With "The Wolverine" now in theaters, the X-Men movie franchise has moved so far from the comics mythos as to be its own, separate deal. So do the comics matter to the movies anymore? You bet your mutton chops, bub!
First, let's dispense with the cliché that fans squeal like stuck pigs at every change movies make to their beloved comic-book characters. As a fanboy, let me assure you that I have no problem with movies making changes to comic-book characters. Movies are a different medium from comic books, and to be told properly, stories must necessarily change as they move from one medium to another.
And I applaud changes that improve the story. Robert Downey Jr. did such a bang-up job in the Iron Man movies that the comic-book character has been altered to match — strengthening that character, and the Avengers franchise, overall.
But the downside is when Hollywood changes characters to the detriment of the story. "Catwoman" dropped everything about the DC character except the name, and the movie suffered as a result. Ditto "Elektra," which started the false meme that women can't front successful adventure movies. ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and "Hunger Games" are proof they can.)
Sometimes Hollywood's alterations are good, sometimes bad. But usually they're a mixed bag. Such is the case with Fox's X-Men movie franchise in general, and Wolverine in particular.
As comics fans know, Fox's five previous X-movies monkeyed substantially with the comic books. For example, in "The X-Men" No. 1 comic book (1963) the original team consisted of Angel (a birdlike boy), Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Marvel Girl (Jean Grey). In the "X-Men: First Class" movie (2011), they were Angel (an insectlike girl), Banshee, Beast, Darwin (deceased), Havok and Mystique. That's a big change.
But no character has appeared in the X-movies more than Wolverine, which means he's veered from his comic-book counterpart the most. And "The Wolverine," starring Hugh Jackman, cements that fact.
When the comic-book Wolverine first joined the X-Men in 1975, one thing that boosted his popularity was a series of surprise reveals. One was a 1979 scene when Wolvie read a headline from a Japanese newspaper. "You read Japanese?" asks Cyclops. "I didn't know that." "You didn't ask," Logan responds. That scene kept coming to mind throughout "The Wolverine," which takes place almost entirely in Japan. And Logan doesn't savvy the lingo. Since from my perspective he's known Japanese for 34 years, I kept waiting for him to surprise everyone — but he didn't.
Hugh Jackman's Wolverine is also different from the comic-book version in matters large and small: In the comics, he is forced to kill the delicate Mariko, but in the film he's haunted by the knowledge that he killed Jean Grey. And Hugh Jackman is 6 feet 2 inches while in the comics, Wolvie is 5 feet 5 inches tall. But the essence remains, which explains why Wolverine is so popular in both media.
Which brings us to the future. Coming in 2014 is "X-Men: Days of Future Past," a movie based on one of the most famous of X-stories, a 1981 tale in which Logan plays a critical role. "The Wolverine" gives us a tantalizing glimpse of the film midway through the credits (so don't leave early!), and already the story is veering from that of the comics.