Are you even trying? Oscar edition

I love the Oscars. They’re my Superbowl, or Stanley Cup, or whatever big exciting sports event you prefer, and I’ve only missed them once in the last 27 years. I’ve been throwing Oscar parties for 14 years, with an annual betting pool I almost never win. And, on top of all that, I do my best to see all the best picture nominees before the ceremony. Since teaming with an even-more devoted friend, I haven’t missed a best picture nominee since 2008, when no power in the ‘verse could make me care enough to watch Atonement.

But they do not make it easy.

Every year the accusations of the Academy being out of touch with contemporary tastes fly, and every year the Academy does everything in its power to earn those complaints. Sure, now and then they’ll make a token attempt to seem “hip” or “with it,” like having Cirque du Soleil do a tribute to action sequences, or hiring someone with youth appeal to host and then immediately regretting it, but they’re still going to fill the nominee list with obscure art house movies that nobody saw.

Even after they hit a breaking point, and changed the best picture rules. They went from five nominees to up to ten, supposedly so they’d be able to sneak in some more popular films, but instead just nominate even more obscure movies nobody cares about.

Okay, fine, sometimes James Cameron slips a hit in.

And frankly, sometimes a movie makes the cut that just really shouldn’t have. A movie that makes one have to ask… Academy, are you even trying?

Examples, you ask? But of course.

2008: The Reader

2009 (the year they handed out trophies for 2008, in case you think I mistyped) was the breaking point. 2009 was the year the Academy had to stop and take stock. 2009 was the year that the North American (and, I assume, international) viewing public was pushed as far as they could by the obscurity of the nominees. And as such, 2009 was the year that the traditional “Oscar bump,” a surge in ticket sales that followed receiving a nomination, failed to materialize, at least not to the extent it typically had.

And the poster child for this? Not the bland, weirdly unambitious Curious Case of Benjamin Button (in which Brad Pitt ages backwards but nobody seems to care), but The Reader. Specifically, why nominate The Reader and not, say, The Dark Knight? One of the most highly reviewed movies of the year and a massive, massive hit. You’d think, said the populace, that a film that proved itself to be a favourite of critics and audiences alike on that scale would at least warrant a nomination. And some replied “Just because it made literally a billion dollars at the box office doesn’t mean it’s a best picture contender.”


But the real question, beyond “Why not the Dark Knight,” is “Why the fucking Reader?”

Why it didn’t deserve the nod: The Reader barely even knew what it was about. Was it about the Holocaust? Illiteracy? Injustice? Who knows. It’s all over the place.

Teenager Michael Berg has an affair with Hanna, an older woman (Kate Winslet), that supposedly affects every relationship he has for the rest of his life. Like, right away. He’s unable to connect with or commit to other women because of this three-month affair, due to… I don’t know. It’s not clear. Her only winning attribute seemed to be “Willing to have sex with him,” and while she may have been the first woman with that particular willingness she was not, by any stretch, unique.

But fine, she was his first great love and her disappearing at the end of the summer hurt him in a way that younger, blonder co-eds couldn’t cure. I’ll cede that for now. Ten years later, he sees her again… on trial for war crimes. She was part of a group of SS women that locked a bunch of Jewish prisoners in a burning church, and the other defendants are claiming she wrote out the orders and is therefore more responsible than they are. A claim which Michael knows to be untrue, because he knows her secret: she’s illiterate. She couldn’t possibly have written out the orders. She won’t admit it, because she’s been hiding her illiteracy her whole life (it’s the only reason she was even in the SS), and takes the fall. Michael, in shock over his love being a Nazi war criminal, remains silent and lets her go away.

And lets a group of other war criminals lie their way into reduced sentences. Let’s not forget that. In not defending Hanna he lets all the other defendants walk away. And that’s where I call bullshit. Either Hanna’s his one great love (again–they were together for three months when he was 17) that haunts him for the rest of his days, or she’s someone he cares so little for that he’ll let a gang of war criminals frame her and send her to prison for decades. Pick a side.

