Friday, August 28, 2009

Stuff I Have Read

Daredevil #500

I was talking with a nerd acquaintance the other day about the fact that Daredevil has been one of Marvel's better, and perhaps most consistently readable title for the last decade or so. This despite the somewhat puzzling fact that the book has spent the entirety of the last ten years doggedly recycling through all of Frank Miller's favorite stylistic ticks and tropes - ninjas, the Hand, Ben Urich, watered-down noir, the Kingpin, Bullseye, etc. The book is perverse in its commitment to these same minimally variable elements repeated ad nauseum. And yet: Bendis' run was good, and even great in a few places (by far his most consistent extended run in the mainline MU); Brubaker's run has been - if a little less dependably than Bendis - still enjoyable; and even Kevin Smith's arc at the beginning of the Marvel Knights relaunch was good fun (even if Karen Page's gratuitous death marred the ending).

So here we are with a big fat anniversary issue marking the conclusion of Brubaker's run and the culmination of many years worth of storylines. The result certainly isn't bad, but nevertheless leave much to be desired. Brubaker is an extremely utilitarian writer, and he constructs his storylines with the methodical patience of a bricklayer. Sometimes seeing them unfold is about as interesting as seeing real-life bricks being laid. So too with this book: all the pieces of the puzzle are laid out methodically, all the clues are assembled and everything falls into place with a lockstep neatness.

The result is unsatisfying. The whole point of the story is that everything Daredevil has ever done has been manipulated and influenced by forces outside his control, and the climax of the story does not see Daredevil triumphing over his adversaries and rejecting this determinism but capitulating to circumstances and following through on something for which he's been forced into a corner. That's a really awesome superhero trait: capitulating to unseen, inevitable forces. Remember that one for the next movie, guys.

But the real attraction is the back-up feature, "Jacks", which features Ann Nocenti's return to the franchise. In just thirteen pages, it's still better than any other Daredevil story I can remember from at least the last decade - and as I said, the last decade actually has actually been pretty good for ol' Hornhead. Brubaker's writing kids' adventure stories with warmed-over noir action figures; Nocenti's on another tip entirely. She's not recycling Miller's old underwear, she's going straight to the source of Miller's own tics, Eisner's Spirit.

Nocenti still knows what she always understood: you don't need to dig very far for the symbolism inherent in a religious man dressing like a devil in order to mete out justice. Daredevil isn't really that compelling a character, see - at this point, he's pretty unlikeable, not to mention passive. Matt Murdock the character doesn't do a lot but Daredevil the symbol crashes in and out of people's lives just like the Spirit did, providing an ontological blank against which other characters can reflect. Miller understood Eisner in terms of narrative mechanics, without ever internalizing the fact that Eisner's best setpieces were dedicated not to illustrating action but to illustrating character through action. It's a subtle difference, sure, but that's the difference between The Spirit and 99% of all the superhero comics that followed. From Eisner, Miller learned how to draw a good splash page and dynamic panel designs, but his understanding of character - even at the height of his powers - was always limited to broad-brush primary colors.

It's not even really a criticism of someone like Brubaker to point out that his characters are one-note ciphers - that's simply the way these things work. Matt Murdock (usually) hasn't had more than two character traits since 1980 - stoicism and stubbornness. Comic-book characterization usually consists of picking a characters' two or three primary character traits are and constructing stories which present problems that pit their traits against each other. It's simple but most of the time it works, and considering the limitations some very good stories have been constructed using that template.

But Nocenti is, well, better than that. Just in these pages she gives us a lot: a Daredevil / Bullseye fight, yeah, but that's not really the main event. The main event is the two spectators who watch the fight and then, with a wounded Daredevil, explicate the preceding action. So not only do you see the fight, but every action in the fight is interpreted after the fact. The fight isn't what's important - in fact, you don't even know why they're fighting, or even what year the fight occurs. It could have happened in 1982 or 2006. I've read dozens of Daredevil / Bullseye fights over the years, but I haven't read one that actually felt this visceral in years and years - you see every punch, but you also see the moment after the punch lands. No wonder one of the spectator characters is a boxer - boxing is another symbolically freighted activity, and Daredevil's history with boxing makes for a nice overlap of symbolic metatext. Daredevil isn't the invincible ninja master anymore, he's a broken fighter with a concussion - possibly hallucinating.

