How Great is Wolverine and the X-Men? So Great
I don’t know if this has come up before (it has) but I love the hell out of Wolverine. I know, a lot of people love the hell out of Wolverine, and I’m sure there are people who love Wolverine more than I do, I’ll give them that. But for whatever reason — circumstances related to when I started reading comics, and my own relationship with my father I suspect — Wolverine is near and dear to my heart.
All of which is to say that I am DELIRIOUSLY EXCITED about Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo’s Wolverine and the X-Men. In a way that I definitely have not been about any previous announcements of a Wolverine comic/appearance. (Except maybe Faith Erin Hicks’ great, great comic, for similar reason.)
So, here is the premise of the story — some people already know this, because they have been reading all the X-Men stuff up until now, BUT I HAVE NOT, and that’s the important thing (that is, “what I have been doing”) so bear with me — Wolverine and Cyclops have had a falling out. In a perfect irony that makes ONE MILLION PERCENT sense if you think about it, it’s actually Cyclops who’s created a reclusive, militarized version of the X-Men, and Wolverine that is opening and trying to rebuild the Xavier School (now the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning).
That’s it. That’s the high concept. Wolverine is now Charles Xavier. The whole first issue is Headmaster Logan and Headmistress Kitty Pryde taking the inspectors from the New York Board of Regents on a tour of the school. It is 100% exposition and it is fan-fucking-tastic. It’s the kind of exposition-of-crazy-shit by tour that I love, because every page there is something even more insane. Here is Toad, the janitor. Here is a Brood alien, who’s actually a mutant, and therefore a nerd. Here is the Danger Room that is also a bathroom! Uh-oh, Beast has accidentally filled one of the buildings with inter-dimensional gremlins! There is a Shi’Ar prince with his bodyguard! Oh, whoah, everything is completely insane!
Aaron’s got a pitch-perfect characterization of Wolverine — well-meaning, but still gruff and bad-tempered — and his relationship with Kitty Pryde. She’s come back to help him run the school in a way that makes her seem exactly like a well-off daughter coming back to help her dad run the family business. Their relationship was, I think, the prototype for all of Wolverine’s relationships in which he took young girls under his wing and protected them from aliens/robots/robot aliens/robot Wolverines, and so there’s something satisfying about simultaneously evoking the nostalgia of their history while simultaneously moving that relationship into a new phase.
Bachalo’s art is also great; every page is densely-packed, but not obsessively detailed. The characters are sometimes roughly-drawn, but always expressive. It’s easy to, with comic art, fall into the trap of being too cartoony, or too realistic; good comics (in my opinion) are evocative and expressive without being restrictive in their verisimilitude. Bachalo is great, whatever, I like him.
ANYWAY, I’ve said before about some things that I think are great about Wolverine. I stand by everything that I said, there. The core of Wolverine is that he’s a weapon, built to fight an obsolete war, who’s been subsequently discarded and now is trying to figure out his new purpose. And what so often has hurt Wolverine as a character in the past has been two things — either an unwillingness to embrace that core (that is, a failure to seat Wolverine in a context in which we recognize the conflict by his essential desire to make a better world and the fact that he is, fundamentally designed for killing); or else, they’re hurt by the fact that Wolverine can’t really progress as a character, due to the Ancient Comic Book Laws of the status quo.
Somehow — SOMEHOW! — Aaron has managed to both capture the essence of Wolverine’s character AND to enable him to move forward. (I say somehow like it’s hard, but it’s not really hard, it’s just that for some reason no one was ever doing it.) Of all the X-Men, Wolverine was probably (despite his unwillingness to really be a part of a team) the most committed to Xavier’s mission. Wolverine was a cynic, because of 200 years of experience of violence, oppression, and cruelty, but he stayed with them — and the only way that makes any sense is that if Wolverine really, really wanted to believe that Xavier was right. When push comes to shove, of COURSE it’s Wolverine who’s the one committed to peace. That’s the essential nature of his character — a contradiction inherent in the fact that he’s expert at something that he hates.
The truth is, that character was always going to evolve into Wolverine Is the Crabby Dad of the X-Men. It’s right there in his DNA. Wolverine as the deadly warrior, Wolverine as the Ronin, Wolverine as the Lone Wolf in Lone Wolf and Cub (I mean, come on, it’s a natural progression). Wolverine stuck with the X-Men to protect those kids, and now that push finally HAS come to shove, Wolverine is going to be there to protect all of them.
Wolverine has lost his glamour as the snarling loner — sacrificed his cool to make way for his son Daken (who is like Wolverine, but has tattoos and a mohawk, so he’s even more emo) and his clone X-23 (who is like Wolverine but also a hot chick, so…heh), but you know? That’s fine. What made Wolverine such a great character wasn’t his loner-ness, his angst or whatever; it was that essential contradiction between what he was able to do and what he wanted to do.
And it’s why, now that Logan has found his place in the world, he has to really do it, and there’s a wealth of stories there. You know, I’m sure this has a lot to do with my own relationship to my father, and I suspect that’s where I get this idea about what dads are supposed to do, but there you have it: Wolverine is going to teach these kids to take care of themselves. Because he is their dad.
Their awesome, hairy, terrifying dad.
(Incidentally, the backmatter in issue #1 is also completely hilarious. It reveals the motto of the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning — “We’re the Best There Is at What We Do” — and a list of classes that include “Fighting Without Fighting, with Headmaster Logan” and “Fighting With Fighting, with Headmaster Logan.”)