Wolverine, Defining Moments Concluded

25 Sep

Welcome back!

Please excuse my absence; the beginning of every teaching semester is always hectic.  Grading looms on the horizon, but comics soldier on.  Or, at least, this blog does.

Over the previous eight posts on Wolverine’s defining moments, I’ve shown how Logan’s character was developed over the course of the best Wolverine stories ever told.  Here, in part nine, we’ll race through the last of the good stuff before moving on to confront some of the less than stellar stuff in Logan’s storied past.

Enough chatter.  On to the comics!


Wolverine vol. 2 #75 remains a touching examination of Logan’s emotional durability, 90s-era hologram cover not withstanding.  It’s also the issue that radically changed Marvel’s most popular mutant character: gravely wounded by Wolverine’s attack, Magneto literally rips the adamantium from Logan’s body.  The massive damage throws Logan into shock as his healing factor struggles to keep the gravely wounded mutant alive–an idea mirrored in the decaying Blackbird aboard which the X-Men race home.   But while Logan’s body threatens to shut down, his mind drops into the underworld amidst images of his friends, foes, and his elusive humanity.  An angelic woman, alight before him, beckons.  Contrary to ideas presented in recent arcs, Death is not simply a hellish landscape of torment, but also a place of peace and solace, an opportunity to reunite with the ideal love–represented by the angelic female figure–a literary return to both womb and grave, a final sense of closure not without echoes of Logan’s tragic romantic past:

Jean, in mortal danger of being pulled from the Blackbird’s damaged body, inverts the adamantium-body relationship Logan has faced since the Weapon X experiment.  Instead of being a functional weapon inside of him, Jean’s symbolic presence signals healing, a return to life.  It’s for Jean, the greatest, perhaps, of his love interests, that Logan returns from the underworld.  He saves her from being killed, and in turn, symbolically weds (he literally takes her hand to keep her from falling to her death) himself to her affirming life presence.

Thus the true impact of romantic relationships may be understood as regards Logan’s character: they enrich and redeem the human side of him, quelling the darker, animalistic berzerker by offering a continual renewal of life.  While on the surface this appears to be an almost Christian affirmation of love as life, it may more accurately be viewed as a Buddhist acceptance of karmic debt: love, peace, and mindfulness–clarity of life through death–reveal to Logan the deeper, more important world beyond samsara.  His travels through death (“Logan, your life-graphs had bottomed out . . .” [26]) and the illusionary reality of pain and torment are seen through.  Beyond the veil of death lies light, life, embodied in an act of compassion (saiving Jean’s life; the Christina version might ask that Logan die for Jean’s redemption).

This issue is also noteworthy for introducing the idea that Logan’s claws were only coated in adamantium, being natural bone appendages present all his life.

In sharp contrast to the previous scene affirming Logan’s humanity, the bone claws represent an inner animal not merely as a function of programming or the result of Weapon X, but as a fundamental aspect of Logan’s very being.  For as much as he is human, mutant, he is also animal predator, endowed with natural weapons far beyond many of the more abstract mutant powers present in the Marvel Universe; Cyclops’ eye beams, Angel’s wings, Nightcrawler’s teleportation.  Logan’s powers–his healing factor, animal senses, and natural weaponry–cement his animalistic berzerker side as not simply a psychological component to his character, but also as a  biological component, an unavoidable (though not uncontrollable) aspect of self.


Millar’s run on Wolverine, broken into the storylines “Enemy of the State,” and “Agent of Shield” often provoke divisive reactions from fans.  Typical Millar buzz-kills get lobbed: excess, immaturity, gratuitous violence.  And there’s no denying that Millar aims to provoke–his work on Wanted and Nemesis are, if anything, polarizing works of either genius superhero deconstruction, or childish trash aimed at low-brow fan-freaks, or both.

