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Jul 12

The Incomplete Wolverine, Part 2

Posted on Sunday, July 12, 2020 by Paul in Wolverine

For part 1, see here.

In part 1, we were going through stories that were mostly designed to be read in sequence. We left off with Logan in New York in 1907, at the end of Origin II. Now we’re entering a rather more haywire phase, since writers tend to assume that Wolverine’s history between Origin and World War I is simply a bit of a blank. It isn’t, but it’s a scattershot period with a lot of travelling going on.

Flashback in WOLVERINE: WEAPON X #10
“Love and the Wolverine” by Jason Aaron & CP Smith
February 2010

Shortly after Origin II (“it wasn’t long after I first come down outta the wilderness”), Logan wanders to California and becomes an agricultural labourer, where he loses his virginity to a Mexican migrant worker (whose name he doesn’t know). And that’s the whole thing.

Flashbacks in WOLVERINE vol 3 #52-53
“Evolution, parts 3-4” by Jeph Loeb & Simone Bianchi
March-April 2007

Logan is in Tokyo, “running away from whatever personal demons I had on me at the time”. Ninjas from the Hand bring him before their leader, a shadow figure who is apparently Romulus – more, much more, of him later. Romulus sends Logan to deal with another superhuman westerner who has been killing prostitutes. This leads to Logan’s first fight with his arch enemy Victor Creed (later Sabretooth); Logan immediately senses a similarity between the two.

The flashback simply ends with someone interrupting the fight, and it’s never been revisited – most likely because “Evolution” was an incoherent mess that nobody really wants to go near. The story doesn’t give a precise date for the flashback, but if it’s Wolverine’s first encounter with Sabretooth, then it has to come before some other stories which are dated more precisely.

So, yes, believe it or not, for all the stories that have been written about Logan’s past, his first trip to Japan, his first encounter with Romulus and his first encounter with Sabretooth all remain sketchy territory at best. If someone’s casting about for material for Origin III, they’re not short of options.

Adding to this is the Chris Claremont story from the 2019 anthology Wolverine: Exit Wounds, which establishes that Logan married an unnamed Japanese woman around this time, and that her great-great-granddaughter Hoshiko is still running the Logan Noodle Bar in the present day. What’s more, Logan and his first wife have at least one child, leading to a whole Logan-descended dynasty in Japan. Clearly this marriage doesn’t last long, for reasons not explained, but Exit Wounds also tells us that Logan stays in touch with the family over the generations, and visits regularly.

RUINS OF RAVENSCROFT: SABRETOOTH #1
by Frank Tieri, Angel Unzueta & Guillermo Sanna
January 2020

1909, and Logan is back in New York. Victor Creed finds him unconscious next to the body of someone who has been murdered by a serial killer (a plotline which doesn’t concern us), and carts him off to the Ravenscroft Institute for the Criminally Insane, where Mr Sinister resumes his experiments on Logan’s healing factor and has a stab at lobotomising him. It’s a rather nasty story. Logan is rescued by Claudia Russell, a Ravenscroft doctor who is also a werewolf.

Flashbacks in LOKI vol 3 #5
“The Man from Up North!” by Daniel Kibblesmith & Andy MacDonald
November 2019

“1911 or thereabouts”, and Logan has become a late-period western hero in Montana. He deals with a gang of murderous robbers, with the unlikely help of Loki. This is a very meta story; the idea is that Loki has gained the power to alter history by telling new stories about himself, and so this flashback becomes true by virtue of Loki narrating it. However, it’s also suggested that he’s muscling his way into a Wolverine story that would have played out just fine without his involvement – so apparently the broad thrust of history is unchanged by Loki’s intervention.

