The Many Origins of Wolverine
If you’ve read ORIGIN: The Story of Wolverine, Weapon X and various issues of his own title and the X-Men books, then you know the basic background of the mysterious mutant called Logan and the secrets behind who he was in the past. It took many years to piece together, but we finally learned the truth.
Basically, Wolverine was born James Howlett, later taking on the name Logan after discovering he was a mutant with heightened senses, advanced healing, a connection to animals, and bone claws that could extend from his hand.
Logan traveled the world, becoming a samurai at heart, later becoming involved in the Weapon X project, working alongside his old enemy Victor Creed AKA Sabretooth, a mutant who had similar abilities but none of Logan’s compassion. Weapon X eventually attempted to turn him into a bio-weapon, burying most of his memoies, implanting false ones, and lacing his skeleton and bone claws with the unbreakable metal adamantium. After escaping Weapon X, he worked for the government for a few years before finally joining the X-Men. Since then, he has become a true hero, discovering his whole past in recent years.
But this story was not intended from the beginning. There were a few other proposed ideas for Wolverine that were discarded. There were ideas hinted at but later disproved or simply never followed up on.
Want to hear more? Read on.
IN THE BEGINNING
Before we go into the full proposed origins, let’s point out some things that may surprise you. Many of you know that before he showed up in the X-Men, Wolverine debuted as a Canadian super-agent who was sent to fight the Hulk. But did you know that, at the time this story was originally presented, Wolverine creator Len Wein saw this new Canadian hero as being maybe 19-years-old with the powers of super-human strength and Spider-Man-esque agility?
Look at the story carefully. At no point does Wolverine tell the Hulk that he has incredible healing powers and an unbreakable skeleton which will protect him from the full impact of the green goliath’s fists. At no point does he displayed heightened senses.
The claws were there at least. And Wolverine did tell the Hulk that they were forged of “adamantium”, the strongest metal known to man. But here’s a surprise for you. As far as Wolverine creator Len Wein was concerned, the claws were merely weapons that retracted into the projections on the back of the gloves, a set of blades that could telescope out and snap into place with a flick of the wrists.
Don’t believe me? Look over Wolverine’s first few adventures with the X-Men and there’s a panel or two where you can see his claws hidden inside the projections on his gloves, waiting to be snapped into place in the next battle.
Now, sure enough, this changed fairly quickly. X-Men writer Chris Claremont decided that Wolverine was actually a much older guy who’d been around the block a few times. He wasn’t rebellious towards authority because he was young, he was rebellious to authority because he’d lived through enough that he figured he knew better. When Wolverine was unmasked later on, he clearly wasn’t a teenager. And later on, he shocked both readers and his teammates when he revealed that the claws were a part of him and retracted into his forearms.
Claremont did this because he felt that if the claws were part of the gloves, then it implied that anyone wearing them could replace Wolverine. Likewise, he made it clear in the stories that although Wolverine was athletic and certainly agile, he was no match for anyone like Spider-Man. He was stronger than a normal guy of his build since his bones were reinforced with metal, but he wasn’t about to lift a car anytime soon. Aside from his metal-laced claws and skeleton, his true powers were enhanced senses, a healing factor and a strange ability to communicate with animals.
Which segues into our first (possibly apocryphal) origin story…
THE ANIMAL WITHIN
There was a rumor that Wolverine’s past was so shadowy because, frankly, he actually didn’t have one. He didn’t have a childhood nor had he been born a human being. In fact, it would be revealed that Logan had once been an actual wolverine and that he had been mutated into human form by the High Evolutionary, a cosmic Dr. Moreau who had appeared in issues of Thor and The Fantastic Four and was such a master of genetic manipulation that he had altered himself into a god-like being who constantly evolved animals into sentient creatures.
In a couple of his early X-Men adventures, there were remarks made that could have hinted at just such an origin. Biological scans of Logan in Uncanny X-Men #98 showed he was different from most other mutants. And there were the times he seemed to share an understanding with animals. But this origin idea was dismissed (thankfully).
Claremont has said that it wasn’t his idea and Len doesn’t think it was his idea. On the other hand, Len has often been shown to not recall details of his own stories, as anyone who’s ever seen Len at San Diego’s trivia contests will attest. Brian Cronin, however, found documentation an interview with Len Wein in The X-Men Companion published in 1982.
