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Jul 5

The Incomplete Wolverine, Part 1

Posted on Sunday, July 5, 2020 by Paul in Uncategorized, Wolverine

Because you can’t spell “quixotic” without an “X”.

So the Moira thing went well, but it goes without saying you’d be completely insane to do the same thing for a character like Wolverine. Still, we had a long gap this year with no new comics coming out, and so I thought I might go back and read Wolverine’s pre-X-Men back story in chronological order to see if it made any kind of sense.

And so in this series of posts, we’re going to go through Wolverine’s history in more-or-less chronological order – some of this stuff just can’t be placed precisely, but there are certainly clear phases of his life where appearances have to go. Obviously there’s got to be a cut-off point somewhere, but we’ll cover at least his history up to joining the X-Men and see where we go from there – I’ve read up as far as Uncanny X-Men #200 at time of writing, which is around the point where he’s fully developed into the familiar character. It’s also “Incomplete” because I can’t be 100% confident I’ve caught anything, but also because it’s clearly going to stop somewhere. Once the ongoing comics are coming out again, these will probably settle into a less frequent schedule than the Moira posts – the current material takes priority.

For a chronological list of Wolverine appearances, the obvious starting point is the Official Wolverine Index from 2012, which opens with three dense pages of small print summarising his back story before Wolverine #1. There’s also the Marvel Chronology Project, whose list has been updated more recently. And there’s a site called the Wolverine Files, some of which hasn’t been updated in a while, and which also includes some retconned-out apocrypha that I won’t be worrying about.

Since I’m a masochist, I’m basically going with the official line on canon but also counting the First Class books (more on why they’re in a weird position when we get to them). I’m also going to try and keep track of the assorted Marvel Universe characters he meets as he goes along. Once we get properly under way, there’ll be quite a few short entries so that I can focus on the stories that are worth singling out, whether for their merits, or their curiosity value. Or their horrendous continuity problems.

Speaking of which…

Flashbacks in WOLVERINE: THE END #4
by Paul Jenkins & Claudio Castellini
April 2004

Yes, this is part of an alternate-future miniseries. But it has extensive flashbacks to Logan’s childhood – and since it was intended as a possible future, presumably those flashbacks are meant to be canon. And that matters, because Wolverine: The End is a companion piece to Origin – Paul Jenkins wrote both – and contains the only clear explanation of the Howlett family secret that’s repeatedly hinted at in Origin. So if you’re going to read Origin, you should probably read this too.

If it counts, Wolverine: The End #4 has Wolverine’s chronologically earliest appearance by a mile – a photograph of him as a baby in his mother’s arms.

The Howlett family’s back story is sketched out in Origin #1 by one of the estate staff. According to him, James Howlett (the future Wolverine) is the surviving son of John and Elizabeth Howlett. John’s father, who never gets a first name, is a self-made copper millionaire. The Howletts have recently built their estate. Just after it was finished, elder son John Howlett Jr became ill and died; Elizabeth was hospitalised and became a recluse. It’s also made abundantly obvious that James’s biological father is actually groundskeeper Thomas Logan, whose other son Dog Logan lives with him in the grounds. Later in Origin, we learn that Elizabeth has massive claw-mark scars down one side, which the staff clearly know about.

If you were reading Origin in isolation, you might well come away with the idea that Thomas had attacked her (though that would beg the question of why he was still tolerated on the estate, since James sacks him over a much lesser offence during the course of the story). But according to The End, 12-year-old John Jr discovered his mother’s affair with Thomas, confronted her about it, and had a screaming argument with her in which he popped his own claws and attacked her – John Jr is also the illegitimate son of Thomas Logan, and has the same powers as James. The whole family knows about this incident, and John was packed off to a lunatic asylum and passed off to the world as dead. Origin hints rather obscurely at all this (aside from the bit about John surviving), but The End actually shows it.

Flashback in WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #26
“Savage Learning, Part 2: A Boy Named Dog” by Jason Aaron & Ramon Perez
March 2013

This issue has a lengthy origin flashback for Dog Logan, including a scene where he plays with Logan in the estate grounds. Needless to say, they are close friends tragically divided by class.

