WARNING: SOME SPOILERS SCATTERED ABOUT
* X-Men Vol. 3 (Buena Vista) (2 DVDs)
* X-Men Vol. 4 (Buena Vista) (2 DVDs)
* Wolverine & The X-Men Vol. 2/Deadly Enemies (Lionsgate)
* X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Fox)
Amazing to think, Len Wein introduced Wolverine in Incredible Hulk #180 35 years ago.
Having a character like Logan for three-and-a-half decades means he’s been subject to different interpretations as he was moved from one creator to another. The changes, going to Wein to Claremont and beyond, have kept fans debating who the best is nearly as long, that’s for sure.
And should Hollywood be different? No, indeed.
The two Buena Vista collections are a good place to start. These two sets contain 29 more episodes of the once ratings-topping Fox Kids TV series. Was this version of James Howlett near as violent as his comic book counterpart? Well, this was a kid’s show after all.
Yet many fans will say that, as supervised by Larry Houston and Frank Squillace, it was probably the most loyal interpretation of everyone’s favorite Canadian superhero, at least for the time period the show aired, 1992-1997. It also trotted out many of the top X-Men characters of the time.
By that we don’t just mean Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, Beast and Dr. Xavier. Also among the core team were Rogue and Jubilee. Gambit was also established as a regular during this period. Among the nemeses were the Hellfire Club (called “The Inner Circle”…probably to ward the censors off), Apocalypse, Proteus, Mr. Sinister, and the first appearance of the High Evolutionary. It also wouldn’t be X-Men without the troubled heroic villain, Magneto.
The story arcs covered should be familiar to any X-Men aficionado. They include Dark Phoenix, the introduction of X-Factor, Magneto’s Satellite M, the completion of the Savage Land arc, among others. At times the melodramatic dialogue was spread so thick it felt like bad soap opera, and the action sequences were comparatively clumsy and slow. Yet when this series went into overdrive, there were very few contemporary superhero 'toons that topped it.
The same could be said for Wolvie. Voiced by Cal Dodd, the acting was at its best when our hero sliced and diced his way through an army of Sentinels. When it came to the more emotional sequences, like another time his heart broke over Scott Summers and Jean Grey, it could get cornier than a case of Mazola.
It would have been nice to have included a little extra content. Some commentary from Houston, Squillace, Dodd or some of the other members of the voice cast. There’s interesting folk tales about the trials of producing this series as well as its incredible success. It would have put a nice cap to the collection.
Still, this series is a must-have for anyone who loves superhero animation. Even with its flaws, The X-Men holds up well and would look right at home with the competition.
The same could be said for the latest animated reading of Logan. A continuation of “X-Men: Evolution,” this series finds Logan in charge of Marvel’s #1 Mutants. As Craig Kyle and other Marvel creators on the projects repeatedly point out, this isn’t necessarily a good thing.
One important aspect of Wolverine is, try as he might, he’s not, nor ever was, a team player. He believes in Xavier’s dream, but that doesn’t mean he’s a poster boy for it. Fans still love him though. As voiced by Steve Blum, the mantle of X-Men leadership doesn’t fit well on Logan. Sometimes the animation doesn’t quite catch the expressiveness needed to carry this through, but Blum’s voice does.
Yet the best bit of entertainment in this five-episode collection has hardly anything to do with the X-Men. Episode #7’s says a lot by its title, “Wolverine vs. The Hulk.” It’s a rematch of the best part of the Hulk vs. movie released earlier this year. It’s no where near as violent as the direct-to-DVD release. It also doesn’t have Deadpool to liven things up.
At the same time, it brings the Wendigo aspect to one of the greatest superhero battles in comic books, which was something that was not covered in Hulk vs. While Deadpool is missing, it adds an interesting twist by introducing Nick Fury as a new foil to Logan’s plans. The scene of the two drinking coffee playing verbal chess is nearly as good as Blum and Fred Tatasciore (the voice of the Hulk) screaming their lungs out in the main battle sequences.
As for the other four episodes, Marvel has done us a favor by toning down the melodrama and throwing in dollops of more psychodrama. Logan and Gambit have a great game of one-upmanship in “The Thieves’ Gambit” episode. The “Time Bomb” episode contains one exceptional twist as the X-Men do what is truly best for one particularly explosive mutant.
The Extra Content (EC) here is lots and lots of commentary from the various creators, among them Kyle, Chris Yost and Greg Johnson. The only problem is it sounds like the commentators wanted to be elsewhere while, and their attempts at being humor falls pretty flat.
Overall, this series is proving it stands toe-to-toe with the classic 90s series, in a large part due to Blum’s performance and the reduction of all the soap suds. If it keeps this level of quality up, don’t be surprised if it even surpasses the previous interpretation.
Which leaves what Fox bills as the “first blockbuster of the summer.”
When it came to playing Wolverine, Hugh Jackman made quite an entrance in the first two X-Men live-action films. When Bryan Singer left the project, and was replaced by Brett Ratner, it went to seed. It hasn’t gotten better with Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi,” “Rendition”) at the directorial helm.
The main problem here is the script is just an unbelievable mess. It tries to compress Logan’s 35-year history into one compact film. When all is said and done, it’s just plain to unbelievable that Logan is, quite frankly, such a dumb putz. This especially becomes obvious in the sequence where he discovers his old adversary, Sabretooth/Victor Creed, has “murdered” the love of his live, Silver Fox.
Not that this film doesn’t have some sterling performances. Liev Schreiber is properly vicious as Creed. Taylor Kisch is also solid as a certain Remy LeBeau, given the material they both were handed. The action sequences are well choreographed—except for the conclusion—and overall quite a lot of fun.
On the other hand, Logan’s sufferings throughout this film would rival Job. Jackman also just feels more and more disinterested as the film continues. It reaches levels of incredulity to when it comes to the final battle sequence with Deadpool.
Quite frankly, no actor could have come out shining in this mess. Let’s hope whoever directs the next Wolverine movie hands Jackman something he can sink his claws into.
The good news is the EC here is far superior to anything offered in the other collections. This includes no less than Stan Lee himself and Wein waxing nostalgically about Marvel’s #1 anti-hero. It also includes commentary tracks from Hood as well as producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter; a handful of deleted/alternate scenes and an, believe it or not, anti-smoking PSA. No sign of Jackman puffing on Wolverine’s trademark stogies though.
So let the debates about who is the best Wolverine continue. With these collections the various sides now have plenty of ammo to work with.