While I feel for the naysayers of Millar’s Wolverine work, there’s no doubt in my mind that his stories have, though deeply flawed, his double-run on Wolverine remains a fun, and somewhat definitive take on the character.  The premise is simple: defeated by the Gorgon and brainwashed by Hydra, Wolverine goes on a killing spree for the bad guys until he’s taken down, de-programmed, and goes on a killing spree for the good guys.  The scope of these killing sprees, and the general terror Logan instills in the greater Marvel U, add new dimensions to his character.  What, exactly, is Wolverine’s place in the Marvel U?  The arc answers: an unpredictable threat.  This reaction posits Logan as something more than a known-X-Man, sometimes Avenger, and allows both his past and present reputations to converge on his narrative present.  Whether a weapon of good or evil, Logan is one of the most dangerous characters in the Marvel U, a fact reinforced by the spectacular action sequences (among Romita Jr.’s best work to date):

Unable to defeat the Gorgon in combat, Logan is forced to rely on deception and wits: by reflecting the Gorgon’s stare, he turns his opponent to stone.  Key here is the notion that, though widely feared, Logan’s mental resourcefulness is as much a weapon as his claws.  Yes, Millar is forced to concoct the nigh-invulnerable (and ridiculously endowed in terms of powers) Gorgon as a symbolically shallow foil to Logan’s typical brute force, but the mythological implications in their battle remain strong:

What is recovered from this Gorgon is not a tangible treasure so much as an opportunity to re-enter the world having paid the dues for his crimes.  The Gorgon represents the beast, the berzerker, the unkillable, unstoppable side of Logan that seeks freedom through death.  And Logan’s humanity, pitted against the (yes, also ridiculous) brainwashing of Hydra, prevails.  Much like Logan’s return from the underworld to save Jean, his triumph over the Gorgon affirms that Logan’s humanity, when forced into confrontation, is as dangerous as his inner beast.


This is a gem:

Mark my words: Moore’s and Smith’s one-shot Wolverine vol. 3 #45 is the best Wolverine story published in the last five years, no contest. Set in Africa, Logan is tasked with delivering a package (a infant girl) across a border patrolled by bloodthirsty rebel forces as the last wish of a doomed friend.  Par for course, the delivery is anything but smooth.  Beset by rebel soldiers, every move Logan makes is weighed against the potential consequences: the death or harm of the infant.  Moreover, the girl is not a simple object to protect.  She is, at times, a burden, something that prohibits Logan from completing his mission without great pain.  And because of this limitation, Logan concludes his mission with an act of violence punctuated by moral reasoning:

Riddled with arrows, Logan talks the rebel forces down from further bloodshed.  By doing so, he salvages not only the life of the infant girl, but the lives of the rebel soldiers.  The Wolverine who redeems and protects life–a reminder of the superhero Wolverine–is often overlooked in the wake of the recklessly violent, shallow arcs that have permeated Wolverine’s books for years.

Page for page, this is one of the finest Wolverine stories you’ll ever read.


Over the course of these defining moments posts, I’ve pulled apart Logan’s character, discovered what makes him tick, and ticked off the checklist of his most defining moments.  From here on, I’ll be branching out to other comics, other superheroes; got a suggestion?  Want to see me pick apart a favorite character?  Hit me up in the comments.

Stay tuned: next up, I’ll crack open a rapid-fire round of the worst Wolverine stories to date.  Bring your sick bag and a change of underwear.


Fear and Loathing: Comics and Filesharing

4 Sep

Mark Waid couldn’t be more clear: “Like it or not, downloading is here. Torrents and filesharing are here. That’s not going away.”

I recommend you read the article over on Comic Book Resources if for nothing else than its tone: optimism, a refusal to be cowed by traditional fears regarding filesharing and digital downloads.

Perhaps more interesting is the forum thread dedicated to comments.  It’s a rare place on the Internet where people can interact respectfully, intelligently, and with any clear purpose, but the vast majority of posters in this thread give it a go.  My (to date) closing thoughts:

Reading back through this thread, it’s interesting to note how much speculation, misinformation, and outright fear or anger pervades (I’m certainly not exempt). This is a tricky issue, an emotional issue for some, particularly those who make a living off their art.

I feel for those people. I do. I’m a fiction writer. Except that for me to get my novel published, I have build credibility by soliciting short stories to literary journals that publish without payment. That’s the world of poets and fiction writers, especially when you’re starting out. I give my work away magazines, some print, some digital, and I never get a dime out of it. I can hope that my novel does a little better, that my agent has enough clout to get me into the New Yorker or Harper’s or somewhere that pays per word, and I can hope that my publishing contract doesn’t cut out after one book so I have the opportunity to write another.

