The Wolverine debuted in theatres this weekend in all its rooftop motorcycle ninja glory.
I’m sure that’s the only reason most people want to see the movie, but maybe a few of you have heard of a little someone called Logan, or Wolverine. Just a short guy with funny hair, razor sharp claws that disappear somewhere unexplainable when he isn’t using them, and off the chart regeneration abilities. In the realm of superheroes, it doesn’t seem like a necessarily winning combination — the guy’s even Canadian — but something about his tragically immortal life and berserker instincts keep audiences coming back for more. What is it that makes Wolverine so compelling?
If you said “because he’s played by Hugh Jackman” you are making the unforgivable error of forgetting that Wolverine has been a fixture of the X-Men since 1975 when Giant Size X-Men #1 was published (Storm and Colossus were introduced in that issue), got his first solo title in 1982, and started being on every single team ever in the early aughts or so, or around when Brian Michael Bendis starting writing all the Avengers books.
So, no, it’s not Hugh Jackman, though he makes a wonderful, if overly tall, Wolverine. And it probably isn’t all the body hair, either. And it isn’t really his powers. Even if he is “the best I am at what I do … and what I do isn’t very nice,” his powers, like all superheroes, seem to shift to accommodate any plot. It’s not even his back story, which changes as often as his powers, and which didn’t even exist in any concrete way for most of his history (movies give a lot away up front, you guys). So what does make Wolverine so compelling as a character? It’s his … character.
Wolverine as a character both fits in with and enhances the dynamic of any group of which he is a part. He is the salt of the superhero community. A grouchy self-proclaimed loner, he can be counted on to ratchet up tension and drama and fight or flirt with the other characters, but he’s got a soft center (and a string of young lady sidekicks) that you know will compel him to do the right thing — or his view of the right thing.
If there were one thing that could compete with Wolverine for popularity in the superhero comics community it would be origin stories, which are essentially ways for authors to reassert who it is we’re dealing with, and while Wolverine now has a definitive (yeah, that’ll last) origin story, he never needed one. With animal instincts, berserker rages, and frequent brain-washings the guy was always fighting to hold on to some sense of who he is and what he stands for.
Enter the latest movie, The Wolverine. Logan’s withdrawn from the X-Men community that he spent three movies becoming part of, when a mysterious man from his past comes on the scene with options and answers and ninjas on motorbikes on rooftops (I am never, never letting that go) — what’re you gonna do, Logan? And just like that, we’re in business with a new Wolverine story and a new cast of characters (to those who haven’t read the comics, anyways, and even then this new Viper seems like a hybrid with Toxie Doxie to me).
He’s not a nice guy, but he’s a good guy, and he can be counted on to bring something out of any and all characters that he interacts with. And I know I said it wasn’t his back story, but a mysterious, painful, immortal past means an endless supply of loose ends, tragic stories, and old flames to keep us all coming back to The Wolverine.