Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Rage of the Wendigo!


In a story titled "Rage!", you can't help but hit the mark with these two.



Yet this story may surprise you in that respect, since it does more than feature Wolverine taking on the savage Wendigo with his fierce, berserker instincts; we see a very different focus on Wolverine in this tale, a man who takes the lead in mapping out the hunt for the snow beast yet has clearly learned the value of teamwork at the side of the X-Men. And there are more sources of rage in "Rage!" than Wolverine's, or even the Wendigo's--rage that Wolverine will meet head-on, though not in the way you might think.

The wrap-up of a two-part story, this issue has Wolverine (accompanied by Nightcrawler) travelling to Canada in an attempt to mend fences with Alpha Flight--specifically, with its leader, James Hudson, who in the past has not only attempted to take custody of Wolverine on his own but also with the rest of Alpha Flight backing him up, under orders from the Canadian government branch known as Department H.

As for how things stand so far in their efforts to find the Wendigo, let's let Nightcrawler bring us up to speed with a recap, since he appears to be having his own problems with this deadly beast--a creature that kills those unfortunate enough to cross its path by consuming their flesh.




"Perhaps I'll have better luck in the treetops. He looks too bulky to climb after me." This after seeing the Wendigo effortlessly split a tree in half pursuing him. Not to mention our observant demon having the nerve to be astonished when the Wendigo brings down the tree he's climbed with a single punch. If Nightcrawler is getting his tailed butt handed to him here, he has only his writer to blame for having him disregard the fact that trees offer no sanctuary whatsoever if your foe can topple them.

If cannibalism isn't your cup of tea in a comic book, there are a few other interesting sequences to divert our attention before things heat up--bits of characterization that are always welcome in these early stages of Uncanny X-Men, as the team members continue to get to know one another and continue to acclimate to their new lives under Xavier's guidance. For instance, Wolverine, given his inclination to deal ruthlessly and fatally with his foes, is an inevitable topic of discussion between Xavier and the Angel, one of the Professor's former students who has recently rejoined the team and found the methods of this claw-wielding X-Man to be a cause for concern.



We'll have to assume that Xavier has had his conversations with Wolverine off-panel about holding his behavior in the field to a higher standard, since I don't recall such words ever being exchanged between them. That doesn't exactly come as a surprise, since the book can't afford to water down a character such as Wolverine who's become a rising star in the book and whose attributes--so very different from the other X-Men--distinguish him and make him popular with readers. Instead, writer Chris Claremont has often left it to the other X-Men members to call Wolverine on his impulsive behavior. If word has ever gotten back to Xavier, it's curious that we haven't seen the effects, since even Angel must be wondering why Xavier hasn't addressed the matter with Wolverine more directly.

We also check in with Storm, who has become leader of the X-Men with the departure of Cyclops and who we see here in a rare moment of interaction with the locals. And while it may not be an encounter to her liking, it gives us a rare glimpse into her sense of humor.



In this encounter, Storm obviously isn't inclined to take her own advice to Kitty Pryde, whom she picks up after her dance lesson and chastises when the teenager phases into their car rather than opening the door. "What do you think you're doing, flaunting your power like that?! Suppose someone sees you?!" I'm sure that little thunderstorm that was whipped up in full view of passers-by on a public sidewalk fell into the same category.  Who chastises the chastiser?

And then there's Wolverine himself, whose civilian name we've finally learned in the prior issue and whose history we've been picking up in bits and pieces. During his reunion with Hudson, we're given a glimpse into his background--not much to work with, but a good beginning that can only fan further interest in the character.




With the preliminaries of the story concluded, our focus is turned to the situation with the Wendigo--his grisly activities in the Canadian woods of Hudson Bay having resulted in an investigation by a contingent of Alpha Flight, a group that Wolverine and Nightcrawler have offered their assistance to on their arrival. Given his prior experience with the Wendigo, it's Wolverine who's been able to identify the creature responsible for the tragedy of the missing Parnalls--a family of four who were attacked by the Wendigo, with the husband slaughtered and Mrs. Parnall and her infant daughter abducted. It will soon become evident to Wolverine and his party that the steps they're taking to find the creature won't be necessary--because the sound of one of their own, landing on their doorstep with a thud, makes it clear that the Wendigo has come to them.



Wolverine did pretty well against the Wendigo in their first meeting--and this time, he's backed up by members of Alpha Flight. On the other hand--does the Wendigo look worried?



