The fan-favourite Canadian X-Men has a bizarre past – both in the comics and in real life.
There’s a lot to get through, so let’s forgo the preamble and jump straight in – it seems apt, given the aggressive nature of our subject!
Wolverine: Real-world origins
The general idea for Wolverine (a diminutive Canadian character named Wolverine who’s in dire need of Anger Management classes) came from the then Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas, and was then handed off to Marvel writer Len Wein to flesh out.
It’s rumoured that Wolverine was going to be an actual wolverine cub who’d been forcefully mutated in to a human by The High Evolutionary (the cosmic entity which gave Scarlet Witch her powers), but Wein denies this, pointing out that the rumour appeared after he’d left the comic. It’s unknown where this rumour comes from, but it persists nonetheless.
One rumour about Wolverine that is true is the fact that Wein originally considered him to be a young adult, which is why he’s so cocky and overconfident in his first appearance. However, when he saw artist Dave Cockrum’s drawing of Wolverine sans mask, Wein felt that the 40-something look was absolutely perfect. Now his behaviour wouldn’t be considered cocky and overconfident as much as being comfortable with being the best at what he does (even if what he does isn’t very pretty).
Superstar comic artist John Romita Sr created Wolverine’s original blue-and-yellow costume. Romita Sr also gave him his retractable claws, which were originally going to be part of his suit, and not his body. This was eventually changed due to the fact that it meant that anybody could be Wolverine as long as they had his gloves.
Surprisingly, his first appearance wasn’t in an X-Men comic – it was actually on the final page of The Incredible Hulk #181 (as seen in the picture at the heading of this section).
The Incredible Hulk #182 introduced the character proper, albeit briefly.
Readers wouldn’t learn much about Wolverine until the industry-changing release of the Wein and Cockrum’s literally-epic comic, Giant-Size X-Men #1, almost a year later. The story revolved around Professor X creating a new team of X-Men in order to rescue the Classic X-Men team consisting of Cyclops, Beast, Angel, Iceman, and Jean Grey (aka Marvel Girl). While very exciting for the readers, it was a logistical nightmare for Marvel – they now had two X-Men teams in the same comic. This meant that the comic was based around the Classic X-Men, with the newer members mostly being relegated to the supporting cast.
Possibly even more surprising (especially for fans who discovered Wolverine via non-comic media), Wolverine was a background character who was mostly used as a foil for the X-Men team leader, Cyclops.
Unfortunately, this meant that readers still wouldn’t learn that much about Wolverine’s history – a situation that was compounded by him suffering severe amnesia for most of his comic life.
As he wasn’t used very often, he ended up on the chopping block. Industry legend and proud Canadian, John Byrne (who had taken over Dave Cockrum’s art duties for X-Men) fought against that, saying that there were too few Canadian superheroes. The higher-ups at Marvel relented, and Wolverine was kept on the roster. Possibly spurred on by his boardroom victory, Byrne then created the Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight, who worked for the Canadian Government. Alpha Flight tried to capture Wolverine on a few occasions, and essentially failed every time.
Byrne then took the opportunity to redesign Wolverine, giving him his classic brown-and tan costume.
Wolverine’s multi-layered in-universe history would finally be revealed in the mid-to-late 2000s.
Wolverine: In-universe origins
Please note: There’s a more in-depth version of Wolverine’s pre-X-Men days available in our article ‘Superhero Breakdown: Wolverine’.
James ‘Logan’ Howlett was born to a rich farming family during the 1800s. He thought he was a normal child until he popped his claws to defend his family. Having subsequently murdered someone, and being in shock due to his non-human existence (because mutants weren’t common knowledge at the time), he fled his home.
He soon found that his body healed itself much quicker than other people, and that he had superior senses (sight, hearing etc.) as well. These would serve to make him a good soldier, and he fought in many wars, and later on as a mercenary. He also found that his healing factor slowed his aging process. When he was 40 years old, he still looked like he was 20.
Eventually he’d end up working for various covert Government organisations, and also joined S.H.I.E.L.D. for a time.
He was kidnapped by the Canadian Government so they could perform experiments on him (such as bonding adamantium to his bones), which led to his forced placement in the Weapon X program, which was their attempt to create controllable and programmable human assassins.
He escaped, and was found by the people who would eventually become the team leaders of Alpha Flight. Wolverine would also join Alpha Flight, which is where his Wolverine code-name (originally) comes from.
Professor X would request the usage of Wolverine from the Canadian Government. Because Wolverine was invited to the meeting and asked directly by Professor X, Wolverine agreed. It was the first time that he’d actually been asked – up until then, he’d been told where to go and what to do, so he chose to join the person (Professor X) that actually gave him a choice.
There was another reason he went with Professor X. Wolverine’s time at Weapon X had completely scrambled his memories, and he hoped that Professor X might be able to unlock his past for him.
Joining the X-Men, Wolverine wasn’t a good team member. The others considered him surly at best, and villainous at worst. Cyclops actively hated him, possibly because Wolverine kept hitting on his spouse, Jean Grey.
Eventually, Wolverine (along with the rest of the X-Men) would face off against Magneto, a mutant supervillain who can control metal. Magneto, at breaking point, forcefully pulled all the adamantium from Wolverine’s bones through the pores of his skin.
Although he tried to do his best, he was no longer half the combatant he’d once been. His healing factor was doing doubletime simply keeping him alive, so he couldn’t rely on that. His enhanced senses also seemed to have disappeared.
Even worse, however, was the realisation that his claws were part of him, and weren’t solely made from adamantium. He didn’t remember this from his early years, because he still had severe amnesia.
Mentally broken, Wolverine left the X-Men for a time and wandered around.
His body soon healed itself, and even mutated further.
Wolverine found out that the adamantium had actually been poisoning his body, and that his healing factor had been working overtime just to stave off the adamantium poisoning.
This is why he was mutating – because his body was finally able to.
He ended up mutating so much that he was almost unkillable due to his unimpeded healing factor, but his body (including his brain) was essentially that of an animal: His nose was flattened, he was sprouting a lot of hair, and he’d lost the ability to speak (or even understand) language.
Eventually, he’d have adamantium forcefully bonded to his bones once again, bringing him back to normal.
This is when a lot of his memories came back to him.
Wolverine and Cyclops’s difference in ethics eventually caused a schism in the X-Men. Some mutants sided with Cyclops, others with Wolverine. Wolverine would eventually rebrand Xavier’s School for Gifted Children to the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, and begrudgingly accept the role of Headmaster.
Eventually, Wolverine would find his powers weakening to the point where he was essentially a normal non-mutated human (apart from his claws, which he rarely used now due to not having a healing factor). This created the opportunity for someone to put a bounty on his head. Following the source of the bounty, Wolverine discovers that it was placed on him by Dr Abraham Cornelius, the founder of the Weapon X program.
Wolverine confronts Cornelious at the Weapon X facility. Panicking, Cornelius tries to activate his remaining Weapon X prototypes, which causes Wolverine to slash at a tank full of adamantium.
This covered Wolverine’s entire body in adamantium.
As the adamantium began to cool and harden, Wolverine walked outside and sat atop the roof of the Weapon X facility. Unable to rely on his healing factor to keep him alive, Wolverine dies of suffocation.
He is survived by his clone/daughter, Laura Kinney (also known as X-23) and his villainous son, Daken.
It should be noted that Wolverine ‘died’ in 2018 and obviously returns back to life (because nobody dies in comics), but this is a good place to end his story. If you’d like to read a more casual article about Wolverine’s various adventures, why not check out this one here?