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Wolverine: Save the Tiger (Review/Retrospective)

With our month looking at Avengers comics officially over, we thought it might be fun to dig into that other iconic Marvel property, the X-Men. Join us for a month of X-Men related reviews and discussion.

In 2009, Marvel published a Wolverine Omnibus. I’m honestly surprised that it took the company that long to pull together a large volume of work featuring the character and dump it on the market. However, browsing the gigantic hardcover, I’m amazed at just how much Wolverine-related material Marvel published before the character got his own on-going series. There was the Claremont/Miller miniseries, Kitty Pryde & Wolverine, and seemingly numerous cameos and guest appearances in books outside the X-Men line. However, Save the Tiger, a ten-part story that opened the anthology series Marvel Comics Presents, occupies a crucial place in Wolverine lore. Written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by John Buscema, it reads as something of a dress rehearsal for the character’s seemingly inevitable on-going series.

No claws for concern…

Claremont and Buscema would be the team to serve on nine of the first ten issues of the on-going series, and Save the Tiger serves to set up the premise of Wolverine’s self-titled series. Many of the concepts essential to that book are introduced here, from Wolverine’s hang-outs on the fictional island of Madripoor to the criminal gangster Tyger Tiger. Indeed, Claremont even sets the style of the stories he would tell using the title.

Save the Tiger opens with a storytelling device that Claremont would use a few more times in Wolverine, as a deceased individual gives Wolverine a mission to accomplish. “I found Chapel in the desert,” Wolverine explains. “He’d been tortured, by an expert. Those wounds, an’ exposure, finished him. He asked me to return this keepsake.”No points for guessing that Wolverine’s inquiries land him in a whole mess of danger.

Sink or swim time…

Save the Tiger feels like Claremont is sort of going through the motions. He has, after all, been writing Logan for at least a decade at this point. Still, the story feels quite safe and structured, linear and predictable almost. Claremont seems to acknowledge this with his chapter headings for the ten-part story, titling installments “The Good Guy”, “The Bad Guy” and “The Gals.” Later on he explicitly names chapters for the storytelling function they perform, like “The Ordeal” and “Things Get Worse.” Sadly, this is really the most adventurous that the adventure gets, as Claremont pilots the character through a fairly rudimentary pseudo-noir tale.

That said, Claremont does appear to be enjoying himself, with hints of the self-aware Claremont-ian humour. Confronted by the villain “Razorfist” (pretty much exactly what you’d expect), Wolverine muses to himself, “Always wondered how he eats, or gets dressed.” Claremont, clearly aware of his own penchant for purple prose, twice explains that something happened “in less time than it takes to tell.”I guess that depends on how eloquent and verbose your writer happened to be.

Sharp…

Claremont is quite experienced at writing Wolverine by this point, so it’s no surprise he crafts an efficient – if not exceptional – tale. He cleverly positions Wolverine in a decidedly ambiguous world, like something out a classic noir film. “No rules here,” Wolverine observes of Madripoor, “anything goes — an’ everything can bought.” He describes the city as “a human jungle”, and Claremont paints the island as a depressingly corrupt and decaying society. Cops are indifferent to the suffering of innocent women, and mobsters operate with impunity. Naturally, Wolverine gets involved in that ethical quagmire.

As a result of this uncertainty, Wolverine finds himself aligned with a local crime-boss, who promises to be the least objectionable alternative for the island. “Jessan, I fight people like you,” Wolverine tells her, as he articulates the internal conflict – Wolverine is a character based on honour, but what is the honourable decision in such a compromised situation? It’s a clever conflict, and it shows how well Claremont writes Wolverine. He places the character in a situation where the ‘right’ decision is still a morally compromised one. Without indulging in the “darker and edgier” anti-heroes fad, Claremont is able to distinguish Wolverine from the pack.

A fist fight with a difference…

That said, I am surprised how firmly Claremont anchors Wolverine to the continuity of Uncanny X-Men. He ties the origin of the mob boss Tyger Tiger to an earlier storyline in Uncanny X-Men, which feels a little strange – one would imagine that a ‘pilot’ like this should probably be accessible in order to draw in as wide an audience as possible. However, it does add a hint of poignancy to Wolveirne’s quest, allowing Claremont to play up the character’s angst, and suggest that he is atoning for some past sin.

“We did this,” Wolverine tells Jessan. “It’s our fault for sending you back. We should have known.” Superhero comics rarely have a sense of consequence like that. They are rarely focused on what happens after the dust settles on some big dust up, at least as far as the mere mortals caught in the crossfire might be concerned. I think it’s nice that Claremont explores how even being an innocent victim in a superhero conflict could ruin Jessan’s life – and it feels strangely appropriate that Claremont was writing this while on the verge of deconstructing the X-Men within the pages of Uncanny X-Men, during one of the book’s most controversial periods.

A beast of a man…

At the same time, he’s quick to emphasise that this will be Wolverine’s story, and it will not feature the team that made him famous. In fairness to Claremont, he does as good a job here as he did with Kitty Pryde & Wolverine, turning the decision not to involve the team into a nice character moment for Wolverine. “If I yell loud enough inside my mind,” he wonders, “will Psylocke’s telepathy hear those psychic cries an’ send the X-men to the rescue? The blazes with that. I got into this mess without their help, I’ll get out the same way.”

Save the Tigerisn’t exceptional Claremont. It isn’t even exceptional Wolverine. it is, however, a decently entertaining a well constructed tale featuring one of the most iconic characters at Marvel. It’s also the series that set up the first on-going Wolverine series, so it’s certain an important footnote in the history of the character. It’s decent enough, with Claremont having a fun time writing an enjoyable story. Sadly it’s not much more.

You might enjoy our looks at Chris Claremont’s other Wolverine-related work:

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3 Responses

  1. Reblogged this on BookRepublic.

  2. Excellent analysis and critique. I liked the story rather more than you did, but you do raise some fair points. I would have to say that it may not be Claremont’s best work, but it is an exciting, enjoyable adventure story.

    • Thanks Ben. I actually liked it quite a bit. I am fond of Claremont, even if he has a style that has all these flaws and faults in it. I don’t think superheroes would be the same without him. (Strangely, I really like his later stuff on his first (and best) X-Men run, which is the point where most fans claim he lost it.)

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