‘Untamed: The Psychology of Marvel’s Wolverine’ book review



Puts the character into perspective beyond an angry, immortal killing machine.

James “Logan” Howlett, AKA Wolverine, is one of the most fleshed-out characters in all of comic book history. It doesn’t hurt that he’s almost 200 years old, but the majority of comic books don’t put a quarter of the attention into a character that Wolverine has managed to build over the years.

From secrets, to enemies, to dead girlfriends, to even more dead girlfriends, to children, to a clone. We could talk about his time as a member of the X-Men or the Avengers, Alpha Flight, X-Force, Fantastic Four, or the military. He has so many aliases and each one comes with its own story.

One of my favorites as a kid was when he had the adamantium ripped out of his body by Magneto and he kind of regressed into this feral beast and hung out with Elektra for a while for some reason. Turns out the metal was keeping him from transforming into this beast all along. Or maybe not. I’m not entirely sure where that story went, and I’m pretty sure it just abruptly stopped.

But the one thing that’s always made Wolverine, Wolverine was his unique psyche. Here’s a man that for the longest time had almost no recollection of his past, has been in dozens of relationships that never worked, has traveled the world and can never stay put, and regularly goes into fits of rage so intense that he blacks out of the moment. He’s probably one of the least trusting people, but for some reason is so likable.

While the comic book writers have done a fantastic job of torturing this soul for decades, it’s that development that has made the character so intriguing to audiences. Rarely, someone actually examines what must be running through this fictional person’s mind and the kind of permanent mental damage they endure on a regular basis. Untamed: Psychology of Marvel’s Wolverine, to my knowledge, is the first to really delve into the complex trauma that Logan is most likely living with and examine it in full detail. 

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

When you look at the character Wolverine at face value, life seems so easy for him. He can fight better than almost anyone, but even if he gets hurt he just regenerates infinitely. He also has these bad-ass claws, to boot.

But then when you look at Logan the man, not in a million years would anyone want to take his place. He’s been burned alive, tortured, had his skeleton infused with metal and then pulled out through his pores, shot, cut, drowned, ripped in half, and guess what? He feels it all.

From the day he was born, James Howlett has had to deal with some sh*t. His personal loss is tremendous and it starts as early as his brother and parents in Origin. This is where author and clinical psychologist Suzana E. Flores kicks off Untamed (after a foreword from Wolverine:  Origin writer, Paul Jenkins), because it was this incident that made Logan able to recall his past.

Watching a parent die is traumatic enough, but Flores goes into detail as to how there was so much more to this experience. Logan was rejected and hated by his mother, who considered him a repulsive creature when his claws came out. In the same moment that he watches his father killed, he also kills a man for the first time.

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

This is all compounded by the fact that his mutant gene is activating, an intense transformation for a sickly boy to endure. Flores uses scientific research to lay out what kind of impact this would have on the average person, and demonstrates through Logan’s actions what conditions he must be experiencing. This step-by-step process allows the reader to fully understand how someone can possess dissociative amnesia, blocking out a moment almost entirely for their own mental safety. 

Flores’ goal is to humanize Logan, and she does so by analyzing the moments that would affect him the most. We as fans know the Weapon-X program was a horrifically brutal experience, and that comes with its own textbook of psychological diagnoses. Flores goes through the kidnapping, brainwashing, physical torture and post-trauma that will haunt Wolverine for the rest of his life.

She uses this experience of a fictional character to reflect on history’s use of torture, and exhibits how even the most noble of people could be willing participants. We’ve witnessed so much of Logan’s physical suffering, but rarely do we see into his mind and experience the mental torment.

We’ve witnessed it from an outside perspective, sure. Wolverine frequently has bursts of rage, even with his closest friends. He’s a chronic drinker and a loaner. In the X-Men movies, we see him waking from nightmares in a cold sweat before finally becoming the shell of a man we see in Logan.

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

What’s so captivating about Psychology of Marvel’s Wolverine is that despite his mental state having been right there before us this whole time, putting medical terms to what he’s thinking and feeling brings this character even deeper than any comic book, TV show or movie ever has.

Even more so, I believe the reason Wolverine is so popular is because we relate to him so easily. Wolverine’s iconic hairstyle was meant to represent the widow’s peak in male pattern baldness. He was never tall and handsome (in the comics at least), but a short, stocky, hairy man. As Flores says, “He represents this painful life path of ours, but he also represents our healing, resiliency, and growth.”

Untamed is something I would definitely recommend to fans in order to expand their understanding of who Logan/James/Wolverine is. I also have friends and have known people who strongly dislike Wolverine, but I think this book may be the thing to put the character into perspective for them beyond an angry, immortal killing machine.

The possibility of using this as a teaching tool in a psychology class is also intriguing, as there are loads of illustrations and video that could accompany it as demonstration. You could get to know who Logan is through source material, and then as an exercise, try to pinpoint all the accompanying psychological issues.

Speaking of illustrations, the biggest detractor of this book is its lack thereof (all the images in this review are straight from Marvel Comics). A drawing and a diagram make their way in, but there’s very little else. I would have liked to see some licensed photos that add to the corresponding chapters. For those more interested in the psychology aspect and not so much the character of Wolverine, they don’t get a chance to visualize the character and what he’s going through in his most vulnerable moments. As they say, a picture’s worth a thousand words.Since their debut in 1963, the X-Men have sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them, but here at AiPT! we’ve got nothing but love for Marvel’s mighty mutants! To celebrate the long-awaited return of Uncanny X-Men, AiPT! brings you UNCANNY X-MONTH: 30 days of original X-Men content. Hope you survive the experience…

Untamed: The Psychology of Marvel's Wolverine
Is it good?
Suzana E. Flores dares to go where most won't, into the mind of Wolverine - and she shows she's the right person for the job.
The Good
Treats the study as if Wolverine was a real human
In-depth look of Logan's most vulnerable moments
Unique approach
Potential teaching tool
The Bad
Lack of illustrations
9
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