Retro Review: Milestone’s Wise Son: The White Wolf By Ho Che Anderson

Wise Son: The White Wolf #1-4 (November 1996)

Written by Ho Che Anderson

Art by Ho Che Anderson

Painted Colour by Julia Lacquement

Spoilers (from twenty-four years ago)

I’m sure that most of us have regrets lingering from the 1990s.  Keeping the focus on comics alone, there is still a lot to regret from that much-maligned decade.  Most of my 90s comics regrets revolve around the choices of books that I bought, but one that I’m slowly working to correct is the choice of books that I didn’t buy.  I have no idea why twenty-year-old me wasn’t into the Milestone books.  They were beautiful, and truly different from anything else on the stands.

At this point, aside from reading the full run of Xombi, and the first trades of Hardware’s and Icon’s books, I don’t know a whole lot about the Milestone universe.  Prior to the lockdown, it was something that I was scouring dollar bins for, with little luck.  I did, however, score a set of the Wise Son miniseries, by Toronto creator Ho Che Anderson.

I know that Wise Son was part of the Blood Syndicate.  That is the extent of the knowledge that I’m going into this with (I learned quickly that his name is Hannibal), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I know that this series came after the character was established, but I hope the book is new-reader friendly enough that I can get by.  Let’s find out together…

Let’s track who turned up in the title:

Villains

  • Children of the Ivory Fist (#2-4)

Guest Stars

  • Flashback (Blood Syndicate; #1-2, 4)
  • Third Rail (Blood Syndicate; #1)
  • Fade (Blood Syndicate; #1)
  • Aquamaria (Blood Syndicate; #1)
  • DMZ (Blood Syndicate; #1)