Fiction writers in my position, trained and injected into the industry, can expect to collect advances between 5k-10k, and sales revenue at 2.5% up to 5,000 copies, 7.5 up to 10,000 copies, and 12-15% up to 1 million copies. Some of us are really, truly great writers, or very, very lucky, and earn better percentages. For someone writing “literary fiction,” this is an Edith Wharton winter.

This is the kind of industry I work in, one where I absolutely have to teach (thank God I love it!) in order to get by. So, I feel for comics writers who have to leg it in an industry as grueling–perhaps more grueling–than my own.

But the crux of filesharing is its size, it’s leviathan aspect: it’s a massive beast, a true hundred-pound gorilla in a room of cramped, over-worked, under-paid art types who are already spend every available moment clawing for space, money, time. To say it’s an intimidating is ridiculous. Intimidating was 5, 10 years ago, the rapid success and decline of Napster, the sudden looming threat of technological invasion. Intimidating is old hat. Reality has set in, sails full, anchor up, and nothing–no prosecution, no court case, no ruling–has made so much as a dent in it. The Pirate Bay is still open for business, neon flashing, and the waters are choppy, break waves on creaky hulls. More than one person suspects a leak has sprung. Intuition isn’t always sure-fire.

The sheer volumes of data on filesharing–the legal definitions and rulings, the exceptions, the loopholes, the incidents and sales data, the numbers and statistics–have yet to come together someplace, somewhere. The White Whale’s true impact is still not understood 8 years out from the Napster ruling. How much hard data have we collected? How much of what we think and feel is suspect, undocumented, unconfirmed? An advance question: how the hell can anyone make this beast work for us, generate revenue?

I go back to my own work, sending off .pdf short stories to lit mags, knowing they’ll never see a dime. I think about the time and effort I put into my work, the keyboards abused, the caffeine saturation. And then I think about my novel, all of those inputs and energies multiplied, and the thought that keeps running through my head is this: if, when, it comes out, how will I feel when I see it on a torrent, being downloaded, seeded, consumed?

The answer is: pretty good.

Wolverine, Part 8: Defining Moments Continued

2 Sep

Back after a hiatus.  Time for more Wolverine!

As I near the end of Woverine’s defining moments, it’s easy to see why the character has held my interest for so long.  Unlike many of his contemporary characters, Wolverine, Logan, James—whatever you want to call him—retains a complexity and depth of character that, if not always properly mined or understood by his writers, provides enormous potential for development as a character, diversity of narrative options, and a wealth stortyelling richness.  His struggle between the human and the beast personalities, tragic and destructive relationships, part-time superheroics, and constant quest to find himself worthy in the eyes of those he honored fuel Logan’s maturation as a character—his hero’s journey.   But the spectre that always overshadowed these elements was his mysterious past, a gaping black hole in Logan’s memories that nourished his mystique as a mutant loner.

For years before the publications of Origins, Wolverine fans speculated on the origins of their favorite Marvel mutant.  That speculation came to a head in Wolverine vol. 2 #50.


This is where it starts to get silly: wrap-around covers, chromium covers, foil variant covers, the works.  The 90s were a time of excess in comics, the glory of the big shoulder pads-bigger guns look among steroidal antiheroes, whacky art and even whackier scripts.  This was the time of Liefeld, Lee, Portacio, McFarlane, and company, the time of X-Men #1 selling millions of copies, Image Comics super-stardom, collectible comic cards, and fly-by-night comic companies pumping out a few wheezing issues of generic super-nonsense before deflating into oblivion.

So, you’ll understand when I say that Wolverine #50’s 3-layer claw-cut cover seems tame  by comparison.

It’s impossible to understand this thing without having it in hand.  And to the giddy, twelve-year old me, this was a thing of dreams.  Claw marks on the cover?  Wolverine fighting robots, discovering his past, riding a motorcycle through the window of a S.H.I.E.L.D heli-carrier?  I shit you not, this comic was the superhero Holy Grail to me.

