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I can remember an old list I had to write in my journal when I was in fifth grade. It was an assignment that had to do with listing our likes and dislikes. I recall very distinctly writing in my off-looking and barely legible cursive, the following: “I don’t like the X-Men”. Why did I write that? I hadn’t really watched any X-Men cartoons, not yet anyway. I remember thinking as I wrote, that my reason for not liking X-Men was because I didn’t like one character. Wolverine. I thought that the claws coming out of his gloves were stupid and I just didn’t like how he looked.
Before the end of that school year though, my older sister, who used to work at Pizza Hut, brought home a VHS (wow) of the first episode of the new X-Men animated series. The episode was “Night of the Sentinels” and in it, we are introduced to not only the new mutant Jubilee, but the other X-Men including Wolverine. After having had my first real foray into the X-Men universe, I remember liking it. However, as far as characters go, I was more taken with Rogue than anyone else. My mother on the other hand, who watched with us, was immediately struck by another character. You guessed it, Wolverine. Why? What could a mother in her mid-30’s see in a character who wore yellow spandex, had hairy forearms, a bad temper and claws?
It was early in the decade of the 1990’s and X-Men, both the comic titles and the animated show, as I would come to understand, were really popular. Not just for the fact that it boasted all these unique, tortured, and cool characters, but also how it tackled real social issues head on and had something to say about the nature of being human and the struggles we all face in attempting to maintain our humanity. Wolverine, a.k.a. Logan, was a great example of this paradox of humanity and animalistic savagery.
Making his first appearance in The Incredible Hulk #180 in 1974, he was the brainchild of comic legends, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, and John Romita, Sr. Wolverine was largely a supporting character who you didn’t know much about in terms of backstory. You just knew that he was shorter than most of the guys he went up against and that he didn’t care who you were, he wouldn’t back away from a fight. It wasn’t until 1975 with the release of Giant-Size X-Men #1, which introduced a new team of X-Men featuring the likes of Storm and Nightcrawler, that Wolverine would begin his ascension from a guy in the background to not only the most popular X-Man of all, but also one of the most popular Marvel characters up there with Spidey and the Hulk.
Though Wolverine’s popularity was growing rapidly, it would be his first miniseries in 1982 by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, that would really set the character quite firmly in the consciousness of all those readers, which in turn increased his popularity. It was called simply, Wolverine. The story arc from the first volume of this miniseries, as many now know, is the basis of the upcoming film starring Hugh Jackman. If you’ve played the X-Men Legends or Marvel’s Ultimate Alliance games, and heard Wolverine utter the words, “I’m the best at what I do”, and wondered where that came from, this miniseries is the answer. From there on, Wolverine remained a staple in the X-Men comics and before long he would be featured in nearly every book in the X-Men franchise as well as in any crossover or Avengers tales. Make no mistake, this guy is everywhere.
So this is a popular comic book character. He would see the same popularity in the film medium, thanks largely to the charisma and talent that Hugh Jackman possesses. The first X-Men film was released in 2000 and would also showcase Wolverine as its lead character, while other traditionally more prominent characters were pushed to the side. The stories for each of the films revolved around Wolverine in some way and after 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, like the solo comics that came before, the solo films also followed. Beginning with 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine and continuing withThe Wolverine. All this is not even including next year’s Days of Future Past film, where it seems once again that Wolverine will be a central character.
So, what is it about this character that has had readers and filmgoers of all ages so smitten? Well, the appeal of Wolverine goes much deeper than the character himself. Yes, he is the ultimate underdog. He’s the tough guy who has a soft spot for the younger mutants he mentors, like Jubliee and Kitty Pride in the comics and Rogue in the films. He is the bad boy that many of us guys wish we could be with the headstrong attitude and a no-nonsense approach to things. This is what I think appeals to my mom about him to this day. No matter how many iterations of the character we see, regardless of the medium, the aforementioned aspects of his character have not really changed.
He is a poster child for the contemporary anti-hero who, like Paul Kersey from the Death Wish series, The Man With No Name and Dirty Harry, are basically the archetype of the mysterious loner who moves from place to place righting wrongs for the little man and dealing with his own inner demons in the process. He is essentially the extreme metaphor for man constantly battling with his primal tendencies and trying to manage that in a civilized world. We love to see that struggle because we live it, albeit to a much lesser degree. We also love to see him give in to that berserker rage, something that we in our civilized world cannot do because it isn’t socially acceptable. So we live that fantasy through Logan. His connection to the mythological is really why we follow Wolverine and many characters like him to the ends of the earth, to hell even, and back. His heart is ours. His humanity is ours. His challenges are ours. We can relate in some way. As long those things don’t change, we won’t be leaving him anytime soon. It sure as heck doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere so we might as well get used to it.