Again, the fight is incidental, even though it is rendered in almost fetishistic detail. We aren't seeing the fight as Daredevil sees the fight, or even as comic book readers usually see fights - as some kind of soap-operatic duel with his arch foe - we are seeing it through the eyes of these spectators, who reveal themselves through their explication of the events. But what are they really revealing? You've got two figures - an idealistic young religious girl, and a past-his-prime fighter - externalized avatars of the two contradictory sides of his personality, as well as symbolic approximations of his parents, who are explicitly mentioned throughout the story. (Even the title betrays the subtext - "Jacks".) Their conversation may seem cute or even silly - but it's really just Daredevil, talking to himself in an empty bar on the Coney Island boardwalk. He's a walking metaphor, so obviously the externalized avatars of his unconscious speak in metaphors. Somehow Nocenti manages to sidestep Matt Murdock's problematic character by playing the story on an almost entirely symbolic level - and the end result is, paradoxically, a riveting character study of the one man who says the least throughout. Remember how I said earlier that Daredevil doesn't have an actual character? Well, I lied: he does when Ann Nocenti writes him.

It's a great story, and one I find myself drawn to read and reread. It is actually honest-to-God thought-provoking - my only thoughts after finishing the Brubaker feature were something along the lines of, "ugh, more ninja shit". If Marvel publishes a better story this year I'll eat my hat - and yes, I'm remembering that Strange Tales thing. Frankly, if I were Ed Brubaker I'd be embarrassed that my by-the-numbers ninja shit had to sit next to this between two covers. Why Nocenti isn't working in comics more regularly I have no idea, unless she herself chooses not to - her CV on Wikipedia certainly suggests that she has no problem finding other interesting and rewarding things to do in order to keep herself busy. But at least we know someone at Marvel still has her phone number: my suggestion is that they use it. She's the best - really.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

This Is Not A Ghost Ship

I hate going more than a couple days without posting, I know it looks bad, but fuck it, this is one bizzzzy summer. You know it's bad when you're looking forward to classes starting up again in a week and a half because you'll be able to relax.

Anyway, here's a short thought I've had rattling around in the back of my head for a while:

The Thing is the most versatile character in the Marvel Universe.

Think about if for a second: he's as at home in the most transcendentally weird cosmic stories as the grittiest street-level urban drama. He works in soap opera, he works in slapstick. He works alongside just about anyone else.

Spider-Man's Marvel Team-Up ran for 150 issues, plus various revivals (and, of course, Spidey wasn't in a few of the earlier issues). But despite the fact that he has been involved with every single conceivable type of story and team-up, the desire to put Spider-Man front and center in every big story often feels forced. The fact is, no matter how many Secret Wars he's been in, Spider-Man can't ever be comfortable in that milieu because it's not part of his basic character. You would think that after seeing the Beyonder destroy an entire galaxy and fighting Thanos during that period where he was God would give a dude some perspective, but perspective is the one thing that Spider-Man can never actually achieve. To do so would change the character on a fundamental level - although it would make sense, he can never actually come out and say, "you know, I've fought God, I really should learn not to sweat the small stuff".

But the Thing, well - his main character trait is perspective. It's what he does. He's the kid from the Lower East Side who became jaded before he even knew how to walk - it makes as much sense for him to fight Galactus for the fate of the planet as to fight some drug pushers down on Yancy Street. He's seen it all and even if he puts on a good show he never loses his capacity to be surprised for both good and ill. You can put him down into any corner of the Marvel Universe and he'll find a niche - fighting alongside Thor in Asgard, battling mystical hobgoblins with Doctor Strange, or clobbering drug runners alongside Daredevil. (In fact, the Thing's street-level roots are really underexplored - probably because the urban milieu doesn't work for the other 3/4 of the Fantastic Four. But if you asked me to pitch a revamped Marvel Two-In-One my hook for the first arc would be simple: "Ben vs. the Mob", with Spidey, Daredevil, Moon Knight and you could even make the Punisher work if you did it right.) He's like the Colt 45 of Marvel Superheroes - works every time. Spider-Man is a great character, surely, but suffers due to the fact that his popularity has resulted in him being shoehorned into any number of stories in which he just doesn't fit. The Thing always fits

