Hey kids, it's comics week all the sudden!

Today's reading: Weapon X, Barry Windsor-Smith

Deserves a place with Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again as one of the great superhero reimaginings of comics’ grim-and-gritty era. Except that it’s hardly a superhero comic at all: Wolverine is never called by that name, never appears in his costume, never does anything terribly heroic—hell, he hardly even speaks. Instead, he’s cast as the monster in a harrowing sci-fi/horror story about cruelty, inhumanity, and abuse of power, of the miserable-bastards-get-what’s-coming-to-them variety.

Really, it’s amazing that Windsor-Smith was able to convince Marvel to spend twelve months publishing a story about three unethical, unlikeable, and largely incompetent people relentlessly torturing the comatose shell of one of their most popular characters. If that sounds like an unpleasant read—it is. But unlike so many other efforts to take superhero characters into this sort of ultra-dark territory, it’s executed with enough skill, intelligence, and maturity to actually reap some dramatic rewards in trade for the sense of fun it surrenders.

The closest thing to a misstep is the final chapter, which reads like a compromise with the demands of in-continuity storytelling. But then again, its awkward twists also add some valuable ambiguity to what otherwise might be a bit too pat of a genre-fiction wrap up. As it is, “pat” is the last word you’d use to describe anything about this book. From the panel layouts to the characterization, the narrative chronology to the thematic content, it’s remarkably oblique and nonlinear, with the courage—rare enough in any artistic medium—to make its readers work to understand what’s going on and who they should be rooting for, and to leave them ultimately as bereft of any emotional closure as the abused hero himself.