Ouch, That Hurts:

Looking at Torture in 1991′s Weapon X, by Barry Windsor-Smith

It would be hard to refute that Wolverine is the most famous mutant that Marvel Comics has on their X-Men roster. In the last decade, he has been emphasized and serialized in almost every mainstream media format there is. Readers consume tales of the short, fast-healing mutant for a variety of reasons. It could be because of the mysteries of his past, the brutality of his animalistic nature, or just because he is very, very cool. Whatever the reason, readers have made him the name most associated with the X-Men franchise. For years, the writers at Marvel had kept Logan’s history a jumble of confusion and false memories. It was hard for the reader to really believe what was being written. A few things could be agreed upon, but one of those things was Wolverine was brought into the Weapon X program and as an experiment had adamantium bonded to his bones to make him indestructible. Even though this fact can be agreed upon, there are several versions of this happening. One of those versions is Weapon X by Barry Windsor-Smith who not only wrote the story but drew the book as well.

The series was originally printed in 1991 and it portrayed a very interesting and fluidity to Logan’s train of thought that was much more introspective than in many of his adventures. This united train of thought doesn’t last long in the book though because he is soon abducted and constantly drugged. What is interesting to note is that in this version, the people who are experimenting on Logan and bonding his bones to metal are completely unaware that he is a mutant. This clandestine organization was under the impression that they were abducting a government agent (as in this version Logan was a cop in his day job). The procedure was overseen by the ruthless Prof. Andre Thorton who is revealed as being a puppet for some shadow that is truly pulling the strings and knows about Logan’s mutant ability.

In the first few pages into Logan’s abduction, we see that he is constantly being fed tranquilizers and other mind-dampening drugs. The reader is informed that the scientists have chemically and psychologically stripped Logan of his humanity and have reduced him to an animal. This is a theme seen through Wolverine’s storylines; the idea that he is more of a raging animal than a rational person. Windsor-Smith provides an antagonist that readers can truly hate in Logan’s defense. Thorton pulls no punches in Logan’s treatment. He has Logan stabbed with tubes and needles, turning him into a mutant pincushion.

After the adamantium bonding, the claws emerge from Logan’s hands he immediately kills one of the scientists with them. The reader sees that this event was orchestrated by Thorton to see what Logan would do. Thorton essentially sentenced a young man to die by putting him in a cage with a strung out killing machine. This only furthers validates the role of villain for Thorton. The other two key characters are Dr. Cornelius and Ms. Hines both of whom sympathize for Logan but neither do anything to improve his captivity in the slightest other than a few tears shed for him.

Windsor-Smith shows the reader what had been addressed in the Logan backstory several times; that he has suffered greatly in his life. Writers inserting that fact into one text box every other issue does little to get the point across. Windsor-Smith goes into detail in showing the atrocities that Logan endured. During a training exercise, they leave him out in temperatures 15 below on top of the wild wolves they attacked him with to see if his metal conditioning was working. They literally inserted an on-and-off switch in his mind to control him.  One of the most graphic and disturbing parts of the book is when they have Logan on the operating table. The surgical team has him opened up to his innards in several different places. It is revealed to the surgical team that Logan is sedated but due to his healing ability and Thorton’s sadistic nature he can feel everything that is being done to him. This taps into the fear that every person has when they go in for any kind of surgery, that of the anesthesia not working so that they are paralyzed but aware and feeling the operation. It’s a frightening idea. And Logan lives it.

The reader sees that Logan is still there deep inside himself and aware of the torture that he is enduring. The vast majority of the book is dedicated to the despicable atrocities that Logan suffers in the hands of the Weapon X program. Panels upon panels of gore and sadistic surgical torture is displayed, so much so that the reader keeps reading just to get past it and hopes to see Logan liberated.

Windsor-Smith does a great job of making the reader sympathize with Logan and it gives credit to his back story and even in the character from that moment on. When readers read later series of Wolverine, they were aware that he had indeed weathered fierce and painful storms in his life and degraded to a form less than himself. The artistic aesthetic that Windsor-Smith created was blood and violation.

As the storyline progresses, the reader follows Logan through a violent escape where the book turns into something akin to a slasher flick. Logan, however, does not seek freedom immediately but instead hunts down Thorton and decimates anything and any one in his way.  When Logan finally reaches Thorton, there are countless piles of mutilated corpses behind him. He then proceeds to take Thorton apart piece by piece. It does need to be pointed out that during this time it is not the reactionary animalistic survivalist that is wreaking havoc on Thorton ,but it is the man. The reader sees the return of a conscious mind in regards to Logan. He disposes of Thorton after a significant amount of pain is inflicted. It is then that the tone of the panels shift and Logan reverts back into the bare essentials of his survival instinct. All of a sudden, the psychological issues of him hiding his mutant nature become displayed in a gruesome nightmare scene. This scene is used as a transition into the real world. It is then revealed that the entire escape portion of the book was another psychological torture using virtual reality to trick Logan’s mind into revealing what would happen if he ever tried to escape. This once again creates a new torture; the removal of hope.

Thorton revels in this fact and again believes in his own superiority that this kind of escape is not going to occur and thinks that the program should double down in breaking Logan’s spirit even more because in the virtual reality, he spared Ms. Hines’ life. What Windsor-Smith does to bring his story to a close is by bringing into light that the virtual reality that Logan endured comes to life only moments after it is completed in the false world. This is an interesting move because it essentially makes Thorton the master of his own destruction. An argument can be made that this invasion into Logan’s mind to see how he would escape and in the virtual reality it returns his own human consciousness, that consciousness is still awake after the virtual reality ends and Logan becomes his own master again. This means that Thorton awoke the man that was inside of the animal and that is was the man that needed to be feared. Not the beast.

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Nathan J. Harmon is a graduate of Missouri State University and teaches English in southwest Missouri

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