VALDOSTA — For movie-goers, Wolverine is Hugh Jackman: The star of three past “X-Men” movies, a cameo in a fourth X-Men movie, a spot in next year’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” his own “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “The Wolverine” opening this week.
Sadly, the movies stripped away one of the fundamental essentials of Wolverine’s character: The mystery. After 30 years of no definitive origin, Marvel Comics felt it had to give Wolverine a history before the movies did. In 2009, the movies gave Wolverine a definitive past with “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” which was a critical dud and not a favorite with many fans.
Wolverine was at his most popular when people didn’t know exactly where he came from, how old he might be, or why he had steel-encased bones and claws. Even more appealing, Wolverine didn’t know either.
Readers learned almost nothing about him on his first appearance. He pops up at the end of “The Incredible Hulk” No. 180 following a battle between the Hulk and a Bigfoot-like Wendigo in Canada. In 181, Wolverine and Wendigo battle the Hulk. In this issue, readers learn Wolverine is tough, works for the Canadian government, has razor-steel claws, and a penchant for wearing a blue-and-yellow striped costume.
Other than that, readers learn nothing more about Wolverine. No other name. No glimpse of the face behind the mask. Nothing. And he disappears as one of many odd characters introduced to battle the Hulk during this era of “The Incredible Hulk’s” 1970s history.
However, a few years later, when writer Chris Claremont revamped the X-Men as an international team of mutants, he included Wolverine as one of the new teammates.
In the “X-Men,” Wolverine was a murderous wild card. His fellow X-Men did not trust him.
Readers learned that the claws seen in the “Hulk” are not attached to his gloves but pop out of his hands from casings inside his arms. Readers learned his entire skeleton is coated with an unbreakable steel called adamantium. Wolverine’s mutant power is a healing ability that allows him to recover from almost anything. Early, it is also suggested, his mutant powers include an almost feral ability to track and hunt. He is strong but short, especially compared with the towering statures of his fellow superheroes.
If he is a superhero ...
At first, Wolverine is an ultimate anti-hero. Unlike most superheroes, Wolverine is a trained killer. He is filled with rage set off as smart-aleck remarks in conversation, a berserker’s violence in battle. As a few issues of “X-Men” pass, it is often suggested that Wolverine is many years old, but no one knows how many.
He gets a name, just one, Logan. Beneath his mask is an unforgettable face of swooping, nearly quill-like hair and mutton chops. No one knew much about his past. Not the readers, not his fellow X-Men, not even Wolverine himself. Nor the creators for that matter. Soon, the creators would thrive on this element of Wolverine mystery.
But first, Wolverine received a soul. Though a murderous character, Wolverine’s fan base grew, but it leapt into the stratosphere of fandom during a four-part Wolverine miniseries, featuring writer Chris Claremont and artist Frank Miller. The miniseries gave a glimpse into part of Wolverine’s past: He’d once been an operative in Japan. During a past X-Men adventure, he’d fallen for a woman in Japan. In the miniseries, he tried winning her love and revealed a character who was the best at what he does, but one who must fight his animal urges to be the best that he can be.
This miniseries secured Wolverine’s place as one of Marvel’s top assets. It is also the loose basis for “The Wolverine” movie coming to theaters this week. Wolverine was the favorite character in “X-Men,” the best-selling comic book in the world back in the late 1970s and throughout the ’80s. Wolverine’s popularity rivaled that of Marvel’s Spider-Man, Hulk, and any other character. He appeared in guest spots in more comics, more mini-series and graphic novels, and by the late ’80s had his own monthly title in addition to everything else.
Even with all of this over-exposure, the mystery behind Wolverine’s past continued. Every potential revelation raised more questions. For example, he had a connection with his feral arch-enemy Sabretooth: Did this connection mean that Sabretooth was Wolverine’s father? Brother? Fellow operative?
Or Logan met Captain America in World War II. If Wolverine was an adult in World War II, then just how old is he? Was he older than that?
X-Men arch-nemesis Magneto sapped the metal from Wolverine’s bones. It had always been assumed that the claws were additions to Logan’s arsenal when he received the steel skeleton. But with the metal gone, readers learned Wolverine had bone claws that popped out of his hands.
Comics legend Barry Windsor Smith presented “Weapon X,” the story of scientists lacing Logan’s bones with adamantium, but that story raised the questions of whether Wolverine volunteered for the process or was captured and forced into it?
The mysteries were a compelling component to Wolverine’s character, and these questions continued until the first “X-Men” movie.
With the first movie a success, and part of its storyline being Wolverine having no memories of his past, Marvel knew Hollywood would contrive an origin for Wolverine. Instead of allowing that to happen, Marvel decided it would present Wolverine’s origins. Unlike most characters, one origin story wouldn’t do it. Not even one miniseries. For Wolverine, Marvel created a series of origin story arcs which have slowly answered the questions raised through the decades.