Supporting Characters

  • Bookstore man (#1-4)
  • Bookstore woman (#1-4)
  • Hildegarde (#1-3)
  • Wise’s mother (#1, 3)
  • Edmund (#1, 3)
  • Lark Calendar (#2-4)
  • Rob Chaplick (reporter; #3-4)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • I kind of expected that this would be a tough one to write about, but I’ll do my best.  In what I suspect is a dream sequence, a man watches a white wolf eat at the neck of a naked person.  Somewhere in the city, a lone skinhead walks alongside a river.  A car stops in front of him, and four guys get out.  They argue, the guy denies being a Nazi, but uses the N-word, and the guys beat him to death and then toss him into the river, although they miss and he just lies on the shore.  Wise Son is sitting drinking on his twentieth birthday, amazed that he’s lived so long.  His gang (since the Blood Syndicate is not a team in the traditional sense) is preparing a party for him (Flashback has made a cake), but he’s not feeling it.  He thinks about how many people in his life have died or left him, and we see the image of the white wolf again.  Wise leaves before the party begins.  On the street, a Nation of Islam preacher named Brother Wyatt tries to talk to some older folk.  We see Wise, still drinking a 40, wander past this scene and into a bookstore called 3rd World Books.  In it, the owner is arguing with a younger man about knowledge and violence.  The woman with the man wants to leave, and when he calls her a name, the man tells him off.  After they leave, the man asks Wise who he is, and debates whether gangs bring any good to a community.  Wise tells him his real name, Hannibal White, but they are interrupted as Brother Wyatt enters.  They don’t talk long, and it’s unclear what happens to Wise Son – he just disappears.  When Brother Wyatt exits the store, someone bumps into him, and then a few people – at least four, start beating on him.  One of his assailants uses a sledgehammer.  A woman and man sit outside a building.  The woman wants to bring the man inside, but because of her aunt and someone named Edmund, she can’t.  She heads inside to find that her aunt is up late, and suffering from her bad back.  The woman, Hildegarde, goes to check on her nephew, Edmund, and finds him still up too, claiming he can see his friends in a mirror he’s holding.  She gets him to go to bed.  Wise Son is now with a woman, and they go to a cheap motel.  She wants to get a room for a night, but he tells her to rent it for a week.  Later, when she is in the bathroom, he keeps drinking, and admits to himself that he’s not that interested in having sex with her, mostly because of how light-skinned she is.  We see the man from the first page reach his hand out to the white wolf, and when it growls, he starts to run from it.
  • Flashback and Wise Son walk around together; he’s not happy that she’s tracked him down, as he wants to be away from the gang for a while (although I guess he never told them that).  He tells her he’s not returning to the gang’s warehouse, and lets her know that he knows she uses crack.  He enters 3rd World Books, where the storekeeper greets him, before getting into an argument.  They talk about the murder of a could of Nation of Islam ministers, and the storekeeper expects Wise to be more interested, given he wears some of the iconography of the Nation on his hat.  The female storekeeper has enough of Wise’s foul language and tells him to leave; after he’s gone, the man says that he feels sorry for Wise, trying to be so tough.  Outside somewhere, three members of the Children of the Ivory Fist walk through Paris Island.  The lead one keeps up a racist diatribe, and then starts a fight with three people who pass them.  The Ivory Fist guys stomp on them, and stabs one of the men.  Hildegarde is on the phone with Flashback, and learns where Wise is staying.  When she arrives at his room, Wise kicks out the girl that he’s been staying at the hotel with, and we figure out that Hildegarde is his sister, her aunt is his mother, and Edmund is his son.  They argue about the Syndicate, and the fact that Wise never comes to see them, including his son.  She tells him that he’s spending all his time looking in the mirror in a strange way, but Hannibal doesn’t seem interested.  Then she tells him that his ex, Edmund’s mother, has been trying to see him.  Hildegarde tells Hannibal that if he doesn’t come see Edmund, she’s going to tell him that he’s dead.  She makes it clear that she is going to keep raising the boy.  A White businessman gets attacked by a couple of Black kids on the street, and they stomp him.  Wise walks right past him as he lies on the ground.  Wise’s narrative starts up, as we learn that he spends a bit of time looking for Lark, his ex.  A guy named Booker T. gives him the address.  When he knocks on Lark’s door, he’s surprised to find her very pregnant.  They talk for a while, and we learn that Lark quit drugs, joining up with the Nation while she was doing it, and that she’s determined to do better by this child (the father doesn’t know about it).  Lark wants Edmund back, now that she’s got a decent job and is clean.  She also makes it clear that she knows that Hannibal is not raising the boy.  Hannibal still wants her to stay away from the kid, and then he gets angry and leaves.  Out on the street, he hears gunshots and sees some guys taking off from a store.  He gets hit in the head, but that only makes him angry (I realize I have no idea what his power set is), and he smashes the shooter into a window.  Inside the store, we see that someone’s been shot dead.  Wise stomps on one of the shooters, and then again has the vision of a bald naked man being chased by a white wolf.
