Too Much Wolverine
The release of the movie X-Men in the summer of 2000 brought Wolverine, one of Marvel Comics’s most elite characters, to a new level of recognition and marketability. More than just comic readers saw the movie, and a new demographic was been exposed to the feral charisma of the roughneck hero. As a result, Wolverine has joined the ranks of Bob Dole pushing Viagra, Jennifer Love Hewitt curing America’s youth of acne, and John Elway convincing us that Coors is actually a good beer. The movie has allowed Marvel to use Wolverine as a marketing tool. And herein lies the problem with the character of Wolverine. Marvel is more concerned with the quantity of Wolverine’s appearances rather than its quality.
Wolverine, like the rest of his fellow X-Men, is a mutant a person who has reached the next step of evolution and come in possession of super-human abilities. His own unique gifts include animal-like senses and instincts and the regenerative ability to heal from the most severe of woundings. Along with these innate gifts, he also has a primal, berserker rage and a skeleton laced with adamantium, a near-indestructible metal indigenous only to the world of Marvel Comics. His three-pronged fist-bound claws are made of this same metal and stand as his most his most recognizable feature. Foremost, though, its Wolverine’s no-holds-barred attitude, part and parcel with his red-hot fury, that makes the character so popular. While other characters might hold their powers in reserve, Wolverine attacks with savage ferocity. With Wolverine, Marvel took a more violent tone, and the fans loved it. Anti-heroes and the “grim and gritty” hero had become popular in American culture by the early ‘80s characters that were ultimately good but bended morality and had little use for society’s rules. Wolverine would break the law, usurp authority, and even kill if he had to, with no remorse. Even today, the character’s popularity continues because of he still strikes a chord with the fans. His flaws, struggles, and hardships make him human rather than super human. Few other heroes struggle with the near-uncontrollable rage that plagues him. Wolverine, like most of us, has to work at being good.
The last ten issues of Wolverine are proof enough that Marvel Comics is more interested in putting Wolverine through his paces rather than developing his character. The first four issues of this selection are nothing more than “the old kidnap plot.” An aspiring crime lord, Gom, kidnaps both Wolverine’s foster daughter and his friend so that Wolverine will be forced to assassinate Gom’s rival. Writer/artist Rob Liefeld delivers two mediocre plot lines over the next three issues. First, he has Wolverine kidnapped so that his powers can be exploited. Next, Wolverine searches the New York City sewers for some sort of crazed creature. Joe Pruett, author of Wolverine #158, gives us the tired plot about a third-tier costumed killer, Zaran, needing to defeat Wolverine in order to prove he is the best killer in the world. To coax Wolverine into battle, Zaran kidnaps his foster-daughter making that twice in four issues she’s been kidnapped! After only one issue, Frank Tieri replaces Pruett. His first story, “The Best There Is,” is nothing more than a rehashing of the previous issue. Yet another mysterious man wants to face Wolverine one-on-one so that he can prove his murderous mettle.
Marvel makes Wolverine more accessible to new readers by putting him in adventures that have no sense of history. Readers can just pick up any issue ignorant of the character’s past because these issues could be about any character. Just plug in different names, and the stories need not change. Some read comics with the same expectations as they would any normal book, looking to have the protagonist develop and struggle rather than jump through the hoops of mundane adventures.
Marvel’s use of the character in its multiple line of comics X-Men comics can easily be seen as an extension of its marketing machine. Wolverine, despite appearing in only the last panel of the second issue, is the predominant character on Ultimate X-Men’s first two issues. Marvel misleads readers by marketing the comic as featuring Wolverine when it in fact does not. Comic book covers act as the first line of advertising for publishers. Ergo, by placing a more popular character on the cover, publishers will sell more comics.
More recently, Marvel has also planned to revamp the two main X-Men titles, Uncanny X-Men and X-Men (now New X-Men). In a blatant attempt to benefit from Wolverine’s popularity, Marvel named Wolverine to both teams, both comic books. Will the two titles get joint custody? New X-Men can have him on the weekdays while Uncanny X-Men can have him on the weekends. With Wolverine as a member on both, each is more likely to sell more copies. Further, Marvel may have sacrificed the story for sales by naming him to both teams. Since Wolverine cannot be in two places at one time, the books will either have to work out some fancy, jumbled timelines to accommodate his presence with both teams or omit Wolverine from some story arcs and thereby eliminate him from certain issues. Either way the readers will be cheated. Many characters, such as Batman, Iron Man, and Superman, have appeared in more than one series, and continue this double-duty. However, these characters are not a part of two teams. It seems feasible for them to have their team affiliation along with other adventures on the side. As member of both X-Men teams, Wolverine (and his credibility) is taxed more than the average comic book hero. Since X-Men stories often have the two teams working towards a joint goal but in separate locations, Wolverine cannot reasonably appear in both comics when this happens.
In the coming months, one should also expect some mini-series, one shots, and guest appearances starring our favorite, cash-cow mutant. Ultimate Marvel Team Up #1, for instance, features Spider-Man and Wolverine, and already has hit the shelves. Wolverine will be spread thinner than Ally McBeal. With dozens of writers giving us their take on Wolverine, the character will never develop because each writing originates from the stock version of Wolverine. They cannot risk changing the character for fear of alienating steadfast fans. Every comic featuring Wolverine, therefore, becomes so similar that there seems no need to buy them at all. This overexposure was the downfall of another popular, grim Marvel character: the violent, deadly vigilante, the Punisher. The five titles devoted to him in the early ‘90s overexposed the hero; his fans responded unfavorably to the disparate, weak stories; forcing Marvel to cease publication of them entirely. Will fans react the same way to the overexposure of Wolverine? Perhaps too much Wolverine is not a good thing.