Almost all the talk these days in comics is of graphic novels, mostly meaning collections of the continuing traditional 24-page monthly comic. Writers create story ‘arcs’, i.e. they write for later collecting, most often in six-issue chunks. I have nothing against this, but I want to celebrate the monthly comic, too, and the writers who make really good ones, who, without sacrificing the longer story, write great single issues that make you desperate for the next one.

Mark Millar’s previous run on Wolverine, collected as ‘Enemy of the State’, was fantastic, but this current run may be even better, and the latest issue was one of the best I’ve read in years. The setup: it’s set in a future 50 years after just about every Marvel villain somehow got it together to team up and massacre all the superheroes and take over the world. Wolverine hasn’t fought anyone or popped his claws since then. He’s lived instead as a farmer in Sacramento. The West Coast is now run by the Hulk Gang, descendants of Bruce Banner, and they are leaning on him and his family for overdue rent. Cue the aged Hawkeye, now blind, with some important mission, asking Wolverine to drive across country with him as his minder. This means crossing the territories as divided up by the top villains – segments owned by the Kingpin, Dr Doom and others. It’s a wonderful setup rife with possibilities, and Millar exploits them well. This is the fifth issue, and Logan finally explains why he won’t fight (they have stumbled as far as the Midwest, entering Dr Doom territory, by luck and Hawkeye’s skills), what happened on that day 50 years ago. Plenty of action, as Wolverine recounts the desperate battle with a host of major supervillains (including Dr Octopus, the Green Goblin, the Absorbing Man, Sabretooth, Bullseye) – and this ends with a really devastating twist, featuring a very surprising villain and the fate of the rest of the X-Men, and a full explanation of his withdrawal since that day. This is one of the best and strongest twists I’ve ever read in a superhero comic, and I’ve read tens of thousands of the things. If that emotional charge wasn’t enough, he ends the issue in the future narrative, with a panel providing a scary upgrade for an already major villain – I won’t give it away, but it’s a terrific moment, packed with real thrill power, and once more it leave me looking forward to the next one.

I’m neglecting the artist here because I want to extol the surviving art of the single comic, and the artist has the same job however the story is broken down. Having said that, Steve McNiven does a good job, drawing action and conversation with skill and mostly sound decision-making. The inking is good too – I particularly like Logan’s stubble and wrinkles.