Claws out Review of Untamed: The Psychology of Marvel’s Wolverine, by Suzana E. Flores

Untamed: The Psychology of Marvel’s Wolverine by [Flores, Suzana E.]It’s no secret that most superheroes, whether in comics, on the screen, or both, are fairly complicated folks, psychologically speaking. Part of what draws us to these complex, bizarre people is that behind the masks, under the capes, and sans the superpowers, they are at least as confused as the rest of us. Some of them are even more troubled than others, and Marvel’s X-Men probably include more people with mental health issues than the average behavioral health ward (in high school, I learned the definition of the word “angst” not from language arts classes but from the students of Professor X).

We read about these characters, or watch their adventures in films and television shows, partly to help us understand ourselves better. In an effort to help us better understand one of Marvel’s most popular, as well as most troubled, heroes, Suzan E. Flores presents Untamed: The Psychology of Marvel’s Wolverine (McFarland, 2018). Clearly, Wolverine (or Logan, or any of his other pseudonyms) is a character worthy of psychoanalysis. Though it seems unlikely one would ever get the surly, isolated Wolverine on the couch (even with a bribe of whiskey. In fact, it is not difficult to imagine the comment and gesture such a suggestion would invite from him), Flores has made a valiant effort to help us better understand this fascinating figure and our corresponding fascination with him. Follow me after the break for my thoughts on this new book.

 Image result for wolverine imagesI asked my friends at McFarland if they would like me to review the book, as I have long been intrigued by Wolverine and his mutant buddies. Plus, I’ve never quite forgotten my high school pal who had painted on the back of his denim jacket an awesome image of Wolverine ripping his way onto the scene (Jeff sat in front of me in three classes, so I saw quite a bit of Wolverine). The study is very well researched, and Flores has had excellent access to many of the artists responsible for the creation and evolution of Wolverine over his long lifespan. These interviews add much to the book, both in terms of support for Flores’s thoughtful conclusions about Wolverine’s mental health and in her credibility as an expert in the subject. Drawing upon the many incarnations of the character, both in comics and in film, she demonstrates an excellent command of the field of Wolverine psychology. While she does not cite some of the more “kid-friendly” treatments of the character, she does analyze the breadth of Wolverine appearances in a manner that is accessible for those who are only casually interested in the subject all the way to those who are, pardon the pun, “X-perts” on the world of Wolverine.

The analysis is often fascinating and insightful, connecting real conditions and complexes with those demonstrated by Wolverine, his enemies, and his friends. Most successful is the excellent chapter on the mythic stature of Wolverine and his fellow mutants, who do, indeed, mirror the heroes of the ancients. Other chapters examine the impact of experiences like torture and childhood trauma on a person like Wolverine, analyzing how these affect his development. His villains and love interests (who are sometimes the same people) are studied as well, and is his “death” (as in mythology, no one is ever really dead in comics).Image result for wolverine images

Surprisingly, the weakest chapter is the one purportedly on the X-Men, the one group with whom the perennially non-joining Wolverine is most commonly associated. Rather than clearly focusing on the psychology of Wolverine and his allies in the X-Men, this chapter spends far too much time on contemporary politics, and even gives the impression that only those of particular political leanings can enjoy or appreciate the stories of Wolverine and his fellow mutants. Of course, like all archetypal entertainments, the X-Men have always been a metaphor for real experiences, particularly the experiences of those who are considered “outsiders”; however, by trying too hard to beat out a “timely message,” this text misses the very subtlety and complexity that make stories like these work without becoming dated. Metaphors work because they are subtle, because they can hold a variety of meanings, and one of the reasons the X-Men have stood the test of time over the decades is because their metaphorical meanings are not limited to the politics or current events of a particular year or even decade. The stories of these larger-than-life characters, like other mythic figures, span far beyond their current historical milieu, and thus, trying to paint them into the corner of a single issue or moment in time both cheapens the value of the metaphor and misses the timeless qualities the stories possess.  There is also, perhaps, a bit of unnecessary “shock-value” in the description of torture techniques, especially as not all of them actually relate to Wolverine’s experiences and distract from the overall study. The tone, which shifts from academic to overly casual to “preachy,” is sometimes a bit off-putting as well.

More examination of how, specifically, Wolverine’s vast experiences shape his complex personality would be welcome, particularly for those readers more familiar with superheroes than with psychoanalysis. Even though the study has flaws, like Wolverine himself, it is still extremely useful and is a good read for anyone hoping to learn more about the character and about the way a personality develops both through nature and nurture (or lack thereof). It is extremely readable and quite thought-provoking, and, like all McFarland books, has an excellent index and sturdy design. Overall, this is a good study that will, perhaps, lead to additional studies of other larger-than-life figures who nonetheless have much in common with us mere mortals with less pointy hair.Image result for wolverine images
























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