Wolverine #27 © 1990 Marvel Comics. COVER ART BY JIM LEE.
The most popular member of the mutant X-Men team, the claw-bearing Wolverine is
the best there is at what he does, according to him, but what he does isn't pretty
Introduced in The Incredible Hulk #180–#182 (October–December 1974), Wolverine was created by writer Len Wein at the behest of Marvel's then editor-in-chief Roy Thomas, who wanted a Canadian hero to bring in more north-of-the-border sales potential. Although artist Herb Trimpe drew the Hulk stories, it was Marvel art director John Romita Sr. who designed the costume and clawed look of Wolverine. The yellow-and-blue costume didn't exactly remind readers of the ferocious woodland animal, but the trio of claws Wolverine could pop out of the back of each hand (with a
snikt sound effect each time), and the character's surly, violent attitude, made him stand out from other new heroes of the time.
As would eventually be shown, Wolverine is a dangerous loner in the tradition of the Western anti-hero; he has no compunctions about killing, and treats the helpless well as long as they don't give him a tougher time. He is, in short, Clint Eastwood with tights and claws. Unlike many traditional heroes, Wolverine is flawed, but it is his battles with those flaws—and an occasional
giving in to his nastier impulses—that make him a popular character, especially among male fans.
Wolverine was soon transferred to the pages of the revitalized X-Men series with Giant-Size X-Men #1 (Summer 1975), where he stayed in the background until artist John Byrne came onboard to work with writer Chris Claremont (X-Men #108, December 1977). Claremont and Byrne soon developed the scrappy character further, revealing that his mutant powers included tracking abilities, plus a healing factor that also slowed his growth; those powers had enabled him to survive an as-yet unexplained process whereby his entire skeleton had been coated in the Marvel Comics über-metal known as adamantium. The creators also showed that he had previously been a Canadian operative of Department H, and that he had worked with the Canadian supergroup Alpha Flight. Wolverine developed a crush on red-headed teammate Jean Grey, although he eventually fell in love with a Japanese woman known as Lady Mariko Yashida. Even as he found love, though, Wolverine still batted to control the violent
berserker rages that threatened to break out of his unconscious and turn deadly for those near him.
The Japanese connection was explored further with the first Wolverine miniseries in 1982, in a much-lauded story by Claremont and artist Frank Miller. It was clear that Wolverine—whose name had already been revealed to be Logan, and whose costume had been changed to a more animalistic brown and tan—had experienced both martial arts and samurai training in his past. In November 1988, Wolverine was awarded his own regular monthly series, at which point the character spent more time on the Pacific island of Madripoor, running a bar while disguised as a ruffian known as
Patch. The anthology series Marvel Comics Presents debuted in September 1988, featuring a Wolverine serialized story in almost every issue. The most famous of those serials—a story known as
Weapon X—ran in issues #73–#84 (March–September 1991). This story showed the experiments by which Wolverine's skeleton was covered with adamantium.
Bits and pieces of Wolverine's mysterious past were doled out throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but while many things were established as facts, others were shown to be falsified memory implants. It was clear that Wolverine had fought in the 1937 Spanish Civil War, and that he had also fought alongside Captain America and others during World War II, but he seemed older than that. His frequent foe Sabertooth (alternately spelled Sabretooth), another feral animalistic fighter, was perhaps Logan's father, brother, or teammate, depending on which story fans read.
In X-Men #25 (vol. 2, October 1993), the mutant villain Magneto forcibly removed the adamantium from Wolverine's skeleton and claws; the anti-hero struggled without his indestructible skeleton, but used the bone-claws that jutted from the backs of his hands just as effectively. The villain Apocalypse eventually re-bonded adamantium to Wolverine's bones. Still a loner, Logan has taken time out of his brooding, violent solo adventures to mentor some of the younger X-Men members such as Jubilee, Kitty Pryde, and others. He's also continued his pursuit of Jean Grey, much to the frustration of Grey's boyfriend, Scott Summers (better known as fellow X-Men member Cyclops).
Almost thirty years after he first appeared, the backstory for Logan was finally revealed in the six-part Origin miniseries (November 2001–April 2002), which was set near the end of the nineteenth century. Born James Howlett in Alberta, Canada, he is the sickly heir to a fortune. With a completely withdrawn mother and a busy father, James is cared for largely by a hired playmate, a red-haired girl named Rose. James has a peculiar relationship with
Dog, the rough-hewn son of the wild-haired family gardener, Thomas Logan, but as time wears on, the relationship spoils. After the gardener kills James' father, bony claws protrude from young James' hands for the first time, resulting in the death of Thomas (and leading to the suicide of James' mother). To save him from further trauma, Rose takes James to a mining colony to grow up, giving him the name Logan. As he enters puberty, James' mutant powers begin to manifest themselves more, but a later confrontation with the now-feral adult
Dog leads to tragedy.
While Origin gave the foundation for Wolverine's past—including the fact that his healing ability helps to block out memories and mental trauma as well as heal physical wounds—many more questions remained to be answered. Did Dog become Sabertooth? How did Logan become involved with the CIA, covert operations, military forces, and samurai over the next several decades? The Marvel Comics writers and artists will have plenty of time to tell these stories; Wolverine and X-Men remain among their most popular titles, and guest-appearances by the scrappy Canadian furball guarantee strong sales in any comic. Multiple
alternate future titles have postulated that Logan will be one of the last survivors among Marvel's heroic pantheon as well. Finally, the popularity of Wolverine in the X-Men feature films and animated series, as well as action figures and other merchandising, means that Logan's claws will be popping out for many years to come.