But in retrospect, this is where things start to get silly.  The issue begins on an utterly ridiculous note.  Wolverine, determined to get answers from S.H.I.E.L.D. commander, Nick Fury, rides his motorcycle up a building and through the aforementioned carrier window.  Then they have a conversation.  Then it’s time for the X-Men, then it’s killer robot and Silver Fox.  And yes, none of that should make any sense.  I’m staring this sucker down and the damn thing refuses to cohere; it’s a mess of story ideas, half-baked, with good intentions wrapped up in some pretty decent Silvestri art.  The effect is a comic trying too hard, desperate to stay relevant, popular.  Much of the dialog is ham-fisted in ways that much earlier Claremont stories—even earlier Hama stories—never came near, the action and antagonists are generic, and the whole book can’t seem to wind up to anything resembling a conclusion.

So, if it’s terrible, why do I have it listed under a defining moment?

Simple: while it does so many things wrong, Wolverine #50 does one very important thing right: it treats Wolverine’s mysterious past with narrative respect and makes it more interesting.

Wolverine’s memories are revealed to be elaborate implants from the Weapon X program, artifice crafted on sound-stages complete with backdrops, lighting, and scripts.  Suffice to say, without getting heavy into literary theory, this is a symptom of postmodern thought and art.  Caught in narrative self-reflexivity, Logan asks, “Is that what my past is?  A cheap movie?” (18).  What is a memory, a life?  A text?  Or a cheap comic book, for that matter?  Here Logan’s fictional reality is laid bare, revealed to be constructions that have, to a great degree, formed the foundation for the development of both his human and bestial sides.   That there are no cameras makes it clear that Logan himself is voyeur, audience, and capture devices all in one:  he witnesses and engages with the false memories because he has taken part in them, filmed them with his eyes and mind, and encoded them as literal truth.

What, then, are we as readers to make of the character?  All of the things which defined his bestial sides are fictions within fictions—stories within the story of the comic book format.  We, along with Logan, are simultaneous voyeurs and discoverers; we uncover the truth and fiction of his reality as he does, and the only definition of what THAT means is left to us, the reader, to decide.  We engage with these fictions along with Logan, vicariously and at some distance, and with a cautious eye on the make-believe embedded within the make-believe.


Of course, Hama can’t let it go without a little action.  And you can’t blame him.  This is a Wolverine comic, after all, and Wolverine’s the best there is at what he does: shredding dudes who get in his way.  Enter Shiva, a series of robot bodies controlled by an unrelenting, adaptable program.

Okay, yes, that’s a terrible design for a robot–can you even imagine manufacturing something like that, all those intricate points and layers?  Never mind the robot.  Look at the X-Men, top left panel, pointing out Wolverine’s name on a mysterious list.  Again we participate in the metafictive , a fictional list of fictional byproducts of Weapon X, each implanted with fictional memories to conceal their true relationship and background.  Xavier’s question is apt: “Why is Wolverine’s the first name?” (30).  Because he stands as the fictional representation of the creative team behind the comic, the originator of the fictions.  From Logan the other names gain meaning: Sabretooth was his partner, is now his arch-enemy, Mastodon was a teammate, etc.  Logan’s fictive existence provides the very substance of meaning to the other characters, the tentative network by which they are connected, assembled, categorized, and understood as quantifiable entities.  In short, Wolverine is the glue that binds these characters together.

The tricky part, of course, is that the glue that binds Wolverine together has just been shown to be bogus—a hoax of manufactured memories.  The real danger to Logan isn’t the giant robot, it’s the total dissolution of identity, complete conceptual breakdown, an endless loop of repeating a vicious mantra: “But if I’m not me, who am I?”

But Wolverine—and thankfully, the vast majority of superhero comics—aren’t about metafictional word and idea play (Batman R.I.P., take notes).  Hama knows when to reel it in and kill the giant robot, the personification (robotification? oh yesyesyes!) of this fictive thought-circus.

Logan makes a decision and chooses a reality, that of a human, that of Logan, and rejects the abstract self-reflexive fiction of his crafted memories.  In doing so he thwarts the power of memories, real or fabricated, to decide the moral and intellectual outcome of his life.  He guts Shiva, guts the revelation of artifice, illusion, and chooses  to accept and engage with the constructs of his life as he has known them: human and animal, hero and superhero.  As a fictional character, as a fictional IDEA, Logan can’t be killed with memories—with the very fictive substance of his status in the superhero genre.


