Wolverine has moved to Los Angeles, his memory still not entirely recovered from the plane bombing that opened Permanent Rage, but he’s concluded that whatever he is, he’s not a nice guy, and is having difficulty coming to terms with that.

Having exorcised his love of Wolverine’s past, Jason Starr here concentrates on what made his own reputation, producing two gritty crime dramas in which Wolverine and his claws make for a useful presence. It’s only natural that readers will come to Wolverine Max assuming it stars what’s just a swearier version of the regular Wolverine. Therefore, in order for the story to work it’s necessary to overlook that people don’t associate a guy who has claws popping out of his hands with Wolverine the superhero who hangs around with the Avengers and the X-Men. However what’s never entirely clarified until the following Vegas is that this isn’t the regular Wolverine. It’s an alternate universe version using many of the same touchstones from the usual Wolverine’s life. This wasn’t clear in Permanent Rage because so much dealt with lost memories and lies, while in the present Starr established why Wolverine can’t remember his entire past. That proves a useful starting point in characterising him as a powerful loner acting on instinct.

Over three chapters Wolverine becomes involved with a porn actress, and despite the Max imprint there’s restraint when it comes to her career activities, which aren’t explicitly seen. Starr casts Wolverine as the helpful guy who can’t resist a dame, and if the starting point’s not exactly original the development at least throws in a couple of surprises. The first chapter ending’s a shocker well built up, and if the end is excessive, it’s still an improvement on what came before other than needing three artists to tell the story. Felix Ruiz (sample page) draws the most, tightening up his linework from the previous book to a gritty tone in keeping with the story. However, his isn’t a solo outing and neither Kim Jacinto or Guillermo Mogorron put in the same effort when it comes to mood and detail, leaving much of the depth to the colouring.

Starr investigates more of Wolverine’s past in the second story, in which he has an encounter with someone who knew him back in the day, but who’s seen better times. Roland Boschi draws both chapters, but as in the previous volume while his art tells the story there’s nothing that stands out. It’s eventually a dark encounter, with Wolverine’s amnesia leaving him weakened. He’s already had several people lie about his past during this run, so is it happening again.

While Escape to L.A. doesn’t set the world on fire, at least it’s a step up from Permanent Rage.