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Aug 30

The Incomplete Wolverine, Part 6

Posted on Sunday, August 30, 2020 by Paul in Wolverine

Part 1: Origin to Origin II
Part 2: 1907 to 1914
Part 3: 1914 to 1939
Part 4: World War II
Part 5: The postwar era

We left off with Logan firmly established as a secret agent working for the likes of the CIA (and with Romulus in the background feeding him missions, thanks to Wolverine: Origins). Now, we finally get to one of the phases of his history that’s more familiar, as he joins Team X.

And this phase is… bitty. Nobody really does entire stories to the Team X era – instead it’s all fragmented flashbacks, some of which then turn out to be memory implants. So this is going to be a particularly haphazard one, since few of these really amount to a whole story.

X-MEN: ORIGINS – SABRETOOTH #1
by Kieron Gillen & Dan Panosian
February 2009

We’ve had scenes from this issue before, but it takes place over a very long time frame, and it has several scenes set during the Team X period. In particular, it’s got the closest thing to Logan joining Team X – we don’t actually see that happening, but we do learn that he applied successfully for the job, and is then horrified when Victor Creed shows up as another recruit. Logan attacks him on sight, and the two are quickly separated. The Team X staff aren’t that bothered, because they were planning to wipe both men’s memories anyway. Of course, Romulus is sitting in the background behind all this mind-wipe stuff (this issue is post-Origins). But we’ll see later that Team X has at least some employees who know nothing about Romulus – so either it’s a genuinely independent outfit that he’s infiltrated, or there are simply some people who aren’t in on the scam.

So. Early on, Logan undergoes the first of yet more mindwipes and memory implants at the hands of Team X – as referenced in the aforementioned Sabretooth one-shot, Wolverine vol 2 #49 and Wolverine: Origins #7, among other places. Presumably Team X’s employers are using Romulus’s technology for this. They won’t have access to a telepath until later, so the early procedures involve drugs, stage sets, and directly manipulating the brain during the healing process. Lovely.

There are fewer flashbacks to actual Team X missions than you might expect, since the ones that exist tend to either revisit the same few events, or turn out to be drug-induced memory implants. For example, Wolverine vol 2 #49 and #61 show Logan and Creed in Cuba, apparently on a mission to steal a nuclear missile from revolutionaries. They’re in a bar when they see news coverage of the murders of John F Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald, which Creed – in true conspiracy story style – apparently recognises as a sign to start their mission. Silver Fox inexplicably shows up as a member of Team X – though since she appears again in the modern era, this seems to be intended as real. This is also our first sighting on two other Team X members, Mastodon and teleporter John Wraith. Presumably Team X all escape just fine.

Since those issues was published, Savage Wolverine #18 has created a continuity problem by showing Logan in California when JFK died. And that’s not a flashback (let alone one with memory-distortion elements) so it really has to take priority. Still, we can probably take it that there’s some sort of genuine mission to Cuba at around this time, even if Logan’s memories are somehow tied up with unrelated news stories.

Wolverine vol 2 #61 also has a flashback to Logan, Creed and Wraith on a Team X mission in the Vietnamese jungle. A local girl compromises the team; Wraith says he’ll quietly kill her, but Creed does it himself, since he believes that Wraith was actually planning to let her go. Throughout the Hama run, Wraith is generally presented as the nice one (and probably the smartest too).

Back to X-Men Origins: Sabretooth, which has a two-page scene set “two years and two mindwipes” after Logan and Creed joined Team X. It shows Creed saving Logan during a mission; later, the two of them drink with their other teammate Maverick. Creed tells Logan he’ll always be there for him, and then attacks Logan because it’s his birthday – though playfully, by Creed’s standards. At this point, both Logan and Creed seem to be relatively sensible, and unaware of their full history.

However, according to the same issue, as their time in Team X goes on, Logan sees Creed kill and torture all sorts of people who are either innocent or have surrendered already. Creed seems relaxed about it all; Logan, presumably unaware of some of his own history for Romulus, becomes increasingly worried about working with this lunatic.

On the other hand…

Flashbacks in WOLVERINE: ORIGINS #2
“Born in Blood, part 2” by Daniel Way & Steve Dillon
May 2006

1968. Logan is posing as a Russian advisor to the Viet Cong, who have captured Nuke. Logan joins in torturing Nuke, and seems to have a hand in cutting the flag pattern into his face. After he leaves, he changes back into a US army uniform and watches with detached amusement as an enraged Nuke takes the Viet Cong soldiers apart.