Logan rejects the postmodern notion of interpretation of self-reflexive query.  In doing so, he make a powerful statement about fictional characters of the superhero comics medium—specifically that, regardless of the word or idea play at hand in a comic book, superheroes are not hollow analogs, metaphors, or other devices, but characters with potential for substantial literary depth and merit, and an attempt to classify them otherwise removes the result from existing firmly within the superhero genre.

Next up: Wolverine gets his adamantium ripped out, nipple shots, and a whole lot of body hair as I crack open the hologram-covered Wolverine #75!

X-Men and the Phallus 4

26 Aug

Does the busy end?  No it does not.  This weekend, hopefully, I get back to real posting.  And so the march of X-Men and their early phallic obsession marches on ohgodwhy.

Shorts and boots? That's his uniform?

All the phallic symbols revolve (oh, ho, ho!) around Iceman or villains.   A training session is saved by OHGODHEPUTSITINTHEGROUND

But then things are okay.  The X-Men have a party.  Near-lethal training session, nude aerial acrobatics, then party time.  A logical progression.  Things are fine.  Things are going to be okay.  No.  No, they won’t.

If you have superpowers, use them for mundane tasks.  Like taking the lid off a box.  Or to cut a cake.  Is it so hard to hold a knife?  What are you doing, Cyclops, you maniac, you’re using lasers to cut a cake, Jesus Christ why isn’t Iceman wearing a shirt?  What kind of barbarians are these people.  Let’s see what the bad guys are doing OHSWEETGODWHATSINTHEMIDDLEOFTHETABLE yes.


Another day with the X-Men.  I wish I could say I doctored these pages, but I didn’t.

X-Men and the Phallus 3

23 Aug

Mondays are made of fire from the sky gods who want to burn the eyes out of my sockets.  And much busy, much worky.

I return, for a moment, to our phallic exploration of the X-Men:

Let Cyclops just help you with your ENORMOUS METAL PHALLUS.

No, Blob.  Trust me.  You don’t want all their secrets.

Wolverine, Part 7: Defining Moments Continued

20 Aug

Even in his battles against Sabretooth, Wolverine had always shown a level of restraint when it came to unleashing his berserker.  Animalistic, savage,
brutal, feral–these terms always applied to Wolverine’s darker, more violent side, but it wasn’t until the creative team of Marc Silvestri and Larry Hama took over the book effective issue #31 that the depths of Wolverine’s inner beast were explored at length.

There’s Wolverine before issue #31, and there’s Wolverine after issue #31.  The divide is that sharp.

Before issue #31, Wolverine was a feared combatant and front-line member of the X-Men.  But while he was dangerous, it wasn’t until Silvestri’s and Hama’s opening story (cover above) that his current status as an unstoppable (not to mention super popular) killing machine solidified.  In this post, we’ll take a look at one of Wolverine’s darkest defining moments and examine the full nature of Wolverine’s bestial, berserker side in order to define and position that aspect against his more thoroughly defined humanity.


From the mimi-series to the end of his run, Claremont’s Wolverine stories always had an emphasis on Logan’s struggle to retain his humanity.  Whether
battling Shingen for the love of Mariko, or slumming it in Madripoor as Patch, Logan’s conflicts with opponents more often than not served as external
representations of his internal conflict to reign in his inner beast.

Hama, on the other hand, begins his run by exploring Logan’s inner berserker, pushing the character to his physical, and later, emotional, limits.  Issue #31 kicks off with Yakuza attempting to assassinate Patch.

No diplomacy, no speeches or deliberation on the necessity and nature of violence are offered.  Human beings are ejected from the scene (“Better get
scarce, Corrigan”), and Wolverine’s humanity is called into question.  He'”sometimes known as ‘Patch’ . . . and sometimes known as ‘Ro-gan'” (2).  In
short, the human identity of Logan is a part-time moniker, given over “sometimes” to Patch, an allegorical, less than whole alter ego.  The Logan
identity is further degraded when Logan translates the Yakuza’s broken English; from the get-go, this is a decidedly more violent Wolverine, one who takes on the name, the mantle, of death incarnate (a theme later repeated, albeit in a derivative, literal form, in later stories) (2).