It perhaps bears mentioning that this Wendigo isn't exactly the same creature that Wolverine dropped in their previous clash. The Wendigo, according to its legend as slightly revised by Marvel, is a supernatural product of a human who avoids starvation by resorting to taking the extreme step of eating human flesh to preserve their life; whoever is driven to do so becomes the monstrous Wendigo, a creature who then roams the forests looking for victims to consume. In its first appearance, the Wendigo was formerly a man named Paul Cartier, whose sister, Marie, attempted to save him from his transformation by substituting Bruce Banner in his place in a mystic rite of transferal; but Paul's friend, Georges Baptiste, saved Banner and substituted himself in the rite, with Paul returning to normal and Georges becoming the Wendigo.

For what it's worth, Baptiste would be the first Wendigo not to have come into existence as a result of cannibalism--a fact that appears to have made no difference in the current Wendigo's modus operandi, given what happened with the Parnalls and who knows how many others. And it certainly won't make any difference in how Wolverine deals with the creature--a moment which arrives following its escape from the encounter with Alpha Flight, as it returns to take sustenance from two of its prior victims. But the Wendigo has been tracked, by one who intends to make certain that moment never comes.





As before, Wolverine's ferocity carries the day, and he's able to retrieve the surviving Parnalls and help them to quickly make their way from the site. In light of the likelihood of the Wendigo regaining consciousness, it seems out of character for Wolverine not to have delivered the killing stroke, as he would have done the same to members of the Marauders or to gun-wielding hoodlums of the Hellfire Club. Granted, perhaps the Wendigo cannot die, if we're to believe Marie's prior assessment of the creature; but with the Wendigo at his mercy, and with the Parnalls' safety to consider, Wolverine had ample opportunity to strike through vital organs, or even resorting to decapitation.

We can certainly expect that the Wendigo isn't going to be as neglectful.





Really, Nightcrawler? All the maneuvers you must have worked out with the X-Men and later executed in the field, only to make it seem like it's an entirely new experience for you here? You're just full of little surprises today, aren't you?

As before, even with the efforts of Alpha Flight, the Wendigo proves resistant to the forces used against him, which makes the sidelining of Shaman in this fight conspicuous.  His abilities--based in magic--would seem to be tailor-made for a creature of the Wendigo's nature; even Marie Cartier, untrained in mysticism, was able to use such means to affect the creature, including sedating it. The Wendigo's strength may prevent magical restraint used against him--but doesn't Shaman have other resources at his disposal? Apparently not.

Fortunately, Snowbird, who also has been kept under wraps up until this point, is now given her chance to pitch in--and the form she shape-shifts to has already been proven to be effective against the Wendigo.




Obviously, the threat of the Wendigo appears to have been exchanged for another. Yet it leads to a scene which Claremont handles sensibly and well, and serves to spotlight both Wolverine and Snowbird in a moment uniquely their own.



As we've seen in this story and the prior issue, the name-dropping of the dead Phoenix has already begun, spurred by practically any impression or prompt that's at hand. Such references are understandable in these issues that see the X-Men in transition and moving on, though it would have been equally understandable for them to taper off at some point.

With the Wendigo finally down--Snowbird, it seems, is a little more thorough in her attack as a wolverine--Shaman is able to make certain of the creature's continued slumber and eventually performs a ritual that transforms the Wendigo back to Georges Baptiste, who may have undergone a harrowing experience but is nevertheless placed under arrest by Vindicator.  And Alpha Flight and the X-Men prepare to part company, this time on better terms.



It's a fine ending for both Wolverine and Hudson, including perhaps a moot point involving Wolverine's resignation since Hudson would soon discover that both Department H and Alpha Flight have been disbanded, victims of the lack of government funding.

To cap the main story, however, there is a final scene involving Nightcrawler and Wolverine, which offers food for thought on the parallels between Baptiste and Wolverine, if that's even the correct word. There are mitigating circumstances in the case of Baptiste--but with Wolverine, Nightcrawler appears to be less convinced.



Again, it might have been interesting--even necessary--for Xavier to have had this kind of conversation with Wolverine, particularly if he continued to wish to remain an X-Man. Yet it's his fellow X-Men who have handled the situation in the Professor's stead--a development that, perhaps in Xavier's mind, served to address the situation more effectively. To what extent Wolverine was tempered by such discussions--much like the details of Wolverine's origins--remained to be seen.

Uncanny X-Men #140

Script: Chris Claremont
Pencils: John Byrne
Inks: Terry Austin
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski

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