Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Wolverine of My Youth

This Friday, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" hits the big screen. You should most definitely buy multiple tickets because it will be awesome and/or because I have a wedding to help pay for this fall, up to you. You should also be sure to hit up Marvel.com for the best coverage of the movie you'll find anywhere ever, yo.

Now with that out of the way...how do I feel about the character of Wolverine?

Well, growing up, I wasn't too passionate about Wolverine one way or the other. As I've said numerous times, I was (and remain) a huge X-Men fan, and he was (and continues) to be a large and looming presence on that team, so obviously he's always been front and center of my comic book reading experience, but for most of that time, I had no particularly passionate feelings about him one way or the other.

To be sure he was a character viscerally appealing to a young person with a charismatic personality, a standout look and friggin' knives coming out of his hand. However, even as a kid I could tell he was the guy the marketing was centered around, and I've always been somebody who gravitates to underdogs and oddballs. In most cases, I prefer the third most popular character to the most popular one, and Wolverine is no bronze medalist as far as the masses are concerned.

On the other hand, I didn't have the harsh aversion to the guy I've seen in people as I've grown up in this industry. It didn't bother me that he was pushed so heavily into the spotlight both because unlike some other characters who got overexposed and then some in the 90's he did have quite a bit of depth owing to decades of world building by Chris Claremont and others, but also because I didn't find him difficult to ignore.

In the last decade, I've become much more of a Wolverine fan than ever before. Part of that is because Hugh Jackman really is one of the best of the best when it comes to the folks who bring super heroes to life on film; his Wolvie is seriously just the ultimate rad ass (that's a bad ass who is also incredibly rad). I've also come to discover and dig the more off-the-beaten path Logan solo stories Marvel has put out over the years. From that first Claremont/Frank Miller mini in Japan, to Barry Windsor-Smith's Weapon X, to the more recent stuff by guys like Jason Aaron and Stuart Moore as well as the assorted one-shots by up-and-coming writers. While Wolverine definitely has an entertaining role to play among the X-Men or Avengers, I've really come to see his value as a Man With No Name kinda archetype character who you can drop into various genre stories with the added benefit of his signature flourishes.

But the Wolverine story I remember most from when I was a kid was batshit crazy.

The year was 1992. I was 10 years old and sampling new comics like I had a golden ticket to Willy Wonka's factory. One of the books I figured was a no-brainer given my affection for all things X was Wolverine's solo book. I expected some routine slashing, the usual catchphrases, and perhaps a few of those "beers" I had heard so much about to be consumed.

What I got was...something else.

My first issue was Wolverine #62. Larry Hama was the writer, Mark Texeira provided the art. The plot centered on Wolverine's dead girlfriend Silver Fox showing up with a big gun and threatening him and Sabretooth until they agree to follow her outside to her Hydra ship where Carol Hines of the Weapon X project is waiting to give them answers about their convoluted shared history. Before she can do that, some old dude named Mastodon melts into a skeleton and Jubilee freaks out. Then some teenage parapalegic computer genius helps them hack some coordinates and they fly off to a secret island where a guy named Psi-Borg is waiting with Maverick as his bodyguard. Peppered amongst all this is plenty of talk about memory implants, genetic alterations, and other stuff I didn't fully understand, plus Texeira's gonzo art, which was gorgeous and unlike anything I had seen to that point.

That was the first issue.

After that was two more issues of that story that included Psi-Borg turning into some sort of giant plant monster and tormenting Wolverine and company with a maze of false memories that manifested as a giant thorn bush. By the end of the arc, it seemed like at least half the characters were dead, but it was honestly tough to tell.

Following that, something in a motel in Canada triggered a previously buried memory in Wolverine's brain, sending him off to Russia in pursuit of somebody called Epsilon Red. Along the way, he hallucinates a bus full of people telling him he's "the best he is at what he does," ends up in the desert where he needs to eat vultures in order to provide protein for his healing factor, and "fights" a Russian cosmonaut super soldier in a battle that may or may not have taken place only in his head because there was a telepath whose mother got killed by Sabretooth involved (and I believe the story was left open-ended but recently learned it was resolved a couple years later in the Maverick ongoing). While all this is going on, Wolvie is also flashing back to a mission he participated in back when JFK was president and the two scenarios are getting totally jumbled.

All the while, Texeira is putting Sam Kieth to shame with some of the trippiest, most surreal art you'll ever see and Hama is matching him move for move.

It was great stuff and it blew my 10-year-old mind. When Tex left the book and Wolverine was fighting straightforward battles with Sauron and the Sentinels a few issues later, it just couldn't really measure up.

So for years whenever I thought of Wolverine, I thought of crazy psychic thorn monsters, eating vultures, and Russian cosmonauts with Greek letter names.

They need to make a movie of that!

1 comment:

Dan Brooks said...

I actually loved the bone claw era. There was a certain introspective tone to those books that I just loved.