(Most chronologies have this scene during Origin, but Dog specifically says that their relationship changed later after Rose O’Hara showed up in Origin #1. Dog’s version doesn’t tally with Rose’s account as the narrator of Origin – he says they drifted apart after Rose shows up, Rose says everyone grew closer – but maybe they just remember it differently.)

ORIGIN #1
“The Hill” by Paul Jenkins, Andy Kubert & Richard Isanove
November 2001

12-year-old orphan Rose O’Hara is brought to the Howlett Estate to be a companion for the frail James Howlett. James, Rose and Dog become close friends, and class-related tension ensues. (James himself does almost nothing in this issue, because the idea is to make the readers think that Dog is the future Wolverine.)

So let’s talk about when Origin actually happens. The Index politely ducks this question with some vague mutterings about Logan being born in the last decades of the 19th century. The only date given in Origin is on John Jr’s tombstone, which bears the dates 1885-1897, placing the story somewhere after that. Wolverine: The End makes matters much worse – it repeats the tombstone dates, but also says that James was still a baby when John died. If that’s right then Origin #1 has to take place in around 1906… but that contradicts the time frame of a bunch of other stories showing Wolverine as an adult before World War I. (Not least Origin II, which says outright that it happens in 1907.)

At some point Marvel just shoved Origin back a decade. In 2011, another Paul Jenkins story, X-Men: Prelude to Schism #4 shows James and Rose living at the estate in 1891. Wolverine vol 5 #10 (a Paul Cornell issue from 2013) has a photo of Rose at the estate, which Wolverine says was taken in the 1890s. And Origin II, also from 2013, says that years have passed since the end of Origin and it’s now 1907.

So the current consensus is that Origin happens in the 1890s, and ignore the inconvenient tombstone.

There’s a lengthy gap between Origin #1-2 which accommodates a couple of minor flashbacks:

  • Wolverine: Origins #33 has a brief scene of James walking into his mother’s room and seeing the claw marks on her side. (Only Rose sees them in Origin, not James.)
  • X-Men: Prelude to Schism #4 shows a 9-year-old James hiding in a woodshed and overhearing his father and grandfather arguing about attitude to discipline. Rose is already on the estate, which would mean James is meant to be three years younger than her – that does fit with the way she’s written in Origin as a semi-carer, and she consistently treats him more as a younger brother.

ORIGIN #2-6
by Paul Jenkins, Andy Kubert & Richard Isanove
December 2001 to July 2002

Origin picks up a few years after issue #1 and it’s largely uncluttered by further flashbacks. Deep breath… Dog starts to turn on the rich folk, and eventually he and Thomas get kicked off the estate. Thomas tries to abduct Elizabeth at gunpoint, which he seems to think of as rescuing her. John interrupts, and Thomas kills him. That prompts James to use his claws for the first time; he slashes Dog’s face, and kills Thomas. Elizabeth rejects James and kills herself. James’s grandfather disowns him, but give him and Rose money to get out of town. They flee to British Columbia, and Rose notices James’s healing powers for the first time. Some of Logan’s memory problems are apparently due to his healing powers suppressing traumatic memories, quite aside from any of the active manipulation by his later employers; the fact that so many different explanations have been given for Logan’s assorted memory defects makes his back story unnecessarily cumbersome. (It also helps smooth over continuity glitches, at least up to the point where Logan does get all his memories back).

James’s distorted memory leads him to believe that he killed his parents. He takes the name “Logan”, initially as an alias, and he and Rose get work at a quarry. They stay there for over a year, with Logan being bullied by an evil cook. It’s not the most dramatic chapter of his career, but then the story requires a villain who’s feeble enough for Logan to survive him even before developing a spine at the end of the series. (More of Logan getting used to quarry work can be found in another flashback in Prelude to Schism #4, if you really want. And Wolverine: Bloody Choices has a generic flashback to a young Logan in a loincloth, which would have to go during the latter part of Origin.)

Logan takes up hunting, claiming that his skills are instinctual, and starts using “Logan” as his real name instead of just a cover identity. Cookie tries and fails to murder Logan. Rose falls in love with the foreman, Smitty, much to the besotted Logan’s horror – but he comes to terms with it after a while. Eventually he defeats Cookie (another scene expanded on in Prelude to Schism #4). Dog shows up to confront him, and when Rose intercedes, Logan accidentally kills her with his claws.

