I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s a fairly rare thing for me to look at an idea or intellectual property and grow legitimately jealous that I wasn’t the one to think of it. Okay, well, it probably happens more often than I’m letting on, but in the case of Wolverton: Thief Of Impossible Objects, it’s been a hard one to let go, let alone forget. I mean, look at it for Pete’s sakes?! It’s a comic book about a jewel thief who is six parts Westley from Princess Bride, and four parts literally every David Niven role ever. He’s extraordinary, he’s a gentleman, and he takes his leagues the same way the San Diego Padres take their chances of ever winning a World Series (20,000 under).
I first encountered Wolverton about a year ago, close to the same time I hung up my shingle and started advertising myself as a professional comic book artist on Twitter. Immediately, I was taken in by the premise: Your classic black cat jewel thief who specializes in the misappropriation of rare and impossible objects, ie: The Monkey’s Paw. It’s about as brilliant as an idea has any right to get. It’s everything we’ve come to want from an Indiana Jones movie combined with the waning aristocratic gentility, (and absurdity) of a classic Wooster & Jeeves yarn. Though originally conceived for film and television, Wolverton evolved beyond those stakes to aspire to what is, in my humble opinion, the greatest medium that ever was or ever will be: Comics.
Issue one immediately charmed my socks off from a graphic design standpoint with the use of the old squa tront font of EC Comics fame. Add to that some very Sean Murphy-esque line art from Derek Rodenbeck. Rodenbeck’s edgy, razor sharp hatching and linework are a delight on every page, and really help to reinforce the narrative tone throughout, though most particularly in the action packed first act, itself reminiscent of Dr. Jones’s retrieval of the Cross of Coronado at the beginning of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. Overall, the first issue is a solid win in terms of story and structure. We kick things off with the eponymous hero, Wolverton, relieving a composite Captain Nemo/Doctor Faustus of his hard won monkey’s paw. The series author is banking on his readers having some prior knowledge of this withered curiosity as he does not at any point condescend to tell us precisely what The Monkey’s Paw is, what it does, where it comes from. The only thing I as a reader found a little off putting about this first issue had less to do with any underlying condescension in the story points rather than a sort of under-confidence inherent to how much written narrative there was to accompany the already very coherent and comprehensible art. There were a couple of anachronisms built in that sort of pulled me out of the time and place of the narrative, references to things like Tetris and Quisinarts. The overwhelming sense I got from it was that letterer Elizabeth McBride had transcribed the entirety of the script into the narrative caption and description bubbles. The combination of clear illustration and written narrative to enforce/reiterate the visual punch is a classic trope of Golden and Silver Age comics. Even Frank Miller gets away with it in his Bronze on Modern work with Daredevil and Spider-Man, so it is not to say it doesn’t have its place, only that it was a bit distracting in this first outing.
Issue two, as it happens, does what only the best sequels can in that it takes what worked in the first issue, and expands it to new limits. I can’t stress this point enough, as this is very delicate territory for storytelling. How many The Mummy Returns do we need to relegate to the Wal-Mart bargain bins before we realize sequels are harder to pull off than their predecessors? The edgy art of issue one gives way here to the lush, and expressive line work of Jackie Lewis. There is a deeper sense of play, and exaggerated emotionality from this second issue not entirely present in the first. From the very Keystone Cops like opening splash, to the exquisite opera house set pieces, Wolverton #2 is a more than worthy successor for the series, which manages to find the confidence and pace in its visual storytelling, enough so to eschew the overused captions of issue one. (Seriously, I’m looking back over issue 2 right now and the only written narrative I’m seeing comes in the form of character dialog, meaning the art has gotten that front seat it has always deserved.)
In all, the Wolverton books so far are just pure fun. The books themselves are beautifully printed and constructed, and have a very archival sort of feel. I, for one, anxiously await the third outing in this already marvelous series, and anything else that comes after. Mssrs. Stark & Garrett have a potential classic on their hands here. Tally ho, gentlemen, and all that. Do crack on, won’t you?