Comic Fodder

Wolverine: Not My Cup of Tea as Comic or Movie

Long, long ago, I got into superhero comics in no small part because of Claremont's "Uncanny X-Men", a team book which was, as is now well known, all about mutants and the prejudice they faced on the streets of New York. The first issue I recall reading was issue 210. It would be a year or so later before I would discover back-issues and be able to find out what led up to that issue, but the clear social message, which reflected very much what I was taught at home, in theory at school, at church, etc... regarding equality, living side-by-side in harmony, what-have-you, matched up pretty darn well with the "Mutants are People, Too!" message of the issue. It certainly took it a step further than "let's beat up a galactic overlord" stuff I was getting in West Coast Avengers.

The next issues featured the "Mutant Massacre", and would be a key turning point for the Sabretooth/ Wolverine match-up. But it would be many more years before writers tried to tie them together as brothers.

No fights in issue 210 of Uncanny X-men, but it did feature the X-Men regrouping after a big fight (almost unheard of for such continuity in comics today), and Kitty Pryde and Colossus having a run in with some anti-mutant bigots, while Rogue's heroism won over some tough New York construction guys.

Wolverine stabbed nobody.

At that time, Wolverine had been through quite a bit. His past was shrouded in mystery to both he, the X-Men and the reader. He had already had some adventures in Japan, and so by the time I reached the character, he had studied to become a samurai (not a ninja), and had a fallen-out romance with a woman of Japanese nobility.

Still, he was a gruff, stocky, hairy guy prone to drinking cases of beer, smoking cigars, and using what passed for profanity under the Comics Code Authority (he said "blazes" a lot, in place of "hell" or "damn"). He came across as Kitty Pryde's tough uncle, who was all bluster. For goodness sake, he occasionally hung out with Power Pack.

Wolverine had had a successful 4-issue mini-series in 1982, but never starred in his own title. He was a utility player that I think, wisely, Marvel knew was popular, but feared over exposure and the audience's realization that the character might not be much more than the word "Bub" and a set of claws.

At some point, the letters coming in and successful solo stories in Marvel Presents convinced Marvel that they should try a Wolverine solo-series. I wasn't convinced Wolverine needed a solo series. I preferred him as a member of the X-Men, but I think I started trying to pick up the series to go along with X-Men around issue 3 or 4 when I realized that Wolverine in his own series might just be the way of the world. Part of this (and this will stun younger readers) was that back then, if a character had a solo mini-series, they would actually demonstrate this in continuity by removing the character from their usual book for the duration. That's how seriously fans and the editors took continuity and would try not to put the same hero in two places at once. Ie: a successful Wolverine series should mean that Wolverine might not be in the X-Men anymore.

I didn't care for the series.

I don't know who was writing, but I'll guess it was Claremont. There was a lot of business about some stand-in island for Singapore called Madripoor, and a ridiculous secret ID for Wolverine in which he wore an eye-patch (like a pirate) and called himself "Patch".

Some characters can take writers glomming on new ideas to certain parts of their past, and others... not so much. The Madripoor stuff opened the gate to pretty much any cockamamie notion anyone wanted to throw at Wolverine (who was ageless due to his "healing factor"), with all sort of concepts becoming a part of his background, whether it was a good idea or not.

Meanwhile, in the wake of Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, etc... and an increasing wave of acceptance of rougher material in comics, it became the comic language du jour to come up with a berserker character who was at least potentially deadly, and dub that character the "Wolverine of the group" for team books, in everything from X-Factor to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

I don't know exactly when or why I quit reading Uncanny X-Men, but I threw in the towel on Wolverine's solo title almost immediately, years before I gave up on X-Men. And at some point, something about Wolverine as a "superhero" didn't really work for me. Under Morrison, the X-Men would abandon any premise of being a comic about "superheroes", but aside from that, I just wasn't too keen on a superhero who (a) stabbed people as his primary function, and (b) killed lots and lots of people. None of that sounded much like a "hero" to me. Add in what continues as some serious over-exposure, and I mostly lost interest in Wolverine.

Wolverine was already overshadowing the rest of the X-Men (my personal favorites as a kid were Colossus, Rogue and Cyclops, and Psylocke until they made her into a ninja), but today's Marvel comics have become so Wolvie-centric that, I am not making this up, this month Wolverine is on the cover of almost every Marvel comic, whether he appears in the comic or not. Among us comic geeks, the character has a rabid fan base as deep and loyal as Spidey, Superman and Batman.