Origin is a strange series. The James Howlett name has stuck, but nobody really seems to know what to do with the costume drama back story. It really doesn’t add anything. The second half of Origin is a more conventional coming of age story that serves the character better, but isn’t exactly revelatory. And explaining Logan’s attraction to Jean Grey by her resemblance to Rose is a bit hackneyed.

If you’re wondering what happened to the Howlett estate, then according to Wolverine: The End #1, the family fell into bankruptcy and ruin… for some reason. Presumably there were no other close relatives to inherit it.

After Origin, Logan spends a period hanging around in the wilderness with a bunch of wolves. A handful of appearances take place during this period. First, a flashback in X-Men Origins: Wolverine shows a 17-year Logan hunting naked with the wolfpack. That’s it. The others have a bit more substance, though

MARVEL’S VOICES #1
“Death” by Method Man, Daniel Dominguez & Alitha Martinez
February 2020

A group of fur trappers set light to what appears to be a camp of indigenous Canadians, and everyone (including the fur trappers) dies. Logan and the wolves show up in time to see Death claim the last soul. Logan begs to die, but Death leaves without him. All very bleak. But yes, the first character that Wolverine meets from the wider Marvel Universe is the cosmic embodiment of Death.

ASTONISHING SPIDER-MAN & WOLVERINE #3-4
“Another Fine Mess”, parts 3-4, by Jason Aaron, Adam Kubert & Mark Roslan
August and September 2010

Logan and his pack come across a time-travelling Spider-Man, who’s been dumped there as a prank, and is covered in meat. Dog shows up to pursue his fight against Logan, but Spider-Man is yanked away. As a side effect, Dog is brought to the present day, where he eventually shows up again in Wolverine & The X-Men.

ORIGIN II #1-6
by Kieron Gillen, Adam Kubert & Frank Martin
December 2013 to April 2014

Certainly the best actual story in this batch, though it doesn’t seem to have had much impact on continuity. But you’re thinking of reading it then really, do that before going further, because I’m going to have to spoil the end.

It’s 1907, and Logan has been in the wilderness for several years. He’s still living with a pack of wolves, but they get wiped out in the first issue by a polar bear that’s been dumped in the forest as a scientific experiment. Logan kills the bear, but is left alone. The mad scientist shows up and tries to capture Logan – this is Logan’s first encounter with Nathaniel Essex, not currently calling himself Mister Sinister.

Logan escapes, only to get captured instead by circus owner Hugo the Great, tracker Creed and animal handler Clara. Here’s the spoiler: Origin II is written to misdirect the reader into thinking that Creed is Sabretooth and Clara is his girlfriend. In fact, Creed turns out to be Sabretooth’s younger brother Saul Creed, and Clara is his sister. The trio put Logan on display in a circus, and Clara tries to befriend him, though he remains completely animalistic. Hugo allows Essex to examine Logan; naturally, Essex kills Hugo and tries to keep Logan for good. Essex plans to use a lobotomising drug to convert Logan into a perfect soldier – the first appearance in our timeline of a recurring theme of people actively trying to dehumanise Logan and turn him into a weapon. Essex already has a squadron of lobotomised soldiers, who apparently signed up for this process because they were suicidal – these are the original Marauders. The general idea is that the loss of humanity has a certain temptation for Logan because of how awful his life and memories have become.

Clara and Creed rescue Logan and they head to New York, where Logan finally re-learns how to act like a human. He is, of course, plagued by nightmares about the deaths of his family, Rose and the pack, and winds up falling in love with Clara. Wanting rid of Logan, Creed tips off Essex, and the Marauders attack their apartment. Clara is seemingly stabbed to death in the fight, and Logan kills the Marauders in a rage. Creed – who knows perfectly well that Clara will be fine thanks to her own healing powers – then persuades Logan to join him in a suicidal attack on Essex’s castle, which is really just a device to hand him over. On finding out that Essex and Creed are in league, Logan chucks Essex out of a window (he’s surprisingly low-powered in this story) and drowns Creed in the lobotomising elixir. Clara shows up too late to stop him, and disowns him, telling him that his problem is not his animal rages, but his murderous human side.

