[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's Classic X-Men. For more in this series click the link on the right toolbar under "Guest Bloggers".]
"Tag, Sucker” is set somewhere at an indeterminate point in between the X-Men’s earliest adventures. I’ve come to think of it as the final in a four-part set of character sketches focusing on the four pillars of Claremont’s original “new” X-Men cast. Storm was the focus of Classic X-Men #2b, Nightcrawler of 4b, Colossus of 5b, and now Wolverine takes center stage here. Each one of these stories gets quickly and directly to the core of what each character was originally all about, in elegantly simple terms. The premise behind “Tag, Sucker!” is that when Wolverine returned to the States as an X-Man, he inadvertently got the attention of an old nemesis, called Sabretooth. We never see Sabretooth in this story (well, except his hands), but he plays a game of cat-and-mouse with Logan and wins, ultimately tearing out Wolverine’s throat and leaving him for dead. Logan survives thanks to his healing factor, a little shaken and a little humbled.
That’s the plot, very much “Wolverine 101” in terms of structure. Some of Claremont’s technique here has come to be thought of as clichés when it comes to this character – most particularly the tough, brooding first-person narration that always manages include an expositional laundry list of Wolverine’s various and sundry abilities and powers. Still, it’s a good lesson in how to write the character properly, and indeed, the art of writing a good Wolverine story seems to be lost, if things like “Origin” and especially the more recent material involving characters like Romulus and Lazarus, etc., are any indication.
There is a temporal contradiction in Wolverine, made explicit in “Tag, Sucker.” Wolverine is more animal than man, a savage more at home in the wilderness than among civilization. However, he also has a skeleton lined with adamantium and three razor sharp claws that extend from each hand, making him (to quote the present story) “some fancy sci-fi piece of work.” The use of “sci-fi” is reminiscent of what Geoff wrote about Batman in “JLA: Classified”: “He identifies all the crazy gear he has as ‘science FICTION’ gear even though, for him, it is real.” In Wolverine’s case, his reference to his own technological enhancements as “sci-fi” is derisive, because his inclination is in the other direction – more rooted in the values of the past, rather than the “sci-fi” future; away from technology, not toward it.
Wolverine’s hatred of civilization, particularly of cities—with their noise, pollution, etc. – is intrinsic to his own character but also important in the context of the other members of the cast. Classic X-Men #5’s “Prison of the Heart” pointed out that Colossus feels more at home among the wide expanses of his collective farm in Russia (where he knew all “1,237 souls” by name) than in the crowded city. And in “First Friends” in issue #2, Storm’s thought balloons discuss how ill at ease she feels soaring in a sky where there are huge, claustrophobic buildings that block out the sun and cut their residents off from mother nature. It’s an interesting thematic element for Claremont to bring in, positioning three of the pillars of this X-Men cast as being incompatible with their environment.
Nightcrawler, curiously, is the only one who seems more at home in a modern city than he was in his old home (a kind of generically, stereotypically Bavarian community, as shown in Giant-Sized X-Men #1). It’s fitting perhaps that the “ugliest” of the new X-Men is the one who is most comfortable with his surroundings.