But I know virtually nothing about the character as he's been presented since about 1995. I did read the "Origin" limited series in 2001 or so, which is covered in its entirety by a sequence which occurs before the credits roll in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine". It was written specifically so that the studios wouldn't just make up an origin without any input from Marvel, and it works well enough. But everything I've heard over the past ten years leads me to believe that Marvel really doesn't have a "good idea/ bad idea" policy for Wolverine's past, anyway, and that much of it seems to pop out of what I'd suggest sounds, from the outside, like bad fan-fiction (he now has a son complete with Metal-bound-inspired name "Daken" or some such, who has tattoos and whatnot.).

I wasn't particularly enamored by the mini of "Origin", even if I felt the basic idea was solid. But since then, there have been numerous Wolverine origin series. And the movie is based on a lot of comics I never read and don't know much about.

The casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine was an accident, originally. Dougray Scott went for the surefire hit of Mission Impossible: II, featuring John Woo as a director and Tom Cruise as a co-star, bowing out of this silly little superhero movie nobody would go see. I recall seeing the first pictures of this Jackman fellow and being confused.

He was tall, lanky, and handsome. The opposite of how I pictured the guy. Fortunately, both director Bryan Singer and Jackman were on the same page with the comic version in personality (he's gruff and rough around the edges, but he's got a noble warrior's heart). And I never complained.

The basic problem with "Wolverine" is that it feels a bit like a 90's action movie in that there's a lot of attention to superheroics, improbably stunts, etc... and absolutely no attention paid to whether the story makes sense. Unlike Transformers, which seemed to hold both the property of Transformers and the audience in disdain as not worth bothering to put together a respectable movie, Wolverine feels much more like everyone but Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber (as Victor Creed) are out of their depth, including screenwriters, director, 3D specialists and whomever had to cut the darn thing together.

It's a movie where several times the characters mournfully shout their anger to the sky, and the camera pulls back to an aerial shot (this shot should have been retired when Rainier Wolfcastle first shouted "Mendoooozzaaaaaa!") and dying people say things like "I'm so cold...". Especially in the last forty minutes or so, people seem to just be doing stuff because it moves the plot forward, not because it makes sense (why, on God's green Earth did Gambit attack Sabretooth and Wolverine at that moment? and why didn't Wolverine pursue Sabretooth?).

Nothing about Stryker's plan makes any sense, aside from his end goal. The secret base in the Canadian Rockies from X2 and X3 is in the movie, but why its there, and why they use that, and what the hell Stryker bothers to imbue Wolverine's skeleton with adamantium doesn't, honestly, make much sense. Nor does the final explanation of Wolvie's memory loss. One gets the feeling all of this did make sense but... Wolverine was plagued with re-shoots.

While I am glad they didn't bother with the Madripoor stuff or try to tackle Wolverine's years in Japan, as that would have extended the movie (with five endings or so already) even further, the story they do tell is sort of... just not all that interesting. Oddly, like Watchmen, what seems far more interesting as a movie than what unfolds on screen is the stuff in the opening credits. Upon leaving the film, my brother and I agreed that all THAT seemed far more interesting than the paint-by-numbers plot of the movie.

And, seriously, how many "women in refrigerators" does Logan have under his belt at this point?

The writers were aiming for fanboy acceptance, and try to cram 10 pounds of mutants into a five pound bag. Characters come and go, and its hard to care about any of them. Any thrill fans of the X-books might have been getting from seeing, say, Gambit flit briefly across the screen, was lost in the morass of 20 other mutants, many of whom I suspect debuted well after I quit the X-books.

The special FX are mostly OK. There are a few scenes in which, oddly, Wolverine's claws don't look quite right, which I found mind-boggling. How do you mess up solid metal in CG? But it just didn't look quite right. And, occasionally, when Sabretooth is hopping about, it looks a little wonky.

Nobody is all that bad in delivering the clunky lines they've got. Jackman, typically, throws himself into the Wolverine role, and there's no doubt that the replacement of Tyler Mane as Sabretooth (as seen in X-Men 1) was a very good idea.

The movie has some neat action sequences, but that's pretty much what you'd expect. If that's all you're looking for, you should do well, I suppose. But that's mostly what the movie hangs on rather than stuff like plot or character.

