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 . . .” ) 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.
SMITH AND MOORE
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.