Marvel’s Wolverine might be the best at what he does, but what he does isn’t very pretty.
Wolverine: A Brief Overview
James ‘Logan’ Howlett (Wolverine), often considered the coolest of the X-Men, is a 200+-year-old Canadian veteran of many wars.
With his only superpowers being a healing factor, enhanced senses, and his iconic retractable claws, he favours stealth over frontal assaults. While often serving as a mentor to younger mutants over the years, he would ultimately become the headmaster for the Jean Grey School Of Higher Learning (the rebranded Xavier School for Gifted Children).
Although he’s happy to take the lead whenever required, he can also be a valuable team member. However, he works best when he works alone.
Never lucky in love, it seems that Wolverine always has a broken heart – quite ironic given his superhuman ability heal his body.
James Howlett was born to rich farming family during the late 1800s.
His parents, John and Elizabeth, were often distant and tended to ignore the boy. This is because his true father was Thomas Logan, a farmhand (which is where his nickname ‘Logan’ comes from). Thomas was fired by the family, who killed John in response. Young James immediately avenged his ‘father’, popping his claws for the very first time and killing his biological father.
As this was before mutants were a well-known species of humanity, young Logan felt like an abomination, and ran away to avoid any complications his murderous actions might cause him. For a while, he ran with a literal wolf pack.
As well as his claws, Logan would soon discover that he also had a healing ability and enhanced senses (hearing, smell, etc). Due to his healing ability, he would age much slower than other people, which is why he looks to be middle-aged even though he’s over 200 years old.
As a well-respected and experienced combat veteran, Logan would eventually be kidnapped and experimented on for the Canadian Weapon X program, which is when his bones were bonded to adamantium. Being the tenth subject, Wolverine would aptly be known ‘Weapon X’ during this time. He escaped, but his mind was severely traumatised, so he ran with a wolf pack again. He was found by the Hudsons (a married couple who are also members of Alpha Flight, a Canadian superhero team) who would help him recover from his Weapon X ordeal (although his memory would remain lost for decades).
Logan joined Alpha Flight, where he was given the code name Wolverine. As much as he wanted to be, he wasn’t a good fit for Alpha Flight. When Charles Xavier (Professor X) put together a new X-Men team, he asked Wolverine to join.
Wolverine accepted his invitation, and became an X-Man.
Wolverine, as already mentioned, has enhanced senses, a healing factor, and retractable claws.
He also has superhuman levels of speed and agility, on a par with Captain America. Although perhaps more a product of his experience than his genetic mutation, Wolverine is also somewhat connected to nature – he can tell when a tree falls down miles away in the forest, for instance. However, cities tend to overwhelm his senses, so he doesn’t generally like being in them.
During his adamantium-bonded periods (there have been several), his unbreakable adamantium skeleton allows him to withstand pressures that would normally break human bones. This means that he also has super-strength and super toughness (durability) during these periods as well.
The adamantium actually poisons his body, which stops him from mutating into his final (somewhat feral) mutated form.
Wolverine is also very experienced at multiple forms of hand-to-hand and ranged combat, and has shown himself to be a master tactician when the need arises – such as the various times he’s been unable to rely on his healing ability.
Although not technically a power, Wolverine’s unresolved trauma often manifests as a Viking-like ‘berserker rage’, during which time he becomes an almost-unstoppable killing machine who will attack anyone – even his allies.
Wolverine doesn’t need a weapon. Wolverine IS the weapon.
However, there are certain things he’d prefer not to do without, such as his Harley Davidson bike and his (sometimes fur-lined) leather jacket.
He commonly wears his Wolverine outfit, a blue-and-yellow costume with a winged mask. There are also many variants of this costume, most notably his brown-and-orange one. He also has a purple-and-black tactical stealth outfit following the same design, but he rarely uses it – he prefers the challenge of wearing bright colours and still being stealthy.
In modern representations (such as the live-action films), Wolverine often simply wears a white singlet and jeans, or a black X-themed outfit (such as his X-Force outfit).
He also owns a a very powerful katana named the Murasama Blade, but he doesn’t usually carry it around with him.
Considering how much of a loner he is, it’s quite surprising how many allies Wolverine has.
He’s obviously been on many of the X-Men teams (such as the most recent version of the clandestine X-Force), but he’s also been an Avenger, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and a member of the (New) Fantastic Four as well. He also often has an honourary membership for groups he’s not technically a part of, such as Power Pack. Surprisingly, he has a close-knit group of friends in certain organised crime families due to his time spent in the vaguely-Eastern nation of Madripoor.
Wolverine has also taken younger mutants under his wing from time to time, taking on the role of their mentor. Kitty Pride, Dazzler, Long Shot, and Jubilee. Eventually, he’d mentor almost an entire generation of younger mutants during his time as Headmaster at the old X-Men academy, the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning.
A mysterious lab also cloned him, and reproduced him as a female. She’s known as X-23, but she chose the name Laura Kinney. Wolverine considers her his daughter, and is happy for her to call herself Wolverine when he’s not available (such as when he was dead).
Wolverine also has a biological son named Daken, which he didn’t know about – but Daken doesn’t count among Wolverine’s allies.
Wolverine: Rogues Gallery
As an X-Man, Wolverine faces the usual X-Men villains, such as Magneto or Mr Sinister.
He also has a few characters gunning for him – such as Lady Deathstrike, who wants the adamantium in Wolverine’s body (and also revenge for her father’s death). Wolverine also often finds himself fighting his villainous son, Daken.
His archnemesis, whoever, is another feral-like mutant named Victor Creed (Sabretooth). Sabretooth is somewhat older than Wolverine, and his powerset is almost identical. This means that Sabretooth often gets the best of Wolverine.
The nature of Wolverine and Sabretooth’s relationship is complicated, often more like feuding brothers than mortal enemies. A good example of this happened on one of Wolverine’s many birthdays. There were many assassins trying to kill Wolverine, and he thought he’d handled them all. One was hiding in the shadows, about to finally kill Wolverine.
Sabretooth stealthily kills the assassin and quietly says to himself something along the lines of: ‘Nobody kills you but me, brother.’
Wolverine: Common Themes
Wolverine-focused stories often concentrate on what it means to be human, the importance of anger management (especially with regards to maintaining friendships), and the difference between intellect and wisdom.
Most of the classic Wolverine stories also deal with issues relating to amnesia, the trauma of being a soldier, and how to regain honour once it’s been lost. They also tend to focus on themes involving nature, such as the time he teamed up with the little-known ghoul detective named Terror to get to the bottom of an ecological terrorist organisation.
Wolverine: Cultural Impact
Wolverine, as knife-handed biologically-middle-aged tough guy with a heart of gold, is a bit of a strange beast (pun intended).
It’s quite uncommon for a superhero to appear middle-aged (especially when they’re over 200 years old), and even less common for them to act like it. Wolverine manages to do both and remain popular, due to his somewhat nihilistic-yet-wholesome outlook on life (even if it could be argued that ‘classic Wolverine’ has problematic views on women). This means that older fans can relate to his ‘get off my lawn’ attitude, which is actually quite rare for superheroes (as opposed to people just acting like overprivileged jerks, such as Marvel’s Iron Man or DC’s Guy Gardner).
Another thing that makes Wolverine popular is that his powers are easy to understand, which makes him easier to relate to in general.
While it could be said that superhero media is currently oversaturated with Wolverine stories, there’s no denying his eternal appeal.