Wolverine, the most human of the X-Men
The self-healing, claw-snikting, fuzzy little mutant is just like the rest of us
It seems strange to say, but in my household, we think of Wolverine as just one of the family. Partly because I love comic books, partly because we refer to getting really upset as “going berserker”, but mostly because Wolverine is just an awesome character.
I mean who doesn’t love a guy who’s virtually unstoppable? Who can’t identify with someone so savage he’s not afraid to stab himself if it helps save the day? Who hasn’t seen Hugh Jackman stride shirtless across the screen, his ridiculous muscles causing your wife to swoon, and thought, “Man, that’s totally me!”?
Aren’t we all a little like Wolverine?
He’s Us, Bub
The answer is no. We’re nothing like Wolverine, not even those among us who might be a bit hirsute when bathing suit season rolls around. We may wish we were like him, possessed of a healing factor, retractable claws, and fine-tuned warrior fury, but let’s be honest.
He’s a comic book character turned movie icon. On our best day, we’re pathetically short of the ideal.
So why is it the character is so popular with so many of us?
It’s because he’s more like us. In fact, he’s not just like us, he is us. Flawed. Broken. Sad. Confused. Trying to find his place in a world that constantly changes.
I think it’s the last part that really hooks us. For someone who’s functionally immortal, Wolverine is more in touch with mortality than most comic characters.
Every other character gets to die and come back to life, time and time again. Wolverine doesn’t usually get to die. He gets to watch the people he cares about die, mourn them, discover their rebirth, and then watch them die all over again. He’s Prometheus with mutton chops.
Add to that existential angst the fact that his power is basically the ability to be hurt — like, really, really hurt — ad infinitum, and you have a man who is as tortured as they come. He makes your emo neighbor look lame by comparison.
But the frustration of having abilities that make a difference in some amazing ways while being utterly useless in others is precisely what makes Wolverine so human. We all have talents, skills, abilities. For each of us, we can in some way lay claim to Wolverine’s classic quip: “I’m the best there is at what I do.”
But we often find that our best isn’t good enough.
You can be a great father, but your kids will still make mistakes, possibly even fatal ones.
You may be the world’s greatest daughter, but your parents may never see your true worth.
Employers, friends, neighbors, lovers — we can have a profound impact on the people in our lives in some way, yet stand by helpless as the people we know best stumble and fall.
And then there are those heart rending times when we have to be the ones to bid our loved ones farewell. Moving away for a better opportunity. Tough love for a wayward child. Making a life-changing decision about health care.
To be human is to press against the boundaries of limitations and curse what you wish you could do.
That, in a nutshell, is Wolverine.
The Necessary Hero
It’s also what makes ol’ Logan so danged heroic. He knows he has limits. He knows he can’t ultimately win. But he still keeps fighting.
Magneto may rip the Adamantium from his body, but he’ll still pop those grotesque bone claws of his and keep slashing.
Jean Grey may morph into a fiery god-like creature capable of destroying the universe as we know it, and he’ll still try to reason with her, still try to love her.
We often think a hero is the one who saves the day, sets everything right, makes everything new. But sometimes the hero is simply the person who doesn’t give up. The person who refuses to quit.
The terminal cancer patient. The exhausted mom. The single dad. The war-weary soldier. The awkward teen. Human to the core, every one of them.
Just like Wolverine.
Just like the rest of us.