And, no, after 40 years of Wolverine in comics and the past few years of comic movies, I don't think fans of the material should lower their sites just because someone deigned to see fit to make a movie about their favorite character.

I'll be the first to say that Wolverine is taking 21st Century superheroics from the comic to the big screen. He's a character more fit for modern movie tastes than Superman or even Batman, in many ways. With any luck, a second Wolverine movie will take things up a notch and not be the narrative mess that I saw in this film.

But I'd probably still prefer just getting an X-Men movie over another installment in the solo missions of someone who is much more interesting as the wild-card on a team of straight arrows.


Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.

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Ryan is an Op/Ed columnist for Comic Fodder. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas where he manages the long running blog League of Melbotis.

He likes Superman.

You can reach Ryan (aka: The League) at theleague.cf@gmail.com

Honestly, I kind of liked how the movie had some 90s action flavor going on. I don't mind when a few things are unexplained or unresolved, as long as they don't contradict the plot or leave things so open-ended that the ending is unsatisfying.

-- Posted by: Nick Marino at May 4, 2009 12:52 PM

I don't mind the big explosions of the 90's, but in the Mission Impossible era, there was a huge push to style over plot, character or the movie making any sense. That's what this felt like to me.

Because its one in a series, I don't mind open ended questions, either. But I do mind when nothing makes sense. How did Stryker know that the bullet would remove Wolverine's memory, exactly? Why did he lace Wolverine with adamantium and name him Weapon X instead of "guy we're going to experiment on". Why was the US military in Canada instead of 3 Mile Island? How, exactly, did Wolverine (given his powers and history) not notice that his beloved wasn't sliced to pieces but covered in fake blood?

Those aren't open ended questions. That's a train wreck of a script.

I could go on, but it just felt like a mess, to me. And that's an unsatisfying movie experience. I'll go along with whatever BS they throw my way, but it has to have at least some internal logic.

-- Posted by: Ryan at May 4, 2009 1:21 PM

I agree with Ryan. I thought the story was terrible. I went home after watching it in the theater and threw in X-men and X-men United to compare the experience. I can honestly say that the first two movies are far more superior then this installment. I felt that the acting (Hugh Jackman not included) was terrible. I waited 9 years to see Gambit on the big screen ant it was all for nothing. It felt felt rushed and I honestly feel that his character was not portrayed effectively. They rushed to get all of these characters on film and it just complicated everything.

On a final note, I do not agree with the idea of placing music artists in films. I knew this movie was doomed when I heard that Will-I-Am was going to be playing a mutant.

This film didnt stand a chance. Terrible casting, even worse script and the fighting scenes were not that intense.

Let's hope that they get things right for the next installment....Origins Magneto

-- Posted by: Michaelmvp at May 4, 2009 4:53 PM

Wolverine could have been a richer movie if they'd focused on the stuff the blew over in the credits. The producers obviously didn't have that kind of vision.

Maybe the producers will do better with Magneto's story?

Don't have an opinion on musicians as actors as I've seen mixed results (Beyonce has been fine in some stuff, and others like Tom Waits have been good). I was probably far less impressed with the Cox replacement for Stryker than Will.I.Am., but maybe I wasn't expecting much PLUS I don't know the character.

-- Posted by: Ryan at May 4, 2009 11:06 PM

I've seen the movie as well during my free time from playing warcraft. Anyway, the movie was okay for me. Though I must say that the 107 minutes of viewing still left the audience looking for some answers.

-- Posted by: wowgold at May 5, 2009 3:23 AM

Wait, free time FROM World of Warcraft? Doesn't WOW count as free time?
I thought the movie was pretty lame, but with a few interesting scenes (I liked the fight on top of the 3 Mile Island reactor cooler towers, and I liked the scenes at the beginning where Stryker's team overruns that compound in Africa).
Totally agree that the most interesting stuff was probably the war footage at the beginning that involved Sabretooth and Wolverine in all of those wars. Those are the only moments that remind you that these guys have professional soldiers for a long, long time. They could have easily made an entire movie based around the different wars that those guys fought their way through. At the very least, they should have included much more of that stuff in this movie, since all of those wars should have been a huge part of the development of Wolverine and Sabretooth as characters (neither one of them seem to really have the discipline of professional soldiers).

-- Posted by: Grumbler at May 6, 2009 5:48 PM