Men. Manly men. Men’s men. Mr Men.
What makes a man manly? What makes him sexy as hell? Giant man tits? Chiselled jaw? I know that sure as hell worked for me when I was a teenager and mooned over Dolph Lungren.
The Husband, otherwise known as Redbeard, is a comic book collector. He’s been collecting since the late 80’s. They are all stored lovingly in plastic sleeves in funny long boxes that are currently taking up way too much space in our house. If we ever have to move, it will be because his comic books need their own room. So he knows a bit about interesting males characters, their origins and complicated love lives. Which all can lead to most sexy angst (I’m looking at you Michael Fassbender). I thought I’d ask Redbeard about popular characters, their origins and what makes them so appealing. Specifically, I thought we’d talk about…Wolverine.
Redbeard: Okay. Let’s talk about what makes a great character.
Rebekah: That’s sex appeal, right?
Redbeard: No, it’s not. Let’s talk about Wolverine.
Rebekah: Yes. Let’s talk about Hugh Jackman.
Redbeard: No, let’s not. Wolverine was introduced in an issue of Incredible Hulk in the late 70’s. Typically in an ongoing series, there would be half a dozen characters introduced over the course of a year for any of the major comics. Most of these would never been seen again or perhaps brought back a decade later to be killed off for emotional impact in another story. Was Wolverine different? No, not really. He was a feisty Canadian with metal claws (probably originally meant to be part of the costume) that went a round with the Hulk and wasn’t killed outright. Where he gained prominence was a year later when Chris Claremont assembled a new team of mutants for his ‘All-new, all-different’ X-men.
The X-men at this stage was a failed comic venture. From the time it was first published the comic had never had the success of Spider-man or even the other team books like the Fantastic Four and The Avengers. From issues 66 the comic was effectively cancelled with no new stories being produce, it was relegated to a bi-monthly schedule with stories being re-printed. Chris Claremont relaunched the series with ‘Giant-size X-men’ effectively introducing the next generation of the team, he broadened the cast with a new team with an international flavour African, Native American, German, Russian, Irish and a little known Canadian mutant with animatistic tendencies and a healing factor.
Rebekah: It’s not sexy when you put it like that.
Redbeard: Wolverine was introduced as a character in his mid-forties, cynical, prone to berserk rages and from all indications had a past that was fifty miles of bad road. The revelation early on in this run was that he himself didn’t know much about his past, in many ways he was a blank slate and the only thing he knew about himself for sure was that he was a killer. Physically he was short and squat, had an excessive amount of body hair and smelled of bad cigars and cheap booze. The closest they came to this with Hugh Jackman was when they introduced the character in the first movie.
Rebekah: Aw, come on. Short and squat? In need of waxing? You’re killing the fantasy.
Redbeard: In the 70’s when new comic characters introduced, they didn’t just have ‘troubles’ they had psychosis. This was an era where America was inundated with movies such as Death Wish and Dirty Harry. Tough guy characters doled out their own justice as an indictment on the system and the self-gratification of the viewer/reader.
Marvel capitalised on this with characters like Blade, Ghost Rider, The Punisher and Wolverine. Wolverine was probably the most human of these new characters mostly because he displayed a desire to grow (he spent many years in Japan training as a samurai to try and master the animal inside him), to try and escape the river of blood that was in his past, although he would also embrace this darker side to met out justice if he deemed it necessary. This dichotomy of the character became his trademark and he became known for his contradictions. Both a berserk animal and a man, someone who bound themselves to the strict samurai code of honor but would break most other rules he came across. A loner who was desperately trying to find meaning in a family with the X-men. A psychotic killer who was also a role model and father figure for the younger team members.
Rebekah: Wha-? Like most psychotic killers should be??
Redbeard: What we have now is a basis for a great character. One of the marvel editors in the 80’s, Jim Shooter, was a big fan of the saying ‘conflict develops character’. Not only was Wolverine in conflict with most other characters he came across but he was usually in conflict with himself. This combined with his distinctive feral look and a set of half a dozen nine-inch claws, gave him a threatening but engaging appearance. The last item that resulted in Wolverine becoming a classic was his power-set. The keen animatistic senses would give him an excuse to fall into his berserker rages but by giving him a healing factor his body would be able to resist the most brutal of attacks. Finally, an unbreakable metal bonded to his skeleton would mean that whatever damage occurred to his body it would typically be a flesh wound. The healing factor did not make him immortal, so there was still a significant element of danger to the conflicts he was in. Additionally while he had a healing factor to save his life he did not have a pain suppression factor so a major wound could still take him out of the fight.
A threat of death/danger is essential to a character. No matter how much of a killing machine or ultimate bad arse they may be they will cease to be interesting without the risk that they may be killed, that their sacrifice may not be total.
Rebekah: Nice. Now, what was Wolverine like in bed?
Redbeard: Early on in the development of Wolverine’s character he was written as a potential love interest for Jean Grey, one of the original X-men. Jean had been the love interest of Scott Summers, Cyclops for most of the history of the X-men and it’s debatable about the true intentions of the writer with regards to this relationship. Cyclops was the leader of the X-men was Wolverine’s interest in his lover anything more than an Alpha Male sniffing around to show that he was top dog, given that a similar love triangle had formed in Alpha Flight (Canadian super team, like the Avengers… but Canadian) my opinion is his affection for Jean was quite superficial, it’s been brought up several times now over the years and in many ways Wolverines interest in her is more of an obsession. When his origin story was expanded in the early 2000’s it was shown a young Irish girl, Rose, looked after him not long after him mutation first exhibited itself. Jean looks very much like Rose and Rose is probably the reason why there has been a trail of red-heads through his history.
Rebekah: You’re not answering the question. I know you know it.
Redbeard: The love story that defines Wolverines character is Mariko Yashida. Their on again off again marriage was in the best tradition of soap opera. Mariko was always shown in traditional Japanese dress but her sensibilities were quite modern, specifically defined by her wanting to run her father’s business empire. The first hurdle in their relationship was her father’s reappearance after being missing for many years,he demanded that she honor a debt for him and submit to marry another man. As honor is prized above all Wolverine respected her wishes in the matter and stayed distant until he found her husband was regularly beating her. After taking care of the husband, he accepted a challenge from her father to a duel to prove his worthiness. The duel was with wooden swords, being a sword master Lord Shingen(Mariko’s Father) was able to efficient wound and hurt Wolverine to a point where he lost control and popped his claws. This lead to Mariko’s rejection of him as a man who embraced the animal inside of him, a man without honor who was not worthy of her.
Later once her Father’s links to organised crime had been revealed Wolverine took his revenge, bringing down the empire and eventually having round 2 with Lord Shingen, this time Wolverine kept the beast in check and the duel ended with Mariko walking in on them just as Wolverine killed her father. Having thought this would make the breach between him and Markio irreparable, Wolverine was truly surprised at her acceptance of him, given the dishonor her father had brought to the clan. Within weeks the invitations went out for their impending wedding.
Naturally the wedding didn’t eventuate, as drama is better than ‘happily ever after’. After years of dancing around each other and having their relationship impacted by ‘honor’, Mariko was poisoned by an enemy. In her final moments she begs Wolverine to end her life and spare her anymore pain… I’m not sure if she was referring to the poison or the yo-yo relationship.
Rebekah: Sounds like this interview. TIME FOR EYE CANDY.
Redbeard’s Recommended reading list:
Wolverine Limited Series #’s 1 to 4 – Chris Claremont & Frank Miller
Weapon X – Trade paper back – Barry Windsor Smith