Wolverine: Weapon X by Marc Cerasini review

Wolverine: Weapon X
Author: Marc Cerasini
Published: 2004

If I had thought about the fact that Wolverine: Weapon X was almost certainly going to be one long, slow, unpleasant session of mental torture and brainfuckery I probably would have stuck it at the bottom of the pile and started with one of the other Wolverine novels. But I didn’t think about it; and it was the first novel in the omnibus. And the omnibus arrived in my mailbox before any of the other novels. So I started with Weapon X.

Weapon X is a long, slow, unpleasant session of mental torture and brainfuckery. I didn’t enjoy most of it. I staggered forward through the text with the attitude of a soldier slogging his way through hostile foreign territory, constantly under threat. So I guess you could say that the book is a success. 

Frankly, that’s how I would describe the novel. A success. It is successful at what it sets out to do, which is to pull you into the abjectly grim and psychotically horrible world of the Weapon X project.

Do not read this novel if you are looking for a novel where you get to spend time with Logan being Logan, or Wolverine being Wolverine. This book is not a spy thriller. It is not a science-fiction adventure. It is not a story of the savage frontier, or the lawless honor of 1980s Japan. It is a story about a bunch of scientists attempting to torture a man until he stops being a man and becomes a mindless, programmable killing machine. 

Since our ostensible protagonist is willfully robbed of all perception and agency throughout around seventy percent of the novel, the narrative instead follows the point of view of the scientists and security personnel running the torturous experiment. Broadly speaking, we follow the Professor, Dr. Cornelius, Ms. Hines, and Culter; getting a peek at each of their internal narrations and backstories, understanding what it was that drove them through every moral barrier to work on this morally reprehensible experiment. Each of them has a, broadly speaking, tragic backstory, some of them working better than others. Except Cutler. Cutler the security guy is just kind of there because he’s there. 

I can’t decide if I like the inclusion of each of the scientists’ tragic backstories. On the one hand, obviously trauma can set people on the path to great evil.  On the other hand, sometimes evil is very mundane. I would say that I am broadly satisfied with the handling of Dr. Cornelius’ backstory, and less so with the professor and Ms. Hines. Ms. Hines backstory particularly deals with some themes and content that is not only extremely dark in an unexpected way, but it’s also tropey, cliche, and borderline misogynist. 

The Professor, meanwhile, I don’t think ‘deserves’ a tragic backstory. I say ‘deserves’ here in that I don’t think it serves the character or the narrative for his evil to stem from such a graphically and emotionally horrific incident. The Professor is without a doubt the least sympathetic character in the narrative and I don’t think his present evil behavior and his past traumatic backstory tie together in a way that is interesting or narratively satisfying. I suspect that the author was trying to attempt to shy away from the idea of simply being evil for evil’s sake, but I think that the narrative would have been served better either by leaving the Professor’s POV out of the narrative and keeping him as a more distant figure, or by suggesting the Professor’s tragic backstory rather than spelling it out in graphic and gruesome detail. 

The bulk of the action in which we do get to share point of view with Logan are a series of flashbacks to a particular black-ops mission. While I was pleased to spend some time with Logan during these interludes and get away from the truly horrific medical horror happening in the rest of the book, the problem is not just that it’s bog-standard–even bad– spy thriller fiction in these sections; the problem is that the particular mission that we relive with Logan doesn’t have any bearing on or connection with the ongoing action in the present, barring one arbitrary detail. Arbitrary, I think, is the best way to describe it. It’s a breath of air, breaking up the other narrative segments, but it’s stale air, not fresh.

Speaking of the black-ops segments, I unfortunately can’t get through this entire review without mentioning the most uncomfortable part of these segments. Logan’s mission takes place in Korea, and the segment is absolutely full of ever-present casual orientalist racism towards Koreans and the Japanese. Skin is referred to as ‘yellow’, and two significant characters are straight-facedly given nonsense names the equivalent of naming an American character Stallion McBurger or something. Even as someone only casually acquainted with Japanese names and culture, reading the character’s name threw me out of the story every single time as I was forced to ponder if it was a fake spy name. Regrettably, it was not.

Overall, the novel mostly consists of long descriptions of medical and psychological torture as the narrative plods towards its inevitable, gory climax. I will give the novel this, though, when that gory climax hit, the blood, guts and revenge really did feel satisfying. Cathartic, even. The author manages to put you through a slice of the Weapon X program yourself, and through the other side with Logan.

The author’s prose is serviceable for what the novel is. It’s gritty, and pulpy, occasionally cheaply poetic, and it put me in the mind of Max Payne. I didn’t hate it at all. Additionally, the author manages to pull off one great gut punch of a reversal that I won’t spoil. I will however say that this twist doesn’t significantly alter the emotional payoff, which is good. Like I said, Weapon X the novel is successful at what it sets out to do.

I’m not certain whether or not I’m pleased to have read this novel. On the one hand, I don’t regret the time that I spent with it. On the other hand, I’m definitely ready to move on to something that isn’t deliberately sledgehammering me with medical and psychological horror. In the end, I think Wolverine: Weapon X, like the Weapon X project itself, is an unpleasant but ultimately strengthening experience that’s best regarded in the rear view mirror. 

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