East of Gotham

The Concept: Superheroes do not exist in the real world. Let’s be clear, heroes surely exist. Ordinary people rise to extraordinary heights and achieve feats no one in their right mind would consider possible, if even plausible. These are still not superheroes. Superheroes go beyond the extraordinary to the truly impossible, even the human ones. No one could possibly master as many martial arts as the supposedly fully human Batman, let alone fly like Superman or swing like Spider-man.

Superheroes, because they do not exist in the real world, exist primarily as escapist fantasy. Escapist fantasy is fine for adolescents, but a mature reader wants more than a simple escape into the realm of the impossible. A mature reader wants, or needs for superheroes to remain a fixture of their reading habits, thematic and emotional relevance to both the characters and the story. One might see Batman’s thematic relevance as righting the wrongs of the world, regardless of personal cost. We all have something important to us, or wish we did, which would be worth everything. We all want to, in our own confused and misguided ways put aside our personal baggage and take up a greater cause. Well, through tragedy, that’s Batman. From now on, we’ll be looking at what makes certain characters tick and what would be needed for the definitive take on that character.

This week we’ll be taking a look at Wolverine.

Wolverine is a character that has gotten so far from his core, what makes him work, that he has become almost indistinguishable from the mess of ideas tacked on later. Wolverine at his core is representative of the struggle between man’s inner nature, the beast within if you will, and his civilized mind. His origin being a mystery is, or rather was (damn Origin badly missing the point), more than mere trappings to make him seem cooler. The struggle of man with and against his primal instincts exists within us and is a main characteristic of the evolution of man. This struggle is at the key of man’s evolution. Wolverine, as a mutant, is an evolved man. The beginning of evolution, which is to say life, is a mystery. The mystery behind Wolverine’s origin, not knowing his past or where he came from, is analogous to our own mystery, not knowing where our own life originated.

When used properly Wolverine is at a struggle between the mystery of his origin and controlling the beast within. Early issues of X-Men in which he rose to prominence and the first Wolverine limited series by Claremont and Frank Miller are excellent examples of what make this part of the character work. That he is a samurai, a type of warrior demanding the most discipline, yet still struggles with his primal nature only further dramatizes his inner struggle. Much of the first 70 or so issues of his ongoing series, which was very successful not coincidentally, was dedicated to him searching out his past and finding more conundrums and mysteries, raising more questions than answers, thereby furthering the character’s relationship with our own inward journey for answers.

For the definitive Wolverine story, set out of continuity preferably so that Origin can be ignored, the story must be a mystery. Naturally, no one writing this could possibly be as good as Alan Moore, but of mere mortals, Brubaker probably has the best pedigree for a story of this type.

The very first issue should set up Wolverine, mostly in control of himself, facing a (secret) great, old enemy and losing. As he recovers on his own in the wilderness, said enemy decides to kill X-23 or Wolverine’s ill conceived daughter. Feeling responsible upon returning, an incensed Wolverine would set off to stop the killer in whatever way necessary. This would set up the mystery of Wolverine’s mystery enemy, representing death against Wolverine, the mystery of his past echoing the mystery of life.

From there Kitty Pride, worried about Wolverine’s response to the situation, should go on a chase of Wolverine, who from here on out becomes almost as mysterious and difficult to pin down as his unknown adversary. The issues should follow Kitty, searching for Wolverine and finding nothing but a trail of bodies, Wolverine’s most savage allies and opponents, first, of course, being Sabretooth and each step, naturally, revealing clues as the to the assassins identity. Wolverine will show up several times, sometimes working with Kitty, sometimes warning her off the case because the enemy is too dangerous.

The final reveal should be the villain stalking the last possible target, either X-23 or Wolverine’s daughter, whichever the original killed was not, at which point Kitty will find the killer with the final target cornered. The killer, will, in the end, naturally be Wolverine.

The civilized killer, the man who was trained by governments and assassins galore had, after finding our Sabretooth had done the initial killing, decided that the savage must be eradicated. Thus, using his training, the civilized side of him decided to eradicate the savage. The savage, of course, can be both brutal and innocent and beautiful. This is where, naturally, X-23 and several of the other targets fit in. The civilized part of Wolverine had decided that the savage, because of Sabretooth, because of his own past, much of which Sabretooth had revealed, must be eradicated. The savage, always portrayed as that which Wolverine must shun, was not that which ultimately led him to going too far and taking innocent lives. It was the calm, reasoned and civilized portion of him. The portion trained and retrained to be the world’s deadliest assassin. The dichotomy of Wolverine’s nature vs. his civilized mind, in which the civilized mind was constantly portrayed as the ideal, the proper, would lead him astray.

Pushed to the brink by Kitty and X-23, Wolverine would final revert to his full feral nature and in that state, take his own life. Where the conscious mind failed him, his nature would succeed. Man is not naturally evil. Some impulses can be bad and should be bottled, but in bottling those, Wolverine destroyed his humanity and all that remained was the film on top. Ultimately, the good person within came through and ended his life and murders in the only way sure to last. The character would thus receive a satisfying conclusion, with more questions (was he perhaps right that these feral creatures were more threat than good? Was there really no other, better option than to get rid of our more base nature with the most expedient and messy tools possible?) raised and a lot of the themes that defined the character examined from an entirely different light. The questions are not and cannot be answered, but what could be answered with Wolverine’s character arc would be. X-23 remains to ask the other important questions with and take up the mantle.

That would, to me, be the definitive Wolverine story. If you are interested in finding other great Wolverine stories in this mold try “Not Dead Yet” by Warren Ellis and the original Wolverine trade paperback by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. Drop me a line to let me know what you think at hbk826@aol.com or just im me at hbk826.