Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Is Wolverine Really A Supporting Character?

This came up yesterday.

We were discussing the new Wolverine movie. Somebody mentioned that he didn't like the fact that there were so many other superhero characters in the movie: Gambit, Deadpool, etc. He just wanted a Wolverine movie -- you know, like Wolverine in Japan, stuff like that.

Now somebody else said basically: "Well, you need these other characters to round the movie out, because essentially Wolverine is a supporting character."

This gave me some food for thought.

Is Wolverine a strong enough character to really make a interesting protagonist? Or is he kind of one-note, sort of the cool guy with the sharp claws that makes for some good choppy-chop-chop?

I think Wolverine can be a strong character, but it really depends on the writer. (And sometimes the artist.) It may be easy to fall back on Wolverine as a one-note, as just a supporting character with lots of flash and violence. And/or as a supporting character with a bunch of interesting quirks, but an ultimately undefined character. But there is a lot there to explore in his personality: man vs the animal within, guilt over being "built" to be a killer...

"I'm the best at what I do, and what I do isn't very nice."

It sort of sums it up. And then the whole original Wolverine mini-series, his relationship with Mariko, his mentorship/friendship with Kitty, his attraction to Jean. He's definitely not one-note. Unless you want him to be.

Characters like Wolverine & Punisher are, in my opinion, harder to write as multi-dimensional. Or not so much harder would be just easier to fall into just making their stories about awesome scenes of carnage, etc. I've seen both types of treatments of these guys. I always tend to move towards the stories with deeper characterization. Though I can be "wowed" by really wild "set-pieces" of pure action. I like the comic X-Force because it moves rapidly between these two polarities: really "emo" characterization, then big action sequences. It keeps me entertained.

Still, oh for the days of Classic Claremont! (strikes pose, fans herself)

As for Wolverine having the largish cast of mutants in the movie that he does...I have no problem with it. Maybe somewhere in my mind it will be like "X-Men 4?"


  1. Anonymous2:08 PM

    Wolverine was already the lead character in all 3 X-men films, so this isn't much of a stretch.

    And really, I can't imagine they'd make much money if Wolverine was the only mutant in the picture and he was just going all Jason Bourne for the government.

    People want mutant powers, so they give them mutant powers.

  2. I think the opposite is true. I think Wolverine is the only main character Marvel has. I think every other character in the Marvel Universe is a supporting character for Wolverine.

    Show me a supporting character that has ever received as much cover space as Wolverine.

    I have gotten sick of Wolverine. I seriously hate that he is simultaneously in every Marvel title(seemingly), and has been since the 80's. That being said... I love the character... I just think he is over used.

    With that out of the way, I will say that I agree with you. He is absolutely a full enough character, it just depends on the writer and what they are trying to do with him in any particular story.

  3. Wolverine is a very delicate character. Honestly, in reading the X-Men from ish #1 up (I'm in the mid 1980's, now), I'd say Claremont didn't hit his stride with him until he put aside the bickering that he introduced between Wolvie and...well...just about everyone. Not sure if Len Wein wanted that intra-team conflict or what, but it served to just be an annoyance.

    With "tough guy" characters, there's a real danger of falling into cliche. If you can avoid that, though, that's the real key.

    Any character can be a lead character, if you can provide real depth.

  4. I think it'd be a mistake thinking Wolverine as just the guy with the claws, he is pretty interesting, an immortal, who has been tortured incessantly for close to a hundred years.

    Wolverine is probably the character which has been given the most characterization, backstory, motivation etc in all of the Marvel Universe.

    Compare his mythology with that of say, Cyclops. The guy fell off a plane and then a bunch of ridiculous things involving space-pirates and the most boring mutant ever, Siniestro. It wasn't until Morrison's run on New X-Men that the other mutants had a chance to be interesting too.

    I think studios are weary when it comes to making solo movies for ultra-violent characters like Wolverine, since their books usually involve a lot of voice-over and introspection, hence they don't have a blueprint they're willing to work with.

  5. Like most characters, he CAN be good, but he also CAN be awful. We'll have to see?

  6. I think this is a good argument. My all time favorite Wolverine comic is probably the Kitty Pryde and Wolverine miniseries. Kitty is the star of that comic. I think the star of the first X-Men flick is Rogue. It's told through her eyes. It's her story. Jean Grey is probably the star of the 2nd flick. Only Jean has a character arc. And umm... good lord, who is the star of the third train wreck? I've no idea. It's a mess.