  • Wise Son walks past a crowd gathered around another Nation of Islam minister who’s been beaten to death on the street, the fourth or fifth in recent weeks.  Wise, who has been drinking, enters the bookstore again, and returns some books the man leant him.  He’s not happy to see him, drunk and disrespectful, and tells him off.  Wise asks if he’s trying to be his father, and that leads to more of an argument.  The man asks him to leave the store, claiming he can’t help him find his way.  Wise gets more drunk, and is clearly upset. He turns up at Lark’s place late at night, and pukes on her floor.  She lets him sleep in her bed.  The next morning, she gets ready for work, and tells him to rest for the day.  Hannibal finds some photos of Lark and their son, but he’s not in any of them.  On the street, the Children of the Ivory Fist are holding a march that Lark walks past.  She goes home to get Hannibal to have him see what’s happening, as it looks like things will get violent, and there are no police around.  They hear the spokesperson talk about how one of their own was killed and dumped off a bridge (in the first issue), and then cycle through very familiar right-wing talking points about how white people are being discriminated against in America, and how immigrants are given more opportunities than they are.  Hannibal confronts the spokesperson, which gives them the press soundbite they were hoping for.  Back in her apartment, Lark tells Hannibal off for his anger and irresponsibility.  She lets slip that the last time she saw him, some seven months ago, was when she got pregnant.  He’s upset that she didn’t tell him, but she insists that the baby will be her responsibility alone.  As Hannibal storms out, we see more images of the White Wolf, and other moments that have caused him fear.  As he leaves, he stumbles across a drug deal, and one of the dealers decides to shoot him (I thought everyone in Paris Island knew who he was).  He attacks them, and they run off.  He heads to the bookstore again, and is very aggressive towards the owner.  (Somehow, it’s night now, and the man’s wife is in bed, even though it seems like very little time passed from the confrontation at the march to now).  Hannibal is very angry, and ends up telling the man that he is afraid, all the time.  He asks the man for help, and after the woman is woken up, he sits at their table and tells them about the dream he’s been having about the white wolf.  He talks about how nothing can hurt his body, but he’s afraid he’s going to die still.  The man tells him that he can change, and offers to help him.  Later, Hannibal goes to his mother’s house.  Hildegarde is not happy to see him, and her presence keeps Hannibal from being as open as he’d like to when he sits with his mother.  He explains that he wants to change his ways, but he feels like everyone is just going through the motions with regards to their responses.  After his mother goes to bed, Hildegarde treats him with suspicion.  He goes to see Edmund, and tells him that he saw Lark.  At the Ivory Fist headquarters, some skinheads drag a homeless man into their “sanctuary”.  Their leader isn’t happy to see that they did this, and shoots the man.  He says something about the hour of the wolf being open them.  We see the naked man (who I never realized was Hannibal before, because he’s always shown as being bald) being chased by the white wolf again.  It looks like the man falls, but also maybe floats freely, away from his troubles for the first time.
  • Hannibal has shaved his head and is sitting in front of a candle, working on purifying himself when Ms. Chaplik, the reporter who was at the Ivory Fist march, comes to visit him.  We learn that she tracked him down, and he apologizes for being aggressive at the march.  She talks about how she has gotten the Paris Island beat, and that she is concerned about the Ivory Fist.  She takes him to their warehouse headquarters, where they find some bodies – three more Nation of Islam preachers, and a couple of homeless men.  Chaplik figures the police won’t do something, and she hints that Wise should take care of this problem.  Wise is sweeping up at the bookstore, where he’s been working for a few days.  The man (these guys never do get names) asks why he’s not wearing his star and crescent anymore, and suggests that Wise might want to join a mosque to help get some direction in his life.  Wise talks to a minister about the attacks, but he’s interrupted by a guy named Bunny, who wants to sell him some guns.  Wise turns the guy away, and tries to learn more about what’s happening in the neighbourhood, but mostly gets turned away by people.  He goes to see Lark to apologize for how he acted, and explains that when he went to see Edmund, he could tell they don’t have much of a connection; he’s hoping to be more involved in the new baby’s life.  Lark turns him away, and calls his manhood into question.  Later, when Hannibal’s back at the bookstore, he and the owner see a number of White Ivory guys standing outside.  Hannibal goes out to speak to their leader, who proposes that they work together on separating the races.  Wise turns him down, and the leader then admits that it’s him that’s been killing ministers.  He claims he needs to keep his recruits happy, and he’s hoping that this will also make more non-white people leave the area.  Wise headbutts the man, who keeps his followers from hurting him, and they leave.  The bookstore guy is angry, having told Wise to keep violence out of his doorstep.  One of the Ivory Fist guys tells the leader he has info on Wise.  Later, that night, a group of Ivory Fist guys start walking in circles outside the bookstore.  When Hannibal asks them to leave, one of them mentions Wise’s family.  He heads in to phone Lark, insisting that she get ready to leave, and that he’s coming to get her so she’ll be safe.  As he gets ready to leave, someone throws three things through the bookstore window, and it explodes, instantly killing the two proprietors.  Wise comes running out with their bodies, and attacks the car the bombs came from.  He kills one man right away, and then kills the rest of them, rather viciously.  After, he goes to get Lark, who is confused and unhappy.  Some more Ivory Fist guys start shooting through her windows.  Wise leads her out of her apartment, and kills the guys outside.  Later, we see Wise holding a gun to someone’s face (from his point of view).  We learn that he dropped Lark off with the Blood Syndicate, who wanted to help him, before going after the Ivory Fist leader.  That’s who he’s holding the gun to – the man still mocks him, and says that the deaths at the bookstore are his fault.  Wise shoots the guy.  Later, Wise is sitting at the Syndicate’s place, talking to Flashback and drinking.  Flashback said he meted out justice, instead of gaining revenge.  Lark thanks him for saving her and their baby.  Hannibal wants to cry, but won’t.  We see him in his dreamscape one last time, falling towards the white wolf again, before everything goes black.  

Okay, this was a lot better than I’d hoped it would be.  I realized from the ads in these comics that by the time this came out, the Milestone line existed of only three ongoings, so the fact that the people in charge would choose to put out this introspective, mature readers title by an artsy cartoonist is pretty impressive and a little strange.

Ho Che Anderson put together an impressive story about the difficulty of being a black man in America, for which the trappings of super powers, and being part of a powered gang, weren’t all that important.  Instead, we got to focus on Hannibal, and indestructible man, physically, having to confront his existential fears and sense of abandonment, while perpetuating that same cycle.  Hannibal is as tough as it comes, but in the weakest kind of way.  He’s afraid to admit how he feels to his family, to his friends, his girl, and to the older couple who run the bookstore.  He identifies as Muslim (or as Nation – I’m not all that clear on the difference in his world), yet can’t bring himself to care when ministers start turning up dead.  He seeks the bookstore man’s approval, yet can’t stop himself from picking fights with him.

Basically, Hannibal is a bit of a mess when this series opens, and by the end of it, he looks like he’s ready to turn his back on the growth that he’s made, instead turning back towards the easier path.  At least, that’s how I interpret him falling back towards the white wolf that has been chasing him through the first two issues, before he started to get control of his life.

What really stands out is all the ways in which this comic could have been written this year.  We have the organized right-wing Children of the Ivory Fist, who are basically a group of Proud Boys, Boogaloos, or whatever other ridiculously named alt-right organization, spouting the same kind of nonsense we hear today.  The Ivory Fist fears being replaced by people of colour, or being discriminated against in favour of them, and their solution to that is, of course, random acts of violence.  

This comic came out after the Million Man March, and before 9/11, so in that thin window where America didn’t know what to make of American-bred Muslims in the Nation of Islam.  I feel like Anderson taps into that hysteria, and shows us how lots of people seemed to know how the residents of Paris Island should have been living, but no one was offering actionable solutions.

I found myself very interested in Hannibal’s character.  He’s disrespectful towards women, incredibly selfish, and a terrible father and partner, but you could see his desire to change.  Was it that he was lacking positive role models?  Was the problem inside of him?  It seems like a big deal whenever he wants to cry, which feels a bit dated now, except that so many men struggle with that still.  

I like Lark as a character too.  At first, she was portrayed as the sum of a large number of stereotypes and story tropes, but then her strength shone through, and she was compelling.

Anderson doesn’t provide a lot of answers for us.  At times, it feels like he is going out of his way to make this book a little more confusing.  There are times where I found his art hard to follow, but I like the way the style he used in this comic looks.  His work here reminds me of a comic laid out by Denys Cowan, pencilled by Kyle Baker, and then inked by Bill Sienkiewicz.  That, by the way, is high praise.

I was left with a few questions, such as what was going on with Edmund and the mirror (I was expecting a horror comic after the first issue because of that scene), and how old Wise was when he had Edmund, because if he turned twenty in the first issue, he must have been quite young to have a kid that big…

This ended up being a pretty thought-provoking, and prescient, read.  It’s a shame that the Milestone characters aren’t used more, as I think a Blood Syndicate revival would have a lot of potential in today’s climate.  I’m leaving this more determined than before to track down the rest of that series, and to read more Milestone stuff.

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

It doesn’t surprise me that this was never collected anywhere, but it’s well worth doing some longbox digging for.

 

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