Place to Be Nation Comics Roundtable: The Wolverine

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With the release of “The Wolverine”, the second solo film featuring everyone’s favorite X-Man, the comics crew of the Place To Be Nation are taking a look at just what makes Canada’s favorite vertically-challenged, mutton chop-sporting, adamantium-claw wielding mutant tick.  Join the Hard Traveling Fanboys, Nick Duke and Greg Phillips, as they once again team up with Todd Weber, who has different issues every single week, to take a look at their own history with Marvel’s Wolverine.  They’ll also discuss his high and low points in comics and on-screen, plus give their opinions on Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of James Howlett, also known as Logan, also known as Patch, also known as the Wolverine.

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Wolverine’s comic debut

How did you first encounter the character Wolverine–in comics, cartoons, toys or movies? If you read him first in comics, what was the particular issue/storyline?

Nick Duke: For me, my first exposure was the Fox animated series. I specifically remember falling in love with the show and convincing my parents to get the two VHS tapes that were released as part of a Pizza Hut promotion. The tapes collected the first four episodes of the show, and I probably watched those things at least 50 times, in addition to the new episodes as they aired. Instantly, Wolverine was one of my two favorite characters on the show, with the other being Gambit. I had the old blue and yellow mask and toy claws, so I was a pretty big fan as a kid.

Greg Phillips: It was probably the 1989 TV pilot for “Pryde of the X-Men” and the video game that came a couple years later. X-Men #1 came after that.

Todd Weber: I was flipping through X-Men/Teen Titans in a drugstore in Salt Lake City in 1982 (I had subscriptions to New Teen Titans, Firestorm and Justice League as a kid) and saw Wolverine and Changeling (Beast Boy) talking about how they were both named “Logan”. A few months later, I noticed him on a Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends episode. My mom then bought me a cheap black-and-white paperback that reprinted “Giant-Size X-Men” #1. Man, I haven’t seen that book in almost 30 years.

Has he ever been one of your favorite characters? Why or why not?

ND: Yes and no. I’ve always liked Wolverine a lot in different adaptations, but I’ve never really delved too much into X-Men or Wolverine comics. Anyone who wants to get into comics has to figure out how much continuity they can catch up on without being lost, and the X-verse continuity has always been way too intimidating for me. I have a basic understanding of most of the characters, but if a story didn’t happen in the pages of Ultimate X-Men, I have little to no knowledge of its plotlines.

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GP: Yeah, Wolverine is probably my favorite Marvel character. The early ’90s cartoon made me fall in love with the character, especially paired with the comics. That cartoon presented him as such an interesting, unique guy in this crazy mutant world.

As for why I took to him, it was a combination of factors. First, obviously, is the look of the character. From the adamantium claws to the colorful yellow-and-black costume to the cigars to the facial hair, he was something incredibly different from every other character in the X-Men and in comics to that point. I also admired his personality — he was the kind of lone wolf badass I always liked in wrestling, yet he had a heart of gold and would do anything for the people he cared about. He was on a continuous quest to discover his true nature and identity even though he realized it was a fruitless search. The mystery angle was amazing — a character who was trying so hard to do the right thing, not knowing what atrocities he may have committed in the past. And finally, he was always at odds with Cyclops, who I hated.

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TW: Wolvie was once my absolute favorite character. When I was in junior high school, I delved deeper into the X-Men during their participation in the “Secret Wars” and after checking out where “New Mutants” came from. The stories and themes in X-Men were sophisticated to me and (unlike my step-brother’s favorite book “Swamp Thing” which went way over my head) I could relate to the characters. I bought the Secret Wars tie-in figure with the snap-on claws and very cheap paint job.

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I related to Logan for lots of reasons: He always seemed to be cracking wise, he called people out when they were wrong (Colossus & Cyclops, most notably), and he was loyal to his friends (he resented new member Rogue for neutering Carol Danvers). I loved when he’d go into his berserker rages and he resisted taking on a leadership role, at least during that era of the X-Men (issues #176-200). I also liked that we didn’t know much about him, and I let my imagination fill in many of the blanks. His costume was awesome (I still prefer the brown & tan version) and his claws were so cool. (Snikt!)

