Dark Reign: The List #7–Wolverine
Jason Aaron, writer
Esad Ribic, artist
Marvel, October 2009
Well well well, looks like Marvel decided maybe they should have strained that Grant Morrison bathwater for babies before they threw it all out. Yeah, Joss Whedon (and, in those nobly intentioned but ill-conceived Phoenix minis, Greg Pak) got to nod in New X-Men‘s direction now and then–Cassandra Nova, a one-line reference to Magneto’s trashing of Manhattan, even the Bug Room. But other than wiping out Genosha, killing Jean Grey, and establishing Emma Frost as the X-Men’s new HBIC, Marvel basically ran, not walked, away from Morrison’s ideas and tone alike. (Exhibit A: that Xorn arc from New Avengers.) So writer Jason Aaron’s full-fledged Morrison Marvel Team-Up in this very very central event title, pitting Wolverine, Marvel Boy (!), and Fantomex (!!!) against Norman Osborn for the fate of The World (i.e. the Morrison-created birthplace of the Weapon Plus program that spawned everyone from Captain America to the ol’ Canucklehead), is something of a turning point. Certainly I didn’t expect to see a French-accented international man of mystery playing a role in Dark Reign, except perhaps as someone for Ares to chop in half in a throwaway sequence in Dark Avengers.
What’s impressive about this is that rather than try to ape high Morrisonian “mad ideas” (except for a played-for-laughs viral-religion thing), Aaron riffs on an entirely different Morrison tone: cheeky high-concept comedy. Instead of writing Marvel Boy as some sort of brooding military brat, Aaron returns him to the quasi-Clockwork Orange blend of arrogance, ultraviolence, and killer good looks that made his original Morrison miniseries such a hoot. He’s like Chuck Bass with insect DNA. (Okay, more insect DNA.) Similarly, Fantomex is treated as a charming rogue with a cool white uniform rather than Aaron simply waving his hands in the face of his weird power set and Frenchness and giving up or phoning in some black-ops boilerplate. Wolverine actually plays a supporting role more than anything else, but when he’s unleashed, it’s in a splatstick fashion consistent with the joli-laid physicality Morrison’s collaborator Frank Quitely imbued him with. Ribic’s art goes a long way in this regard–I’d previously known him only for his admittedly dynamic Alex Ross-indebted painted work, but his pencils have a cartoony zest that would be right at home on some three-issue Vertigo miniseries.
What does it all mean in the context of Dark Reign and The List and so on? As best I can tell, not much. But reintegrating Morrison’s many toys into the mainstream Marvel Universe, as opposed to the province of editorially hands-off limited series, is pretty momentous in and of itself. Fingers crossed we’ll see the Phoenix Corps again when all is said and done.