Wolverine first appeared in 1974’s The Incredible Hulk #181. In 2018, a copy of the comic sold for $39,000 despite only costing $600 nine years earlier. The interest in the character had surged, and that’s thanks to Hugh Jackman and Fox. His portrayal of Wolverine grew more and more popular, skyrocketing the character into newfound popularity, but it wasn’t just comic sales and merchandise that he influenced - he shaped the very perception of the X-Men.
He became the main appeal, overshadowing the core team. He even headlined his own trilogy, something afforded to no other X-Men characters. Hell, he’s the only one who has a solo film - three of them, in fact. Slowly but surely, Fox’s films became more Wolverine and the rest rather than X-Men. It made sense. Wolverine is lucrative, people love Hugh Jackman, and despite being in the role longer than anyone has ever played a superhero, he was still on board to do more. Why wouldn’t Fox take advantage of such a willing cash cow?
With the X-Men now owned by Disney and, by extension, the MCU, fans are clamouring for more Wolverine. Prior to 2018’s Venom, there was a huge demand for Tom Hardy to take the part. Now, with the advent of the multiverse & Simmons’ return as J. Jonah Jameson, fans are calling for Jackman himself to return. He’s become synonymous with Wolverine, not unlike Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man. The thing is, Jackman’s 52, he’s been doing this since 2000, and Logan was the perfect send-off. Dredging Fox’s Wolverine back for more would be unfair to Jackman and it would undermine director James Mangold’s film but, perhaps more importantly, it would undercut the X-Men - Jackman or otherwise.
The X-Men is a diverse cast of heroes united under the banner of Professor Charles Xavier’s school for gifted youngsters. Stan Lee wanted to represent the oppression marginalized people were facing in America - those simply fighting for the right to live and to be treated as equals. This was the ‘60s after all. It was the height of the Civil Rights Movement and that is something rooted in the foundation of the X-Men. It’s what has always made them a stand out team, allowing for them to be distinct from the Avengers and the Justice League.
They represent marginalized people through their fictional identity as mutants. However, their ranks also are also made up of a whole host of diverse heroes. Those same heroes deserve a chance to finally shine separate from Wolverine’s legacy. Iceman’s coming out story was a potent point in the comics that felt all too real; Magneto is a survivor of the Hollocaust, refusing to bow down; Storm is a powerful Black woman who marries into Wakandan royalty; Magik represents bisexuality without leaning too far into lazy stereotypes; Xavier is a disabled headteacher that manages to bring together a whole host of different people to fight inequality; Mystique is a genderfluid villain turned heroine - the list goes on.
The X-Men, at their core, are a reflection of real-world oppression and inequality, and their roster more than shows that. They encapsulate the stigmas, stereotypes, fears, and policies that have long been pushed by bigots toward marginalized people. It's what makes them so special, not the icons that have been propped up and made into superstars through Fox’s films. That integral message got lost somewhere along the way when Wolverine became the marketing tool and the main attraction of the X-Men, and that’s particularly upsetting given how relevant the X-Men’s stand against oppression still is 60 years later.
Mutants, as executive producer Kevin Feige says, are coming to the MCU, while he and Marvel Studios allegedly want to better the MCU’s representation after ten years of the bare minimum at best. The X-Men are the perfect group to do just that. It’s how they came about, it’s who their ranks are made up of, and it’s their very identity. Given that there’s a sore lack of queer representation in particular, Marvel Studios would be remiss to go with a popular icon as opposed to LGBTQ+ characters with stories to tell. Perhaps it’s time to tap into the alternate universe Angel from Earth-311 who juggled their Christianity and queer identity, something that so many struggle with, or perhaps Iceman’s coming out story could provide the heart to another big-budget blockbuster.
Tacking on Wolverine once more would undermine what the X-Men are about - they are far more than complementary side characters to his journey. They are a band of marginalized heroes standing up to oppression in a world that won’t stop pressing its thumb. The MCU could highlight that, putting it first and foremost, but it’ll always be in the shadow of Wolverine’s fame if he’s a member.
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