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Young Americans is a really odd album for a number of reasons. The first one that springs to mind is the fact that Bowie was obviously off his rocker at every step of the process, from conceptualization to writing to recording. Even if you had never read a single article or interview discussing the period wherein it is confirmed that he was in the dead midst of his mid-70s cocaine haze, it is plain that this is the product of a slightly unhinged mind. Certainly, coming off the heels of his early 70s hot streak, and finally burying all traces of his massively successful Ziggy Stardust persona (which had lingered through 1974's overblown, self-parodic Diamond Dogs), it's easy to see Young Americans as too glaring a tonal shift, too slick in execution to cover up the glaringly obvious flailing brought on by an acute lack of direction.

And I am sympathetic to that view. It's never been my favorite 70s Bowie album - and only the execrable Pin-Ups keeps it from being my least favorite of his peak-era material. (On most days I manage to forget Pin-Ups altogether.) One of the criticisms often leveled against Bowie - and I think it's a fair criticism - is that his concept work can overshadow the actual bread-and-butter work of the songwriting and performing. It bears repeating that he is a dynamite performer and one of the all-time great songwriters of the rock pantheon - but there are a few occasions where his desire to make some kind of conceptual statement overcomes his better instincts - where the style obscures the substance (to cite another type of hoary, oft-dismissed dichotomy). Diamond Dogs, I would argue, is one such occasion: his ambition for that project never quite recovered from losing the official imprimatur of the George Orwell estate to make a 1984 musical, and in retrospect the estate was probably right not to hand over the keys to one of the 20th century's great literary masterworks to someone who was in the grips of a years-long cocaine binge. There's great material on the disc, certainly - a lot of good stuff - but you're never for one second unaware of just how freaked-out and paranoid the whole enterprise actually is. It's an uncomfortable album to hear in one sitting, at least for me. It sounds decadent, and in many ways an unhealthy experience for both musician and audience.

Young Americans tried to abandon glam by going whole-heartedly into a new idiom, "Plastic Soul". Bowie's attempts at soul were, perhaps unavoidably, still very, very glam - but not necessarily in a flattering way. There is an inauthenticity to the proceedings that seems definitively willful. This was, it must be remembered, at the tail end of a long era wherein tons of other white British dudes had experimented with American genres such as country, blues and R&B - you know, basically every UK pop musician since 1958. It doesn't seem jarring anymore because eventually this kind of transnational "experimentation" became de rigeur - no one bats an eye when we hear about slum kids in Dakar or Chinese factory brats becoming rappers, even though they obviously didn't come from the Bronx and pay their dues to Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa. The notion of "authenticity" in pop music had been on life-support since the early 60s, even if you'll still occasionally find folks kicking that old canard around the block. Bowie, however, seems to believe that the "inauthenticity" of his plastic soul work is its only real hook, and in practice it comes across as overly aggressive and downright sneering.

Put simply, the album stumbles more than it succeeds. About half of the album consists of dead-on "quiet storm" R&B & funk pastiches - "Win", "Fascination", "Right", "Can You Hear Me?" - which, for me at least, can't really overcome the fact that this is a dreadfully boring genre to lampoon, especially when the singer is carrying on with that slightly sinister leer affixed to his face. You can't help but wondering what the hell he's actually trying to accomplish.

I've already discussed my antipathy towards "Fame", a trifling pseudo-funk white boy shamble of a song - like Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets" - whose popular acclaim never fails to astound me. But then, buried deep inside the album, you've got two dynamite tracks that are good enough they almost seem as if they stumbled in off an entirely different, and far superior album. Despite my antipathy towards much of the album, "Somebody Up There Likes Me" is nevertheless one of my top 5 Bowie tracks, a damned masterpiece that is almost good enough to redeem the whole enterprise. Oddly, and much like "Absolute Beginners", I never seem to see this track mentioned anywhere. It's probably the living definition of a "deep cut", and, like "Absolute Beginners", it would have been a career-defying mega-hit for just about everyone else. But for Bowie, he buries it on side two of a mediocre 70s album.

