Reclaiming a Lost Legacy in Wolverine #38 (Review)

Wolverine #38 Main Cover by Leinil Francis Yu

Benjamin Percy and Juan José Ryp continue their upward swing on Wolverine with their latest arc, “Last Mutant Standing”. Building on the strong opening issue last month, Wolverine #38 succeeds both as a Fall of X title and as a monthly instalment of strong characterisation and classic Wolverine action.

Soldiers in a Never-Ending War

Part 2 of “Last Mutant Standing” runs with the team-up of the month formula laid out in the previous issue, this time trading Bruce Banner’s emerald giant for the star-spangled Avenger, Captain America.

In Wolverine #38, Logan calls on Steve Rogers to help retrieve what was stolen from the island nation of Krakoa, as the terrorist organisation ORCHIS aims to catalogue and appropriate as much of the mutant culture as they can before they’re wiped out.

First point of endorsement: Percy makes the most of what could, in a lesser writer’s hands, read like nothing more than a sales gimmick.

Rather than leaning solely into the action-romp aspect of a rotating Avengers guest star, Wolverine #38 uses the opportunity to treat Captain America like a mirror being held up to Logan – a device Percy has employed to great effect throughout the Krakoan era, with characters like Solem, Maverick and Omega Red. Where the Hulk’s inclusion last issue helped to draw out that question of animalism and monstrosity at the core of Wolverine’s soul, Captain America’s presence brings into focus the relationship both he and Wolverine have with the idea of history.

It’s an astute move, as the obvious choice would have been to use their team-up as an opportunity for another entry into the legion of stories about how they’re both eternal soldiers, or men out of time.

Instead, while Percy doesn’t completely ignore those themes, he focuses in on how their pasts inform their relationship to the rise of fascist organisations – previously the Nazis, now ORCHIS. These men have the benefit of having lived through the history books, not just having read them. They know how horrors like this can come into being, and they know the pain it takes to right their wrongs. They know the cost.

And, they know that movements like ORCHIS don’t just try to demonstrate their power through force. They exhibit their power softly, stealing, rewriting and misappropriating the history of other’s before their very eyes.

Tearing Down an (Anti-Mutant) Empire

The ambition of any empire is to weaken, subsume and subsequently eradicate any alternate mode of culture that they deem a threat to their supposed supremacy. Then, in an act of curious hypocrisy, those same colonial forces treat the culture they reject as less-than as also something exotic, something worthy of fascination.

Historically, this can be seen most clearly in the British Empire, and how it seized artifacts from colonised peoples to display in homebound museums. And much like the British Empire, who dehumanised people of colour, enslaving them on the justification that they were ‘savages’ and yet lauded artifacts of their culture as something to be studied and admired, so too does ORCHIS harbour within itself that racist contradiction. To them, mutants are dangerous, animals, a people below the status homo sapien; on the other hand, the Krakoan culture and its inventions are so fascinating that they’re to be auctioned off by the Legacy House – sold to the highest bidder.

This dichotomy highlights what Wolverine #38 does so well. Percy and Ryp elevate a traditional superhero team-up by combining real world socio-political commentary, and in-universe continuity. This issue uses the action-heist formula as a vehicle to explore, on some level, the Orientalist ideas at the heart of cultural appropriation.

For example, the cold sense of inhumanity that Ryp is able to conjure in the reader as he reveals the extent of the property stolen from the hands of dead mutants, both in the auction scene and when Logan and Cap find the storage room, is incredibly profound.

The clinical and inhumane characterisation of ORCHIS and the Legacy House is chilling. The prideful and orderly nature with which these bidders ogle and appraise the spoils of a people who’ve suffered genocide underscores just how dehumanising the actions of ORCHIS are. Couple that with the distinctly Wild West and Texan themed attire of the Legacy House members – the cowboy hats, the vests, the bowties; all symbols of a time defined by exploration, of freedom, of living off the land and being in tandem with the natural order of the world – and Percy & Ryp cast a darkly wonderful satirical vision of what it means to fight for humanity under the banner of ORCHIS.

All of this frames Wolverine’s rage not as a typical berserker outburst, but one born of disgust and injustice, taking the action fare typical of the genre and ensuring it’s emotionally resonant. You identify with the character beyond the usual excitement, as Wolverine echoes and redeems the sickness building in your stomach as you keep turning the pages, carving his way through this unmasked horror of civilised society.

On that note, while Ryp’s pages have always excelled at conveying the ultra-violence of Percy’s scripts, Wolverine #38 goes one step further, presenting a pair of storytellers totally in sync.

Ryp deploys his penchant for incredibly detailed panels and inventive page composition to emphasise not only some excellent action scenes, but also the underlying themes of how the commoditisation of the colonised is a particularly wretched form of oppression. Hyper detailed outfits, body types and facial expressions underscore the breadth of life within humanity, however rotten this cross-section of it is. In contrast, the empty suits of armour, unworn clothes and stolen technology paraded on auction show just how much life has been robbed of the mutants. The sterility with which these pieces are presented, like ghosts of a culture soon to be snuffed out, is unsettling.

Juxtaposing these detailed renditions of culture – one thriving and replete with life, the other hollowed out and commodified – is just one of the many examples of how Wolverine #38 simultaneously tells a meaningful story about fascism and soft power, while also delivering a compelling genre piece.

Understanding Episodic Storytelling

Something I’m increasingly certain of is that not enough comics understand how to make the most of each unit of storytelling.

Unlike prose fiction, where a chapter can arguably afford to be incomplete in-and-of itself so long as it supports a wider narrative, monthly comic issues can’t – especially in today’s market. Each issue of Wolverine now costs $4.99, which is not a small chunk of change. Readers want to ensure that the books they spend their money on validate not just their continual investment, but also the individual monthly transaction.

That means that there’s this growing tension in myself (and, I’d wager, most readers) where we’re left to debate what’s more important: longform, multi-year narratives, or single-issue stories that satisfy with their own beginning, middle and end.

Structured as it is, Wolverine #38 satisfies both concerns, proving that those two options aren’t mutually exclusive.

Percy and company have demonstrated, with this issue and the last, that Wolverine is a series that understands how to make that monthly read a distinct experience in itself, while also balancing plot threads and characters arcs in the background such that the wider narrative is still being progressed.

From even just a purely technical standpoint, it makes Wolverine #38 an easy book to recommend.

Next Stop: Wakanda

Despite losing me slightly here and there throughout its circa 4-year run, Wolverine continues to be a title that entertains and challenges, in all the right ways. Percy’s grasp, both of the comics medium and its form, impresses still, and Juan José Ryp’s artwork only seems to find new strides to hit.

While it may seem slightly divorced from the wider Fall of X proceedings, Wolverine #38 adds some much-needed boots-on-the-ground texture to the era. It offers an engaging, blood-soaked action romp that also manages to find new ways to engage directly with the socio-political themes of history, oppression and cultural power that pervade the wider x-narrative.

Next month will see Wolverine teaming up with Black Panther, another hero who’s forced to be an island away from his people. If the last two issues have been anything to go by, I’m deeply interested in seeing what Percy and Ryp have to say about the pair of them.


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