FATHER AND SON
When Wolverine joined the X-Men, artist/writer John Byrne took an interest in him, glad to see a hero from his native Canada, and the one character not designed by either Jack Kirby or Dave Cockrum. Byrne sketched out what he thought Logan looked like beneath the mask. When Wolverine unmasked in the comics a few months later, Byrne decided to keep his design for another character he might create in the future.
Byrne became the artist on Iron Fist, a martial arts hero comic written by Chris Claremont. As a new villain, Byrne suggested a ruthless mercenary known only as “Sabretooth” whose face was identical to Byrne’s original idea of Wolverine’s features and who, like the hero, had advanced healing, enhanced senses and animalistic rages. While he didn’t have retractable metal claws, Sabretooth’s talons were enough to slice through the flesh of his victims.
Byrne and Claremont discussed the possibility that Sabretooth and Wolverine were arch-enemies and that the villain was actually Wolverine’s father. Sabretooth began making appearances in the X-Men and it was clear that he and Wolverine had a long, bloody history between them. In their encounters, Sabretooth often taunted Logan as being a “kid” who was only “second-best” or “sloppy seconds” compared to him, clues to the secret of their past. Sabretooth also seemed to be interested in converting Logan, often lecturing him that he was denying his true nature, telling him not to fight his rages and lust for violence but to embrace them.
It had been implied a few times that Wolverine was older than he looked, his healing factor retarding the aging process. Byrne and Claremont intended to reveal that Sabretooth was over 120 years old and that Logan was actually old enough to have served in World War II as a young man. He had gone off to serve in the war following his escape from Sabretooth, who had constantly abused him as a child. Claremont intended that part of Wolverine’
s hatred for Sabretooth was because he had never truly beaten the man, never taken full vengeance for the villain torturing him as a child. Readers would eventually learn that Wolverine later suffered catostrophic damage to his skeleton, discovering that his bones did not heal in the same way as the rest of his body. He then underwent the Weapon X experiment when it was suggested that it would give him a new unbreakable skeleton.
Not a bad origin story. But problems came about. The clues to the connection between Sabretooth and Wolverine were perhaps too obvious and soon the majority of readers had already assumed that they must be father and son, negating any shock behind the revelation. What’s more, Wolverine now had his own ongoing series under writer Larry Hama, who did not like the idea of Sabretooth being the man’s father.
As Claremont got ready to leave the X-Men series as regular writer, Larry Hama wrote a story in which Sabretooth attacked Logan and claimed to be the hero’s father, a fact Wolverine apparently had either forgotten due to the Weapon X program or had suppressed due to trauma. But a blood test taken by SHIELD agents then proved that the two enemies were not directly related. It seemed that their similar powers were just a coincidence. If this seems unlikely, let’s remember that there are many shape-shifters, energy-manipulators, telepaths, teleporters and telekinetics in the Marvel Universe and they are certainly not all related to each other.
With the father/son angle thrown out, Larry Hama had Wolverine do some digging into his own past, discovering that Sabretooth had been born Victor Creed. The two had apparently first met decades before and Creed immediately disliked Logan, perhaps sensing that the man was a mutant with similar abilities and disliking an apparent rival. Many years later, they were forced to work together in the black ops group Team X, part of the Weapon X Program. During this time, their memories were altered somewhat to help them work together. Thus, though they weren’t friends, the two were at least allies for a time, at least until Sabretooth gave Logan new reasons to hate him.
Although the father/son connection was disproved, some fans chose to believe that the two could still be related, perhaps as uncle and nephew or as half-brothers. To date, there’s been nothing to back this up. However, in ORIGIN: The Story of Wolverine, it was revealed that Logan had an older brother who had died mysteriously, an older brother whom, it was implied, had possessed claws. Likewise, the same story showed that Wolverine had a half-brother called “Dog” and other fans wondered if this character perhaps would later develop mutant abilities and become Sabretooth.
Jenkins had his own ideas for Logan’s older brother and did not intend him nor Dog to be a young Sabretooth. However, he added that didn’t have a problem if later writers wanted to make Dog into Sabretooth somehow.
