Monday, March 16, 2009

Thinking Way Too Hard About: Wolverine

When my brothers and I were kids, we used to draw basically three superheroes: Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man. Those were the only superheroes we knew, and they had such iconic looks to them. Then, when we were a little bit older, we started to branch out a bit. Thanks to the Batman and X-Men cartoons, we became aware of the DC and Marvel universes.

At this point, we started divvying up the characters. This was necessitated by a couple of things: first, when playing the X-Men game at the arcade, we had to pick different characters. Also, if we were going to pretend to be our favorite characters, we had to be different people for it to make sense. And finally, it allowed for the "Who is cooler?" and "Who would win in a fight?" debates that all nerds live for.

It was at this time, way back in grade school, that Wolverine became my favorite superhero. He was badass, he could fight anybody, he was independent, and he had that badass costume. At the time, I thought that the only "real" Wolverine was the guy in the yellow tiger-striped costume with the blue shoulderpads. I didn't like the "old" brown-and-orange costume (not realizing which one he had started with), but I had a special dislike for depictions of him in his "civilian" garb. That wasn't Wolverine, after all: that was Logan, which amounted to Wolverine in disguise. How could you be a superhero without the costume?

Then, starting around high school but really ar0und my college days, I started moving away from Wolverine. My main reason for this was simple: everyone likes Wolverine. He was far and away the most famous of the X-Men. In fact, it could be argued that he's the only member of the X-Men that most people actually like. It certainly seems that way from the covers Marvel puts out: go to any comic shop and count the number of covers that feature Wolverine and the number that don't. You'll be surprised.

At about this time, I started getting into other superheroes. First, Iron Man. I had been reading The Ultimates, and I really liked that depiction of Tony Stark as a reckless, charming rich guy who decides to make the world a better place before his brain cancer kills him. I liked the idea that Tony Stark is a normal human who fights with his intellect, creating a high-tech suit of armor that he can modify and upgrade as the situation demands, allowing him to defeat enemies by outsmarting and out-building them. All that Wolverine ever did was get mad and stab things! Too bad Civil War came along and made the mainstream version of the character the most hated superhero in Marvel. Then, even worse, I found out that the Ultimates version wasn't as "normal" as I had thought: his body is one large living brain, thanks to his monkey blood. I hate his stupid monkey blood!

Then I liked Deadpool, who was a lot like Wolverine: he had Wolverine's regeneration, he fought with guns AND swords instead of just claws, he was hilariously offbeat, and he was a ninja. Everyone likes ninjas! In fact, I liked Iron Man and Deadpool so much that, when we played through Marvel Ultimate Alliance, those were the two heroes I played with. True fact: we let the computer play Wolverine. Eventually, though, I had to admit to myself that Deadpool was just a surrogate Wolverine.

Recently, partially thanks to the upcoming Wolverine movie, but more thanks to my awesome girlfriend, I have realized something: Wolverine genuinely is exactly as awesome as I used to think when I was a kid. Okay, so the costumes are geeky, and too often he's "declawed" by writers, but the underlying awesome of Wolverine is something not even Magneto can take away (and replace with bone claws).

If you will indulge me a moment, please allow me to geek out about the thing that makes Wolverine the best at what he does: he's a fighter.

That's really what it comes down to. No matter where he is, no matter what he's up against, Wolverine is going to fight it. His adamantium skeleton, razor-sharp claws, and healing factor all mean that he has the ability to put the hurt on the enemy, and he has the staying power to make sure he has the opportunity to do so. It's not only about the ability to take damage and keep fighting, but even moreso it's about his willingness to do so no matter what.

Wolverine is, after all, named after an animal known for fighting anything, despite its small size. The Marvel character, too, has the bloody-minded determination it takes to keep getting up, no matter how many time you're knocked down, and keep getting stuck in. Wolverine exists in a universe full of cosmically powerful beings who can sling around some amazing pyrotechnics. All he has to go up against that is one thing. Make that three things. On each hand. So, six things total. As Ho Chi Minh observed, "If the Tiger does not stop fighting the Elephant, the Elephant will die of exhaustion."

