#1Panel1Page: Ultimate X-Men Vol. 1, Issue 41
For reasons beyond my understanding I gravitated towards Wolverine and began to scoop up tons of X-Men comics in the early nineties. But as I got older I strayed away awhile until one day I found myself in a comic book store wanting to get caught up. This was the early 2000’s and Mark Millar was helming a new reboot of the franchise for Marvel with Adam Kubert. It was more modern and edgy, but maintained all the great traits I had known and loved about the franchise. This was Ultimate X-Men
Forty-one issues in and Brian Michael Bendis is having a run in the series. For my money it’s better than it’s ever been. Bendis gets the characters he writes and it shows. This issue reads like a one act play primarily between two characters. Wolverine and a mutant we only know as ‘J-’ whose abilities only manifested the previous night.
The new mutant had accidentally murdered 265 people in his hometown, including his girlfriend and school right before his own eyes. His power, vaporizing organic matter. After realizing what had happened J hides himself away in a cave. That’s when Logan comes in lighting a fire and cracking a beer. He sits down and the rest of the issue is told as an exchange of dialogue between the two.
As subtle as this issue and this one page is it also holds so much authentic storytelling in it. Wolverine is there for one reason. It had to be him, no one else could have survived the new mutant’s power if it happened. But more importantly it had to be Logan because he’s the only one morally flexible enough to do what was needed. In the Ultimate X-Men universe Xavier, and Magneto before him, uses Wolverine like a hitman on several occasions. By all rights he had always been a hired gun through the years. He was good at it. During the entire conversation Logan drinks beer, it’s part of who he is. But I think he’s trying to numb the pain of what he has to do on this particular night.
The painfully beautiful thing about this page is that the kid realizes if things had gone just a little different he could have been an X-Man too. Instead now he’s a mass murderer. Both of them know what’s coming. Death. For Logan it’s the thing he’s best at, but the new young mutant is better. For decades the core of the X-Men has been about taking in scared kids who can’t control their powers, training them to understand their abilities and use them to protect humanity instead of harm it. But for the first time, in this one book and on this one page, they don’t.
You infer a little about Logan’s mission which has clearly been sanctioned by Xavier. If this mutant joined the Brotherhood, or even just ran away, countless people could die. Everywhere he went there would be a death count. Not everyone who becomes a mutant gets to fly or move objects with their minds.
Not everyone gets to live a normal life; occasionally not everyone gets to live. So Logan tells him to finish his beer. The boy may have murdered 265 people, but he wasn’t a killer so he responds ‘Just do it.’
You never see it, in fact you never even see Logan pop a single claw, but it happens. This story isn’t packed with ‘SNIKT’ action sequences, there’s no battle, no good versus evil, just two mutants talking towards the inevitable ending. It’s a quiet story about ethos and integrity and I believe it’s one of the better issues out there. There’s emotion in the silent panels and there’s heartbreak at the end. Bendis gets it and without even using any of Wolverine’s trademarks he tells you everything you need to know about that character. He’s the best there is at what he does, but what he does isn’t very nice.
My immense thanks to Phillion for inviting me to participate in #1panel1page. He and I both have a special place in our hearts for X-Men and this issue. We’ve talked about it several times and I was very excited at the chance to deconstruct it this way.