With that, we come to more familiar territory, and the string of flashbacks that cover Logan’s time with Silver Fox. There are a lot of minor flashbacks and references here, and we can skip over some of them in short order:

  • We’ve never seen Logan’s first meeting with Silver Fox, but according to Wolverine: Origins #5, he was already living in a mountain cabin when they met. She was a Blackfoot woman whose husband had died three years previously, and they fell in love.
  • Wolverine: Origins #49 has a single panel of Logan, in frontier gear, standing with Silver Fox.
  • Wolverine vol 2 #49 has a single panel of Logan carving a heart and the words “Logan + Silver Fox” into the door of their log cabin.
  • Wolverine vol 2 #65 has a flashback of Logan telling her that he could live like this forever; she tells him nothing lasts forever.
  • X-Men Origins: Sabretooth has a flashback where Logan gets into a bar fight after someone insults Silver Fox. Victor Creed, just back in town, shows up and joins in. Either Logan and Creed become friends here, or they’d done so already – Logan shows no sign of recognising Creed from their previous encounters, which I suppose we have to blame on the old traumatic-memory excuse. This is supposed to be a few months before Silver Fox dies.
  • Wolverine vol 2 #47 shows Logan and Silver Fox’s dog getting rabies. Logan can’t bring himself to shoot the dog, so she does it.
  • Wolverine vol 3 #50 shows Creed watching Logan and Silver Fox in their log cabin.

Flashbacks in WOLVERINE vol 2 #10
“24 Hours” by Chris Claremont, John Buscema & Bill Sienkiewicz
August 1989

Now things get confusing. The original story is very straightforward: Creed murders Silver Fox on Logan’s birthday, supposedly because she refused to sleep with him. (As we’ll see, various other stories go on to suggest that Creed’s actual motivation is to torment Logan for the hell of it, or to further Romulus’ conspiracy, or both.) Logan fights Creed, but has no formal training at this point in his career, and so is hopelessly outmatched despite his berserker rage. An epic battle ends with Logan hurling them both over a cliff, but Creed gets up first and walks away. This becomes the starting point for the idea that Creed hunts down and torments Logan on his birthday every year.

The flashback builds on an earlier reference in Uncanny X-Men vol 1 #213, where Psylocke sees some out of context images vaguely from the battle (though Wolverine is shown in his costume). More embellishments can be found in Wolverine vol 2 #41, Wolverine vol 3 #50, Wolverine: Origins #5 and #33 and X-Men Origins: Sabretooth, none of which add very much.

But… if you know your 90s Wolverine, you’ll know that Silver Fox survives, and shows up again in Larry Hama’s run. This has never been very clearly explained. Wolverine vol 2 #50 shows that Weapon X’s brainwashing unit has standing sets of the bar from this issue, but that probably just means that they deliberately replicated an event they knew was important to Logan. More significant is Wolverine: Origins #5, which continues the flashback: after the fight, Creed tortures Logan and convinces him that the townsfolk killed Silver Fox in order to drive him out of town. Logan believes this, apparently because he’s delirious and his healing factor is already obscuring the traumatic memory. So he goes on a rampage and kills several of the townsfolk.

Wolverine: Origins #15 goes further, and has Cyber suggest that Silver Fox was working for Romulus all along. Romulus’s plan is basically to turn Logan into a living weapon by breaking his spirit and making him into an animal, so throughout Daniel Way’s stories, Romulus keeps killing off women to whom Logan becomes attached. Many of these women are apparently agents of Romulus who are put in that position specifically to torment Logan, so Silver Fox’s survival might imply that their deaths were also faked as part of the ongoing brainwashing plan. (That might also explain why other flashbacks, outside Way’s orbit, show Logan having extended relationships with women who seem to survive just fine – and why Romulus seems so cavalier about killing off useful agents.)

The thing about all this is: it makes a certain degree of sense, but it isn’t very satisfying. We’ll see much more of this later, but Daniel Way’s basic agenda with Romulus is to make him a unifying figure that ties together vast swathes of Wolverine’s back story. His established history already involved various iterations of “secret organisation exploits Wolverine and undermines his humanity”, and putting Romulus behind it all makes him a personification of Wolverine’s exploitation that he can ultimately confront and defeat. The trouble is that Romulus’ scheme has no real substance to it beyond tying together a recurring theme in Wolverine’s back story. Arguably that’s the point – Romulus’s conspiracy has no purpose beyond preserving his personal power, and everything else is just noise and distraction tactics – but it makes for a one-dimensional villain.

The Romulus storyline also limits the stories you can tell in Wolverine’s past, unless you’re willing to ignore the idea that Romulus persistently intervenes to stop him forming human relationships. Most writers since Way have done exactly that – Romulus is notionally important to Wolverine’s history, but writers don’t seem to go near him. Daniel Way’s lasting contribution to the Wolverine mythos turns out to be not Romulus, but Daken.

