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Why Wolverine Should Smoke
“I’m the best there is at what I do. But what I do isn’t very nice.”
From his inception as a character (as opposed to his introduction as a two-dimensional antagonist for the incredible Hulk), Wolverine was a misanthropic, belligerent, anti-authoritarian asshole. Here was a character who could and would do all the things that you knew were fundamentally wrong for a superhero to do. He killed…or attempted to and got smacked around by people whose powers did not involve being able to stab things…at the slightest provocation. He drank, he smoked, and he hit on the upright and uptight field leader’s girlfriend. He was, for all intents and purposes, as bad as the people he fought. Wolverine wasn’t a hero, he was an anti-hero. As Cracked.com writer Luke McKinney puts it, “(Wolverine’s) only powers are always carrying knives and repeatedly coming back from things that should have killed him. That's not a superhero, that's a horror movie villain.” (Luke Mckinney, “The 9 Worst Things Comic Books Have Ever Done to Wolverine”)
Naturally, the fans loved him.
Marvel's "no smoking" policy
In the early 2000’s, then editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, Joe Quesada, put a ban on the depiction of the company’s heroes smoking in its general audiences publications. In a follow up address to that decision, Quesada – who lost both his grandfather and father to complications from smoking – said, " I mean, smoking would be easy for (Wolverine), he has a healing factor and if the nicotine doesn’t affect him then he’s doing it for one reason and one reason only, to look cool…In other words, smoking makes him a follower, a slave to fashion, peer pressure and way too self-aware of his own coolness. Sorry, this doesn’t sound like a rebel to me, this sounds like a poseur. If Wolvie is to be a rebel, he would have tried the cigar and said something like, “You smokers are nuts, this taste like $#!@!”...My Wolverine, the Wolverine in my world, he doesn’t smoke, he’s too cool for it. He’s not a follower, he’s not a poseur, he would no sooner smoke a cigar than wear a pair of designer jeans. Bad guys, villains, they can smoke all they want, hopefully the symptoms will catch up with them.”
The Maltese Falcon
Now, I am a smoker. So I can say, with absolute authority, that at some point or another…probably watching Boggart in “The Maltese Falcon”…I saw someone smoking and thought: “that looks pretty cool”. And I can also freely say that it’s a dangerous, disgusting, and increasingly expensive habit that no one in their right mind in this day and age should pick up. And everyone I know who is on that delicate edge between occasionally smoking and “turning pro”, I tell with all the hypocrisy an adult can muster that they should stop now before their still hooked 20 years later, forced to speak at a sandy whisper because they’ve forgotten how to draw oxygen into their lungs properly. So, with all that in mind, I respect and support Mr. Quesada’s decision then and Marvel Comic’s decision to uphold that edict (more or less) even now.
But there’s one glaringly obvious flaw in the decision to apply that to Wolverine: He was never meant to be someone to “look up to”.
This is an easy mistake to make. The basic model set down by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and the rest of the original Marvel Bullpen for the Marvel Superhero was that, like real people, they were flawed and thus fallible: Spider-man was an angst-y, arrogant, smart mouthed teenage;, the Hulk was a sarcastic bomb builder with anger management issues; Marvel’s “first family”, the Fantastic Four, were and are inherently dysfunctional.
Wolverine’s flaw, first and foremost, is that he’s a killer.
Well, no…that’s not entirely accurate. His flaw is that he is addicted to being Wolverine.
Forget his origin story, forget the government brainwashing, and forget the repressed and barely contained “animal nature”. Wolverine kills because he he’s good at it and because he can. He kills because he likes being “the best there is” at what he does.
That is often lost under the layers of his character: the big brother, the protector, the repentant samurai searching for inner peace, and the animal just trying to live according to his nature. By virtue of his training, his mutant abilities, and his professed disposition, Wolverine – just like the Hulk – could go to some remote region of the earth and disappear, never having to kill (or smash, respectively) anything except for food and defense against predators ever again.
