Graeme McMillan has shamed me. All this time he's been here, endangering his will to live by reading crappy comics so we don't have to, and how do I repay him? By sticking to stuff I'm likely to enjoy anyway.
Well, Graeme, this one's for you! Let's talk about WOLVERINE #55 and the many, many ways Jeph Loeb makes the baby Xenu cry.
In a sense, Loeb is the writer most aligned with the public perception of comics: he's loud, cliched, somewhat incoherent, pretty much the printed equivalent of a Jerry Bruckheimer popcorn flick. An okay way to spend six minutes, but there's nothing more to see here, folks.
To be fair, this sort of bombastic, all-style-no-substance approach has its fans, and I can understand the appeal of the occasional non-cerebral Things Go 'Splody comic... just as long as you understand that it is a non-cerebral Things Go 'Splody comic. And that's where Loeb messes up, because he quite obviously lacks that sort of self-awareness - you never get the feeling that he's winking at his readers as he writes these horrifically cheesy scenes (that last page is a "KHAAAAAAN!" Photoshop just waiting to happen). No, Loeb - and by extension, Marvel - apparently expect us to take this issue very seriously. They're putting out press releases about how Loeb has killed off a certain long-standing rival of Wolverine (yeah, that'll last). In other words, this isn't a spoof of the overwrought '90s comic, it's a recreation, and we're being asked to critique it based on today's standards.
And, unfortunately, the past few years have raised the bar for comics waaaay over Loeb's head.
Just look at how repetitive, how thoroughly unimpressive this one comic can be: from Loeb's fixation on primordial goo, to Wolverine's first line of dialogue being lifted verbatim from a Loeb-penned scene in HEROES (the one where Niki meets DL's mother), to the Special Sword that saves the day - "Won't say how it works, only that it clearly does." Um, no, Jeph. If you're going to hinge your entire storyline on some Magical MacGuffin that can kill the bloody unkillable, you're damn well going to explain how it works. And, of course, the poor hideous monster has a final moment of humanity (despite Loeb being kind enough to remind us of all his past atrocities, so are we expected to sympathize with him now?) and begs for death, which is duly granted. Ugh.
Even if you ignore the cliches and take an overall look at the story Loeb's telling... well, apparently the whole feral mutant war is predicated on hair color. "One blonde. One black. He knows only one can survive." Thank God for peroxide, I suppose. And then, just as you're wondering whether this is some colossal practical joke played at your expense, a shadowy figure (quite probably Axel Alonso) emerges to reassure us that "everything you've learned is true". Because nothing says "This story will stick" like a mouthpiece promising that it will, and that Wolverine is now... hell, I don't even know. The new spokesperson for Lycanthropes Anonymous? Heir to that abominable Austen storyline with the talking wolves? Even more pointlessly complicated than he was before?
Really, it's that transparent writer's fiat that annoys me the most, the fact that Loeb is constantly reinforcing the events of the story with lines about how the sword "very clearly" works, and how "everything you've learned is true", etc. Rather than use the story to convince us, Loeb basically tells us we MUST be convinced. And I'm not. Mark my words, this whole CRAP story will either be directly retconned or quietly forgotten by the end of next year, emerging only in Wikipedia articles that link it to "Nightcrawler's father is Satan" and "Gwen Stacy's Teenage Mutant Ninja Goblins".