James Howlett, a.k.a Logan, a.k.a Weapon X, a.k.a Wolverine, is one of the most popular Marvel characters around, starting as a member of the X-men, before getting his own spin-off series, and more recently joining the Avengers. He somehow juggles this along with being on at least four different X-men teams. An anti-hero, Wolverine has no problem using deadly force to get the job done and has an unfriendly, aggressive disposition. The character has been brought to screen in the form of Hugh Jackman for the last 13 years, first in three X-men films, then in the train-wreck of a spin-off X-men Origins: Wolverine. This month sees the debut of the latest film adaptation of the character, which with any luck will restore his reputation.
Wolverine first appeared in an issue of Incredible Hulk in 1974, when he was sent by the Canadian government to take down the monster. Many of the classic elements of the character were there in his first appearance, even his iconic blue and yellow costume. A year later an X-men storyline saw him brought into the team when the original squad were captured. Professor Xavier scoured the globe to find all new X-men who could save them, creating a new team which also introduced Storm and Nightcrawler.
Initially Logan was overshadowed by the old X-men and the new, as the writers struggled to balance the 13 X-men members. Thankfully artist John Byrne championed to keep the character in the book, with him becoming the most popular X-man. His affection for X-men teammate Jean Grey was established, putting him at odds with their leader Cyclops, who was dating Jean at the time. His love for Jean was never truly requited but this didn’t stop him from pining, right up until her most recent death.
The character’s mysterious origin, that his mind was erased in a experiment to attach adamantium to his skeleton, was gradually established by famed X-men writer Chris Claremont (who created many classic characters including Rogue and Kitty Pryde). In addition to his unbreakable claws, Wolverine has the mutant ability to regenerate from any wound, making him essentially indestructible. His healing ability slows down his ageing, him having been born James Howlett back in the 1880’s, serving in both World Wars.
Chris Claremont created one of the most respected Wolverine stories, a four issue miniseries where he travels to Japan. The story took Logan and established that beneath all his rage is an honourable man, seeing him train to be a samurai. In the mean time he falls for a beautiful woman and gets involved with the yakuza. The series is a fantastic take on the character, setting up what makes the man tick. It’s not surprising that this story has been chosen to become the plot of the new Wolverine film, hopefully they will be able to do it justice.
During the 90’s, Magneto uses his magnetic abilities to forcibly remove the metal from his bones, almost killing him. It was revealed following this that he originally had claws made of bone, it having once been theorised that it was the experiments which gave him his claws. The loss of his adamantium caused his healing powers to become even more effective, as it was constantly being used to prevent his blood from being poisoned. Wolverine could now heal from any wound almost instantly. His metal bones were eventually restored by the villain Apocalypse who wished to make Wolverine his slave. His powers stayed at that level, making him as powerful as he is today.
In 2005, the Avengers faced a disaster when one of their own went mad killing several members, causing the whole team to disband. Wolverine was recruited to a new team along with Spider-man, essentially filling the Avengers with the most popular Marvel characters around. This comic revitalised the failing comic and not surprisingly he has remained in the team to this day, surviving several more team restructures.
Two years ago, the Cyclops and Wolverine’s rivalry truly came to a head in X-men: Schism. For many years Cyclops had been reinventing the X-men, with less focus on teaching mutants and more about creating a mutant army. Surprisingly Wolverine, who had been used as an assassin by Cyclops, took a stance against his turning children into killing machines, wishing to give them a life which he was denied. The two go toe-to-toe over whether to destroy Cyclops’ island stronghold Utopia to stop a mutant-killing Sentinel from killing them all, goaded on a little bit by Cyclops saying Jean never loved Wolverine.
After this battle, Wolverine left Utopia with X-men who agreed with him to establish a school on the grounds of the old Xavier Institute (which had been blown up several years prior), effectively splitting the team in two. Many fans actually welcomed this split as it meant that Wolverine was only in half of the X-men books, rather than all of them. He called his new school the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, the adventures of which are told in the fun and quirky Wolverine and the X-men, a personal favourite of mine. His hatred for Cyclops hasn’t diminished since their spat, with Wolverine choosing the side of the Avengers against Cyclops in the recent Avengers Vs X-men. Their animosity is pushed further when Cyclops kills Professor Xavier at the end of the event, seemingly cementing their status as enemies.
While I quite like the first two X-men films, I feel that their portrayal of Wolverine isn’t exactly perfect, mostly for how stable he is. In the comics, Logan is quite short at around 5’3, whereas Hugh Jackman is around 6 foot tall, pissing off many X-men fans. I do think Hugh Jackman has quite a handle on his rough temperament, and he is probably the best handled off any of the team. However, it doesn’t help that Wolverine takes over the entire franchise, with the rest of the team as bit players. X-men is at its heart a team story, whereas Wolverine’s dominance of the franchise almost makes his spin-offs pointless.
Wolverine is by far the most popular X-man and while I’d love some other mutants to get more attention his popularity shows no sign of waining. You can currently see him in basically every comic published by Marvel.