    But on the other hand, I think there is plenty there to tell a story with just Wolverine. I can think of a bunch of movies where if you just add claws to the lead you pretty much have a Wolverine movie. You could do it with various period flicks. The Unforgiven, The Last Samurai, Yojimbo...

  7. Anonymous4:50 PM

    Wolverine is a supporting character who, over the years, gained enough unexpected following that they are now forcing him into the limelight.

  8. This is an argument I've made for years, especially since Guggenheim's atomic bomb fiasco during Civil War.

    Writers these days have been essentially lazy. They focus on the aspect that they THINK people want; which is claws, violence and blood. They turn Wolverine into a clawed berserker and little else.

    Now, you go back a couple decades, and you see something different. Claremont's X-Men and Wolverine mini. Larry Hama's run on Wolverine. I dare say, read UXM #94-Wolverine #111 and, despite some clunker issues here and there, you'll see the quintessential Wolverine.

    What makes a character one-note? I'd say a big cause is eliminating his supporting cast. Wolverine had a supporting cast that could easily compare to Spider-Man's back in the day. The whole Madripoor line-up, his associates throughout the world...each one complimented Wolverine's quest to reign in his berserker side.

    Enter the modern writers. Forget that he's a trained fighter, or deals in stealth as much as death. No. It's all claws all the time. No finesse, so style. Just rawr! Snikity snikt! I think one of the biggest mistakes Marvel made was restoring his memories. That quest, that search for self, is what made the character so appealing. That constant struggle to contain the beast inside. Without that, can writers really be blamed to be so lazy? Although, the recent slew of one-shots have been pretty decent, a lot better than the main series has been. Also, Wolverine: First Class is a true showing of how to do Wolverine right. I kissed Fred Van Lente's ass at NYCC because of that fact. He earned every kudo.

    So, yeah, Wolverine is very capable of being a leading character. But the way he's written, he's nothing more than a bad 90s big-gun no brains hold-over. By the way, that's not saying that Wolverine isn't one helluva supporting character in his own right. During Claremont's run on X-Men, I think he had the most impact out of any of the mutants despite his comparitively little screen-time and sparse dialogue to today.

  9. Anonymous8:36 PM

    I would venture to say that they went wrong when they let Loeb go off the reservation and proclaim that Wolverine was, in fact, a new species.

    Joe Quesada must believe that evolution equals we were born from rock if he okay'd "hey! some humans evolved from wolves!".

    I know, I know, the original idea for Wolverine was that he was an actual Wolverine, but thank God they didn't go down that route in the beginning.

  10. I've never thought any character was intrinsically a "supporting character." It's up to the author to make them interesting enough and their story compelling enough to carry a narrative.

    When Stan Lee claimed he just couldn't make Gwen Stacy interesting, for example, he was revealing his own shortcomings as a writer, not the limitations of the character herself.

    When Wolverine is a lead, he should be developed enough within the story to carry it as protagonist. When he's a supporting character, he has to fulfill that function. But as a fictional construct, he can do either depending on the writer's skills and efforts or lack thereof.

  11. Anonymous11:42 PM

    And As Stan Lee has displayed over the last ten years or so, he really has no idea how to write character development anymore.

  12. I sorta agree with Talkin Bout Comics. It's easy to write him up as a brute, but he's so much more. I haven't been hypnotized by him from the age of 11 to now because I like thugs.

    Remember when in one of the X-Men annuals they showed everyone's bedrooms, and Wolvie's was all decked out like a samurai's home, but the commentary said "it was enough to make you think you didn't even know him, until you stepped on an empty beer can." or something like that?

    he's complicated and intense. He's a lover and a fighter.

    The best observation I've ever heard about Wolvie came from my buddy Erik Bader. He said you can't really love Wolvie unless he's mentoring/protecting a young girl like Kitty or Jubilee. He needs someone to call "Darlin'" in order for the full Wolvie to be appreciated. I think that's right.

    That's why I was so pumped when Joss introduced Armor.

    Anyway, he's much more than supporting. He's the best. I think the studios just have the other characters because they feel like each one is an extra 100K tickets sold, which is probably true.

    I still wish they'd do a movie of the first Madripoor story, tho they would have to turn Razorfist into something else because that's just too stupid to propagate again.

  13. I think the great thing about the latest Wolverine origins movie is that it shows more of him and who he was. We begin to understand his past and once you do that with a person you can become more accepting of who he is..... I think it's an excellent movie and as we see Wolverine can be in a supporting character as well as fiercly independant as well. Great Blog, lots of great info here - Thankyou.

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