Why do I like this song so much? Well, if everything else on the record seems rootless and downright itchy with some kind of stylistic counterfeit (Luther Vandross or no Luther Vandross), this track hits the downbeat with every bit of the confidence that's lacking throughout the rest of the album. And what is the song about, really? It goes the further step of articulating the shiftless, spiritual nausea of Bowie's cocaine period - taking the ambiguity and blatant searching that had sat as subtext for the last few albums and putting it right up front: where am I? what am I looking for? Well, here's the answer, in a straight-forward gospel context: somebody up there, somebody with a line on the divine, some man with a heavenly plan, he likes me, he's keeping me together even if I don't even know why he's bothering.

Bowie's always struck me as a profoundly agnostic person, but that hardly subtracts from this song's profound statement of faith: someone at their lowest point, begging for a line on sanity, some proof of meaning from the depths of a drug-and-fame addled spiritual nadir. I'm an atheist and it makes even me believe in the power of faith to heal and redeem, at least for the six and a half minute running time. In an album of po-faced, frankly silly R&B posturing, this is an honest-to-God gospel classic. It's Stevie Wonder's "Misstra Know-It-All" written by a hopped-up Brit with delusions of alienation, and yet it somehow works.

My other favorite is his cover of that old hoary chestnut, "All Across the Universe". This is probably my favorite version of the track. I've seen this reading described as "hysterical", and although that was probably meant as a pejorative description, it's nonetheless pretty apt. If "Somebody Up There Likes Me" was the question, this is the answer. The song is fairly preposterous to begin with - I know, the Beatles being ponderous and self-important, who ever would have guessed? - but Bowie sells it because he sings like a man under a death sentence. This is desperation: fiery pleading with a straight-up crazy glint in the corner of his eye. Here is the real soul that could have enlightened so much of the desultory, feckless material on the rest of the album.

And here as well, on the confident, unabashedly emotional core of an otherwise underwhelming transitory album - is the first glimpse of of the "plastic soul" period's real fruition - 1976's mature, disco-tinged Station to Station, also my personal contender for Bowie's overall best album.

Part One, Two, Three

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Snake Eyes

So, since everybody else has said a few words on it, I thought I'd pitch in my two cents re: the G.I. Joe movie.

First, I hate G.I. Joe. By which I mean: I think it's a shameless piece of proto-fascist military propaganda masquerading as a childrens' toy. Now, I'm definitely hard left in political orientation but hardly anti-military: if we are going to have modern nation-states, standing armies are unavoidable, and I do believe that the vast majority of servicemen and women in the United States military are there because of good and even noble intentions (there is nothing more noble than trying to better ones' station by joining the volunteer services in search of a long-term career!), despite the seemingly unending litany of very bad ways that civilian commanders have manipulated these good intentions. So I am, if not staunchly pro-military, staunchly pro-soldier, pro-veteran, pro-service. Additionally, it follows that there have always been war toys - soldiers, tanks, guns, etc. I may find it personally distasteful, but kids love soldiers - it's as close to a universal constant as you can imagine across cultures. So no real surprises.

But the way in which the cartoon and toy created such a tight symbiosis between boosting an illusory ideal of military service and crass commercialism is what really defined the phenomenon. Army life for the Joes is nothing more than a series of fantastical adventures with little in the way of real consequence - at least when little kids play soldier in the back yard, kids get "shot" and fall down clutching their chests. In G.I. Joe all the guns did was make little laser-y "vorp" sounds, and no one on either side of the Joe / Cobra conflict could ever shoot worth a damn. Perhaps that by itself would by less damning if it weren't for the fact that this candy-coated war-as-super-hero-soap-opera fantasy wasn't wedded to a hard, mercenary commercial enterprise. War is awesome and all the little 3 3/4" plastic dudes are just the perfect size to be bought, collected en masse and traded on the schoolyard - I got an extra Destro from my aunt, I'll trade you Destro for your Scarlett. War as commerce, uncontrolled and unattached to any kind of moral purpose or guiding responsibility besides a blinding, hysterical patriotism: that fits the historical definition of fascism pretty well - or at least it did before corporatist apologists in the industrialized west erased the connection between belligerent nationalism and aggressive capitalism from the textbooks.

