Let me begin by saying that the Marvel Comics character called Wolverine is not my favourite comic book character. That position would belong to Batman. No, the X-Men member with the berserker rage and quick-healing power is not in my top five either. In fact, he could have trouble cracking my top ten. Still, like the title of this particular column suggests, and with tongue firmly planted in cheek, every once in a while, those adamantium claws of his certainly scratch a mutant-sized itch.
Wolvie, as he has affectionately been called by fans, is the consummate rogue. He has a pinch of Han Solo and a dash of Mad Max in him. Actually, those characters may owe a little to the titular hero who first appeared in the pages of The Incredible Hulk #180 in 1974. Personally, I see Clint Eastwood’s famous western gunslinger persona in Wolverine. That grizzly voice, scruffy appearance, and tight eye commingled with an air of “what’s-in-it-for-me, bub?” philosophy all make for a delicious scoundrel of a character.
But what makes Wolverine so endearing to readers and cinemagoers? Sure, the mutant is a loner with a chip on his shoulder bigger than both his sideburns and his wing-tipped, greasy black hair put together, which, my friends, is a fair-sized chip indeed. Still, Wolverine is a loner with a soft heart. He wants to do good in his world. Indeed, in many ways, the character inhibits a desire to fall in love – which he’s done on a number of occasions – although his various lovers are often snatched away from him by circumstance. Importantly, Wolverine protects the innocent – namely children – and this explains so much about the sensitivity that drives the character. Wolverine can and often is hurt – and I’m not just talking about his physical body.
Perhaps these are the reasons why he’s so adored by the public. In him, we see the gruff, combative exterior of a man who harbours a lover’s spirit deep inside. There aren’t many characters in all of comicdom with more passion than Wolverine.
About five minutes away from my high school was a little comic shop. It wasn’t the greatest shop in the world but they had back bins of old issues, owners who knew what they were talking about and a (very convenient) location situated on my journey home every day.
I used to stare up and marvel at their main display wall, covered with tightly sealed, expensive comics, proudly on display like badges of honour. Wolverine’s very first mini series, issue number one, was there. It had that instantly classic Frank Miller cover with Wolvie beckoning the viewer forward with one hand while simultaneously brandishing his deadly, razor-sharp claws with the other. What a lure! I remember it had a $15 price sticker on it – expensive for me back then. I bought it anyway. That’s how I got indoctrinated into Wolverine’s world.
Although Wolverine is not my most beloved of characters, I still have many of his comic book titles in my collection. My all-time favourite is from his first solo ongoing series which began publication in 1988. Written by long time Wolverine scribe Chris Claremont and illustrated by the legendary John Buscema, issue #10 illuminated the history of his long-standing feud with arch nemesis, Sabretooth.
I was sixteen years old when that issue came out and I remember hastily running to the comic shop straight after school to pick it up. I, along with many other fans, had been waiting months for the now legendary confrontation between the two bitter rivals. None of us dared realize how vicious a battle it would be.
The story is told in flashback sequence while Wolverine is exorcising his more base animal traits in Madripoor, a fictional Malaysian city full of cutthroats and criminals. Wolverine learns that Sabretooth viciously killed his love, Silver Fox, a native Indian of the Blackfoot Tribe. To add insult, Sabretooth killed the woman on Wolverine’s birthday. A bar room brawl between the two combatants empties into the forests and mountains of winter-time northern Canada where Wolverine realizes that he has finally met his match.
A behemoth of a man, more savage and more wild than our indignant hero, Sabretooth is truly ferocious and infinitely more sadistic than any villain I had read before. I was shocked to discover that the unstoppable Wolverine could actually be bested. It was the first time I had seen such a strong hero so abruptly become an underdog, embroiled in a battle that he could not possibly win.
Essentially an “origin,” the issue is a story where the audience sees a hero encounter his perfect nemesis for the very first time. A tale where Wolverine is finally beaten in the one thing “he does best.” What’s left for a hero after that? This is a question that ensures readers will come back the following month. I did. I’ll never forget Wolverine’s words during the fierce brawl: “Fast as I was, he was faster. Hard as I hit, he hit harder.” It sends shivers down my spine even now.
Sabretooth has a major role in the new Wolverine movie. Played by the brilliant Liev Schreiber, I’m looking forward to see the interaction between these two great foes. I pray it’s as classic as that first battle in the comic.
That will scratch me where I itch, for sure. I just hope it doesn’t leave permanent marks.