Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Makings Of A Leader

It's nice to go back to a few of the earlier X-Men issues where the character known as Wolverine was just starting to be explored, where we didn't yet know so much about him or his potential and he was still limited to (brace yourselves) one title. At the time, all that seemed apparent about Wolverine was that he made a habit of not playing by the rules--and that it was difficult for him to integrate into the new X-Men team, not because he wasn't an asset to the X-Men, but mostly because he was a hard man to get to know.

Little by little, however, Wolverine and the X-Men began to accept each other, and the X-Men benefited from having him in its ranks in spite of his aggressive and at times provocative style of handling a situation. On rare occasion, however, we also were witness to situations where Wolverine was allowed to step out from behind the shadow of Cyclops and demonstrate his leadership potential and his capability to cope with a crisis by depending on his own judgment and instincts. The results were surprising, and remarkable. From a reader's perspective, it seemed like Wolverine was growing into his own, and the character's popularity began to grow as well.

When Cyclops left the team after the death of Phoenix, Storm was chosen by Charles Xavier to lead the X-Men in his place, perhaps in light of the fact that still so little was known about Wolverine and his activities prior to his affiliation with the Canadian government. That's no legitimate argument for disqualifying him, of course--with the possible exception of Banshee, one could say the same of Storm, or any of the new X-Men and their respective histories. There's also the fact that Xavier could have made inquiries regarding Wolverine, had he wished (to say nothing of making use of his mental abilities); perhaps he simply preferred for Wolverine to be more forthcoming on his own.  As it was, the question of his judgment in battle situations was still a cause for concern.

And so the instances we see of Wolverine exercising his initiative prior to Storm assuming the team's leadership are particularly interesting, since his decisions affect her along with the other X-Men and her reactions are those of a team member rather than a team leader. What you may notice most of all is how quickly, and easily, those he's with at the time adapt to Wolverine's style of leadership, as well as how well Wolverine himself adapts to this type of role.

First, let's look back at when the X-Men had detoured to the Savage Land following the destruction of Magneto's Antarctic base. Along with Ka-Zar, they're investigating the so-called city of the Sun God--a huge structure built by Garokk (said Sun God) and his high-priestess, Zaladane, which tapped into the power of the geothermal heat sink that gives the region its warmth and dense foliage but disrupts the delicate ecological balance of the Savage Land as a result. A surprise aerial assault deprives the X-Men of key personnel in their group--leaving Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Storm to proceed on their own.

The way that Wolverine "handles" Zabu, the saber-tooth tiger that accompanies Ka-Zar, admittedly goes a bit far in giving Wolverine an apparent rapport with animals; perhaps it's more fair to say that he can reach more savage-minded beasts on a fundamental level. And while it's fair to balk at the specific instructions he's able to relay to Zabu here (something I don't recall even Ka-Zar doing, though someone will have to fact-check me on that--I'm not a big Ka-Zar reader), to see Zabu and Wolverine... oh, let's say, establish an understanding with each other, is still an interesting scene to watch.

(How Tongah, on the other hand, is going to figure out from Zabu's snarls that the X-Men have been ambushed by Garokk's warriors is anyone's guess.)

Soon enough, these X-Men make their way into the city via conduits that are understandably low priority from a security standpoint. Thanks to this segment, Storm and Nightcrawler learn significant information about their comrade--as well as confirmation that Wolverine operates by a code that is as yet foreign to the X-Men.

You may find it curious that Storm raises no tone of outrage at Wolverine's act of cold-blooded murder of Garokk's sentry, as she did when she thought he was hunting for prey in the forest; perhaps Wolverine's strike is somewhat mitigated in her eyes by the fact that the victim was an enemy. Writer Chris Claremont seems to feel that the unspoken reactions of both Storm and Nightcrawler are sufficient, while Wolverine's lack of either hesitation or regret in making his kill comes as little surprise to anyone. If Cyclops were present, perhaps he would have picked a later time to have a frank discussion with Wolverine on the matter, in order to tell him in no uncertain terms that this isn't how the X-Men operate.  And perhaps he wouldn't have. Cyclops isn't blind--he has to be aware of the kind of operative he has in Wolverine, and what kind of man he's taking on missions with him, and he's certainly intervened to stop killing strikes from Wolverine often enough.

At any rate, Wolverine and his team succeed in reaching the others and setting them free--and from that point he continues to defer to Cyclops calling the shots.

Some time later, when a teenager named Kitty Pryde is being evaluated for the school, part of the team travels to Chicago to meet with her and her family, unaware that specially-prepared hirelings of the Hellfire Club plan to intercept them. While Xavier speaks to her parents, Kitty is taken by the others to a malt shoppe, where all hell breaks loose--fortunately for the shoppe's testy manager, who unknowingly came close to learning the downside of the phrase "when push comes to shove." Regardless, Wolverine thinks on his feet when the attack occurs, and his comrades benefit from his instincts.

Finally, let's skip to Ottawa, where Wolverine is attempting to settle his differences with James Hudson, leader of Alpha Flight, who has twice attempted to return Wolverine by force to government custody. Xavier has sent Nightcrawler with Wolverine as a precaution--and with their first stop being the Hudson residence, Nightcrawler not only learns a bit of Wolverine's past, but also his comrade's name.

What becomes a two-part story is a strong focus on Wolverine and how he operates in group situations other than in his status as an X-Man. Where Alpha Flight is concerned, that may be problematic, considering that he'd no doubt ruffled a few feathers by escaping their custody in their last encounter; but while he makes clear that he won't back down if provoked, he makes every effort (with Nightcrawler's help) to give tempers a chance to cool.

The truce is accepted, and Wolverine learns why Hudson, Shaman, and Snowbird are in the area--investigating reports of a missing Canadian mountie and his family, with only the mountie's son recovered and the evidence at the site suggesting that the man had been devoured. In the process of offering his assistance, Wolverine asserts his personality and skills in a way that smoothly integrates into the overall mission of finding answers, leaving the others with a clear impression that they could use his help and removing any lingering objections from their minds. And when Wolverine is shown further evidence from the attack, his particular perspective on what happened will make his arrival a fortuitous one for Alpha Flight.

("We've tried just about everything else." Snowbird couldn't shift to a form that could track the wife and infant? Really?)

It's gratifying of course to see Hudson and Wolverine mend fences--but also to see another example of Wolverine's capabilities as a field operative and decision-maker, attributes that are coming to light for the character slowly but surely. And how well they serve him against another confrontation with the Wendigo is something you can see for yourself in the PPC's review of that story in a prior post.

Wolverine and Nightcrawler join forces again to face--the Brotherhood of Badoon!
(Might be a time to call in reinforcements on this one!)

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