February 1986: Uncanny X-Men 205 – Or, this is why I don’t do carol singing.

Synopsis: Wounded Wolf was written by Chris Claremont with pencils, inks and colours by Barry Windsor Smith and opens in Spiral’s Body Shoppe were the Reavers (Macon, Cole and Reese, former guards from the Hellfire club torn up by Wolverine during the Dark Phoenix Saga) are having there cybernetics upgrading while Oyama Yuriko, a woman who blames Wolverine for her father’s fall from grace is having her body transformed into a weapon, so that she may revenge herself upon him.

Some undetermined time later it’s Christmas time in Manhattan and a 5 year old girl is being taken carol singing by Mrs Randolph. This is no ordinary girl, it’s Katie Power, Energiser of Power Pack who is eager to get to her singing. On the way, the two are caught in the midst of a pitched battle between the Reavers (along with Yuriko, now calling herself Lady Deathstrike) and their quarry, the X-Man known as Wolverine. One of the Reavers is down, Deathstrike wants information and the rest of the Reavers just want him dead. They have almost managed that, but Katie remembers Wolverine and that makes her all the more determined to save him.

He himself is near death, mentally he’s barely beyond an animal state and the snow is pretty much a blizzard now. It’s hard for both of them, but with a short taxi ride, before the taxi is shot up, Katie gives Wolverine the only thing he really needed, time to heal. Despite his rage, his erratic behaviour and the sense of impending danger, Katie keeps trying and bit by bit, Wolverine’s humanity is restored. Out of sight, Wolverine asks Katie to do one more thing, close her eyes and trust him, he’s been hunted long enough.

The two remaining Reavers face Wolverine and it goes as you would expect. He’s hurt, but angry and tears into them viciously. He then finds Lady Deathstrike, she talks about a duel, about honour and her father’s memory. Wolverine tries to reason with her, but it really all comes down to who is better with claws and even in this animal state, it’s the X-Man who stands victorious. He’s appalled by both his actions and what Yuriko has done to herself. He was physically changed, but she chose to give up her humanity. Now near death herself, she begs for a merciful death. Logan has no mercy in him at this point and does the worst thing he can do, he lets her live. He finds Katie and she asked if he killed them. He tells her that he chose to change and to put aside the old ways of doing things. He asks if she is afraid of him, she is. He tells her that she always has a friend in him and it’s time to take her home.

Notes: This is a Wolverine story, it’s also a very good story and they are not always the same thing. Having the narration done by Lady Deathstrike and the hero of the tale be Katie Power prevents Wolverine from taking over the comic, Claremont was one of the few writers who was good at avoiding the over saturation of Wolverine. It’s since become something of a lost art.

Another thing that fell by the wayside is limitations on Wolverine’s healing factor. This isn’t the Wolverine who can heal from almost nothing and all that stuff. By the time the main story has started Wolverine is bleeding, weak and rendered pretty much insensible. There’s no guarantee that he can survive this, so the threat and drama are quite intense. The fact that the person who saves him is a 5 year old girl takes none of that away and instead adds greater peril to the already dangerous situation, but instead plays to the nobility and elder brother/mentor role that Wolverine often falls into, which belies his more bestial outer nature. He choses to spare the Reavers not for them, nor the little girl, but for himself. He’s not the machine he was made into, nor the beast that dwells within his heart, but a man who can chose something better. This issue is Claremont putting that out there for all to see and I was glad to see it.

But the real star here is the art of Barry Windsor Smith. Moody, detailed and chock-full of action. A truly distinctive taken, Smith is the best person to tell this story. It’s beautifully done and stands apart from the issues before or after. Like his LifeDeath stories, this is a stand alone classic.

Next Time: Iron Man vs the Bee Keepers.

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