The bar fight quickly disintegrates into an orgy of violence:

The only color aside from bruised black and blue, red–the color of blood, passion, anger, violence–here obscures the human in Logan from reality.  Speech and feral howls lose their distinction, become one, and the beast, “[e]cstatic in knowin’ he is the best at what he does,” feels neither pain nor
restraint (9).  He is “[f]ree to rip and tear,” further defining the kind of freedom give to us in Uncanny X-Men vol. 1 #151 as one of unrestrained
violence, murder, bloodshed.

That Logan creeps and crawls through holes like a common beast only cements the image of Logan as a berserk beast, a mindless animal.  When he reappears, he is wordless, speechless, emitting only a feral, “ROWRRRR” as the stunned Yakuza offer final prayers (14).  More interesting is where logan appears–from the roof, through a hole he creates, symbolic of a sudden ejection from the higher realms of human reasoning as he plunges into animal frenzy.


Wolverine’s descent into animal madness deepens when three Yakuza hitmen show up whacked out on a lightning bolt-shaped drug called Raiden.

In the first panel Logan rises half naked from a pile of corpses, distinguishing features obscured in shadow, against a backdrop of smoke, bodies, carnage.  It’s fitting, then, that the tattooed dragon “bearing madness before him,” and not the human visages of his opponents, faces Logan (18).  His acts of astounding violence have so distanced him from humanity that not even the icon of his own animal madness reflected back at him makes an impression.  The Yakuza he now mocks have likewise traded in their humanity for something else: a crazed, suicidal strength.  They attack Logan, fearless, painless, like modern Kamikaze bombers:

The double penetration of Logan and Yakuza connotes a sexual fertility of lunacy.  Madness breeds madness, and when the two are joined, the outcome can only be destruction, murder, and violence on a scale untold.  Logan, however, proves the stronger; his humanity, represented by his higher faculties, cannot be severed from his body, the engine of his non-thinking animal frenzy, the very thing that cannot deal, will heal from any wound (19).  The key here, as Logan tells the Yakuza, is proximity, a discussion of storytelling: the more he unfurls the beast, the less human he becomes, the more like Ryu–a thing, a representation of form stuffed with insanity, spreading chaos.  Logan walks a fine line and must continue to walk it, or the internal conflict of the character is resolved–thus so will his external conflicts.  With inner peace comes exterior resolution, an inability to meet destructive, violent forces with like aggression, and an end to narrative impetus.  Equally important: this is done behind the scenes, on a character level, wrought in symbolism, character agency (his choice to abstain or engage in violence).  An attempt at literalism–making Logan a literal animal or altering his physical makeup is an incredibly risky endeavor; to date there has been three attempts to do exactly that: one successful, and two horrifically unsuccessful.  More on that in an upcoming post.

Despite Logan’s desires to safeguard his humanity, time and again he is faced with overwhelming odds that can only be met by sublimation to the berserker animal within.  The cost is a greater, more powerful bestial personality, one much closer to the surface that drives Logan ever closer to complete and total madness as represented by the dragon Ryu.  Freedom for the beast equals madness, destruction of humanity, and the release of an unstoppable monster–a dragon in human form, a howling killer above and beyond even the depravity of those who ride the lightning of Raiden.  His ability to retain his humanity is directly contrasted with his loss of control over his berserker frenzies, and his plunge into inhumanity symbolically degrades his status as a superhero, much less a human being.

In addition, the Silvestri and Hama run cemented the idea of Wolverine as the bad ass he’s known as today.  More importantly, it signaled a swerve in the tone of both Wolverine stories and superhero comics in general toward a darker, edgier, anti-hero style.  From this point on, Wolverine became every bit as notorious, if not as controversial, as Marvel’s Punisher for pushing the edge of superhero mainstream standards of violence, and became the companies marketing spokesperson for a whole new generation of comics readers and superhero enthusiasts.

Don’t believe me?

Wolverine is the only current Marvel character starring in five running series: Wolverine: Origins, Wolverine: Weapon X, New Avengers, Uncanny X-Men, and Astonishing X-Men, and that’s not counting the youth-marketed titles.  Spider-Man has two.  Captain America, in both iterations, has three.

Next up: a convoluted look into Wolverine’s past as I dig into issue the extra-size issue #50.  Stay tuned!

X-Men and the Phallus: 2

17 Aug

Busy week, silliness continues.  Behold the phallic glory of old, old X-Men comics, dear God we’re not even out of issue 1 yet: