In preparation for the movie The Wolverine, I re-read the preeminent series by Chris Claremont and penciled by Frank Miller. Originally published in 1982, by re-read I should clarify that I haven’t read this series since I was a small child. I was extremely glad I did. For one, it was great to realize how Claremont had changed what was a fairly one-dimensional character at the time. Wolverine, although he was immediately one of the most popular characters in the X-men, he was little more than “a terminal psychotic, akin to human nitroglycerin, ready to explode into a berserker fury without warning, as likely to attack his friends and teammates as his foes” (Claremont). He was so uni-demensional that Miller initially refused to work on the project. It wasn’t until Claremont envisioned him as a ronin, a samurai without a master, that Miller became intrigued by the character.
It isn’t until this four issue mini-series, Wolverine’s first solo title, that Logan becomes a three-dimensional character. Claremont first coins the phrase, “I’m the best at what I do. But what I do best isn’t very nice.” While this has become the bad-ass catch phrase for the most gruesome anti-hero in the Marvel universe, it also reveals that Logan has a conscience. He’s a killing machine, but he struggles with being one. It is this internal struggle that makes Wolverine an intriguing and relatable character instead of a mindless berserker. In this mini-series we see Wolverine impale and dismember, but we also see his restraint and capacity for love. Claremont tells a story of forbidden love in which Logan feels unworthy of Mariko Yashida and ashamed of his ferocity. Ultimately he decides that he is a man and not a beast. In killing Lord Shingen we see that he will always do what is necessary. But we can also see that Logan will never be free of the guilt that comes with it.
Another reason I chose to read this mini-series is because I felt it would give me some insight into what the film, The Wolverine, will be about. I’m not one to read up on a movie before it comes out. I have spoilerphobia. So I thought that reading the graphic novel of Claremont’s mini-series, which also includes The Uncanny X-men issues 172 and 173, would give me the character and plot background to truly appreciate the film. For your convenience, I’ve decided to provide you with character descriptions and a plot comparison (as I have perceived it from the trailers).
Logan/Wolverine – Hugh Jackman
I remember when the fanboys were complaining about how tall Jackman was. Now no one dares to consider any would have been better for the role.
Jean Grey – Famke Janssen
From the previews it appears that The Wolverine takes place after Wolverine has killed Jean Grey in X-men: The Last Stand and that the character’s appearance in the film is as a dream or hallucination. In the mini-series, Jean Grey is also dead from the Dark Phoenix Saga but through self-sacrifice. There is no reference in this affecting Wolverine personally, but her clone, Madelyne Pryor, appears in the X-men issues of the graphic novel to the shock of many characters who initially think her to be Jean.
Kenuichio Harada/Silver Samurai – Will Yun Lee
The Silver Samurai does not appear in the mini-series but takes center stage in the two X-men issues. Here he is Lady Mariko’s half-brother who seeks to succeed as crimelord of the Yashida clan. Mariko denies his claim to the clan in an attempt to sever the family’s criminal ties. Wolverine and the X-men come to her rescue. From the previews it appears that Harada might play a similar role or he might just be the muscle behind Shingen.
Mariko Yashida – Tao Okamoto
Mariko Yashida is Logan’s love-interest. Their love is forbidden by her father Shingen who views Logan as a gaijin dog. In the miniseries she is already married to Noburo Mori out of giri, honor. In the end of the miniseries, Mariko and Logan are too be married. This wedding, however, is torn asunder from the likes of Mastermind in The Uncanny X-men #173. From the previews it appears that Logan is dressed as a groom and Mariko is in ceremonious garb, presumably as a bride, when he is shot (and apparently not healing from it).
Viper – Svetlana Khodchenkova
Like Silver Samurai, Viper only appears in the two X-men books and acts as Samurai’s partner. At first it appears she is subject to him as he attempts to inherit his father’s underworld, but in the end Samurai refers to himself as her humble servant. In the comics she is also known as Madame Hydra and has served as leader of the Serpent Squad and HYDRA. It’s unclear as to the role she will play in the film and whether her relationship to Silver Samurai will be mirrored or if she is just another henchwoman for Shingen.
“The Wild One,” Yukio appears in both the miniseries and the X-men issues. She is a kindred spirit and temporary lover to Logan. When Logan is at his lowest, she nurses him to health and helps him to come to terms with what he is. She likes the exciting, berserker side of him. But she is an adrenalin addict with a death-wish, playing both sides and living for danger. She tells Storm that “Life is the ultimate adventure, Wind-rider, and death the prize that awaits us all.” Yukio is the inspiration for Storm’s Mohawk and leather look – my favorite. From the previews, it appears that Yukio, while a master swordswoman and martial artist, is not at all wild and reckless. It also appears that her role as a romantic rival is replaced by Viper. But it does appear as though she respects Wolverine for what he is.
Noburo Mori – Brian Tee
Noburo is nothing more than a corrupt politician who, in the comics, is married to Mariko and ends up being killed by Yukio. He is overweight, wears glasses, and is a wife beater. It will be interesting to see if he takes on a more significant role in the film where he is only engaged to Mariko.
Shingen Yashida – Hiroyuki Sanada
He is the central villain in the miniseries as the disapproving father. As a crimelord, he has married off his daughter to a corrupt politician in order to consolidate power. One of the most enjoyable moments in the miniseries is when he defeats Wolverine in bokken combat, and it’s the most enjoyable because all the readers know that Wolverine will more than even the score in issue four. Shingen and his cadre of assassins, The Hand, make for wonderful adversaries. There is nothing better than Wolverine fighting ninjas! I’m not sure about Shingen being old and feeble from the previews and having been saved by Logan in WW2. I’m equally not sure about whether eliminating Wolvie’s healing factor is interesting or gimmicky. But I’m willing to give it a try. Mostly because Wolverine will be stabbing and being stabbed by ninjas.
I am very excited to see The Wolverine and expect it to be far better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I suggest that either before or after, you give Claremont and Miller’s miniseries a read. As a bonus for a gritty, action-packed, character driven story (a rarity indeed), you’ll get to see Storm struggling with her powers and a newly inducted Rogue save the day.