The plot makes no real sense. The characters’ motivations are fuzzy at best. On Rotten Tomatoes, it scored an anemic 61%, barely ahead of My Bloody Valentine 3D. But because it’s sort of about the Holocaust, sure, let’s make it a best picture nominee.

What should have replaced it: Even putting aside the Dark Knight, in 2008 we had the Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky’s heartbreaking story of a washed up pro-wrestler trying to find a purpose in life without the adoration of the crowds.

Not your thing? How about RocknRolla, Guy Ritchie’s urban crime masterpiece? After years of playing in the genre with Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, he was firing on all cylinders when he wrote and directed this complex story of criminals and would-be power-players all united by a purloined lucky painting.

No? How about Valkyrie, the true story of the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler? There’s an all star cast of British actors (and, yes, Tom Cruise, I know that’s a dealbreaker for some of you) playing the good Nazis. But no. Let’s nominate the movie about the guy who’s so conflicted about his country’s past he’s stuck in boring, pointless inaction rather than the movie about people who tried to do something.

2009: The Blind Side

A few big hits snuck into the nominees the year after Dark Knight was excluded. There’s Up, from Pixar… there’s Avatar, proving that the Oscars are a billion-dollar whore when it’s James Cameron making it rain… and there’s The Blind Side, in which Sandra Bullock plays a rich woman who takes in a homeless black youth in order to save him from gang life and insert him onto her alma mater’s football team. But mostly the first thing.

Why it didn’t deserve the nod: Maybe one day Hollywood will make an inspirational, Oscar nominated movie about a black person who accomplished something without the aid of a magical white person. It’s not The Help, and it’s not even 12 Years a Slave, but it’s most definitely not The Blind Side.

But I’m singling it out because it’s so aggressively empty. The movie does everything it can for the bulk of the running time to squash any conflict in the story. Michael is immediately accepted into his new home, there’s never a second thought, any resistance to him playing football for the college is quashed by Sandra Bullock’s southern sassiness, even the gang he used to run with is no match for her Kentucky-fried stubbornness… and then at the very end, it generates the most forced, unbelievable conflict it can to finally inject a little drama into the story. Too little, too late to save this tale of how rich white people can fix everything if they can be bothered to try.

What should have replaced it: I want to say Black Dynamite, the note-perfect parody of 70s blacksploitation films. I also want to say (500) Days of Summer, the amazing deconstruction of “manic pixie dream girl” love stories. But let’s talk A Single Man.

A Single Man is the story of a gay professor in the early 1960s, a time when it was even more difficult to live openly. His partner died in a car crash eight months earlier, and due to the times and his position, he can’t even grieve publicly. He can’t find solace in his best friend, for not even she believes that his one great love was a “real” relationship, and that he just hasn’t tried hard enough to like women (specifically, her). And so he set out to enjoy what he intends to be his last night on Earth.

It might not be as flashy as Milk, but it was an excellent examination of the subtler tragedies of being gay in a less tolerant time. Not that we’ve nailed tolerance today. Which if anything makes it even more worthwhile.

2010: …

Well I’m not a big fan of 127 Hours and had forgotten entirely about The Kids Are Alright, but I’ll give this year a pass. Nothing that was nominated really offended me. Not like the year after.

2011: The Tree of Life

Fuck this movie. Fuck this movie so hard.

Why it didn’t deserve the nod: Because it’s a two hour screensaver, that’s why! The story, if there even is a story, is incomprehensible. The characters have no depth because it’s impossible to learn anything about them when they’re just wandering around a series of images whose meaning is cloaked in bizarre and off-putting lurching camera work.

After opening with aged-up Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain receiving news that their son (I think?) is dead, and Sean Penn receiving the same news, we cut back to the origin of the universe. Followed by the time of the dinosaurs. Why? I still don’t know. How can this have added to the story when there basically isn’t any story to add to?

I don’t know what the point of this movie was. I hated all of it, every minute, every artistic choice. Nominating Tree of Life for best picture is like nominating the crazy guy screaming at traffic for a Tony.

I mean that was the weakest year for best picture nominees this century, but Jesus fuck.

What should have replaced it: The Muppets. Sure, it had no chance of being nominated for anything but best song (damn right it won that), but I’m saying the Muppets anyway. First of all, because the best picture nominees were a sorry lot that year. Midnight in Paris and The Descendants were good, and The Artist… sure had a neat gimmick, but after that there’s a big drop-off in quality. And second, because no movie in 2011 brought as much sheer, unadulterated joy as the magnificent return of Kermit and crew, and being a movie that fully and magnificently fun to watch has to be better than some piece of garbage that the Academy assumed was good because they didn’t understand it.

And it has Amy Adams. Awards folk love Amy Adams. Because Amy Adams is inherently lovable and nobody can be that out of touch.

2011 Bonus Round: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

2010 got let off the hook, so I have room to mention the second worst nominee from 2011, in which a young boy’s autism cures 9/11.

No, really. He wanders around New York being autistic and people magically get over 9/11, that is what happens. Oskar Schell’s father used to delight him with puzzles and mysteries, but when he’s killed on 9/11 Oskar decides there must be one great mystery left, and in seeking it out, he accidentally helps some other people with their problems. Not that he really cares about that. Or his mother, who is alive, also grieving, and trying to reach out to a son who couldn’t give a fuck about her from what I could tell. Instead, he works with the man who rents a room from his grandmother, who turns out to have (probably) been his grandfather.

It’s a load of wank that builds into basically nothing. Its attempts at emotional manipulation are so obvious they don’t even work. The only reason I can see for it being nominated at all is the 9/11 connection. And maybe the presence of Tom Hanks.

What should have replaced it: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a tense spy drama in which Gary Oldman (doing some of his best work, which is saying something) must figure out which of four British operatives is working for the Soviets. Or My Week With Marilyn, a truly charming movie about a PA who is assigned to keep an eye on Marilyn Monroe while she’s filming The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier, a famously doomed pairing. Or anything that doesn’t ask me to root for a kid who’s being unreasonable and unlikable because his father died a year earlier.

2012: Zero Dark Thirty

The nominees the following year weren’t nearly as bleak as the 2011 crowd. But the low point is probably the story of the ten-year search for Osama bin Laden, which makes you feel every minute of those ten years.

Why it didn’t deserve the nod: How do you make the search for the world’s most wanted terrorist so damned boring? Debate whether the film endorsed torture or revealed it didn’t provide good intel all you want, but once the torture sequence is done, we’re stuck with years upon years of nothing happening. Followed by a sequence in which bin Laden’s location is found… followed by about 15-20 minutes of the lead character (who, by the way, is a complete cipher, devoid of anything we as an audience can relate or connect to) being frustrated that months go by without action on her intel.

Months of the government doing nothing. Makes all the walking in the Lord of the Rings movies look like the battle of New York from The Avengers.

And when they finally do raid the house and kill bin Laden, it’s still boring. There’s no tension, no sense of danger. Say it’s because we know how the story ends if you like, but a quick trip to Wikipedia tells you how fellow nominee Argo ends and that one still had me on the edge of my seat.

What should have replaced it: Skyfall. Yeah, you heard me, Skyfall. An absolute triumph of a Bond movie, again beloved by critics and audiences, and the exact sort of thing they claimed they expanded the best picture category to include. Masterfully directed, tense and exciting in every way Zero Dark Thirty wasn’t, the pinnacle of its craft, with one of the best villain performances out there. The Oscars “honoured” the 50th Anniversary of James Bond with a montage and a performance of Goldfinger, but they should’ve given Skyfall a nomination.

And now we’re weeks away from the announcement of the best picture of 2013. The nominees aren’t quite as pathetic as 2011, with nothing as bad or undeserving as Tree of Life or Extremely Loud (they’d be hard pressed to screw up that hard again so soon), but there’s still a couple in there they could’ve skipped. But I’ll talk about that more soon, when I rank the nominees.

Wait… I’m supposed to LIKE this character?

So a recurring issue for writers everywhere is making sure that your audience actually likes the characters they’re supposed to like. I know that’s something I struggle with. Try to make your protagonist too awesome, and your audience may turn against them on general principle. By way of a for instance, a friend once wrote a doomed love story between a party-loving bachelor and a married woman, which resulted in me saying “He’s brilliant at everything he does, speaks four languages, everyone clearly loves him… and it’s not enough? I’m supposed to root for him to steal someone’s wife? If this were an 80s movie I’d be rooting for Matthew Broderick to steal his girlfriend and for him to get busted for insider trading!”

On the other hand, swing too far in the other direction and you create such a pathetic sad sack that the audience will have to wonder why, exactly, they should care about what happens to them. You want them to root for the underdog, but they’re just hoping someone will put this poor sap out of his misery. Looking at you, Jordan Bleachley of Jade Monkey. I’m not saying it’s impossible to root for a sad sack (Hamlet, anyone?) or a Nietzchean superman (Batman, anyone?*), but it’s tricky.

Protagonists aside, these days I often find something I’m watching, reading, or what have you grating on me slightly because there’s this one character that the creators and, at times, the other fans, are convinced I should love but I just don’t see it. The flaws everyone else seems willing to overlook irritate me, or their supposed appeal is a mystery.

Now, maybe it’s just me. Any or all of these cases could just be me. But just the same, here’s some characters that irritate me anywhere from a little to a lot, partially because their writers think I ought to love them, and some examples of how to do it better.

*There may be those who wonder why I chose Batman for my Nietzchean superman and not, say, Superman. Let’s just say not everyone I know is as on-board with Superman as I am and this isn’t the time for that argument.

Diane Chambers, Cheers

Who’s this? 

Anyone not know Sam and Diane from Cheers? Surely not. But just in case… Cheers was a long-running sitcom set in a Boston bar owned by ex-baseball player Sam Malone. In its early seasons the show focused on the opposites-attract chemistry of blue-collar, street-smart ladies’ man Sam and eternal academic, high-brow Diane Chambers, who takes a job as a waitress in the bar. They get together, break up, love each other, hate each other, and after rewatching a season and a half it is already getting old. Diane comes out ahead in most of their confrontations, because the writers clearly thought hers was the sharper wit.

What’s wrong with her?

Good lord she is insufferable. Perhaps this is just how Reagan’s America chose to view academics, as long-winded stuffed shirts, but Diane’s condescension, insistence on showing off by using ten-dollar words whenever possible, and massive superiority complex can really wear a brother down after a while. No wonder so many people somehow think being smart is something to be ashamed of, if this is how TV made it look.

She appoints herself bar caricaturist, despite not being able to draw. She thinks her blue-collar customers can come to love mime over their usual diversions. She’s constantly mocking Sam’s intelligence, even when they’re a couple. She expects Sam to “evolve” and grow into her passions, but demonstrates no interest in learning about his. She was incapable of picking a major in school and seems woefully unable to survive outside of academia, yet somehow manages to come out on top more often than not.

Take the episode I just watched. Coach, the elderly, absent-minded second bartender, is supposed to give a eulogy for his old friend and teammate, only to learn moments before that his old friend tried to sleep with his wife back when. He puts his rage aside and delivers a warm, heartfelt speech just the same, but it comes out that his wasn’t the only wife that got hit on, in fact his old teammate had managed to wrong everyone at the service. The crowd turns against the deceased and rushes out to burn a cardboard cutout of him in effigy… but as they do, Diane begins singing Amazing Grace, causing them all to calm down, turn back, and join her in song. Cut to credits. No, seriously, that is the last shot.

Are you fucking with me, Cheers? That is the worst sitcom ending I have ever seen, and I’ve seen over 30 episodes of Two and a Half Men. Why would Diane singing make them give up their anger en masse? There is no reason. None at all. But it works. It works instantly. It makes the titular pirates of Pirates of Penzance giving up because someone shouted “Surrender in the name of Queen Victoria!” at them seem downright logical. But because Diane did it, it works. Sorry, Cheers writers, I ain’t buying it.

Who does it better?

Britta Perry of Community. But not because she makes academia look good, although on behalf of smart people that would be nice. Britta works where Diane doesn’t because a few episodes into their first season, the writers of Community realized that Britta was kind of insufferable, and instead of trying to soften her they embraced it. They took her need to chastise and rebel and cranked it from “kind of annoying” to “so crazy she becomes adorable.” She’s a buzzkill, is constantly seeking out new things to rage against, she tries to do the right thing in the wrong way, and will typically fail miserably for the first two thirds of the episode before self-correcting, but there’s never any doubt her heart’s in the right place. I wouldn’t want to imagine Community without Britta (not that I wanted to imagine it without Troy, either, but he we are), whereas Cheers thrived without Diane.

Schmidt, The New Girl

Who’s this?

The New Girl is about Jess (Zooey Deschanel), who after a bad breakup moves into an apartment with three male roommates. One of those roommates is Schmidt, the image-obsessed alpha-male-wannabe whose behaviour necessitates a “Douche Jar” he needs to throw money in when… well, you get it. He’s image-obsessed, self-centered, insensitive, and a little controlling at times. But he’s apparently lovable enough to be the breakout character. Moreso than Jess, who the series is based around. It’s just… well…

What’s wrong with him?

The Douche Jar isn’t there for no reason. Where Britta Perry goes about the right thing the wrong way, Schmidt locks on to what he wants, which is often something he shouldn’t want or doesn’t deserve, and pursues it in the worst manner possible. He spends twenty minutes of the episode absolutely not deserving anything nice to happen to him, makes one token gesture of decency, then nine times out of ten he gets the girl or the promotion or whatever. And, since this is a sitcom, he goes back to being awful the next week,

People seem to love him, probably because the guy playing him is unquestionably funny, but I spend at least half of most episodes wishing something would happen to pierce his shell and force him to realize that he’s the worst. Or get hit by a truck. The bubble finally popped in the third season, though, as his attempt to date two women at once while claiming to both that he’d broken up with the other, and his decision to lash out at Jess and his best friend Nick for revealing his deception, finally broke the spell he had over viewers. Schmidt went too far, and they were forced to dial back his douchey habits. To which I can only say “How did you not see this coming.”

Who does it better?

Tom Haverford of Parks and Recreation. Tom is even more selfish, image-obsessed, and materialistic, but unlike Schmidt, he fails as often as he succeeds. He often doesn’t get the girl. When he founded a business with his even more ridiculous best friend Jean-Ralphio, they blow all of their money on insane opulence, and as a result the business folds within months. He, too, has his flashes of decency, but they’re not used to excuse his bad behaviour. They’re used to make the few times he does succeed feel earned. Tom’s easier to love because when he does act the fool, you know he’s going to get a smack for it.

Dwight and Angela, The Office

Who’s this?

Some spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen all of the Office but intends to. A mockumentary of life in a Pennsylvania paper company, the Office grew from centering on four leads (writer/producer BJ Novak may have been in the opening credits, but not even he considered his character a “lead”) to a large and well-developed ensemble. Among the ensemble were Dwight, the tyrannical but clueless assistant manager, and Angela, the stern head accountant. Dwight was always trying to seize more power and take over the branch, while Angela was swift to disapprove of anything and everything that didn’t match her hyper-Christian, hyper-conservative values. The two had an on-again, off-again affair that covered the show’s entire nine-year run, and in its own broken, dysfunctional way rivalled the supposedly central relationship of slacker salesman Jim and receptionist Pam, least awful characters, and thus theoretically the emotional core. Didn’t always work out like that, though.

Why don’t they work?

They do, most of the time, because so much of the humour of the show comes from laughing at how terrible and awkward everyone is. Dwight is always unnecessarily hostile, controlling, and power-hungry. Angela is always judgmental, especially of Pam. But eventually, they grow from characters you love to hate to characters you just kind of like. But there’s some problems.

In the first seasons, Dwight was always getting pranked by Jim. Dwight was crazy and borderline abusive to the rest of the staff, so Jim would pull a prank to knock him down a peg. An entertaining running gag. But as Dwight grew in popularity, they stopped playing him as a victim. In later seasons, Dwight even pulled his own schemes against Jim, but where Jim’s pranks were meant to annoy but generally harmless, Dwight’s schemes were actively cruel, including trying to get Jim fired or repeatedly ambushing him with snowballs, pelting him until he drew blood. It got uncomfortable to watch, and not the funny uncomfortable that was the show’s stock in trade.

Angela, meanwhile, continually judged her female coworkers, labelling any deviation from Victorian morals or dress code whorish. She was especially hard on Pam, for the crime of having been engaged to one co-worker (Roy from the warehouse), then dating another a year after she and Roy broke up. Angela, meanwhile, had an affair with Dwight while engaged to someone else, and eventually everyone knew about it. Yet she continued to play judge and jury on everyone’s morality. No, Angela, no. You do not get to cheat on your fiance with one of his co-workers and then still be the self-appointed moral center of the office. But nobody on the show ever throws that in her face, because that might mean somebody grows out of their assigned persona.

And then comes the series finale, when it gets a bit awkward. See, they needed a big happy ending to wrap things up with. But of the original primary characters, original lead Michael Scott had found his blue heaven and left the show in season seven, and Jim and Pam had gotten married in season six, and now had two children. Well, there was a year-long plot about Jim founding a sports-rep company to pursue his dream job, and the stress that put on his and Pam’s marriage, but “They’re still married” isn’t a big enough thing to wrap the show with. That left Dwight. So in the final hour, Dwight is finally made manager of the branch, and he and Angela get married. This despite the fact that every time Dwight was put in charge earlier in the run, it was an unmitigated disaster.

In short, Dwight went from believing he was a Machiavellian genius but really being hopeless at anything but sales (delusions of who you are vs. the unpleasant reality being a key motif of the show) to actually being a Machiavellian genius because Dwight got popular, and Angela’s hyper-Christian judgment act became the peak of hypocrisy but nobody seemed to notice, and they both got a happy ending they didn’t really deserve because that’s what the final episode needed and someone told the writers it was okay now. It’s not terrible, but there is a sour note about the whole thing.

Who did it better?

Frank Burns and Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan on MASH. In the beginning, they fit the same mold as Dwight and Angela, the uptight rivals of our fun-loving protagonists (well, Jim Halpert was never the central character of the Office the way Hawkeye was on MASH, but you follow me). Margaret got humanized far more than Frank, to the point where they stopped calling her “Hot Lips” pretty fast, but no matter how much they softened the edges of Frank Burns two things never changed: he was never a better surgeon than Hawkeye, and he was never going to be put in charge of the camp. Not for long. He did get a happy ending when he left after season five, but it wasn’t as unearned. In a show meant to satirize the foolishness of the military, of course Frank’s mental breakdown would result in him getting not only transferred back to the States, but promoted. And Margaret, post-Frank, grew as a character in a way Angela just never did.

Jamie McJack, Girls With Slingshots

Who’s this?

First, let me say that Girls With Slingshots is, overall, an excellent comic. Creator Danielle Corsetto is a great writer and artist and, from my limited encounters, a genuinely wonderful human being. Girls With Slingshots is about a group of friends in a small town, primarily gloomy, somewhat emotionally-stunted writer Hazel and bubbly, happy-go-lucky photographer Jamie. The strip follows their lives, loves, passions, friends, and attempts to avoid bankruptcy.

What’s wrong with her?

<Awkward yet deep inhalation> I’m not… I’m not sure. I think my issues come from the fact that Corsetto has decided that Jamie is the heart and soul of the cast. Which is fair, really. Hazel’s the dark cloud and Jamie’s the silver lining, why wouldn’t you make her the heart of the strip? But this has led to a conviction that Jamie is so wonderful, everything she does must be okay. And I’m just not sure that’s strictly true, but it’s not always easy to put my finger on why I think that.

My issue is that Jamie is portrayed as always right, yet when trying to help her best friend Hazel, she’s wrong so very often. Knowing Hazel is hung up on her decade-long crush Reese, Jamie still doesn’t bother to tell her Reese is in a relationship. When she and Hazel are supposed to go to Miami, Jamie bails and instead tries to fix Hazel up with a guy she has no interest in. She tries to make Hazel more confident, able to ask out a handsome cabbie, but her attempts only make Hazel uncomfortable and resentful. And perhaps this is where Jamie loses me. I, too, know the pain of friends who want to help but go about it so, so badly. But all these failures to help Hazel don’t put a dent in her portrayal as endlessly wise and lovable, and it irks me when she doesn’t get called on her shit.

Who does it better?

Lorelei Gilmore, the Gilmore Girls. Like Jamie, Lorelei doesn’t see getting older as an excuse for being boring. Like Jamie, she’s almost super-humanly bubbly. Like Jamie, Lorelei is powerfully devoted to the people close to her, even though her attempts to help her daughter Rory sometimes miss the mark. But unlike Jamie, when she screws up, they admit it.

That was a tricky one, since Jamie is such a singular character and there’s not really that much wrong with her. But at least when I’m mad at Lorelei, the show doesn’t act like she’s owed a high-five and a trophy.

Wolverine, basically Marvel’s entire product line

Who is he?

You must know this one. Mutant? Skeleton laced with unbreakable metal? Claws and a healing factor? Says “bub” a lot? He’s the most over-exposed character in comic history, yes including Batman. Although that one’s close. In addition to appearing in somewhere near a dozen books a week, a surprising number of big event books revolve around him.

What’s wrong with him?

Okay, this one seems to just be me, so I’ll make it quick. Maybe it’s because I didn’t get into X-Men comics until the 90s, when the vast majority of mainstream comics weren’t doing anything to be proud of, and Wolverine’s appeal was thought to be self-evident, but I just don’t get it. He has claws and acts all brooding and badass. How does that not get old? Or failing that, how does it make him interesting enough to be front and center of Marvel’s entire product line? The best super heroes are inspirational. Superman is an icon of hope, a being who devotes his gifts to helping the helpless. Wonder Woman teaches women that they, too are powerful, and don’t need men to validate their power. Green Lantern is based around a simple yet beautiful idea: if you have the will to overcome great fear, you can do anything. Wolverine is based around the notion that retractable metal claws and not caring about rules are awesomesauce.

And his starring role in two of the last three major Marvel event books has entailed trying to solve the big problem with murder, whether it was killing an innocent teenage girl in Avengers Vs. X-men or a founding Avenger in Age of Ultron. By the way, in AvX, Cyclops wanted that teenage girl to get the Phoenix force and reignite mutant kind, which is exactly what ultimately happened, but because he went a little nuts on Phoenix force himself he’s been branded a villain. In Age of Ultron, Wolverine personally broke literally all of reality travelling in time to murder Ant-man then undo said murder because it didn’t fix anything, but nobody seems to mind. What the hell.

Still just me? Fine, whatever.

Who does it better?

John Constantine. He doesn’t care about rules, he also acts badass to cover a tormented soul, but at least he has the decency to acknowledge he’s a bastard. And when he does end up in charge of a team (he currently leads the Justice League Dark, while Wolverine is currently head X-man, because why wouldn’t a chain-smoking serial killer who broke time be a great role model for mutant children), the rest of the team follows him begrudgingly at best.

Although they could both use a better movie.

Disagree with any of these? Think I missed someone? Hit me up in the comments.