At least the old-school 12" Joe lived in a more context-free universe of open-ended play that didn't carry much in the way of political context, despite the toy's Vietnam-era origins. For kids too young to remember My Lai the idea of being a rough and tumble soldier never lost its appeal. You could do stuff with the original Joe. However, the 80s Joes had one purpose: to fight Cobra. And if there was ever any doubt as to where the property's political affiliation ultimately lay, the first issue of Marvel's enduring toy brochure series featured the Joes stumbling upon a pretty shocking replica of the My Lai village massacre - only this time it was Cobra's fault. It was time for the US military to mount up and put the defeatist 70s behind them, it was a new era and Ronald Reagan was in charge. And if you doubted the wisdom of military triumphalism in the face of a legitimate existential threat (in the form of the Cold War, however attenuated the conflict had actually become by the early 1980s), well, then you were a no-good Commie, probably one of those bleeding hearts who also doubted the wisdom of deregulating the Savings & Loan industry - greed is good, war is peace, better guns than butter, etc.

That said, I loved this movie. Why? Basically because it takes every small iota of dignity the franchise might have earned in the eyes of its hardcore fans and pisses it away over the course of an hour and a half. I mean, seriously, this thing is awesome in its bizarreness, and so far removed from the initial mandate of patriotic military counterterrorism propaganda that it is stunning.

Perhaps once the people behind Joe figured out, given the restrictions of their medium, that they really couldn't do anything resembling an actual honest-to-Gosh story concerning war or the armed forces, they decided to throw the whole thing in a blender and see what came out the other end. Because this? This is the best example of "concept creep" I've ever seen: what starts as one thing, clearly defined, slowly morphs into another as the creators come up against the limitations of their original idiom. What began with relatively mild sci-fi elements - I mean, the MASS device is sci-fi, and the whole cloning a God-emperor out of the genes of history's greatest kings is hokey but still not that far removed from, say, Michael Chrichton - eventually morphed into straight-up fantasy.

Revealing that the series' primary antagonists are secretly ruled by a long-forgotten race of pre-Ice Age non-homo sapiens serpent and insect themed perverts - well, I am almost certain that's pretty far removed from what they initially intended. But it's so damn weird that you can't help but appreciate it for its sheer oddity. You have to imagine that at some point there was a "creative" meeting at Hasbro where they said, "look, this whole Cobra thing, it's kind of passe, we need someone new and cool - how about real-life snake men who attack the Joes with those sand worms from Dune? It will be like printing money." Because they didn't think couldn't go any further with their original concept, they pushed it until it resembled something else entirely. (Like, say, Harry Harrison's West of Eden.)

This, this is fun. It's like, you can imagine at some point in the future someone making a big live-action blockbuster version of the G.I. Joe cartoon that tries to sell audiences on how cool and edgy it is that the US government has a group of elite paramilitary commandos who count among their number awesomely competent folks like Bazooka, Shipwreck and Wild Bill. They might try to gussy it up with hawt computer effects and a few semi-respectable actors spitting cornball dialogue between clenched teeth, but the world will know better: the sine qua non of G.I Joe is Sgt. Slaughter vs. Nemesis Enforcer in the heart of the Himalayas. The franchise exists to sell toys which in turn exist to exploit the worst instincts of Reagan-era jingoism. It is good to remember, however, that the leveling force of capitalism ultimately turns on even its most obedient servants - one minute you're fighting for freedom wherever there's trouble, the next you're playing patsy to Burgess Meredith with a snake tail. You go with whomever's paying the bills. Ultimately, G.I. Joe is less US Army than Halliburton. C'est la vie.

(Incidentally, Destro and the Baroness are assholes - they're perfectly content to help Cobra-La turn every man woman and child in the human race into shambling reptile monsters - but if everyone is a lizard man, who's he going to sell arms to? Isn't he an arms dealer who would like at some point in the future to turn a profit? Did he not think that far ahead? Basically, the entire upper echelon of Cobra is an accessory to attempted genocide of the entire species - that's OK how?)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Yes, This is A Lazy Post With No Relevance to Anything

But it's been a lazy, irrelevant week.

Top Ten Dance Songs of the 90s
(More or Less off the Top of my Head)

10. The Shamen - Ebeneezer Goode (1992)

OK, you can make a good argument that it's not the Shamen's best song - and sure, you've got "Move Any Mountain" as a likely contender for that crown. But hey, it got the phrase "E's are good" onto the pop charts at the height of anti-rave hysteria. Wikipedia refers to it as "perceived subliminal endorsement of recreational drug use" - well, shit, listen and judge for yourself. It didn't just hit number #1 on Radio One, it was #1 for four weeks. Plus: how many songs can say they received remixes from both Richie Hawtin and Meat Beat Manifesto?

