What more fitting time for my girlfriend, the uncanny Helen Rittelmeyer, to sublet an apartment to start a summer internship in Washington, DC with American Spectator magazine than May 1? Today is, after all, May Day — the socialist holiday — and I blame the century-long march of socialism for drawing Helen and the rest of us toward centers of political power such as DC.
Even more fittingly, today is the start of my second annual “Month of the Nerd,” and it hardly seems right for a man to have his hot girlfriend around while he’s claiming to be hopelessly enmeshed in nerd culture. Sure, there are more women in comic book stores these days than there used to be, thanks in part to a decade or so of solid manga sales, but nerdcult at its heart still belongs to the loner-geek, and I would not want to look like a complete poseur.
To entertain myself until my first DC visit of the season, then, I’ll be doing things like going to see a film out today about another victim of government power: the mutant drifter and espionage expert turned government experiment, living weapon, and eventual member of the X-Men, Wolverine. In the three X-Men films, Wolverine had only hazy memories of his past, but now we’ll see that past laid out in some detail (and he has women troubles himself — by my count, at least four of Wolverine’s lovers have come to violent ends, at least in the comics).
Wolverine’s memory problems make him just a bit like the characters in the show Dollhouse, which, as it happens, ends one week from tonight and is written/produced by Joss Whedon, who wrote X-Men comics for a few years recently. I’m actually a bit worried that we’ll learn too much about Wolverine’s past in the film, by which I mean not that the mystery will be ruined (that’s gone on long enough) but that there’ll be too many characters and phases of his life crammed into two short hours. The film focuses on a solo character, but it reportedly features over a dozen familiar secondary characters from the X-Men comics (including Sabretooth, Gambit, Stryker, and many more). In some sense it’s as much an ensemble story as the prior three films, and that could get a tad ungainly in the course of a plot that presumably stretches over several decades.
Wolverine was arguably the single most influential comic book character post-1970, the first dark antihero of the epoch that would spawn The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and vicious absurdities like the characters Spawn and Venom (the latter reportedly slated to appear in a solo film himself, which I cannot imagine being good). In the “Bronze Age” 70s, Wolverine was fairly unique and thus (back when I first started reading comics) totally awesome. By the early 1990s, well into comics’ “Dark Age,” it seemed as though every character wanted to be as badass as Wolverine and be the scariest guy on the team, and that just doesn’t work. We can’t all be Han Solo.
My biggest aesthetic gripe about Wolverine’s complex past, though? He was part of the covert ops group called “Team X,” the cybernetic experiment called “Weapon X” (ostensibly meaning “10,” not a letter), and the famous mutant team led by “Prof. X” — all three of these things ostensibly having no causal tie in their names (and I’m generously ignoring prior machinations by a man named Essex and assuming the “x-factor” gene is named after Prof. X, otherwise we get even more coincidental significant Xs, by which I don’t mean those dead lovers).
If comics characters are around for long enough, certain tropes tend to get repeated for no adequately-explained (in-story) reason, just because they resonate with fans. If this movie manages to tie it all together neatly — without creating something as dense as Watchmen but only a quarter as smart — I’ll be pleased. At the very least, I’m sure Wolverine will kick some ass. After all, he’s the best there is at what he does, though what he does isn’t very nice.