During his stint on Wolverine, Larry Hama enjoyed dropping hints about Wolverine’s possible origins. In one story, a demon claimed to have fought Wolverine thousands of years ago. In another issue, Logan told a young child the story of a boy who had been left in the wild and taken in by a pack of wolverines who, inexplicably, felt a kindship with the boy. The boy aged very slowly, surviving decades in the forest, learning the ways of the wild and developing his senses, learning he couldn’t be hurt easily.
Some fans wondered if there was any truth to this story, while others chose to believe that Logan had simply decided to rip-off The Jungle Book because he couldn’t think of any children’s stories.
THE MOON CLAN
The Earth X, Universe X and Paradise X series were meant to take place in a possible future of the Marvel Universe while also giving new insights into the past (though eventually, it was clearly stated that these stories took place in an alternate reality).
In Paradise X: Heralds, readers were told that Wolverine was not the second son of the Howletts. The true second son had been stillborn. Later, the Howletts discovered a baby from a race of beast-like humanoids who had secretly live on Earth alongside humanity. This baby was from the Moon Clan, also known as the Wolf Clan, and was adopted as “James Howlett”, the boy who would later rename himself Logan. It was also said that Sabretooth had been a member of the Bear Clan, mortal enemies of the Wolf Clan.
Of course, this origin story did not explain why James Howlett’s dead older brother would coincidentally have claws or how it ws that young James so closely resembled the man said to be his father. But elements of this story were later used in Jeph Loeb’s Wolverine story “Evolution”, which revealed that many of the tragedies in Logan’s life had been due to the manipulations of Romulus, a near immortal villain who believed that Wolverine and Sabretooth had ties to an ancient race of canine-humanoids known as the Lupines. A rather strange idea, frankly, since wolverines are actually more closely related to weasels, badgers and polecats than to canines and sabre-toothed tigers are definitely of the feline persuasion.
This is not a discarded origin. Rather, it is Wolverine’s origin in the Ultimate Marvel Universe, a line of books which exist in a parallel reality with a streamlined continuity that is separate from the mainstream Marvel titles.
In Ultimate Marvel, Wolverine was born Jim Howlett and later served with Canada’s military in World War II. In this reality, Howlett had no superhuman traits whatsoever and was just an ordinary man until he was captured by Weapon X towards the end of World War II.
“Lucky Jim” Howlett was experimented on for years in an attempt to recreate the process that have given Captain America his abilities (this is a slight nod to the fact that in the mainstram Marvel continuity, the Weapon X program was actually the tenth generation of the experiment that made Captain America). But instead, the experiment caused a mutation in his body, rebuilding parts of his DNA, granting him incredible healing and heightened sense.
What’s more, this mutation spread out from Howlett’s and began affecting certain people across the world, causing them to be born with mutant abilities. So in this reality, Wolverine was Mutant Zero. Later experiments wiped out his memories while giving him an adamantium skeleton and implanting three adamantium-forged claws into each forearm. He then went off to be an assassin, calling himself both Logan and Wolverine, before eventually joining the X-Men and attempting to change his ways.
Like his Marvel counterpart, Ultimate Wolverine was enemies with Sabretooth. In this continuity, Sabretooth joined the Weapon X program later and was seen as a “poor man’s Wolverine.” He later had his own skeleton bonded with adamantium, making sure he had four claws implanted in each of his forearms. In a twist on Claremont and Byrne’s origin idea, Ultimate Sabretooth later claimed that Ultimate Wolverine was his father, though Logan said that Sabretooth’s scent indicated they were not related. Whether Sabretooth was lying about being the hero’s son was never made clear.
Well, that about wraps it up folks. Until next time, cheers!
Alan “Sizzler” Kistler looks at all these origins and laughs at any fan who complains the new movie isn’t consistent with the “real” story. He has been recognized by Warner Bros. Pictures and mainstream media outlets as a comic book historian, and can be seen in the “Special Features” sections of the Adventures of Aquaman and Justice League: New Frontier DVDs. His personal website can be found at: http://KistlerUniverse.com. One of these days he’d love to write for DC, Marvel or Doctor Who.