But 1) that doesn’t sell books, and 2) doesn’t satisfy the notion he holds as to who he is
Wolverine aka Weapon X aka Logan aka James Howlett defines himself, like most men, by his relationship to the world and society that surrounds him. He could settle down peacefully in some out of the way, remote village. He could disappear into the wilderness. But he doesn’t.
Because it’s cooler to be Wolverine, cooler to be the resident asshole in a world of do-gooders than it is to be a content, peaceful nobody. It’s cooler to be cool. Thus EVERYTHING Quesada said about why Logan wouldn’t smoke –since his healing factor would not allow him to get addicted to nicotine – is exactly the reason why he would. True, he’s too cool to smoke but he’s also too cool to not smoke. He would smoke because the Queasda’s of the world…people with legitimate and ultimately altruistic motives for telling him not to smoke…would be pissed off if he did so; he’s the asshole who does whatever he wants in the hopes that the people around him get upset enough at his antics to try to correct him, thus giving him an excuse to do what he’s best at.
That is the core of his character and he only becomes interesting when he applies the layers -- the big brother, the protector, the repentant samurai searching for inner peace, and the animal just trying to live according to his nature – to overcome that core.
You could argue that overcoming that flaw enough to stop smoking is a sign of character growth. I choose not to dispute that perspective entirely, but I do feel it necessary to suggest that – were it actually fact – it is a poorly advised path of growth for self-acceptance.
The fanboy argument to the “no smoking” policy has always been “Wolverine killing people is ok, but him smoking is wrong?”, which is a false dichotomy. True, of the two killing is the bigger “sin”, but for most people (without a healing factor) smoking is just slow suicide…both physically and –in the 21st century, socially. That aside, the argument fails because it doesn’t address why Wolverine should smoke. It fails to address the point for the same reason that Quesada’s edict glossed over it.
Nicotine addiction is easy to overcome. The habit…the psychological addiction… of smoking is the hard thing to break.
Wolverine fights and kills at least once every Wednesday of every month. He’s a member of at least 4 teams of superheroes who save New York and/or the world on a weekly basis, he constantly loses friends and loved ones while making new enemies and finding out enemies long thought dead are still gunning for him. And, for some unfathomable reason, he’s the headmaster of a school of teenaged mutants.
You don’t quit cold-turkey under that kind of stress. You don’t even attempt it…unless you’re sure that you won’t flip out and snap at every tiny little thing that annoys you. When the wrong person is pushing your buttons, that cigarette or cigar is the one thing standing between having a really bad day and a potential assault charge.
And I’m just talking about ME…and I’M a pacifist. When Wolverine snaps, lots of people die.
In addition to being a psychological pacifier, smoking for someone with a body count as high as Wolverine functions as a ritual to keep the ghosts at bay. To clarify: Tobacco is (was) a sacramental offering to the spirits, an acknowledgement that they are always there, always present. Tobacco facilitates communication with the world of spirits, as well as peace and thankfulness between men. For non-indigenous folks, that means tobacco clears your mind, settles your thoughts, and produces a mild sense of euphoria (nicotine –an additive— by contrast, makes you jittery). For non-smokers, that means reducing the amount of oxygen intake through smoking makes you lightheaded and you feel a little high. Finally, for non-drug users, being high mean you feel kind of mellow and less inclined to stab people with your adamantium claws. Therefore, when Wolverine smokes, his body count drops. When he doesn’t, he leads X-Force.
Wolverine is not a hero. He’s too broken psychologically to be a hero. His attempt to suppress or overcome that psychological damage does make him a compelling protagonist at times. However, it doesn’t make him a role-model. He too often fails to overcome. Or, worse, he compromises to justify giving in to his destructive impulses. The mistake was never making him a smoker or a nonsmoker. The mistake was marketing a killer to a demographic that mistook seriously screwed up for cool, or downgrading the psychological complexity of an inherently adult character from a book that was geared towards young adults (18-25) to a parody of itself made of catchphrases and “badass” moments. Ultimately, the failure was not respecting the character or the market drawn to what he was in favor of pandering to an age group with disposable income. Thus, Wolverine should smoke because impressionable teens should be exposed to neither smoking nor Wolverine.