The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 56 | “Wolverine: Saudade” One-Shot Review

Leaving Proof 56 | “Wolverine: Saudade” One-Shot Review
Published on Saturday, October 29, 2011 by
Wolverine: Saudade
  • WolvSaudade_00(Marvel Comics, 2008; 48 pages, Reprints Wolverine: Saudade, originally published in French by Panini Comics/Marvel Transatlantique in 2006)
  • Written by: Jean-David Morvan
  • Art by: Philippe Bouchet
  • Translation by: Alexandra Main-Cole
  • Adaptation by: Larry Hama
  • Lettering by: Dave Sharpe
  • List Price: $4.99 (US)/$5.05 (CAN)

 

Saudade (pronounced [sɐ.uˈdadɨ] or [sawˈdad(ʒ)i]) is a Portuguese/Galician word with no direct translation in English. Oh, Google Translate will tell you that it means “longing” or “nostalgia,” or alternatively, “yearning.” But those one-word translations fail to capture the term’s specific conceptual framework. In his 1912 book In Portugal, author A.F.G. Bell defined saudade as

A vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.

American author Katherine Vaz, in her novel Saudade, interprets the word as

Yearning so intense for those who are missing, or for vanished times or places, that their absence is the most profound presence in one’s life. A state of being, rather than merely a sentiment.

In many ways, saudade perfectly describes the inner emotional conflict and cruelly ironic tragedy that defines Marvel Comics’ Wolverine. He is a man with a fractured mind, perpetually trying to piece together his past, but his patchwork memories consist of events that quite possibly never actually happened, manufactured and implanted by a shadowy government agency in its attempt to brainwash the beclawed mutant.

Wolverine: Saudade is something of a curious artifact. Originally released in 2006 by long-time Marvel Comics publishing partner in Europe Panini Comics, the one-shot features Jean-David Morvan (if he’s familiar to North American mainstream comics readers at all, it’s probably for his brief run on the popular Spirou et Fantasio series of Franco-Belgian comic albums) on writing duties and French science-fiction painter and concept artist Philippe Bouchet (a.k.a. “Manchu”) on art. Morvan and Bouchet have a prior history of collaboration, having worked on the space opera comic series Sillage (published in the United States by NBM Publishing as Wake), but as far as I know, this is their first superhero-themed work. In 2008, Wolverine: Saudade was released in North America, the dialogue being adapted by long-time Wolverine comic book scribe Larry Hama. It was a bit of an unusual development, since the Marvel-Panini relationship generally involves American comics crossing the Atlantic and being adapted for European readers (I think Wolverine: Saudade is the first—and currently, the only—original Panini Comics/Marvel Transatlantique publication to be translated into English and sold in North America, although I could be wrong on that).

Wolverine: Saudade‘s story involves the hirsute mutant protagonist going to Rio de Janeiro on a mission for Professor X to track down an anonymous (and apparently very powerful) mutant detected by their mutant-tracking computer Cerebro. Initially through no fault of his own, Wolverine gets caught up in a conflict between a group of street urchins and a heavily-armed squad of thugs. This being Wolverine, it should come as no surprise to the reader that he sides with the street urchins. It should also come as no surprise to the experienced X-Men comic book reader that the powerful mutant Professor X has sent Wolverine to find turns out to be one of the street urchins and that the squad of goons aren’t just an ordinary Rio death squad, but are mercenaries in the employ of a heretofore undiscovered evil mutant. There’s nothing wrong with a somewhat formulaic Wolverine comic book (in fact, I generally enjoy them as long as the technical level of the craft is solid), but readers looking for some sort of City of God-inspired commentary about life and crime in Rio’s favelas as viewed through the superhero metaphor will probably feel a little disappointed (honestly, if you picked up a Wolverine comic book looking for that, you only really have yourself to blame for your feeling of disappointment).

Bouchet’s art was really the first thing that actually got me to notice this book when previews for it started showing up on-line three years ago. His rendering looks very much like a hybrid of the modern European ligne claire style and the more dynamic stylizations of contemporary Japanese manga. Think Geof Darrow-meets-Katsuhiro Otomo. I’m not all that familiar with Bouchet’s prior work, but his work on Wolverine: Saudade appears to me to be superior in terms of technical merits compared to the few samples I’ve seen of his work on Sillage/Wake (although that could just be a matter of my personal preferences… I’m a little bit burnt out on the whole Métal Hurlant-style space opera future setting inhabited by the latter). The backgrounds and props are superbly detailed but don’t look cluttered or overly-busy, the figures pop right out of the page, facial expressions are varied and easy to interpret, and the action is a joy to follow from panel to panel. Some readers might dislike how Bouchet depicts Wolverine’s claws (he adds a recurve), but I think it’s a harmless exercise in artistic license.

Despite a somewhat by-the-numbers main plot, fans of ass-kicking and bad guy beatdowns will find a lot to enjoy here. Gratuitous violence and gore are a given in just about any Wolverine story (What do you expect? He’s a guy with knives coming out of his fists!), and what violence and gore depicted here isn’t really any more explicit than what you would see in a typical superhero comic book these days (by the way, for those of you out there who care about these things, the book has a “Mature Readers” label, but aside from an “asshole” here and a “prick” there in the dialogue, it’s really no more “mature” in content than most current superhero fare). In some scenes, the context in which Wolverine visits violence upon his enemies is different from what I’m accustomed to seeing, though. There’s a sequence where Wolverine does a particular nasty bit of mayhem to a particularly nasty villain. It’s the kind of thing that I think people familiar with the character can imagine and accept him doing given how he’s supposed to be a brutal and fearsome fighter, but it’s still a little surprising seeing it on the printed page. The story does address the saudade theme towards the end—not in the way one would expect in a story involving Wolverine, perhaps—in a poignant (if perhaps a smidge heavy-handed) epilogue that, in no uncertain terms, lays out what saudade means.

All in all, Wolverine: Saudade is a thoroughly enjoyable read with excellent art. It was already quite the affordable one-shot when it was released in 2008 ($4.99 for 48 pages and no ads is a good deal in these days of $3.99 22-pagers) and it’s even more of a no-brainer purchase now (a quick search of Amazon turns up new copies selling for as low as 95 cents, although with shipping, it rounds up to costing about the same as the list price).

Recommended.

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