9. Armand van Helden feat. Roland Clark - Flowerz (1998)

It's fitting that, since Prince wrote some of the best dance songs of the 80s, at least one of the best dance songs of the 90s would be a blatant Prince pastiche.

8. Fatboy Slim - Acid 8000 (1998)

Would you like to know why "Higher State of Consciousness" is absent? This is why, this is better. "It's so easy to get acid, you can get it anywhere."

7. The Prodigy - No Good (Start the Dance) (1994)

You can argue that, yeah, "Charlie" was ubiquitous, "Out of Space" is still a headfuck, "Voodoo People" is anthemic, "Firestarter" is undeniable, etc. But in terms of sheer danceability - well, this shit is nitroglycerine. Let's not even mention the CJ Bolland remix, which is actually mentioned in article 16 of the Geneva Convention.

6. Model 500 (Juan Atkins) - I Wanna Be There (1995)

The Originator: 'nuff said.

5. Orbital - Halcyon (1992)

Notice I didn't say "+On+On". That's a fine song but the never-reprinted original is, well, more better, and not just because it's as rare as hens' teeth. Yeah, it's obvious, but there's a reason why it's obvious: because it's undeniable.

4. Leftfield feat. John Lydon - Open Up (1993)

I never have been able to warm up to PIL, but if there must be a John Lydon, post-Sex Pistols, he should always be screaming that he's "bigger than God". (He's not, of course, that's #1.) The Chemical Brothers remix still kills, too.

3. Underworld - Born Slippy Nuxx (1995)

The same logic behind "Halcyon" and "Open Up" applies here: yeah, they're the obvious picks, but they're obvious for a good reason. The fact that Underworld recorded easily a dozen songs last decade that could fit snugly on this list speaks volumes - but the reason this one sneaks in over "Cowgirl" or "Rez" or "Pearl's Girl" or "Moaner" is the fact that even your mother knows that opening synth riff. Hell, your grandmother might even recognize it.

2. The Chemical Brothers - Hey Boy Hey Girl (1999)

The perfect anthem for the end of the Willennium. Seriously, picking one's favorite Chemical Brothers single is a horrible Sophie's Choice - but when it comes to dancefloor-demolishing raw power, there is really no other option. Presented here in its natural habitat, live. I was present at this very show.

1. Daft Punk - Alive (1997)

Try to beat it: you can't. It's bigger than God.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Q: Why Is Wolverine So Cool?

A: Because he stabs people a lot.

At some point recently - I believe during a brief run-down of Mark Millar's "Old Man Logan" storyline - I said something to the effect that "Wolverine isn't so much a character as a coatrack - only as good as the stories hung on him". I've thought about it a bit recently and I think that's basically true - or rather, it has become true.

As he was initially conceived - wait, scratch that. As he was originally conceived, Wolverine was a one-off villain for the Incredible Hulk, a sparring partner who premiered during a fight with the Wendigo. He was the product of - to judge from all the different versions of the story rolling around - half-a-dozen people's contributions. And the Wolverine that first appeared in Incredible Hulk #181 was really only a cipher, with nothing besides a visual and a general outline of an attitude to his name. Plus, no matter how you (heh) slice it, his yellow-and-blue costume is really fucking ugly.

I mean, seriously, this is supposedly the toughest man in the Marvel Universe, and yet he willingly dresses up in canary yellow with navy blue trim? There's suspension of disbelief, and then there's suspension of disbelief, you know?

Nevertheless, it goes without saying that Wolverine is the most popular comic book character to be introduced in the last forty years: no one even comes close. He is who he is primarily because Chris Claremont and John Byrne decided to focus on the little guy, building a character from scratch out of what was pretty unpromising and, frankly, unpleasant material. (My memory may be hazy as to the specifics, but Dave Cockrum obviously preferred Nightcrawler and Storm - not coincidentally, characters who he designed. I seem to recall reading somewhere that Marvel thought Colossus was the series' breakout star? Am I right? If true, that's just stupid.) But Wolverine slowly went from being the rough, annoying tough guy (who wasn't really even that tough, on a team with the likes of Colossus and Phoenix) to a fully-developed character in his own right. Admittedly, that "character" was itself influenced more than a little by a hodgepodge of popular media standbys - Toshiro Mifune's Sanjuro, for one, probably a little bit of Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Mack Bolan, etc.