I also got into the Marvel role-playing game and wrote mostly terrible adventures for Wolverine for my dozens of friends (ok, just my friend Kevin) to play.

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What’s your favorite Wolverine story, movie or TV episode? Why is it your favorite?

ND: I’ll go back to the animated series, and go with the episodes “Enter Magneto” and “Cold Vengeance.” Both deal heavily with Wolverine’s relationship with Sabretooth, which has always been one of the character’s most intriguing stories.

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GP: I have to go with the original Wolverine mini-series from Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. For years, my answer to this question would’ve been either “X2” or an episode of the animated series. I had a chance to read this story last year, and it blew me away. The way it balances the relentless ferocity of Miller’s best work with the thoughtful wordplay of Claremont’s heyday truly impressed me. Something about Wolverine as a samurai spirit trapped in an animal’s body really appealed to me. The artwork is incredible, the interior monologue does a great job getting the reader into Logan’s head, and it manages to humanize him without losing the savagery that sets him apart.

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It frankly does a better job than any comic I’ve read since of getting across the very things that made me love the character in the first place.

TW: My favorite X-Men story, and therefore my favorite Wolverine story (even though he’s not the focal point for most of the collection), is “X-Men: The Asgardian Wars”, which collects “X-Men and Alpha Flight” #1 & 2, “New Mutants Special Edition” and “X-Men Annual #9”. The facets of Logan that I related to as explained above (savagery, loyalty, holding others accountable) are shown throughout the collection.

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My favorite part of the story is at the very end of the last chapter when Wolverine, though weakened by magic and close to death, gets through to the previously-powerless Storm (to whom Loki has given the Godlike abilities of Thor) that Loki is merely manipulating her into doing Loki’s bidding. Hela, the Norse incarnation of death itself, comes to claim the dying Wolverine but the X-Men join together to drive her off. I LOVE this collection, (and late ‘80s Art Adams artwork is some of my favorite in all the world), but I think it’s been mostly forgotten over time (it seems that liking Claremont’s epic run on “Uncanny” has become passe lately).

Is there any one favorite particular moment or scene featuring Wolverine that stands out?

ND: When Wolverine goes berserk on the guards storming the mansion in X2, I nerded out pretty hard in the theater. The first X-Men movie, which I like a great deal, never really let Wolvie off the leash. Here, though, Jackman is allowed to go all out, and it results in one of the movie’s most iconic scenes.

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GP: The scene at the end of the early ’90s cartoon episode “Nightcrawler” when Logan is seen in the church pew always gets me. Something about that message of faith and forgiveness shone through even when I was a kid. Beautiful work.

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TW: I will never forget the panel at the bottom of the last page of “Uncanny X-Men 132” where we see Wolverine hiding in the sewers of the Hellfire Club after being assumed dead, proclaiming “Okay, suckers–you’ve taken yer best shot! Now it’s MY turn!” That for me (and Wolverine’s actual follow-up massacre of the Hellfire Club in the subsequent issue) was truly the first time Marvel utilized his potential as a character. It was just such an awesome moment.

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Are there any Wolverine/X-Men stories featuring Wolverine you just can’t stand?

ND: X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The less said the better. Also not a fan of the comic series Wolverine: Origins. A large part of the character’s appeal is his mystery and his journey to uncover his past. If we as a reader or an audience now know his past, it takes away our ability to care about him finding answers. It would be the equivalent of taking Michael Myers and just revealing that he was a whiny bullied kid. Oh, wait…

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GP: I hate X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It’s not so much the story or the art, it’s the very idea of it. So much of Wolverine’s appeal has always been the mystery angle. Who is he? Where does he come from? Why can’t he remember? For me, Origin was the equivalent of Luke Skywalker removing Darth Vader’s helmet and revealing a pasty old guy with a harmonica. Wolverine had developed to the point that A) His origin was one of those things best left up to each reader’s individual interpretation and B) It didn’t really matter. This felt like a blatant cash grab to capitalize on a successful movie at the expense of year’s worth of comic book storytelling.