It’s not obviously a Team X-era story, but the year seems to force it in here (Wolverine vol 2 #68 has Logan with Team X in 1968). Besides, Logan’s behaviour in the Nuke flashbacks is nihilistic and sadistic even by the tiresomely grim standards of Wolverine: Origins, and it’s very difficult to square with anything else – this stuff simply doesn’t fit neatly anywhere.

In Wolverine vol 2 #63, a flashback shows Logan undergoing memory implantation at the hands of telepath Aldo Ferro (also known as Psi-Borg). Ferro is demonstrating his abilities to three scientists who are putting together the Weapon X Project, or more accurately the version of it that will eventually experiment on Logan. Though he isn’t aware of them, this is Logan’s chronologically earliest encounter with Professor Thorton, Dr Abraham Cornelius and Carol Hines – which implies that those three take longer to get their version of the Weapon X Project up and running than you might expect. More of them in a couple of chapters.

In Wolverine vol 2 #87, Logan, Creed and Maverick are on a Team X mission to recover unspecified data. After they get it, they’re spotted, and they have an argument about what to do about it. Maverick wants them to split up, to maximise the chances of one of them getting back with the data (he’s a pragmatist who just wants to get the mission done). Logan wants the team to stay together and insists on helping Creed get to safety when he’s injured (he’s a team player). And Creed just wants to force everyone into a needless fight (he’s a psychopath).

Thankfully, Maverick learns more from Logan than from Creed, since Maverick vol 2 #2 and X-Men Unlimited vol 1 #15 have flashbacks to a mission in East Germany where Logan and Creed are both severely injured. Maverick heroically drags them both to the border, even killing his own brother in the process. Good old Maverick. According to him, this isn’t long before Team X disbands, though that’s all a bit hazy.

In Wolverine vol 2 #68, it’s still 1968, and Team X are sent to stop Russia from launching a space shuttle before American can. Logan dutifully fights his way to the Russian super-spaceman Epsilon Red, who is delighted to see him, because he hates living on Earth as a man adapted for space, and actually wants to die. Creed shows up at the last minute to tell Logan that their instructions have been countermanded, so Logan leaves Epsilon alone. (Then Creed kills Epsilon Red’s wife, for the hell of it.)

Daken: Dark Wolverine #1 has a flashback to “50 years ago”, which would have been 1960 at the time of publication – and wouldn’t have worked for Daken’s timeline even then. So we have to take that very loosely, and it can go somewhere around here. A drunken Logan stumbles out of a bar where he seems to have just killed someone in a fight, and drives off. The unnamed founder of the Red Right Hand is once again on hand with a sniper rifle, but this time Daken intervenes and tells him that they can boht wait for their revenge.

In Wolverine vol 4 #11, Logan and Creed kill a politician in his bed, in front of his wife. Logan stops Creed from gratuitously assaulting the widow, and then fires a gunshot to fool Creed into thinking that he killed her. In fact he lets her live. Predictably unimpressed by this act of non-heroism, the widow goes on to – you guessed it – join the Red Right Hand.

In flashbacks in Wolverine: Origins #6-7 and #25, Romulus’s men within the Team X organisation perform a bit of experimentation. They get Logan to swallow a capsule, and he obliges, because he thinks it’s some sort of smuggling device. In fact, it’s poisonous carbonadium (the stuff from Omega Red’s back story) and the experiment verifies that, yes, if you get Logan to swallow poison, he will nearly die. Unfortunately for the Team X mad scientists, they get complacent while Logan is healing. He wakes up without them noticing, jumps them, demands some answers, and… well, he doesn’t really get them – beyond being told that it’s a mercenary operation with a mysterious boss. But he does get to leave without being mindwiped, and intimidates one of the scientists into covering for him. He takes the instructions that were left for him, and sets off anyway, but knowing more than he should. Those instructions involve him retrieving a carbonadium-synthesizer device from Berlin, which we’ll get to shortly.

The timeline on these flashbacks generally indicates that we’re in the mid 1960s. Issue #6 has a caption placing it in 1963. Issues #7 and #8 go for “40 years ago”, which at the time of publication would have been 1966. Neither Since this explicitly leads in to one of the team’s final missions, both contradict Wolverine vol 2 #68 which (as already mentioned) has Logan with Team X in 1968. That’s why this entry comes near the end of the list regardless. We’re getting into the grey area where stories are starting to have links forward to other stories that are unquestionably affected by sliding time, but for the most part Marvel seem to be sticking with the idea that the Team X stuff is more or less pinned to a vaguely defined time frame in the 1960s and 1970s – almost all of the characters involved having the benefit of long lifespans. (The main counter argument is the weird appearance of Abraham and Hines in the Psi-Borg flashback, which doesn’t really tally with the way they’re shown in “Weapon X” as recent recruits – but “Weapon X” is an unreliable-narrator story, and the Psi-Borg flashback is a problem for those two however you approach it.)