But still: Wolverine slowly coalesced into the shape we know him bytoday. And something a lot of people don't remember is that Wolverine actually had a distinct character arc over the course of Claremont's long run. he started out as a crass bruiser, and slowly became not merely a team player but a linchpin, a character who had grown and changed incrementally over the course of a decade-and-a-half. But of course, ever since Claremont left, the only thing anyone can think to do with the guy is put him through the same kind of motions over and over again - oh no, will Logan overcome his bestial nature? Will the young teenage girl-ward find the heart of gold hidden behind the rugged exterior? Will he stab everyone before the story is over, or save some people to stab next issue?

I kid, but there's some truth to the idea that Wolverine is essentially an extremely limited character. That hasn't stopped there from being, what, thousands of solo Wolverine stories by now? He works in the narrow context of a soap-opera ensemble book, with maybe occasional solo excursions. But on his own, his stories tend to get bogged down in rote formulae real quick - how many stories have you read that basically consist of Wolverine fighting a bunch of ninjas / guys with guns / mob guys, beating the level boss, advancing to the next level, er, issue, rinse repeat? Or how about the "hey, here's an old friend of Logan's who we've never heard mentioned before, who just happens to show up and need a favor". Just once I'd like to see Wolverine meet some "old friend" who doesn't remember him at all: "don't you remember? We got drunk at Circus Circus and fought Batroc? Come on, 1982, you have to remember, bub . . ."

What I really like about Wolverine is his hair. Nowadays, they go out of their way to play down the hair. Folks like David Finch or John Cassidey play down the hair so much you can barely even see the outlines of what should be the most awesome 'do in all of comics.

I was thinking about this recently when I saw a picture of Jon Bon Jovi from the 1980s:

There once was a time when I dude could dress like that, with that kind of poufy hair, and somehow still get by as a guy's guy. Sure, Bon Jovi was always a little soft as far as hair metal was concerned - I was never a hair metal fan but he always seemed like training wheels FM radio metal pop, singing working-class anthems for high school dudes and their girlfriends. Hardly "hardcore" like, oh, Poison.

Considering how powerful a negative influence "Gay Panic" remains in heterosexual dudes across the country, it's amazing that these guys were able to get away dressing like this. Glam was never that big in America during the 70s, after all. But the fact remains: sure, you can say that the real bad dudes were listening to Metallica and Slayer, but dudes were still listening to dudes dressed like ladies and thinking that it was totally awesome. Totally fuckin' METAL, dude.

How awesome would it be if Bon Jovi had super sharp metal knives attached to his forearms? And he really did ride around like a "cowboy / on a steel horse", kicking ass and being generally awesome? That's Wolverine. And his hair was the greatest possible 80s coif in existence: not merely was it wild and erect, but it was also sideburns and mutton chops and pointy bits and looked kinda liked Batman's ears, and wow, his weird triangular mask was actually shaped just like his hair, because his hair was actually rock hard. And you know that somewhere along the line when you were stuck home by yourself - probably during junior high, maybe later - you tried to make your hair do the Wolverine points by dousing your scalp in pomade and trying to make it stick. And then you realized that A) it's really not possible with over-the-counter hair products and B) it looks fuckin' stupid on a flesh-and-blood human being.

Wolverine may have been born in the 70s, but he was made by the 80s. In the 90s he had a grungey period where he was dressing in flannel and wife-beaters, and he always rocked the cowboy boots even before that girl who used to be on the OC. In the 00s he dressed like a refugee from a Massive Attack video for a while, all sleek leather and hobnail boots. Wolverine's fashion sense is usually about five years behind real life, sort of like how all comics trends are five years late. Now he's back in the yellow and blue, and it still looks as stupid as usual, no matter what texture they give his boots. But Wolverine for me will always be the crazy guy with the giant triangle of black hair - the hair so primal that even when he was shaved cue-bald in BWS' Weapon X, it grew back overnight. That is his secondary mutation.