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If social media teases are to be believed, Stephen Merchant will be playing Caliban in next year’s Logan, marking the second time the X-Men supporting character will appear in a movie in two years (Tomas Lemarquis played him in this summer’s X-Men: Apocalypse). Just what is it about Caliban that makes him so popular?
The character first appeared in Uncanny X-Men No. 148, back in 1981, with an appearance that set the tone for the first years of the character’s existence — a slightly pathetic figure that belonged to an underground community of mutants who cowered away from conflict wherever possible. This trend would continue in subsequent appearances, even when it was his own actions that prompted conflicts in the first place. (Being responsible for the kidnapping of one of the X-Men so that she could marry you is never a smart move, for example.)
However, Caliban wasn’t fated to remain such an anxious background character. Traumatized by an attack on his community that would later be revealed to be orchestrated by Mister Sinister — the villain rumored to be playing a part in Logan — Caliban would turn to the dark side in 1988’s X-Factor No. 25, pledging his life to Apocalypse in exchange for being transformed into a stronger, more powerful being who would never have to worry about being terrorized by others again.
The transformation took; when he re-appeared in 1992’s Uncanny X-Men No. 294, he was newly buff and given to melodramatic proclamations worthy of any over-the-top supervillains. “I hate true love!” he yelled, as he crashed through a window, before exclaiming, “I’m not the frightened and lonely ‘Caliban this …’ and ‘Caliban that …’ who used to nip at X-Factor’s heels.” Indeed, the character was temporarily renamed “Death,” in an attempt to prove just how much of a threat he wanted to seem.
It didn’t last, however; before too long — 1995’s X-Force No. 44 — he was working on the side of the good guys again, joining the spinoff team under a little duress. That lasted for a couple of years before he was kidnapped by a villain and returned to Apocalypse’s service once more.
This, ultimately, would be Caliban’s true status quo — going back and forth between hero and villain with little rhyme or reason beyond the whims of the writer (He’d make the switch another couple of times over the next decade or so). He was killed during a later stint with X-Force, making the ultimate sacrifice to save a teammate in New X-Men No. 45 (2007); as comforting as it would be to say that his absence was keenly felt, the sad truth is that, by the time of his death, Caliban had been reduced to a minor player at best, who appeared sporadically but was rarely missed in other times.
The strange thing about the character’s cinematic afterlife is how distanced it feels from his comic book existence. The information broker that showed up in X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t the Caliban of the comic books in any recognizable way, beyond the fact that both have an innate ability to “track” mutants. While it remains unclear how the Caliban of Logan will act, the fact that he’s played by Stephen Merchant suggests that the violent, angry Hulk-like monster won’t be appearing, either. Instead, it looks like we’ll be getting an all-new, all-different take on the character, potentially disconnected entirely from his Apocalypse appearance.
Taken w/ Leica S 007 Summicron 100mm, ISO 1600 1/250 ƒ2 — by JM pic.twitter.com/8P3s5Mdruo
— Mangold (@mang0ld) October 17, 2016
Perhaps that is the one constant in Caliban’s career on the page and onscreen — that everything else about him, from his allegiance and appearance to his very purpose, will constantly be in flux, ever-shifting to fit the demands of someone else’s story. He deserves better, but who knows? Maybe that’s what awaits him in next year’s Logan.
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