Last week I listed Wolverine #56 as one of my most anticipated comics of the week. I said, "Jason Aaron is great. Howard Chaykin is great. Maybe, together, they will make a great story. It's gotta be better than the last Wolverine arc, right?" I was correct.
Jason Aaron is great. His Other Side miniseries was the best war comic of this decade (not that he's had a ton of competition in that genre lately), while his Scalped is the best Vertigo comic being published right now. If you're not reading Scalped, you're crazy. You are literally, not metaphorically, a lunatic, and you will probably end up in some sort of asylum if you're not careful. It's that good. It will keep you sane with its greatness.
Howard Chakyin is one of the all-time greats, for a variety of reasons, although as much as I love American Flagg! (and I do love it! I even own an original Chaykin page from the series, and I own very little original art--it's basically that page, a Cowan Question page, a Sienkiewicz New Mutants page, a Case Doom Patrol page, and a Quitely JLA: Earth 2 page. Those creators and those particular comics have deep personal meaning for me), and as much as I love his Shadow, I think Chakin's most beautiful work is on the Blackhawk miniseries. He may have peaked as a comic book artist in the mid-to-late 1980s, but I still love his art, and his chunkier, broad-chested and wide-hipped character work these days adds a sense of weariness to the heroes and the villains which inhabit the more recent stories.
The Aaron/Chaykin collaboration on Wolverine #56 produces the best single-issue Wolverine tale that I can remember, and one of the best self-contained Marvel stories I've read in ages. It's a fantastic issue. I've been quite disillusioned with Wolverine over the past year, and although I've been picking it up since Millar's excellent run, I haven't really been reading it all that attentively. I liked parts of the Guggenheim run, but it began to feel repetitive by the end, and the Loeb run was a bunch of meaningless revelations beneath some seemingly out-of-place Bianchi art. I would say that issue #56 is a return (albeit briefly, perhaps) to greatness for Wolverine, but I don't know that any issue of the series (in this volume or the last) has ever been quite as good as this one.
The story itself, at least in it's conceit, is reminiscent of Eisner's Spirit. Many of the great Spirit tales focused on a minor character, usually someone pathetic in their way, who crossed paths with Denny Colt, but the story was actually about the minor character's rise and fall (or just their fall from grace). Aaron and Chakin, in Wolverine #56, give us the story of the lonely and misguided Wendell, a man who may never have achieved greatness, but he has also never sunken so low as he has by the time of this story. Wendell shows up to work, awkwardly attempts banter with his colleagues, and then performs his daily task: shooting a giant machine gun into a pit. Inside the pit, of course, is a battered and bloody Wolverine. How he got there is irrelevant. Why Wendell (and the other employees) shoot him is irrelevant (to them). It's their job. And they have to do it every ten minutes to keep Wolverine from healing enough to climb out of the pit.
The story is a touch of Kafka, and a slice of The Twilight Zone, combined with that Eisnerian sense of pathos, and yet, it's a Wolverine story as well, as the title character uses his wits and his feral gifts to combat the unstable Wendell and earn his freedom.
Technically, this story fits into current Wolverine continuity, which is now mired in deep conspiracies and the shadowy machinations of some mysterious "Romulus" character. I'm not very interested in any of that, but I am interested in this single issue. It's a strange, off-beat Wolverine story that never worries about getting the character into costume. And even without a traditional fight scene, it manages to show what is so cool about a character who has been overexposed and underwritten for years.
Yes, Jason Aaron and Howard Chaykin can make a great comic book together, and they have. Pick up Wolverine #56. It's the only Wolverine you'll need for a while. And it's enough.