By Dan Brooks
How did a short, hairy, ill-tempered mutant become one of comics' greatest icons?
That and much more were among the topics of conversation Wednesday, April 29 during "Wolverine
: Inside the World of the Living Weapon," a panel discussion featuring legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont and author Matthew K. Manning at the packed Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York City. Held in celebration of DK Publishing's new book of the same name written by Manning, the event had both scribes offering fascinating insight into why Wolverine has resonated with fans for so long.
"The dramatic conflict [with Wolverine] has always been very primal and very in-your-face," said Claremont, who penned the foreword for the new book. "With Logan, you have someone who comes to the super heroic arena with a far different view of how he relates to the world. If you cross him the wrong way, he will kill you. That's a fact."
Claremont noted an UNCANNY X-MEN Christmas issue that saw Wolverine take a slash at Kitty Pryde, who safely phased out of the attack, as a defining moment for the character.
"The whole point was at the time to establish that Wolverine was fundamentally
dangerous," he said. "That you could never take him for granted and you had to be very, very, very careful how you dealt with him. That in essence set the stage for what became his ongoing conflict within the team, which is the struggle between man and beast. The struggle to become the honorable man that he dreams of being versus the berserker."
Moderator and comics scholar Peter J. Sanderson noted that Wolverine remains one of the few characters created since the Silver Age to become "as iconic as the great [Stan] Lee/[Jack] Kirby/[Steve] Ditko creations of the 60's."
"[Wolverine] was one of the first characters to really have a chip on his shoulder," pointed out Manning. "But he actually has a strong moral code beneath the rough exterior. It's something fans hadn't seen before."
Going further, Manning explained how the depth and continued development of the character, from his internal struggle to his role as father figure to younger mutants in the X-Men, helped give him a personality and staying power, whereas other one-dimensional characters have faded away.
The conversation provided many historical tidbits, including how Claremont convinced Frank Miller, while the two were stuck in traffic together for four hours, to create the now classic WOLVERINE limited series with him.
"Frank didn't want to do Wolverine," Claremont stated bluntly. "He thought he was a boring character, and I was trying to explain to him why he wasn't a boring character. By the time I was done, thank God, Frank thought I knew what I was talking about. But we synergized our vision of the character and sort of honed it down to its primal essentials, which is the conflict between this beast that looked like a man who was trying to assert his humanity by embracing what could arguably be considered one of the most structured social realities on earth: the samurai. It was a lot of fun going down that road with him—with Wolverine and with Frank. We were kind of blazing new ground and having a helluva a good time."
In discussing "Wolverine: Inside the World of the Living Weapon," a beautiful volume filled with artwork spanning Wolverine's history as well as in-depth character bios and story summaries, Manning revealed several truths he uncovered while researching for the book. Among the most interesting: the fact that John Romita, Sr., who designed the character, initially thought a wolverine a female wolf. Had he not continued researching, Manning
noted, comic book history might have turned out much differently. Additionally, both Manning and Claremont debunked the long-running rumor that Wolverine creator Len Wein originally intended the character to be an evolved wolverine.
Talk turned to Claremont's upcoming X-MEN FOREVER ongoing series, which picks up where 1991's X-MEN #3 left off, and his excitement for the title proved palpable.
"I can just have a good time with the vision that has always driven me with this character and with these characters," he said. Indeed, Claremont's talk about how the series starts and his upcoming revelations about Wolverine—"Wait'll you see his mom!" he teased—makes the series sound like a can't-miss for longtime X-Men and Wolverine fans.
The night closed with Claremont and Manning fielding some questions from fans, who then lined up for autographs and photographs with the writers. In the end, excitement flowed for Claremont's upcoming series, as well as "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"—Claremont
himself complimented Hugh Jackman's portrayal of the 'ol Canucklehead and DK's stunning new Wolverine tome. Not bad for a short, hairy, ill-tempered mutant.
Look for X- MEN FOREVER to launch in June; "Wolverine: Inside the World of the Living Weapon" is available in bookstores everywhere.
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