Except in this case the Elephant is a supervillain who can blow up the side of a mountain, and the Tiger is actually a Wolverine.

It's true that Wolverine, like Lobo, has much more potential than actually delivered by most of his comics. The need to shoehorn this loner into a team comic often means that he soon learns the value of teamwork and trusting others, often becoming a father figure for one or more young teammates in the process. And, yes, he wears silly costumes. But no matter how many costumes you put him in, and no matter how many times he tells angsty teens to believe in themselves, he will always be Wolverine.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Wondercon 2009 Photo Safari

Yesterday she and I went to Wondercon with two of her friends who came up for the occasion. Wondercon, for those not in the know, is huge a general-purpose convention held annually in San Francisco. When I say general-purpose, I mean it had comics, anime, sci-fi, video games... just about anything nerds are into.

We arrived around one, passing plenty of Naruto ninjas and other nerd-types flaunting Wondercon tags and bags of swag. We entered the Moscone Center and were herded down the escalators, to the left, and into the empty queues that must have been thronged with nerds earlier in the day. We exchanged our ticket printouts for tags and were handed bags for swag, with included schedules.

The first place we headed was the 4th Dimension Entertainment booth, which was pretty much the Lackadaisy booth. We saw the work-in-progress sculpt of the Rocky figure and numerous posters for sale. We also learned that there had been a snafu with the books, so there weren't enough for the con and they were already sold out. They were taking preorders, though, with the added bonus of Tracy J. Butler including a sketch of your favorite character. Tracy J. Butler, the lady at the booth said, who is sketching behind me at the moment. I looked behind the lady, and sure enough, there was Tracy J. Butler, sketching away. We both had the opportunity to tell her what big fans we were, though I admit that I didn't say much. Tracy was very friendly, though she was understandably overwhelmed by the con experience. We ended up buying a book, a poster, and a pin.

Next we headed over to the "Artist's Alley," where the comic book artists were collected in rows. The first person we saw that we recognized was also the person I was most excited about meeting: Stan Sakai. Stan is the creator, writer, and artist of Usagi Yojimbo, a comic about a rabbit samurai that is far more awesome than that previous sentence made it sound.

Stan was working on the first page of an Usagi story called "The Hidden Fortress," which I thought was awesome for obvious reasons. As he was absorbed in his work, I asked his wife, Sharon, if I could take a picture. "You want to take a picture with Stan?" she asked, and was about to get his attention when I quickly said that I actually just wanted a picture of him working. She very graciously said I could take a picture, which I did:

We looked through the portfolio of original Usagi art they had brought (including this picture of Usagi fighting a dinosaur). We started talking to Stan, and the young lady I was with took the opportunity to proudly tell Stan that she was a longtime fan who had recently introduced her boyfriend to Usagi. I was worried about looking like a wannabe for not being more familiar with the comic, but Stan was very gracious toward both of us. When she asked him about the pen he was drawing with, he not only stopped to show her how he drew with it, he handed it to her and let her try it out. Commendably, she resisted what must have been an overwhelming temptation to grab the pen and run. Stan Sakai had a presence about him of a warm-hearted man who loves creating something people enjoy. The calm aura he radiated can only be described as samurai-like.

Meeting Stan Sakai was awesome, but it did not prepare me for what came next. We wandered through the Artist's Alley, past Wendy Pini (my 15-year-old self would have loved to stop and talk to her, but I've become increasingly disillusioned with ElfQuest with every new book I read of it). Then the young lady with me said "Oh, Mike Mignola is here." I asked how she knew and she looked in his direction. I turned and, about ten feet from me, was Mike Mignola.

