Ask me who the most difficult popular comicbook character to write was, and I would not say Superman. I would not say Batman or Spider-Man or even Captain America. Personally, these characters seem to have had such a solid list of people establishing their voice and that voice is then followed up in media by solid portrayals. After awhile, you can separate the difficulty from writing the character from a difficulty to come up with original stories for them and I think that’s why people have trouble or become terrified of writing those listed above industry mainstays. If you were to ask me, who I thought WAS hard to write, I would say it was Marvel’s own badass Avenger, X-Man, Canadian superhero, Wolverine. That is made no more clear than by the first issue of yet another ongoing series for this Marvel hero.
Spinning out of the Marvel NOW! event, Wolverine #1 is written by the usually terrific Paul Cornell and the always amazing Alan Davis and drops us right into Wolverine having just had half his flesh incinerated by a hostage-taker with a ray gun. As his powers work fast to repair his body, Wolverine has to play hostage negotiator and superhero to save the day. Things go from bad to worse and the issue ends with Wolverine running off into the night to continue to try to save the day.
That’s really the whole issue, in a nutshell: we start in-medias-res with the grave situation Wolverine is in, he tries to save the day, fails, and sets off after the instigating plot device. Those brief 20 pages breeze by and seems to be lacking all of Cornell’s previous skills in unique storytelling and fun superhero-inspired sci-fi from Captain Britain & MI:13. It helps, though, to have such a spectacular artist as Alan Davis illustrating your adventure, but what can’t be helped is that the 20 pages Cornell is given to fill is absolutely wasted on what is effectively one scene: Wolverine saving the day from something that isn’t explained and isn’t set up for us to be interested in.
This brings me back to my earlier point about Wolverine being the hardest character in comics to write. Frankly, I think this is because he was originally built as personality with no depth and just attitude. Basically, Wolverine had no backstory and was shown to be Clint Eastwood’s surly demeanor with Charles Bronson’s compact stature and tended to nearly come close to killing his adversaries. With no origin and no motivation, he spent years as a cipher with nothing but his cigar-chomping, quip-throwing, claw-popping demeanor to fall back on. That meant fans who would eventually become writers of Wolverine were treated to a one-dimensional character to idolize. Years later, with Wolverine’s origin now revealed, motivations are constantly trying to be shoehorned into a character who survived for so long being the sum of his limited parts. This is why it’s so hard for me to imagine someone having an easy time writing multiple ongoing adventures for Wolverine in a solo title.
The popularity of Wolverine is something I feel Marvel is constantly trying to reconcile. There are fans of the comic who remember him as being the “badass killer with a heart of gold” who hung around the X-Men and knew everyone in the MU since he was apparently as old as dirt. This man was a ronin, an international man of mystery, an action hero, and a lover of many, many, many women and beers but the history and motives of his actions were always very simple or secret. In the 1990s, media representations of Wolverine started with the X-Men cartoons and movies. Suddenly, Wolverine needed to be more like the Hugh Jackman version and that meant giving him larger hints of a backstory and motivation because movie fans were going to want to see this man with an internal struggle. This led to the Origin series and then House of M and Wolverine getting his memories back and the awkward situation we’re in now.
All popular protagonists in media are built up on the bedrock of their solid origin and motivation creating a backlog of reference for the next writer to accept the baton from and continue the legacy. When that character is, at his best, two-dimensional and made to suddenly become three-dimensional by committee, it’s now an extremely challenging experience as an analytical reader to not expect more from solid writers picking up classic characters to plot new adventures. Hopefully, this issue will read better in the trade but all it does now is highlight a glaring flaw in modern solo Wolverine adventures no matter who is at the wheel.