Before you watch the new Wolverine movie, ‘Logan,’ discover his origins according to the comics.
Today when people think Wolverine, they think Hugh Jackman. That’s understandable. After all, Jackman has played the role in nine films, including the upcoming Logan, since 2000. X-Men and Wolverine films make some of the basics of the character common knowledge.
Wolverine frequently goes by the name Logan, the title of the upcoming film. Sometimes, in less fortunate occasions, he’s known as Weapon X. The Marvel Universe is prolific and endlessly transforming. While moviegoers know Logan is a member of the superhero group X-Men, they may not know he’s also been a member of another iconic group of heroes — the Avengers.
Before you sit back with a popcorn and soda to watch Logan, let’s take a look at his identity, sans Jackman, by examining his comic book origins.
A modern creation, Wolverine first appeared in 1974’s The Incredible Hulk #180. He was only teased in the final panel, however, but went on to hold a more prominent role in the following issue written by Lee Wein. Wolverine’s initial costume was handled by John Romita Sr.
The Incredible Hulk #180: Pencils by Herb Trimpe, Inks by Jack Abel, Colors by Christie Scheele, via Marvel.
As with many comic book characters, Wolverine’s first few appearances were marked with a certain vagueness. He was known only to be superhuman and under contract from the Canadian government. At the beginning, the mystery surrounding Wolverine veiled even one of his focal points — his retractable claws.
While Wolverine is a well-known member of X-Men, in 1975 X-Men had been absent from Marvel publications for five years. A special-edition comic dubbed Giant Size X-Men #1 saw newly recruited members of the X-Men, including Wolverine, rescue original X-Men characters (Marvel Girl, Iceman and Angel). The mission inside the comic was a success, but in the drafting process Wolverine was inadvertently depicted with a high-pointed mask. At first, Dave Cockrum believed his penciled mask could be too closely compared to Batman’s, but it became a part of his aesthetic in later appearances nonetheless. Cockrum was also responsible for first drawing the hero without a mask, which helped influence Logan’s iconic hairstyle.
Giant-Size X-Men #1 was the catalyst for the revival of the mainline X-Men series later that year. In X-Men #94, Wolverine held a supporting role. Not long after, though, he was almost removed from the X-Men and would have likely been expunged from the Marvel pantheon of recurring characters if not for John Byrne, who transitioned to the X-Men writing team in the late ’70s.
Giant Size X-Men #1: Pencils by Dave Cockrum, Inks by Dave Cockrum and Peter Iro, Colors by Glynis Wein, via Marvel.
In 1982, Wolverine received his first titled arc. Although it was only four issues, award-winning writer Chris Claremont and artist Al Milgrom propelled a six-issue follow-up in 1984. In 1988, Wolverine hit center stage. Wolverine #1 was the start of a 189-issue story (134 issues have since been added). The once-enigmatic mutant now had a detailed backstory.
First, bear in mind that like the complicated timeline throughout the movies, the comic book events detailed below provide points of significance but do not necessarily follow a stringent order of events. This is merely a primer of the character to provide contextual support from the comics.
One of the biggest differences between the comic books and films strikes at first glance. Registered at only five feet three inches tall, Wolverine is one of the shortest Marvel superheroes.
Many comic book heroes have depressing backstories, but Wolverine’s is particularly hellish. He was born as James Howlett on a sprawling Alberta, Canada, farm owned by his parents, John and Elizabeth Howlett. James, however, was a product of an extramarital affair between Elizabeth and the farmhand, Thomas Logan — hence the name Logan. When Thomas was fired for an alleged rape — actually committed by James’ half-brother, Dog Logan — the troubled man killed John Howlett. This served as the catalyst for James’ acquisition of superhero attributes. When avenging his purported father’s death, James killed his biological father with claws that rose from his hands. The claws are actually bone. Because of this, Logan is classified as a supermutant.
The trouble was, the budding mutant didn’t know how to control his powers. After leaving home, and growing into adulthood with his childhood friend Rose, he failed to rein in his newfound ability, accidentally killing her.
Afterward, he spent years in seclusion with wolves and in a circus freak show. In the comics, he developed a relationship with Silver Fox — a current member of the HYDRA terrorist organization — but when she was killed by Sabretooth, he entered World War I as a Canadian agent. This is where Wolverine’s origin story began to reflect his early appearances in The Incredible Hulk.
His story line collided with that of Captain America, another Marvel superhero, in WW2. The two fought alongside one another on D-Day, sparking Logan’s time as a “soldier of fortune.” After the war, Logan settled down in Japan with a local woman named Itsu. Unfortunately, she was killed by Winter Soldier while pregnant with Logan’s son, Daken. Although still in the womb, Daken possessed his father’s healing powers and, rather remarkably, survived the attack. Logan, however, did not know of his son’s existence at the time.
Distraught, and knowing his abilities were valuable to ally governments, he found work at the CIA and eventually Team X. At Team X — where the name Weapon X came into circulation — Logan was subjected to mind control experiments.
Besides childhood, the time with Team X was the hardest of Logan’s life. Yet, as with his initial transformation, his latest trial turned him into something more. It was during this time that adamantium — an indestructible, infrequently used fictional alloy from the Marvel Universe — was bonded to his bones.
Logan didn’t officially become known as a superhero until he escaped Team X and joined Department H in his Canadian homeland. His introduction into X-Men was not by choice. Not unlike his time at Team X, his memories were cleared, this time by Charles Xavier who wanted him to join the squad.
One of the defining stories that influenced how Wolverine is depicted in the films originated in X-Men #25. In it, Magneto, one of his most noted enemies on-screen, tore the adamantium from his bones. Previously, his vast healing power allowed extensive injuries to heal in a flash. Magneto’s experiment wrecked that ability and contributed to Wolverine’s prolonged departure from the X-Men.
In Wolverine: Origins, he learned of Daken’s existence. Romulus, the man who sent Winter Soldier to kill Itsu, was controlling his son’s mind and holding him as a weapon, just as had been done to Logan years back. To free his son from Romulus’s experiments, Logan had to fight him. Daken had already managed to knock out Deadpool — another one of Romulus’ victims — but before the confrontation could begin, Winter Soldier shot Daken in the head. Logan was then able to carry Daken to safety.
The X-Men: Evolution TV series introduced a female clone of Wolverine, X-23 (Laura Kinney). In 2004, the NYX comic series picked up her story line. Like Wolverine, X-23 (portrayed by Dafne Keen in the film Logan) can heal regeneratively and has superhuman strength, reflexes, speed and senses. Adamantium-coated bone claws retract from her hands and feet. Cloned from a damaged copy of Wolverine’s genome, she is a perfect killing machine.
Avengers vs. X-Men #1: Pencils by John Romita Jr., Inks by Scott Hanna, Colors by Laura Martin, via Marvel.
Wolverine often lashes out and has difficulty remaining in one situation for extended periods. This makes him the perfect character to push boundaries and cross into uncharted territories.
For his first two decades of appearances, Logan was in and around the X-Men universe. In recent years, Marvel writers have experimented greatly with his character.
He’s had run-ins with the Fantastic Four, and almost Daredevil, before being captured by S.H.I.E.L.D. He was also brought onto the Avengers for a time. When the Avengers and the X-Men were at odds, he initially battled alongside the Avengers but later returned to the X-Men. In that arc, Professor Xavier perishes, causing Logan to seek revenge against Cyclops.
The movies differ in handling Professor X’s death, as Wolverine does not cross paths with the Avengers on-screen. (The Avengers is owned by Disney/Marvel; X-Men is owned by Fox/Marvel.)
In the wake of Professor X’s death, Logan again joined forces with Captain America to stop the fighting and unify the X-Men and the Avengers. Together, they took down Red Skull, Captain America’s enemy who had cloned Professor Xavier’s consciousness and transplanted it into his own mind.
Logan is infected in the process by an intricate virus. While the upcoming Logan features a very alive superhero, in the comics Wolverine’s search for a cure brings him to his end. It’s here, in the Death of Wolverine arc that he discovers the virus sought him specifically. A bounty placed by Abraham Cornelius, head of the Weapon X program, was put out for his life. Logan’s wild nature finally caught up to him when he accidentally broke a container of adamantium. The substance drenched his body before becoming solid. Wolverine suffocated to death, but his story has not reached its full conclusion. His lore has been, and still is, explored in the Marvel Universe since.
Hugh Jackman’s last stint as Wolverine hits theaters on March 3.