THIS MUTANT LIFE #5: Talking 'Wolverine' With Chris Claremont
In addition to last week's discussion about "X-Men: Days of Future Past," my three-part interview with Chris Claremont also touched on "The Wolverine." Though we're still pretty thin on details, "The Wolverine" is expected to lift a number of elements from Claremont's legendary "Wolverine" miniseries, which he wrote along with "Sin City" and "300" artist Frank Miller in 1982.
In that story, Logan finds himself in Japan while trying to court Mariko Yashida, the daughter of a local crime boss. Stuff gets complicated, as you might figure, and the result was a character-defining story that’s long stood out as one of Wolverine’s best adventures even though hundreds — if not thousands — of comics have been written about him in the last 30 years. Just the idea that "The Wolverine" would head in that direction was enough to entice Darren Aronofsky to consider helming the movie before director James Mangold took over. (Hugh Jackman, meanwhile, has been waiting patiently since 2009 after "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" went over like a bad retcon.)
Why? Simply put, it was one of the first stories to ever focus on Wolverine by himself. "When Frank [Miller] and I did that, those other stories hadn’t been written. He was a young character in terms of how long he’d been on sale. All we’d seen of him was the mad, dangerous, scary, violent thug," Claremont said. "The whole heart of my pitch to Frank Miller was that this isn’t about the thug, but about the man, and the man’s struggles to dominate with his heart and his mind the animal passions in his soul. I think that’s a theme and a story that has struck a resonant chord with readers ever since."
That theme will be well served in "The Wolverine," but the Japanese aspect is what gave the original miniseries such a singular feel. Though Claremont and Miller could’ve set the story in any country, there ended up being a natural parallel between Wolverine’s nature and samurai culture, which bears itself out by story’s end as the lone warrior becomes perfectly recast as a modern samurai. "Frank and I were both extremely interested in and simpatico to Japanese culture," Claremont said. "We were both Kurosawa fanatics at the time, and you can see that in his work on 'Ronin.'"
"But the key thing was that I knew of no other contrast between Wolverine as we understood him and Logan than you see in his behavior as a roughneck Canadian versus classical samurai society," he continued. "That’s the dichotomy in his soul. There’s a half of him that’s a roughneck and there’s a half of him that’s an elegant and sophisticated samurai. His struggle has been to embrace the better half of his nature."
That dichotomy bears itself out in his love life, too. "The tragedy is he can’t decide which is the better half. That’s the conflict, and that was the whole point with the graphic story — that of the two great loves of his life, Mariko and Yukio [an assassin who he falls in with], one is elegance personified and the other is a street legal killer at large," said Claremont. "The irony of both of them is that they’re the twin halves of the soul of the ultimate great love of his life, who unfortunately was dead: Jean Grey. What you have is a metaphor for Phoenix and Dark Phoenix, split between Yukio and Mariko, and Wolverine has to choose between them."
Of course, we probably won’t get a mention of Jean because of the whole standalone picture thing, and because this movie will probably take place years before he’ll have had his run-ins with the "X-Men." Mariko and Yukio have been cast, though, and their inclusion will allow the dynamics Claremont wrote about 30 years ago to play out on screen. Which, just like "Days of Future Past," is the sign of a classic story — one that’s still being looked to for mainstream inspiration decades later.
This Mutant Life explores all corners of the cinematic X-verse, from the kids of "First Class" to the berserker rage of "The Wolverine." Suggest topics for future columns in the comments or on Twitter!
Previously on This Mutant Life: