Created by: Len Wein, Herb Trimpe, Johnny Romita Sr
For: Marvel Comics
Currently owned by: Marvel Comics
First appearance: The Incredible Hulk #180 (1974)
Real identity: James Howlett, although goes by the name Logan.
The grim and gritty age of superhero comics is widely labelled as having started with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, both of which were published in 1986. But Marvel’s Wolverine was a high-profile precursor, particularly through Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s classic run on Uncanny X-Men between 1977 and 1981, where the character truly progressed. Readers were used to mainstream heroes beating up the bad guys and handing them over to the authorities. Wolverine, a short, stocky, hairy berserker mutant with a mysterious past, a rebellious nature and unbreakable claws, actually killed his opponents and blurred the lines between good and bad in a way that Marvel hadn’t seen before. He was different, violent and edgy – a million miles removed from your Supermans and Captain Americas. It seems obvious now that he would be such a major hit.
From humble beginnings too. Wolverine first appeared in The Incredible Hulk in 1974, having a pretty standard scrap with the green behemoth. He was created by Len Wein and Herb Trimpe and little was revealed in his debut other than the fact that he was an agent of the Canadian government. In ’75 Wein included Wolverine in his lineup for the “new” X-Men in Giant-Size X-Men #1. The fresh team then continued into the regular Uncanny X-Men title, with writer Chris Claremont (probably /i/the/i/ chief architect of Wolverine’s character) joining Cockrum with issue #94 (1975). It was when artist John Byrne (a fellow Canadian) joined Claremont for one of /i/the/i/ classic comic runs that the character soared. It wasn’t just Wolverine’s violence and rebellion that captured fans’ attention – although the image of him climbing out of a sewer, claws popped, stating “okay suckers, you’ve taken yer best shot! Now it’s MY turn!” in Uncanny X-Men #132 is a pop culture classic - it was the gradual reveals of his mysterious background that enticed and played with expectations. Initially seeming to be just a thug, when the X-Men arrive in Japan Wolverine, reads the local newspaper. “I didn’t know you could speak Japanese,” asks Cyclops. “You never asked,” replies Wolverine.
The Eastern connection was further explored by Claremont and Frank Miller with Wolverine’s debut in his own title in 1982 – a four-issue mini-series set in Japan that showed Miller’s continuing obsession with samurai history. Again, this expanded Wolverine way beyond the image of the violent killer, showing the importance of honour and romantic love to the character (with Logan falling for Mariko Yashida and nearly marrying her – tragedy usually follows those who get involved with Logan – his chosen moniker). The 1984 mini-series Kitty Pryde And Wolverine returned to Japan and depicted the showdown between Logan and the man who trained him to be a ninja. Marvel finally gave Wolverine his own regular title in 1988, written by Claremont and drawn by Marvel veteran John Buscema. It launched showing one of Wolverine’s other identities – with him wearing an eyepatch, going by the name ‘Patch’ (where’d that idea come from?) and taking on the underworld in a Singapore-like city called Madripoor where he co-owned a restaurant, Humphrey Bogart-style. As the series continues his penchant for benevolently taking young girls under his wing – as seen with the X-Men’s Kitty Pryde and Jubilee – became a major plot point.
Wolverine’s murky Weapon X experiment history was revealed in Barry Windsor-Smith’s gorgeous-looking stories in Marvel Comics Presents #72-84 (1991) (Windsor-Smith also drew one of the best Wolverine stories in Uncanny X-Men #205, with Logan, hunted and wounded in the snow) while his claws were revealed to be part of his skeleton when Magneto ripped the adamantium from his body (ouch) in X-Men #25 (1993). His actual origin, however, was finally told in the originally titled… Origin (2001). A rather underwhelming tale, written by Bill Jemas, Paul Jenkins and Joe Quesada, which showed Wolverine to actually be a sickly, allergy-ridden child named James Howlett, who was raised on a Canadian plantation in the late 19th century until tragedy caused his mutation to activate. The name Logan was actually taken from the son of the plantation’s groundskeeper.
By this point the character was a hit on the big screen, with Bryan Singer’s 2000 X-Men movie raising Wolverine’s profile to an even higher level. By 2005 Marvel also made him a member of their mainstream superteam The Avengers (he remained a member of the X-Men, and barely a month goes by where he doesn’t seem to be guest-starring in one Marvel book or other). His past memories were finally returned to him at the close of Marvel’s House Of M event (2005) and, in the same year, writer Mark Millar and artist Johnny Romita Jr, told one of the classic Wolverine tales with Enemy Of The State – which showed Logan brainwashed by the terrorist organisation Hydra into attacking the heroes of the Marvel Universe, bringing home just how deadly Wolverine is and returning a sense of danger to the character.
In 2006 Wolverine was given a second ongoing series by Marvel (he currently has three in total, as well as being a member of X-Force as well as The Avengers and the X-Men) – Wolverine: Origins saw him hunting his lifelong persecutors following the return of his memories. Written by Daniel Way, the series revealed the existence of Logan’s son, Daken, who shares many of his father’s powers. Together they seek the mysterious Romulus, the leader of the Lupine, a human-looking species who have evolved from canines rather than humans. Romulus has, it seems, orchestrated most of the major events in Wolverine’s life, although the reason for this, and his identity and appearance, are still currently unknown.
Mutant healing factor: This allows Wolverine to recover from virtually any wound to his body tissue, rendering him nigh-on unkillable. He has, in the past, recovered being caught in the middle of an atomic explosion and the recent Ultimate Hulk vs Wolverine mini-series even showed his head surviving despite having been removed from its body (albeit the “Ultimate Universe” version of the character is different from the “core” Marvel Universe). His healing factor also stops his body ageing.
Claws: Wolverine has six claws in total - three on each forearm. These retractable weapons are actually part of his skeleton and are made up of dense bone. They break the skin whenever they are “popped”, causing Wolverine pain whenever he uses them.
Adamantium skeleton: The unbreakable metal adamantium was molded to Wolverine’s skeleton on a molecular level by the Weapon X programme. This greatly adds to his invulnerability and allows his claws to cut through virtually anything.
Increased strength and stamina: His body’s healing factor allows his muscles to work on a level beyond that of a normal human, and the constant carrying of the weight of his adamantium skeleton also contributes to his enhanced strength.
Increased animal senses: Wolverine’s sight, smell and hearing are developed far beyond those of a normal human.
CAREER LOW POINT
The alternate Earth-9291 featured a Wolverine who is the worst there is at what he does. He, Frank Spencer-style, fails in anything he attempts to do.
Also, the Larry Hama-penned stories where Wolverine’s feral nature overcame his humanity weren’t too clever.
Director: Bryan Singer
Played by: Hugh Jackman
The X-Men’s debut big screen adventure made Wolverine its centrepiece, with Hugh Jackman achieving Hollywood stardom as the ultimate scrapper and berserker mutant. Something of an odd casting choice, considering Jackman’s prior history in song and dance stage musicals (and his height!). The strange hairstyle and the Wolverine ethos was all there on the screen, however, and both Jackman and Marvel suddenly had a hit movie franchise on their hands.
Director: Bryan Singer
Played by: Hugh Jackman
Director Bryan Singer and the entire cast returned for the critically acclaimed, bigger-budgeted sequel, with Jackman’s Wolverine again being the focal point as the military-backed Weapon X programme come looking for the mutants, and Wolverine gets a hint into his creation.
X-Men: The Last Stand
Director: Brett Ratner
Played by: Hugh Jackman
A thoroughly disappointing third in the X series partly focuses on Wolverine’s feelings for Jean Grey (Phoenix) as she is gradually driven insane by her immense, world-threatening power.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Director: Gavin Hood
Played by: Hugh Jackman
Wolverine, and Jackman, finally get their very own movie, as we follow the claw-wielding mutant through his youth in Canada in the late 1800s through various wars, his involvement with Team X and his ongoing conflict with his nemesis Sabretooth (see below).
• When Wolverine’s claws pop for action they make a SNIKT! Sound effect
• Wolverine is Canadian, not American
• He often refers to people as ‘Bub’.
• He is either five foot three or five foot two inches tall.
• Despite being “vertically challenged” he weighs 300 pounds. A penchant for the cakes is not to blame, however, but rather the weight of his adamantium skeleton.
• The late X-Men artist Dave Cockrum revealed that Wolverine was at one point not going to be human at all, but actually be a mutated wolverine (the animal). Fortunately, Stan Lee “found the concept disgusting”.
• Even though Herb Trimpe drew Wolverine’s first comic appearance, his costume was actually designed by classic Marvel artist John Romita, Sr.
• Gil Kane incorrectly drew Wolverine’s mask with long headpieces on the iconic cover to Giant-Size X-Men #1. Interior artist Dave Cockrum liked the change and incorporated it into the issue.
• The "I'm the best there is at what I do, but what I do isn't very nice" catch phrase first appeared in the Chris Claremont and Frank Miller mini-series from 1982.
• Much of Wolverine’s important character development took place while John Byrne was the artist on Uncanny X-Men. Byrne, a Canadian, has since stated that this was because he didn’t want to see a Canadian character dropped from the team.
Sabretooth: Virtually identical to Wolverine in terms of powers – healing factor, claws, animal senses – Sabretooth was a contemporary of Wolverine in the Weapon X programme and has since been revealed to be bred from the same wolf-like race.
Lady Deathstrike: Driven by a need for revenge and honour for her wronged father – the man who invented adamantium only to have it stolen by Weapon X and used on Wolverine - Yuriko Oyama allowed herself to undergo horrific body enhancements, which include elongated adamantium claws.
Omega Red: From the Russian version of the Weapon X programme, Omega Red was a serial killer who was given Carbonadium tentacles (the Russian attempt to create a metal akin to adamantium). His mutant ability allows him to secrete pheromones known as death spores from his body.