Needless to say, I immediately started trying my best to keep from freaking out. I hadn't been looking forward to seeing Mike Mignola because I didn't know he would be there. He wasn't listed as one of the Special Guests (I assume this was because he wanted to keep it low-key and wasn't on any panels). We got in line to talk to him, both of us trying to get the other to get a picture taken with him but neither of us having the nerve. Finally, I asked him if there would be a sequel to BPRD:1946, and he said, yes, BPRD:1947 was in the works. It would be drawn by the person who does Umbrella Academy, which caused she and I to exchange grins as we had previously discussed how good the artwork for Umbrella Academy is, and what a shame it is that the artist doesn't do a better story that isn't written by "the guy from My Chemical Romance." I asked Mike if I could take a picture, and he agreed to let me.

We bought a couple of Wondercon 09 prints from him, which I should have photos of eventually. I asked him about Bruce Campbell playing The Lobster in Hellboy 3, and he said that he didn't know anything about it, because, with Guillermo working on The Hobbit, if there would be a Hellboy 3 it was a long way off. I managed to keep it together right up until the end, when I blurted out "ThankyouformakingHellboyit'sthebestcomicever!" My rational brain knows that he probably politely said thank you, and my memory of him saying "Why don't you write a spinoff story to BPRD:1946 featuring Baron Konig?" was probably caused by the fanboy overload my brain was suffering.

We continued to go through the con, seeing a number of stars who were wringing money from their fame with varying levels of desperation. Some of the saddest examples were former wrestlers like The Honkey Tonk Man, and the bassist from Megadeth. I couldn't fathom what they were doing at Wondercon. That said, there were some cool moments, like seeing Gigi Edgley, who played Chiana on Farscape. Seeing her without the makeup was a bit like seeing KISS without theirs, except that I actually like Chiana (and Gigi). I didn't take any pictures.

I think I saw Carrie Fisher through a solid throng of people. I say I think it was Carrie Fisher because the poor woman looked tired and unwell. Judging from the huge number of people holding their cameras above the human tide just to try to snap a shot of her, I assume it must have been her. Apparently Mark Hamill was somewhere, too, though I didn't catch a glimpse.

We attended part of a panel on "Comics Storytelling," featuring Gene Luen Yang, Thien Pham, and Jen Wang. Though he's not listed in the program, Ray Fawkes was there as well. They said some interesting things, but the best part was watching their personalities. Gene was reserved and nerdy, while Thien, who works with him, was gregarious and outrageous, often answering on behalf of Gene instead of himself. He did this to embarrass Gene, and it always worked.

Another panel that we sat in on was between David Petersen (who wrote Mouse Guard), Wendy Pini, Stan Sakai, and Alex Robinson (who was the one person in the panel whose work I didn't know). As the moderator pointed out, they represented many generations of comic-writing: David Petersen is a young guy who has just broken into comics, while Stan Sakai described buying the second issue of Fantastic Four. The panel was great. David Petersen was very enthusiastic, and Stan Sakai quietly owned the room.

The last event of the night was a masquerade, where fans in costumes came out on stage and put on shows of varying levels of sophistication. Some of them just walked across stage to music, while others engaged in skits or dances. One skit was of an insult contest (according to Wikipedia, it's called "the dozens") between Chun-Li and Sakura of Street Fighter. It featured the memorable line "Yo momma's armpits are so hairy, it looks like she's got Afro Samurai in a headlock." There were some very impressive Predator and Godzilla costumes, and a group of people dressed like the Teen Titans who, despite their Rock Band instruments, did not actually play Rock Band. Probably the most impressive bit was a G.I.Joe-themed skit about the various villains all bickering, and finally fighting Snake Eyes.

I should mention that Wondercon was not without its moments of weirdness, like the group of Naruto cosplayers who had their hair gelled up into cat-ears, or the genuine furries in full costume.

There were also meetings with creators I was not familiar with, like Erik Larsen. I remember thinking, "Dude, it's Erik Larsen. He does Savage Dragon. You should talk to him. But the only thing you've ever read from him was the Savage Dragon/Hellboy crossover he did. That was okay, I guess. Yeah, maybe you shouldn't talk to him."

Finally, I'll leave you with an activity: go check out Sean "Cheeks" Galloway on DeviantArt. We saw him, too. He was very cool: