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Wolverine's Greatest Hits 

Everyone, it seems, wants to see the soon-to-be-released Wolverine movie.

Yes, I know that's a fairly bold statement, and, honestly, I wouldn't have said anything to that effect about the film -- which hits theaters on May 1 and is officially titled X-Men Origins: Wolverine -- a few months ago. I mean, it's not like, after watching the first three X-Men films (which were adapted from the long-running X-Men comic books published by Marvel Comics) or even after viewing the trailer for the upcoming superhero flick at the cinema, I was so blown away I assumed that Wolverine had captured the imagination of mainstream America's teeming masses. No, that was definitely not the case.

But based on the way an untold number of Web surfers illegally downloaded (and/or attempted to illegally download) a bootleg version of the film that hit the Web on April 1, I came to the conclusion that this film was anticipated by waaaaayyyy more people than anyone realized. The event garnered headlines all over the world; the most notable story that surfaced was that of a film critic from FoxNews.com (by the name of Roger Friedman) who actually lost his job for posting a review of the illegal movie. According to a report from the BBC News: "[Fox] said that Friedman's behaviour (sic) was 'reprehensible' and that it 'condemned this act categorically.'"

Hell, Creative Loafing's own Web site (clclt.com) got an ass-load of traffic from our own post that, as part of an April Fool's joke, purported to contain a link to the movie. It was a joke that not everyone (especially one commenter aptly named "Yur Stoopid") thought was funny.

Anyway, all the crap that got kicked up from that mess made me conclude that, yes, damned-near everybody wanted to see the new Wolverine film. And with that knowledge came the thought that millions of folks who see the film may actually be interested enough to want to read the comics that birthed the superhero.

But with that thought came the fear that as these curious new readers searched for comics about Wolverine, they'd get turned off from the art form forever -- and that's because there are tons of really awful Wolverine comic books in circulation. In fact, there are waaayyyyy more bad comics about Wolverine in print than enjoyable ones.

The big problem with Wolverine comics is that they usually don't focus on the things that make the guy cool. Just like he was portrayed in the X-Men movies, Wolverine is the super-powered self-styled "best there is at what he does" -- and what he does is slice people up with a set of razor sharp claws that pop out of his hands. He's a tough, ruthless, mysterious loner with metal bones (seriously) and mixes the best aspects of Han Solo, James Dean and Hannibal Lecter (minus the propensity to eat flesh). But, unfortunately, most of the comics that star Wolvie focus on the fact that, as seen in those previously mentioned X-Men films, the character has no memory of his past; consequently most books show him trying to uncover his lost history. And, for a hero who's been in print since 1974, that search for identity can get kind of boring and hampered with decades of confusing people, places and things.

Bottom line: As a lover and collector of comics, I didn't want anyone getting their hands on crappy products. And to help alleviate that potential problem, I felt it was my duty to direct folks to Wolverine's "greatest hits" -- the comics that even the most casual fans of the rough-and-tumble super guy would understand and enjoy.

So, check out my list of essential Wolverine reading below. After you're done watching the movie -- especially if it doesn't suck -- curl up with a few of these stories, which are all available in collected editions at a comic book shop (or a regular bookstore) near you. Behold:

The Incredible Hulk No. 180-182 -- Yes, the first Wolverine comics that I'm telling you to read are three issues of the Hulk. Well, Wolverine actually first appeared in the pages of The Incredible Hulk; in the story, our beloved bloodthirsty mutant tries to slice and dice everyone's favorite big, green anti-hero and a cannibalistic monster called Wendigo. Truth be told, this book isn't the greatest piece of comic literature, but it gives you the earliest look at the hero as he was imagined by his creator, writer Len Wein.

Wolverine Vol. 1 -- This comic, written by longtime X-Men scribe Chris Claremont and illustrated by artist Frank Miller (the guy who created and co-directed the Sin City movie and directed The Spirit, among other stuff), was Wolverine's first solo outing. It was originally released as a four-issue limited series in the 1980s and chronicled Logan's journey to Japan to hook up with the love of his life, Mariko Yashida -- who happened to be the daughter of a crime lord. Mariko's dad, however, wasn't too keen on the lovers getting together and went on to beat the shit out of Wolverine. And, without telling the ending, that led to Wolvie getting revenge. When it hit stands back in the day, it was a critical and sales success; from a reader-enjoyment standpoint, Wolverine Vol. 1 -- which features a self-contained story and is relatively free of spandex-clad characters -- is probably the perfect comic to pick up if you like the film.

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