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Larger Than The Legend

 

PRASHANTO BANERJI, FEATURES EDITOR, THE SUNDAY INDIAN | Issue Dated: August 11, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : DC’s Justice League America | Superman | Christopher Reeve | Spiderman | Wolverine |
 

During my early years in school, Superman and Batman and DC’s Justice League America were the heroes that flew around the mindscape. I remember tying my mother’s red shawl around my neck and jumping off walls and ledges. Then the Christopher Reeve movies drove the madness deeper into our young hearts.

Marvel’s Spiderman was a bit of a late-bloomer in those days. Then of course the Daredevil popped up and The Hulk crashed through. The Marvel heroes, unlike DC’s clean cut all-American heroes, have a dark side to them that makes Batman look like a choirboy. But of all the freaky mutants in the Marvel stables, the Wolverine has got to be the coolest of them all.

Short, just a few inches above five feet, hairy, with angry whiskers framing his strong chiseled head, a bull-neck exploding out of ropey muscles and massive shoulders, and a dense stocky torso bouncing about on powerful springy legs powered by indefatigable stamina and an indestructible skeletal structure… Hmmm, does that description remind you of another character from popular fiction? No not a comic book character but a super villain from the classics – Robert Louis Stevenson’s inner demon incarnate, the respectable Mr. Jekyll’s despicable Mr. Hyde.

If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that when Marvel writer Len Wein and art director John Romita Sr. came up with the character of the Wolverine, a misunderstood mutant battling inner demons of his own, they were more than merely inspired by Hyde’s savage primal vigour. But let this be known to all and sundry, and to all who have held a comic book in their hands, and dreamt dreams 40 pages long of saving the world with their super-human strength, that if ever there was a creature that was truly as heroic as it’s comic-book namesake, it is the wolverine.

Bats have an eerie reputation and the vampire bats can draw blood or even leave behind a few nasty bugs in our bloodstream but there is nothing conventionally heroic about these shy creatures of the night. Spiders, from black widows to tarantulas have painful and some even venomous bites if you fit in between their pincers, and they can weave delicate webs and while they may be phenomenally strong for their size, their miniature world is too far removed from our own for their heroics to resonate with our psyches. And so on and so forth for Hawkgirl, the Falcon, and the Ninja Turtles…

But The Wolverine is another matter altogether. This superhero takes his name from a relatively small little dynamo found in the taiga forests of the North. Weighing in between 10-30 kgs, the shaggy wolverine is the king of the weasels and the largest of the mustelids. Like its fictional namesake, the wolverine too has long strong bear like claws, immensely powerful jaws and a tough hide that most animals would find nearly impossible to bite through. Like the superhero, the wolverine is immensely strong and brave, taking on the might of animals many times its size, and more often than not emerging a winner.

In the arctic and alpine wildernesses, this small but mighty predator roams the snowy wastes and often hunts animals as large as the elk and mule-deer. The wolverine has even been known to take down adult moose in the winter, an animal that is ten times its size. The sure audaciousness and self belief of the animal is legendary for moose are formidable opponents and even bears and wolves would find the task of bringing down an animal as large as the moose a daunting challenge.

So brave is the beast that the wolverine wouldn’t think twice before challenging much larger predators like wolves or bears for the right to a carcass. I have seen videos of this animal hustling a large bear off a kill. And it has even been known to hunt and kill other formidable carnivores like the Eurasian lynx and the coyote.

And yet these highly intelligent little bear like animals can make very affectionate and playful pets. Jasper, one of a pair of orphaned wolverines raised by Steve Kroschel, an Alaska based wildlife film-maker has become a tv star and has demonstrated search & rescue abilities that would rival those of highly trained and decorated S&R dogs.

And wolverines make wonderful parents. Males maintain territories that range between six and seven hundred square kilometers and might have up to three females at different ends of the territory. When kits are born in spring, the father divides his time and helps all three mothers bring up the young with devotion that is as intense as the mother’s. Now, how demonic is that?Mysterious beast of the northern wilderness with a fierce diabolical reputation, and known for his immense strength, dauntless courage, terrible fury and an incredible survival instinct, both fictional mutant and real mustelid are heroic creatures.

What does the wolverine teach us, in both fact and fiction? At the very least, they teach us that size doesn’t matter… It is attitude that does. The spoils of victory can be yours even though you may not be the strongest or the biggest or the prettiest.

As long as you have an honest, unpretentious attitude, refuse to back down in the face of seemingly impossible odds, recognize and then stay true to your strengths and believe in them, you will see the biggest bullies and obstacles, be they in the shape of man, beast or fate, fade away and leave the path to survival and success open in their wake.

So here’s to a super hero that matters, and a superhero that is as real as it is grand. May you find strength and courage in the call of The Wolverine, in theatres near you, in forests far away, and in the wild expanses that remain even today, in corners of our anxious and crowded hearts.

Next week, I will take you to meet a cousin of the great wolverine, who wanders unnoticed in wild places closer home. And for this week, I leave you with the words of Doug Chadwick, author of The Wolverine Way who says “(the wolverines strategy, if it has one, is to)…go hard and high and steep, and never back down… not even from a grizzly and least of all from a mountain… I will never really know what it is to be a wolverine, but I’ve learnt a little more about courage and a lot more about what being wild means, just from being on the wolverine’s trail…”

Here’s to the wolverine that roams in all of us…                                                                    

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017