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The Astounding Wolf-Man #25
posted February 8, 2011
Robert Kirkman, Jason Howard, FCO & Ivan Plascencia
Image, comic book, 36 pages, 2011, $4.99
I'm a sucker for final episodes, and The Astounding Wolf-Man
#25 offers up several classic elements of its species: a narrative conclusion that brings elements of the initial plot-line full circle, a major character death, a new status quo established, an inexplicable teaser to a story that may never happen, and, for the most part, a safe and comfortable place provided for each of the good-guy principals and the emotional sigh of relief that comes with it. There's only a tiny bit of a fast-forward feeling involved with the major fight that takes up a significant chunk of the issue; this involves a major information dump including plot elements that might have been more satisfying discovered over five years as opposed to discussed over five pages. Mostly this is exactly what it appears to be: a sturdy issue of modern super-powered heroics, just one with a lot of business to take care of. If there's anything else that distinguishes this issue from others in the series before it, it's how far its artist Jason Howard has come first issue to last: there remains no better path for learning to do well-structured, visually appealing comics pages than doing a bunch of comics pages with that goal in mind. Writer Robert Kirkman's story seems more than ever here a kind of an arbitrarily selected clash of disparate elements, but the actions scenes have snap, and it's difficult to be too severe with a stew of incompatible characters and story ideas when they're basically hugging each other goodbye.
There are a couple of pop-culture related elements that came to mind re-reading Astounding Wolf-Man
#25, by which I mean ideas that came to mind focused not on the work itself but on wider issues that its publication suggests. The first is an observation about its mega-successful writer. Despite the fact that I'm sure it had many fans, The Astounding Wolf-Man
seemed to me based on this cancellation and just about any rational comparison of the books themselves to be a distant third quality-wise to Kirkman's Walking Dead
serials. Why is that? I think this last issue suggests that by choosing to work with what is basically a 1970s Marvel superhero book version of horror comics archetypes, Kirkman limited himself to a very specific range of effects, one that wasn't always logical and to my reading wasn't consistently sustaining. To make a comparison I'll regret maybe as soon as two sentences from now, I suspect that Kirkman needs a richer culinary/cultural tradition and a deeper pantry of genre expectations when it comes to cooking up his lived-in, longer works. He never came close to having that here.
The other thing I found compelling is that Kirkman and Howard announce in the supporting material that they're going to do a straight-up kids book, starting later this year. This made me wonder after why this
book wasn't a kids book in the first place. Kids like monsters, and the Marvel-style tamping down of the scarier bits would serve a greater purpose had this been aimed at kids, the world as depicted could be more easily forgiven for not being convincing as a lived-in setting, and the family dynamics throughout could have maybe been more poignant with a lighter, less "mature" touch. My general take on genre comics is that execution is everything and that high-concepts are stressed mostly because people want the kind of credit they can transport into other creative endeavors; this comic was at least novel in that sense, in that I'm not sure there was a whole lot that could have been done after certain choices were made early-on. Given what the series at its best said about a decent man's scrambling to deal with the events of one bad day, that seems an appropriate epitaph.