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TW: I strongly disliked the “feral” Wolverine era that immediately followed Magneto ripping Wolvie’s adamantium skeleton out. Wolverine (whose now-bone claws were admittedly pretty badass) basically devolved, started wearing a bandana, and didn’t even have a nose. There were already tons of characters like this in all of comics, and they took away anything that made Logan interesting….his honor, his loyalty, his conscience (did I mention his nose?). This debacle hit its lowest point at around the “Onslaught” crossover, which was so bad and illogical that it eclipses Wolverine’s mutation. This development for Wolverine just didn’t make any sense whatsoever. Really? His adamantium-laced skeleton was preventing him from gradually morphing into a brainless, savage ape with claws? Oh, ok, whatever you say, Mr. Claremont (I’m guessing it was perhaps more of an editorial directive).

Does Wolverine belong on the Avengers? Has overexposure damaged his appeal?

ND: The answer to both questions is yes. At some point, the Avengers became more in line with what the Justice League is over at DC. Rather than focusing on a cohesive team, it became about making sure all of Marvel’s most popular characters were on an Avengers squad. In that regard, it’s hard to argue for anyone other than Spider-Man as being more deserving for an Avengers spot. However, the character is in way too many books at the moment and has been featured in more movies than any other Marvel character. By this time next year, Wolverine will have played a central role in six films, second only to Batman in all of comic lore. He’s a great character, but sometimes you have to know when to try and keep the intrigue alive.

GP: He’s an X-Man first and foremost. That being said, I’d love to see him pop up in the big-screen Avengers movies. At this point, he’s a more recognizable character than just about anybody in the Avengers anyway, and his personality/abilities would play off the others in an entertaining way. In the comics, I’d rather him stick to the X-verse for the most part, or at least choose one team over the other.

I think revealing his origin (and having him remember it) has damaged his appeal much more than overexposure, but I do think Marvel started going overboard with him about 10 years ago and hasn’t looked back. But then again, we’re in a comic market with dozens of Avengers, X-Men and Batman books, so it’s hard to really complain about Wolvie.

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TW: I don’t like him in the Avengers, he doesn’t belong in the Avengers, he’s just not an Avenger and I will never accept him as an Avenger. Ever. Yes, I understand why he’s there-it’s a response to DC’s best-selling and most iconic heroes all starring in the Justice League comic (at least since Grant Morrison made sure of that in the late ‘90s), but in my opinion, it lessens Wolverine’s impact elsewhere. He’s an X-Man, he runs the freakin’ school now, and that’s the only place he should be. I don’t even like most of his solo adventures. Boy, sometimes I sound like a crotchety old man.

 

That having been said, sadly it’s the norm these days for DC and Marvel to take their most popular heroes or teams and flood the market with different variations of each. I suppose it’s a matter of survival, but I don’t have to like it.

Do you currently collect any series featuring Wolverine? If not, what would it take for you to read one?

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ND: No. It would take either a resurrection of Wolverine in the ultimate universe, a complete reboot of X-Men continuity or, least likely of all, Geoff Johns heading over to Marvel to write the character.

GP: No. Honestly, other than a cheaper cover price, it would take two things to get me on a Wolverine solo title — a strong, established creative team and a back-to-basics approach. I don’t need gimmickry in my Wolverine, I just need some old-school down-and-dirty Wolverine taking on even dirtier bad guys. Less of the Marvel Team-Up approach and more of the Chris Claremont/Frank Miller approach. I’d like said team to have a strong vision for the book, and for it to be mostly separate from the Marvel Universe goings on, sort of like Thor: God of Thunder.

