Comic book readers so often assume that a given story or issue is the creation of the writer. I fall prey to this at times too in my writing, focusing on a narrative-based review as I imagine these panels as they were concocted in a comic scribe’s script. More than almost any other outlet, though, comics are visual medium. Artists are just as important as the people plotting out Wolverine’s latest adventure or the personal turmoil always afflicting the X-Men. There are few examples in the X-canon that better exemplify the power of an illustrator than the Wolverine: Inner Fury oversized one-shot issue from 1992 featuring the mind-blowing artwork of Bill Sienkiewicz.
Paired with then-Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. writer D.G. Chichester, Sienkiewicz is right at home with his unique line work and paneling. If Steve Ditko’s Dr. Strange and Spider-Man artwork is akin to trippy trance born from listening to the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Axis: Bold as Love, then Sienkiewicz’s Wolverine illustrations come from a man who listened to Metallica’s …And Justice for All and then immediately watched Pink Floyd — The Wall on loop for eight hours. The greatest comic artists possess signature styles that are identifiable from the moment a fan looks at a panel, regardless of whether they’ve seen the credit page. Sienkiewicz certainly falls into this camp. His characters have an almost Picasso-like disfigurement with wild proportions that bend reality with every single stroke of his pencil.
A tale from Chichester that finds a biomechanical virus infecting Wolverine plays directly into Sienkiewicz’s strengths. With Wolverine’s adamantium fighting against the disease begins plaguing him, a move that serves as a spiritual predecessor in a way to some elements of 2017’s phenomenal Logan, Sienkiewicz channels the ferocious nature of the ol’ Canuck to the fullest. His fragmented panel structure is pure chaos in the best possible way. Wolverine’s brain is always in a state of chaos, but with his physical health deteriorating for once due to adamantium literally growing out of him, it’s up to Sienkiewicz depict the way Logan’s inner fury (*winks at the camera*) gives way to a physiological breakdown. The narrative builds a little more slowly than readers might like for a one-shot that’s part of a larger collection of comic book issues, but Chichester does enough to stick the landing. Closing with existential thoughts of what memory really means — a frequent motif when it comes to Wolverine — Chichester leaves readers wondering about the duality of the mind and body long after they’ve put this trade down.
While this story from Chichester and Sienkiewicz is the primary draw and the namesake of this Marvel Epic Collection trade paperback, there’s a lot of bang for a reader’s buck with the work that also appears here. The “City of Light” from arc from writer Larry Hama and Mark Texeira in Sabertooth is a particular standout. It encapsulates the totality of the eternal, torturous and hyper-violent relationship between Logan and Victor Creed, as the two will do continue to do their dance until the end of the Marvel Universe. Quintessential 1990s artwork from Texeira brings the big time action film vibes to this three-issue tale, while Hama incorporates a well-executed Mystique supporting role.
Sienkiewicz is forever an industry legend. When you see his name on a title, you pick it up, buy it and ask questions later. Armed with a story from Chichester that somehow feels both timeless and post-apocalyptic, Sienkiewicz dials up a master class in avant-garde mayhem with his iconic illustrations that will satisfy all Wolverine fans.