Tuesday, November 8, 2011

It's Time to Make Wolverine Cool Again

As hard as it may be to believe, Wolverine used to be a cool character that comics fans actually cared about.  No, seriously.

Debuting in the last panel of The Incredible Hulk (vol.1) #180 in 1974, the Canadian mutant superhero became the breakout character in the all-new, all-different group of X-Men that debuted in the Bronze Age classic Giant-Size X-Men #1 a year later.  Wolverine's gruff, anti-authority personality, mysterious background and willingness to kill -- something practically unheard of in a superhero back in those days -- made him a quick favorite with X-Men readers, especially after Canadian-American artist John Byrne came on board after the first departure of Dave Cockrum.  Byrne and writer Chris Claremont steadily crafted the character into the definitive anti-superhero apparently named Logan, showing him regularly drinking beer, smoking cigars and constantly rebelling against the oh-so-serious team leader Cyclops.

And when Wolverine was one of the first Marvel characters to ever receive his own mini-series in 1982, the legendary Wolverine (vol.1) by Claremont and artist Frank Miller, he became even cooler as a warrior in Japan with a samurai code who fought against a Yakuza crimelord and a ton of expendable ninjas.  An ongoing series followed in 1988 that lasted 189 issues before being relaunched in 2003 and again in 2010.

As time wore on though, many Wolverine and X-Men comics creators felt the need to fill in Wolverine's unrevealed background.  Characters and concepts such as Team X, Weapon X, and Department H were incorporated into the character's history, adding pieces to the Wolverine puzzle year after year.  The biggest of these, a six-issue limited series in 2001 called Origin, finally revealed that Wolverine's real name wasn't Logan after all, but James Howlett, a sickly boy from 1890's Alberta whose mutant bone claws manifest for the first time after witnessing his father's death.

With the character's mystery effectively obliterated and a company ban on showing Marvel Comics characters smoking put in place, Wolverine quickly devolved into a mainstream Marvel superhero.  In the 2005 event mini-series House of M, Wolverine had his memories restored and he became a member of The Avengers and X-Force in addition to being an X-Man.  He was given a second solo series, Wolverine: Origins, where he leared he had a son, Daken, with similar claws and rapid-healing abilities (and soon given his own ongoing series).  Oh, and to make the new Wolverine Family complete, a young female clone called X-23 was added into the mythos and given her own ongoing series.

If it seems like Wolverine has become just a tad overdeveloped, that's only because he has.  Anything that was fascinating about the character has been overexplained and/or eliminated, making Wolverine the comic book equivalent of The Fonz from the '70s and '80s TV comedy series Happy Days.  Over the course of the show, Fonzie started off as the cool rebel James Dean character that literally jumped the shark and ended up becoming a square teacher at the local high school.  And just like the Fonz, Wolverine the once-cool rebel character has now -- wait for it -- become headmaster at the new Jean Grey School for Higher Learning.  Whoa.

So it's way past time to make Wolverine cool again.  Get rid of the Wolverine Family, let him smoke and drink again, make him more nonconformist again, and keep him on only one team, the X-Men.  And most of all, give the character some sense of mystery again.  He doesn't need something as cheesy as selective amnesia, just the introduction of something important and unrevealed about his past and then -- and I can't stress this enough -- DON'T REVEAL IT. 

Sure, it's possible too much damage has been done so that the character can't completely be salvaged, but even if it takes a Flashpoint-type reboot, Marvel needs to do something.  Even after all these years, I firmly believe that Wolverine can still be the best there is at what he does, but only if his editorial masters let him.


  1. I disagree, Charles. The old cliches of Wolverine are just that, old. The character has grown more on last years that back on eighties and nineties. There is a lot of crap but thanks to people like Jenkins, Morrison, Millar o Aaron today we can read a character with his own life and not only an archetypical cliche. Mysteries are to solve, not to live at the expense of them.

  2. If they had Wolverine go away for two or three years he might have a slim chance of being interesting again. It's never going to happen though.

    Marvel has gotten to the point where nearly every major (and several minor) characters appear in practically everything. I'm sure the reasoning is that it will pump up sales. And that might be the case. They do so at the expense of the characters and the Marvel universe itself.

    I've suggested in the past that you could easily reboot everything back to the Secret Wars era of 1984. Basically set up everything from the end of the 12 issue series as a further test of the Beyonder. Depending on how you play it out you could have all the heroes and villains that have been introduced from that time on Earth and intereacting with the remaining characters that didn't get whisked away to the Beyonders battleworld.

    I know that won't ever happen. Marvel has obviously decided to play the cards they've been dealt. House of M could have been used as a complete and clean reboot and they never took it.

    Wolverine will continue to be in too many comics for quite some time. It would be great if he could be restored to some of his former glory. I seriously doubt it will happen though.


  3. You can never *really* go back, you know.

    It's done, better just accept it.

  4. Well, like I said in my article above, I don't know if it's possible to completely salvage the character now. I just feel it's possible to make him cooler than he is right now, at least along the lines of other longtime characters like Batman.

    The recent cancellations of X-23 and Daken: Dark Wolverine are encouraging signs, even if they were mostly motivated by sales. It would be nice, though, if Marvel made a major creative effort to bring Wolverine back from his current overexposed and uninteresting state.

  5. Hum, so Batman (he's still cool) isn't equally as over-exposed?

  6. Oh, Batman is overexposed, but as you said, he's still cool. If Wolverine was getting the same creative push by creators like Scott Snyder, Grant Morrison, Peter Tomasi and others, he would be a lot more interesting than he is right now.

  7. That's true, but at least many people seem to believe that Aaron's current take on Wolverine has gone a long way to start fixing the character.