For an X-Men book, I’m just not sure at this point. I’d want something that simplifies the convoluted continuity and would make it simple for me to pick up my first X-series since Morrison’s New X-Men. Something that focuses on the team dynamic and emphasizes the differences between the members while focusing on how they overcome them.

TW: I don’t currently get any books that feature Wolverine, with the exception of his infrequent appearances in the excellent All-New X-Men title. That’s the only X-Men book I currently collect, mostly because it’s written from the point of view of characters newly-introduced to the Marvel universe (I could say more, but I’m trying to be spoiler-friendly. If you don’t know, you should buy the first collection and see what I mean, it’s GREAT). That book is right up my alley, but there’s not that much Logan in there.

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I would almost certainly read a monthly solo Wolverine comic written by Scott Snyder, Brian K. Vaughn, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore, though the chances of any of those writers doing a Wolverine book are virtually non-existent. I would like to read a book that exists in a crossover-free vacuum, but THAT’S not going to happen (though I also never would’ve seen myself enjoying “Deadpool”, so there’s that). There have been scattered runs of the Wolverine title that I have enjoyed (Millar’s “Old Man Logan” is really fun), and if there’s buzz on something, I can always check out the trades.

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Who’s your favorite opponent (villain or hero) who’s fought Wolverine? Why?

ND: Sabretooth is the obvious, and perhaps best, answer here.

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But, I’ll also say Cyclops, as the struggle for Jean Grey’s heart has always made for an interesting story that pits the X-Men’s natural leader against the team’s most popular character.

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GP: Omega Red, primarily because Jim Lee’s X-Men series introduced me to the greater X-verse, but also because of one of the great character designs of the 1990s. I loved the look of this guy, and the fact that he was basically a Soviet version of Wolverine who happened to be even more powerful. It was always interesting seeing how Wolvie would overcome this bigger, badder foe with the crazy tentacles and seemingly endless strength. Honorable mention to Cyclops, because I always like watching Logan put him in his place.

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TW: I’ve always enjoyed Wolverine/Hulk throw-downs. Wolverine started out as a Hulk ‘villain’, though he was really more of a Canadian government operative just following orders (waaaaaay back in 1974’s “Incredible Hulk” #181), and both characters go all-out. I particularly enjoy the battle between them in the Peter David/Todd McFarlane-created “Incredible Hulk” #340.

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In your opinion, what artist has drawn the definitive representation of Wolverine and why?

ND: Frank Miller’s Wolverine, for better or worse, will always be the one that I think of first, with Jim Lee’s coming a close second. Miller takes the cake, though, because even though the Lee-inspired animated series was my introduction to the character, when I close my eyes and think of Wolverine, the first thing that pops in my head is the iconic cover to Wolverine #1.

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GP: Jim Lee. He’s the artist who introduced me to the world of the X-Men, and when I close my eyes, his character designs are the ones I think of when I think “X-Men.” He specializes in drawing these big iconic figures, and his Wolverine kept the Clint Eastwood qualities of Byrne’s but managed to incorporate some of the more physically imposing elements of Miller’s.

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TW: Definitive? It’s gotta be John Byrne. He took the early designs of John Romita Sr., Herb Trimpe, and Dave Cockrum and gave Wolverine a much more modernized, dynamic and fiercer look. His art is what I think of when I picture Wolverine. I’m also a big fan of Byrne’s brown and tan costume with the thick red belt that debuted in the Byrne-drawn “Uncanny X-Men” #139.

Though perhaps not ‘definitive’ versions, John Romita Jr. and Arthur Adams each drew a hell of a Wolverine too.

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Is there any artist whose Wolverine interpretation you dislike?

ND: Joe Madureira. I pretty much hate this guy’s art all the time, and the recent announcement that he’ll be working on a Wolverine book has him fresh on my mind.

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GP: Roberto Flores represented everything I hated about the late ’90s manga/anime influence on comics. Just atrocious drawings and Wolverine looked even worse than the rest of the X-characters. And yes, I base this solely on X-Men Annual 1996. But I’ll throw in most artists of that particular era.

