I Was a Teenage Wolverine!

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[Warning: spoilers within.]

It’s hard to be a feminist and want to be a man at the same time. But deep down, I’ve always identified with Wolverine from the The X-Men. It all started fifteen years ago, when I would curl up on the couch after school, watching the X-Men cartoon on TV (I never really got into the comic), holding my new tits and waiting for Wolverine to finally get it on with Jean Grey. I imagined myself saving the world every afternoon at 3:30 p.m. but still striking out with the ladies. I wanted to be the quiet manly-man, the loner who couldn’t work with others but risked his life for them, the mutant who fought in cages and won.
   Unfortunately, I was a nine-year-old girl, smaller than even the first graders, and a loner by necessity rather than choice. I drank chocolate soy milk and ate tofu sticks. I did get into fights, and usually won, but the girls were even less impressed than the principal.
   That’s why the X-Men were my friends, and Wolverine was my hero.

Jean Grey made me psyched to be a mutant-loving woman again.

No matter how much of a loser I was in real life, I could relate to them — and to Wolverine in particular — because they weren’t perfect either. Sometimes Wolverine had trouble being a good guy. Often his comebacks were more bitter than witty. His inner turmoil and overwhelming sense of rejection was familiar to me. All I needed was an adamantium skeleton and a penis.
   I’ve never been a big fan of impossible love stories, and I’m not sure that Jean Grey would have been the woman I’d crush on if I were Wolverine. I always thought her character was kind of lame, like most of the other girl superheroes. Her actions rarely drove the plot. As a scientist, Jean was a healer, not a fighter, and her mild mental powers kept her on the sidelines of the full-contact sports.


Besides, Professor X, the wheelchair-bound leader of the mutants, already had all the psychic powers the group needed, so Jean was superfluous. But Wolverine wanted her. So I wanted her, too.
   When the X-Men came to the big screen in 2000, I was surprised by how well the cartoon translated to live action — and how well it lived up to my pre-pubescent fantasies. What made it so convincing was Hugh Jackman’s impressive portrayal of Wolverine. (This was even more impressive considering his other, decidedly wussy roles.) No one can leave a room quite like Wolverine, but Jackman pulled it off seamlessly in X, with his broad shoulders and a perfect prowling slouch to match. And Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey was, well, lame as ever: she hardly used her telekinetic powers and spent more time being rescued than she did rescuing. It was to be expected. And so, sitting in the theater those few summers ago, I was transformed into a nine-year-old, male-identifying superhero once again.

[Note: X2 ending discussed below.]

   When I went to see the new sequel, X2, last week, my adolescent expectations were met — and exceeded. For the first time in memory, Jean Grey seemed worthy of Wolverine’s attention. Throughout the flick, she gets her groove on, making red fireworks in her eyeballs, lifting jets with her mind, kicking butt. The two even share one of those “her-lips-are-saying-no-but-her-eyes-are-saying-yes” Hollywood kisses, complete with swoony music. I figured by X3 I’d finally get to see what I’d been waiting for all these years: some real fireworks between Jean and Wolverine.
   And then they up and kill her. Apparently, Jean becomes a strong character and kisses Wolverine for one reason: so the filmmakers — like the creator of the original comic, Stan Lee — would never have to deal with the ramifications of an X-Woman with true sex appeal, brains and power since there’s no one to take her place. Think about it. Rogue (Anna Paquin) can’t have sex, because her touch is deadly. Storm (Halle Berry) probably could have sex, but in both the cartoon and the movie, she comes across as a sexless side character with little personality (despite Berry’s talent, sexiness and current Hollywood status). The only woman left is Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), who’s blue. Tellingly, after Wolverine and Jean’s only kiss, Mystique shape-shifts into Jean and tries to get it on with Wolverine, who figures out the ruse before the deal is closed. Mystique isn’t powerful or sexy herself; she’s only as powerful and sexy as the people she pretends to be. This is exactly why I always identified with the boy superheroes: because the girl characters are always dead, whether sexually or otherwise.
   Apparently, in a future installment of the series, Jean comes back from the dead, rising from the ashes as a new character: Phoenix. If X-3 follows the plot of the original comics, Phoenix will be the most powerful of all superheroes, regardless of gender. But she won’t be Jean Grey. She’ll be an almost demonic energy with an unquenchable thirst for power posing as Jean (who may not be dead, just incapacitated — which is basically the same thing). Why must Jean become something else — not a woman, a human or even a mutant — to come into power that rivals the boys’?
   In X2 Jean Grey made me psyched to be a mutant-loving woman again. Unfortunately, her untimely demise ruined any chance the X-Men had — if only for a little while — of reaching out to all the little girls who only want to be somebody.  

[Editor’s note: Clarifications were added to this article after its original posting.]

©2003 Leila Walker and Nerve.com, Inc.

Leila Walker’s writing creds have won her the Rubin Award for poetry, the ARTS award for expository writing, and a scholarship to Space Camp. She currently runs the webzine sugarwater. Her fondest childhood memory involves reading The Hite Report out loud while watching the Mariners kick some Texas ass.