to the top of my tattered “to buy” list, and I can’t wait to track them down and read them.