Out of several comic film franchises consistently packing theaters, the "X-Men" series has the greatest amount of highs, lows, prequels, sequels and scenes with people shooting beams out of their eyes. The movies span the spectrum of time, but the only character present in all the X-films is the one who famously quipped, "I'm the best there is at what I do." He's Wolverine, and his celebrated quote now seems to mean collecting royalty checks rather than besting foes. Wolvie now follows up his first solo film with the aptly titled The Wolverine (July 26). The series has garnered a grittier feel, as well as a new director in James Mangold, known primarily for helming and co-writing Walk the Line.
Hugh Jackman has once again donned the adamantium claws, and his new tale takes him to Japan after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. Readers have rejoiced in the new setting, while attempting to forget the 2006 threequel helmed by Brett Ratner.
Some of Wolverine's most beloved stories come from a 1982 limited series penned by Chris Claremont and penciled by a 20-something Frank Miller, which itself had the Land of the Rising Sun as its backdrop and serves as this new film's inspiration. On the current comics side, though, Marvel's usual tie-in efforts have taken a subtle turn, as no titles have directly filtered into the film's arc. But after a read-through of Wolverine MAX, a series that debuted in 2012, it's obvious that the people at Marvel felt they needed a comic for the type of reader who would eat up The Wolverine. Though several ongoing comics feature the character, only one matches that somber feel of the trailer. It may not loudly carry its banner, but Wolverine MAX is the perfect companion for The Wolverine - and the closest the character's comics have been to their '80s roots for quite some time.
The comic book series is part of Marvel's MAX line, intended for mature readers with all the blood, cursing and innuendo missing from Wolverine in mainstream books. We as readers always just assumed he said nastier words and made his most brutal kills when the cameras weren't around. Some were even disappointed at the prospect of The Wolverine not having an "R" rating, wishing for a version of the character not always provided in comics, but ever-present in Wolverine MAX.
With a PG-13 rating, many aren't expecting a slew of beheadings, severed limbs, sprays of blood, curse words and everything else the character could bring to the silver screen, if given the chance to appease that part of the fanbase. The Wolverine MAX series fills that void. In its first issue, crime novelist Jason Starr brought the title character back to Tokyo and pitted him against his own memories, which are as fleeting as usual.
After a plane crash, he becomes caught up in a terrorist plot, only to find old villains like Victor Creed and more of his own demons. Oh, and he fights a lot. It's perhaps the grittiest version yet of Marvel's grittiest character. A rotating roster of artists bring splashes of blood, blades and foul-mouthed fun across the comic's pages. And though his time in Japan defines the tone of the entire series, Wolverine doesn't just stay put.
The comic slices its way through the Japanese landscape to eventually bring Wolverine to Los Angeles in the book's latest storyline, titled "The Protector." It's an appropriate relocation, with one of artist Jock's gorgeous covers depicting a re-done Hollywood sign taking the place of the book's logo.
The cover image, delivered just a month before the release of The Wolverine, seems too fitting to not be intentional on the part of Marvel. The famous mutant has indeed returned to Hollywood, and Wolverine MAX delivers what fans want from the new movie. "The Protector" depicts Wolverine seeking more details to his past and hanging out with his new dog, Dog, in the City of Angels. It's there that the comic continues down its blood-soaked road, with certain panels showing our hero with an unmistakable likeness to Jackman.
Overall, it ends up being a rather common tale of Wolverine falling for a redhead and things getting complicated. But it takes a writer like Starr, injecting an honest, brutal sense to Wolverine that he's scarcely been given, to push this series to something more than yet another comic with this character's name on it. All of those mature attributes are there, but sprinkled and deliberate enough to not make it seem like a 13-year-old was told to punch the script up a bit.
So check out Wolverine MAX if you need either a companion to Marvel's latest superhero movie or something to fill the claw-shaped hole in your life. Though no film version will be quite as ferocious as you imagined, you can at least finally see what a Wolverine comic looks like when Mom and Dad, otherwise known as Marvel's mainstream standards, aren't around.