Friday, May 1, 2009

Wolverine Kicks Off "Month of the Nerd II"


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.


David said...

Let me get this straight: you DON’T want to come across as a well adjusted man with an attractive girlfriend, you want to maintain credibility as a maladjusted loner who hangs out in comic book stores? The latter is preferable to the former? The former does damage to your image as the latter?

Todd Seavey said...

I gots ta represent.

Ali Kokmen said...

Carlton Harago of Creative Loafing had a great observation about Wolverine at where he realized that:

“The big problem with Wolverine comics is that they usually don’t focus on the things that make the guy cool….He’s a tough, ruthless, mysterious loner with metal bones (seriously) and mixes the best aspects of Han Solo, James Dean and Hannibal Lecter (minus the propensity to eat flesh). But, unfortunately, most of the comics that star Wolvie focus on the fact that, as seen in those previously mentioned X-Men films, the character has no memory of his past; consequently most books show him trying to uncover his lost history. And, for a hero who’s been in print since 1974, that search for identity can get kind of boring and hampered with decades of confusing people, places and things.”

In essence, Wolverine is interesting because he’s a guy with a mysterious past who kicks ass. To many (myself, I think, included) the more fundamental aspect is the the latter, but others seem compelled to investigate the former. Which can get tedious, boring, and familiar.

To we old fogeys, at least…

Todd Seavey said...

Like many fogeys, I shifted from being a Marvel reader circa the 80s to being a DC loyalist circa the 90s (the former getting too Wolverine-wannabe with all its fanged and armored characters and the latter developing a somewhat healthier balance between its hokey/retro past and mature present) — and as a result, I wasn’t reading X-Men comics when one of the biggest changes to Wolverine was introduced: the idea that many elements of his past are not only complicated, scattered across decades, mysterious, and at times seemingly contradictory but indeed are _mere hallucinations_, or rather “memory implants” stuck in his brain around the time of his metal-plating operation.

That’s probably when they should have (quite understandably) said, “Move along, folks, nothing more (coherent) to be seen here,” but on the contrary, they launched a whole _ongoing_ monthly series detailing elements of his semi-real and semi-hallucinatory past.

Add to that the more recent idea that he had memory problems _even before the operation_, apparently induced by the trauma of his powers first manifesting in childhood in a way that led to tragedy (which we’ll see in the film, it appears). That’s another example of the kind of redundancy I find annoying: How many memory-problem explanations do we need?

On the bright side, that means that no matter how much they simplify things in the movie, I’ll be rooting for the simplification rather than whining that they left stuff out. Not knowing or caring about half his history at this point also helps, of course.

But things could be worse: Whenever I worry that a comics character isn’t simple/coherent enough to have a clear dramatic “purpose,” I remember the time I read the Wiki. entry for the X-Men character Psylocke — and then I imagine trying to pitch _her_ as a concept to Hollywood execs. It’s like beholding Cthulhu’s extra-dimensional tomb.