In an epilogue, Saul’s big brother Victor Creed learns of Saul’s death and swears revenge… but Logan won’t meet him for a little while yet, and as a motivation for his rivalry with Logan, this story has never really taken root.

Next time, Sabretooth and Silver Fox.

Edited on 9 July 2020 to add information on the flashback in Wolverine: Bloody Choices and to correct the description of Marvel’s Voices #1.

Bring on the comments

  1. ANDREW POTTS says:

    Thanks a bunch for this Paul. This is really great so far.

    Origin is one I’ve got fond memories of reading as it came out, though I recall your reviews at the time weren’t as impressed. I haven’t re-read it since 2002 so I have no idea if it holds up as well as I liked it then.

    If nothing else, the art is great and particularly those first couple of covers from it are fabulous and have obviously become very well-known.

    The two Origin stories were big on misdirects – Dog is drawn to resemble Victor Creed on the final page of Origin issue 5 but by the next issue looks totally different.

    Funny thing about the Dog/Logan misdirect – Jemas/Quesada/Jenkins clearly kept it close to their chest – During Frank Tieri and Sean Chen’s’ Wolverine run, there’s a scene in Issue 166 where the Weapon X director is talking about Logan’s history and the art (clearly based on Origin 1’s cover) emphasised Dog right in the middle (as the original cover did) assuming him to be Wolverine.

  2. Nathan Mahney says:

    The flashback in Bloody Choices is indeed minor – Wolverine is thinking about himself as “a wildboy who grew up untamed and fearless, relying only on his own feral instincts – simply because his mutant body contained a healing factor which could cure an injury”. The panel shows a young, smiling Logan running through the snow in a loincloth.

  3. heartstone says:

    Shocking news!
    I read the original Origins story at the time, and missed a good part of the rest, so I was still convinced that Dog was a young Sabretooth and Rose was the reason of their rivalry. Seems I was wrong… 🙂

  4. Paul F says:

    I remember reading a contemporary review of Origin, probably around issue 4, where the reviewer was mad that they never explained why Wolverine just happens, by complete coincidence, to look exactly like his family’s groundskeeper. I think they were just very naive.

  5. Si says:

    His original origin, that he was a mutated wolverine, nowadays almost seems fresh and workable in comparison. I mean there probably wouldn’t be any Hugh Jackman movies or anything, but Rocket Raccoon is quite popular these days, so who knows.

  6. Andrew says:

    The other big thing I remember about Origin when it was coming out (which will be irrelevant to anyone who wasn’t around then) were the massive delays which hit after issue 3 – The final issue came out something like four months overdue. Admittedly this was during the period where Marvel habitually struggled to get several books out on anything close to a regular schedule (New X-men before they figured out Quietly couldn’t do a regular book, The Ultimates, Kevin Smith’s Spider-Man etc)

  7. Martin Smith says:

    Man, Origin doesn’t do the readers any favours, does it? James, James Jr and John?

  8. James Moar says:

    “Wolverine’s chronologically earliest appearance by a mile – a photograph of him as a baby in his mother’s arms.”

    It could always be one-upped by a picture of a blastocyst with claws sticking out.

  9. yrzhe says:

    Looking forward to this!

    Is that bit where everything in Wolverine’s life was part of a conspiracy by the wolfman who founded Rome still in canon? I never even read it, but I remember your reviews at the time ripping the story hilariously.

  10. Mark coale says:

    That sounds as stupid as all the Spider-God stuff with Peter.

  11. Paul says:

    Romulus is indeed still canon, although Daniel Way basically dismissed the weird mythical stuff from the Jeph Loeb stories as misdirection.

  12. Chris V says:

    It’s a shame, as that was the perfect place to streamline Wolverine’s back-story, by ret-conning it so that he really was a mutated wolverine.
    All the other continuity was simply memory implants to lead him away from his true origin.
    So much simpler.

    No, I kid.

  13. Thom H. says:

    Wolverine has Romulus.
    Batman has 4 Robins in 10 years.
    Hawkman has time-traveling reincarnation.