The best way to square Romulus with the rest of Wolverine’s history (and preserve the integrity of stories in which he doesn’t feature) is to say that he’s pulling the strings in all Logan’s various black ops / secret agents roles down the years, and he’s a persistent influence on Logan’s life, but ultimately he’s exaggerating his influence to build up his mystique, he’s not involved on a day-to-day basis, and long stretches go by in which he’s virtually absent from Logan’s life.

Returning to the narrative: according to Wolverine: Origins #33, having killed the townsfolk, Logan begins working for the Hudson Bay Company, which in the Marvel Universe is a front for Romulus. (In reality, it’s called the “Hudson’s Bay Company”, and it now runs Canadian department stores.)

Flashbacks in MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS vol 1 #93-98
“Wild Frontier” by Timothy Truman, Todd Foxx & Gary Kwapisz
January to March 1992

Possibly.

This oddity has always had a shaky place in continuity. It shows Logan as a fur trapper for the Hudson Bay Company. He saves a young Blackfoot Indian from a demonically-possessed bear, but the boy loses his sight and Logan is badly injured. The tribe take Logan in for several months while he rehabs, and outfit him with clothes that bear a suspicious resemblance to his later costume, until he eventually he sets off to fight the evil presence, Uncegila. Uncegila is a genuine creature from Lakota mythology, and the sight of it is supposed to drive people insane, so Logan is accompanied by the blind kid. Together they kill Uncegila, and before Logan leaves, the tribe christen him “wolverine” – well, “skunk-bear”, but it’s the same creature. (You won’t be surprised to hear that this is not the only story in which people independently come up with the nickname “Wolverine” or some variation of it.)

“Wild Frontier” is an extended flashback with a present-day framing sequence, but it keeps insisting that the flashback is unreliable – it’s “not a memory”, it’s some sort of dream, and our attention is repeatedly drawn to the fact that Logan is confusing his nurse Sparrow Hawk with Silver Fox. Uncegila seems to serve as a metaphor for the demise of traditional tribal culture in the face of modernity and colonisation. But the framing sequence shows Uncegila’s corpse in the present day, which seems intended to indicate that the story happened more or less as depicted – and Marvel Index treats it as canon.

That gives us an issue of time frame, because “Wild Frontier” is manifestly intended to happen way back in the 19th century. The precise date isn’t given, but there are pilgrims wandering around, and Logan claims to have got his knives from “a little gambler from Natchez” who “made ’em himself” and “last I heard, he was holed up in some godforsaken mission down in Texas with the whole blamed Mexican Army after him.” That’s Jim Bowie, inventor of the Bowie knife – and he died in 1836. Still, if you’re willing to play the “unreliable narrator” card, the story can be canon in its broad strokes. Most timelines have it almost immediately after Origin II, but once you’ve yanked it that far from its intended timeframe, it might as well go next to his other Hudson Bay Company stories. Besides, Wolverine: Origins #5 says that Silver Fox taught Logan how to trap, so he can’t have been a fur trapper before he met her.

“Wild Frontier” is not available on Unlimited, though if money really is no object, you can buy it as part of “Wolverine: Prehistory”, a collection of miscellanea.

Finally for this batch, flashbacks in Wolverine: Origins #12, #15 and #17 show Logan being brutalised in a Hudson Bay Company training facility where selected men are being turned into a private army (to channel them into Romulus’s other operations). The sadistic trainer is Silas Burr, who’ll go on to become Cyber. Once again, Logan becomes attached to a woman, she gets brutally killed on Romulus’s orders, Logan reverts to a state of nature for a while, and then he gets brainwashed by giving him false information about who was really responsible. There’s a lot of this stuff in the Daniel Way stories, unfortunately.

Next time: World War I and the inter-war period.

Bring on the comments

  1. […] 1: Origin to Origin II | Part 2: 1907 to 1914Part 3: 1914 to 1939 | Part 4: World War IIPart 5: The postwar era | Part 6: Team XPart 7: Post Team […]

  2. […] 1: Origin to Origin II | Part 2: 1907 to 1914Part 3: 1914 to 1939 | Part 4: World War IIPart 5: The postwar era | Part 6: Team XPart 7: Post Team […]

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