Underrated: The Astounding Wolf-Man Volume One

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week:  The Astounding Wolf-Man

atounding wolf-man.jpgBorn from Robert Kirkman‘s desire to see comic books on the rack that are easily identifiable from the cover and the title, The Astounding Wolf-Man is a comic about a werewolf superhero. The complete twenty five issue run is collected across four volumes, all published by Image. The series originally ran in the mid 2000’s, culminating with the 25th issue in 2010. The Astounding Wolf-Man mixes the supernaturally traditional horror monsters (basically werewolves and vampires) in with the traditional cape and cowl crowd in ways that you may not have necessarily encountered before within the Marvel or DC universes. Kirkman establishes the existence of the monsters long before he does the heroes, which has the effect of grounding the world in the supernatural long before we see the heroes – so while the reader is used to and has accepted the existence of werewolves, the heroes are left to question the very nature of Wolf-Man much longer into the series.

The origin of Wolf-Man is told succinctly, with Kirkman never allowing the origin to feel overly drawn out or excessive – the story is well paced from start to finish, and it all begins with the origin.

Who is the Wolf-Man?

Gary Hampton. A man who was mauled by a werewolf while out camping with his family, and chooses to use his newfound powers for good by becoming a superhero. But there are dangers with being a heroic werewolf, both the physical reactions of those he confronts, and from the reactions of those around Gary Hampton. Kirkman stays true to the horror stories that have made him famous by injecting a touch of the emotional tension from The Walking Dead as the audience witnesses Wolf-Man’s world adjust to who and what he is.

Joining Kirkman in this venture is artist Jason Howard. Howard was a relative newcomer at the time of the series publication, but has gone on to work on Super Dinosaur, also with Kirkman, and Trees with Warren Ellis. His style throughout the comic reminded me a lot of Batman: The Animated Series in how the characters had a weight to them, and their kinetic energy as they dance their often violent dance across the pages of the graphic novel. Obviously, given the nature of the titular hero, one should expect a judicious use of red ink on these pages as Wolf-Man slices his way through various opponents of varying degrees of villainy.

So the question now, is why is this underrated? Because aside from it being an incredibly fun read, I hadn’t heard of it until I saw the collection on the used shelf at my local comic shop. It turned out that the fresh take on supernatural superheroes was far more entertaining than I had initially expected, and given the fame of some of Kirkman’s other work, I was a little surprised that the twenty five issue run ofThe Astounding Wolf-Man hadn’t gained any real stream before. 

If you get a chance to read this, then do so. You’ll find an Underrated gem just waiting for you.

Join us next week when we look at something else that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.