    Trying to make everything fit is a lot harder than just admitting that things don’t always make sense.

    I’m excited to have some excellent new content to read — thanks, Paul!

  14. Psycho Andy says:

    Before I read this:

    Paul, you’re insane. And I appreciate it very much.

  15. Matthew says:

    If the story in Marvel’s Voices is set in Canada, the term to use would probably be “Indigenous Canadians”.

  16. Josie says:

    It has endlessly annoyed me when Wolverine is shown hanging out in the wilderness with . . . a pack of wolves.

    Wolverines aren’t wolves!

    Wolverines aren’t genetically similar to wolves at all!

    I mean, I know Wolverine the character is just named after the animal and wasn’t, like, bitten by a radioactive wolverine and endowed with the proportionate strength and grumpiness of an actual wolverine . . .

    . . . but these two animals, despite the similarity of their names, have no relation.

    Stop showing him with wolves!

  17. Chris V says:

    They misnamed him. His name was meant to be Wolf-verine, but Marvel misspelled it.
    One of his nicknames is “Wolvy”, which does sound more like a wolf.
    Wolves have often been used symbolically in fiction to represent the majesty of Nature and a return to a feral state.

  18. Anthony says:

    You might be interested in the spotlight UXN did. Very in depth.

    https://uncannyxmen.net/characters/wolverine

  19. Chris says:

    I’m just going to self-indulgently say

    ORIGIN will never be in my headcanon, not leastwise because in my headcanon Wolverine didn’t have bone class prior to “Fatal Attractions”

  20. Bjorn says:

    Couldn’t John jr and James still have different fathers if they got the x-gene from Elizabeth? I mean if Thomas was the source shouldn’t Dog gave claws as well?

  21. Ben says:

    Excited to read your articles on this! These deep fives have been fun.

    Took your recommendation and stopped reading, then went and read Origin 2 last night. Which I don’t think I knew existed and certainly never read.

    Pretty decent, saw the Creed/Clara are siblings things coming. Not sure I liked the Saul/Victor swerve though. A lot of the story teases that “Creed” will end up taking or being forced to take the Sinister serum somehow. And that’s why Sabertooth is such a psycho. Him just dying and not even being Sabertooth felt like a swerve for the sake of a swerve.

    Which follows after Origin 1, where Dog Logan ended up not being Sabertooth for some reason.

    Kinda surprised no one has brought back Clara or even Saul Creed yet though. Oh yeah the explanation for Clara’s scarred face was very silly though.

  22. Luis Dantas says:

    @Bjorn: That is one of the main inconsistencies of the X-books. While there is sometimes talk about a “X-Factor” that supposedly causes mutancy across the board, whatever it is does not seem to be a genetic factor as such. Sometimes mutants with closely related genetic codes show similar powers, but far more often they do not.

    Ultimately, the biology of Marvel mutants is just odd.

  23. Mark coale says:

    do we know how long a mutant can be dead before the five resurrect them on Krakoa?

  24. Ben says:

    Chris- I actually think if Wolverine has to have a specific background, Origin works fine.

    Whether he ever really needed to or not is debatable.

    Bjorn- Yeah I guess that would be possible. I’m not sure if we’ve ever seen siblings where one has an active x-gene and one doesn’t.

    But Grayson Creed was a human born from two mutants, so it seems likely you could have kids that were split between human and mutant.

    Actually I just looked it up, and Wolverine: The End outright says that Logan got his powers from his mom. For what that’s worth.

    I think Origin 1 hints that John Jr was sent away and not killed by his family. Mean old grandpa Howlett hates little Wolverine but still gives him money and let’s him run away.

    Which is also “confirmed” by Wolverine: The End, in which John Jr is revealed to have been alive all along.

  25. Ben says:

    Mark- It seems like as long as a mutant has died since Forge completed the brain downloading part of Cerebro, they can be brought back.

    When exactly that was is a bit up in the air.

    Xavier was already in a wheel chair, and had access to extraterrestrial technology when he brought it up to Forge. But that could have been pretty much whenever, and who knows how long it would have taken Forge to build.

    I wonder who the longest dead mutant to be officially resurrected by the 5 is?