(editor’s note: Luckily for Greg, no interior artwork for X-Men Annual 1996 exists online.  Bernard Chang’s cover is decent enough.)

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TW: Luckily, Rob Liefeld hasn’t drawn much Wolverine in his career. I totally despised Al Milgrom’s handling of the art in the “Kitty Pryde & Wolverine” mini-series back in the day. Milgrom’s art was stiff and awkward and his Logan looked like he was drawn by a 10-year-old. That mini-series and some of the more freakish depictions of the feral Wolverine (Madureira, Kubert) remain my least favorite interpretations.

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Do you like Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine? Who else do you think could’ve possibly played him better than Jackman?

ND: I love Jackman’s portrayal. At this point, Hugh Jackman is probably more identified with Wolverine than any other actor in any other comic book movie. You could make the argument for Christopher Reeve as Superman, but Jackman so far is the only guy to take on Wolverine, and he’s done an outstanding job thus far. As far as anyone else playing him, I honestly have no clue. It’s kind of like someone besides Arnold playing the Terminator. I won’t know who can do a good enough job until I see it.

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GP: I love Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the character. I was adamantly opposed to his casting at first, because he seemed (from early stills) too much of a pretty boy. But he did a great job playing a version of Wolverine that, while different from other interpretations, remained true to his basic character. Hugh added his own touches and gave Logan such a spirit that I looked past things like his height. His voice also helped forge the character and still differentiated him from the great Cathal Dodd. Jackman is now the guy I most identify with Wolverine.

I could only see two other actors in the history of Hollywood playing an ideal Wolverine. First, elements of the character were clearly modeled after Clint Eastwood, so circa-1971 Clint would be the best possible Logan, even over Jackman. The other guy would be mid-’80s Kurt Russell. He could pull off gruff, for sure.

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TW: Jackman is Wolverine. ‘Nuff said. I know people wanted Russell Crowe at first, but the role was beneath him (probably not beneath him now, but he’s way too old). At this point, I can’t even speculate how that would’ve worked out.

Before the first X-Men movie came out in 2000, my friends and I on the RSPW newsgroup supposed Chris Benoit would’ve made an excellent Wolverine, but with two notable exceptions, we all know that wrestlers just can’t act.

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Will Wolverine still be popular 20 years from now? Why or why not? 

ND: Of course. All characters in comics, and even comics as a genre themselves, have their lulls in popularity, but it’s highly unlikely that they’ll ever go away. As one of the premiere characters in comics and Hollywood now, we’ll be seeing plenty of Wolverine in the decades to come.

GP: I think so. He’s got an amazing character design, which is probably the most important thing when it comes to capturing children’s imaginations. He’s got cool, fairly unique powers (even if they keep trotting out clones, children and whatnot). He’s got a unique voice, a thoughtful samurai badass loner savage, and that’s a difficult dichotomy for any other character to match. And I think the fact that Fox won’t stop making X-Men movies will help, too.

TW: Probably so, but even now in comics the popularity of his solo adventures seems to be on the decline. If they ever REALLY streamline the X-books and make one must-read monthly comic (like the Joss Whedon/John Cassady Astonishing X-Men), then perhaps Wolverine will be right up there with Spider-Man and Batman again. In the films, I reckon we’ve got another 5 years of Jackman as Logan and then it’ll be re-reboot time. At that point, we’ll have to see where they go with casting and the direction of the franchise. Only time will tell.

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Well, that’s all for this special in-depth look at Wolverine. We really hope you all enjoyed it. Greg and Nick drop new editions of the Hard-Traveling Fanboys every Thursday here on the Place to Be Nation, and Todd reviews new comics (always “jumping-on” issues) here every Tuesday in “Weber Has Issues”.
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Author: Comics Staff

The Place to Be Nation Comics Staff includes Greg Phillips, Nick Duke, Russell Sellers, Tim Capel and Todd Weber. Catch all of their individual pieces by checking out our Comics area.