  26. Chris V says:

    Mark-I get the feeling that as long as Sinister has collected their DNA, then the mutant can be resurrected.

  27. Chris V says:

    Ben-I was writing at the same time as you. I think that Changeling is the oldest mutant who has been resurrected.
    He died in the Silver Age, which must have been before Forge updated Cerebro.
    That was what made me assume it is based on Sinister’s part in the plan, more than Forge’s work.

  28. Ben says:

    Chris V- Hmmmmmm Changeling didn’t know that.

    Looking it up I guess he was brought back as a free willed zombie in a 90s She-Hulk story, so we could potentially say that’s when he was uploaded to the Cerebro index.

    That’s kind of the problem trying to figure this out, it’s not like resurrection was exactly rare before all of this HixPox stuff. Pretty much every named modern day mutant who’s died has probably come back for at least a panel at some point before Krakoa.

  29. Thom H. says:

    “I’m not sure if we’ve ever seen siblings where one has an active x-gene and one doesn’t.”

    Didn’t Jean have a non-mutant sister?

  30. Chris V says:

    Yes, her name was Sara.
    There are probably other examples too.

  31. Ben says:

    Oh good call!

  32. Taibak says:

    Ben: Here’s an even better example:

    Betsy Braddock is a mutant. Her older brother Jamie is a mutant. Her twin brother Brian isn’t.

  33. Joseph S. says:

    Right, so when Jeff Lemire had Logan fighting in the Civil War (in OML?) that was just a complete continuity screw up?

  34. Ben says:

    Honestly I always forget that they’re twins.

    Really I just kind of ignore Captain Britain entirely.

  35. Col_Fury says:

    re: Joseph S.
    Either that, or the version of Wolverine that became this Old Man Logan is a lot older than the -616 version.

  36. yrzhe says:

    Or he time-traveled back to the Civil War sometime. The Thing is really Blackbeard, after all.

  37. SanityOrMadness says:

    Wasn’t there an issue early in Wolverine vol. 2 (the long series that started with Claremont/Buscema/Madripoor) where Wolverine’s telling a story about him running around with wolves as a young man? (Or was that Marvel Comics Presents?)

  38. Col_Fury says:

    #24 or 25; he’s telling the story to a sick kid, if I remember right.

  39. Chris V says:

    Larry Hama write a story about Logan travelling back in time to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Yet Wolverine wouldn’t have needed to travel in time to fight in the Spanish Civil War.

  40. Paul says:

    The issue where Wolverine tells a story that might or might not be his origin isn’t on the timeline, since ultimately the answer turned out to be “not”.

    Hama’s Spanish Civil War story involved Wolverine going back in time and replacing his past self. We’ll come to it in a few posts time (though only in passing, since the Wolverine of the period doesn’t actually appear except in photos).

  41. neutrino says:

    Changeling died while impersonating Prof. Xavier, with Xavier having given Changeling some of his telepathy. It’s possible Xavier made a copy of Changeling’s mind then, as the prototype..

  42. Brendan says:

    Say what you will about Origins I, the reveal that James Howlett was (or would be) Wolverine was shocking to me when I read it. I did not see it coming until those brutal scenes leading up to the reveal.

  43. jpw says:

    Thanks, Paul! These are the sort of deep-dives into X-continuity that made me a regular reader back in 2004 or so.

    I think the first “Origin” is never really revisited for a number of reasons. First, as you say, it doesn’t add much and is rather uninteresting. It came out in 2000, which was a bizarre (and not good) period for the X-Men.

    The story was entirely a flashback, too. Logan didn’t remember any of these events at the time the story was published. It didn’t change modern-day Logan in any way, wasn’t about Logan finding clues about his past or anything like that, and had no present-day impact. By the time Logan did recover these memories, he was in the hands of Dan Way, who had zero interest in this material, and Jeph Loeb, who was more concerned with . . . well, let’s not go there until we have to. ::shudders::

  44. […] Part 1 – Origin to Origin IIPart 2 – 1907 to 1914 […]

  45. […] Part 1: Origin to Origin IIPart 2: 1907 to 1914Part 3: 1914 to 1939 […]

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