The Berlin mission plays out in a slew of flashbacks in X-Men vol 2 #5-7, Wolverine: Origins #8, Wolverine vol 2 #60-61 and Maverick vol 1 (one-shot). According to Origins, Logan starts off playing along with Romulus’s instructions. He tells his CIA contacts that their GRU mole Janice Hollenbeck is in danger of being exposed. The CIA then deploy Team X to extract her. Logan, Creed and Maverick are sent into the building to get her, but Logan and Creed secretly have a side mission to retrieve the C-synth. What’s more, Creed (alone) has a second side mission: to kill the new Russian super-soldier Omega Red (Arkady Rossovich)

At first things go well. They do get Janice; Logan does get the C-synth; and Creed does get to fight Omega Red. While that’s happening, in a scene added by Origins, Logan takes the chance to interrogate Maverick about his loyalties. In a pleasant surprise, Maverick turns out to be completely above board – he honestly believes that he’s on a team of legitimate CIA agents. So Logan gives him the C-synth and tells him to hide it. (In fact, Omega Red needs the thing in order to stay alive without killing other people and draining their life force. But Logan presumably figures that if Omega Red and Romulus both want the C-synth, there must be excellent reasons why neither of them should have it, even if he doesn’t actually know what they are.)

Creed doesn’t overhear this exchange, but he does realise that something is up. So he kills Janice in order to teach Logan a lesson. Logan and Maverick insist on bringing her body with them as they make their escape (because she might still be exposed as a spy if they leave her behind, somehow). Wraith shows up to help cover their escape. The next day, during a debriefing, Logan and Creed fight over Creed’s pointless murder of Janice.

This is one of the rare cases where the Origins retcons improve the story, since it was a mess to start with. It actually makes more sense when everyone involved has completely contradictory agendas and side missions, and Creed is only going through the motions of being interested in Janice’s rescue.

Finally, we return to X-Men Origins: Sabretooth for another four pages. In a West Berlin bar, Logan and Creed argue about Janice’s pointless death. This time, Creed claims that he killed her in order to provoke Logan into having their annual birthday fight – which in Creed’s view is something they both secretly want. Logan is appalled, and announces that he’s quitting the team. Creed does not take the threat seriously.

But… apparently Logan does indeed quit Team X, which disbands shortly after. He doesn’t go to Weapon X just yet, though – there are a few more stories first, most of which either attempt to lead in to Weapon X, or simply take place in the 1970s. And we’ll cover them next time.

EDIT HISTORY: Edited on 7 September 2020 to correct an error in the timeframe for Wolverine: Origins #6.

Bring on the comments

  1. […] Next time, the convoluted world of Team X. […]

  2. Daniel says:

    This has nothing to do with Paul’s writing, but this stuff just seems so… boring. Years upon years of stories that basically just amount to nothing.

  3. Chris says:

    That is serialized comics for you.

    A lot of the problem is that many of the flashbacks were written to lead up to something but that something is either long done (Weapon X) or long dumb (Romulus).

    As it is though the next two things I want to see get this treatment are the Sentinels and APOCALYPSE.

    Please and thank you

  4. Jerry Ray says:

    Yep. I’ve read every single bit of it, and remember precisely none of it. None of it makes Wolverine a more interesting character; in fact, a lot of it actively makes the character worse (a bad guy, a victim, a perpetual dupe who can’t quit getting kind wiped…).

  5. Jerry Ray says:

    Er, MIND wiped, obviously.

  6. Luis Dantas says:

    I knew that many stories insisted that Sabretooth was an important part of Wolverine’s past, but I feel overwhelmed by noticing that there are this many of them.

    I’m starting to hope for the story where Sabretooth threatens Wolverine again and, out of a previously unnoticed door, there come Iron Fist and the Black Cat to confront Creed.

    Naturally, he immediately goes livid and attempts to flee as fast as he can, since both characters have defeated him something fierce in the past.

    I can almost see the cover with a badly bruised and beaten Wolverine fighting to remain awake, and then we get just a glimpse of Iron Fist… and Sabretooth’s face shows an expression of pure terror.

    Heck, I would want to read that.

    And six issues later: “Iron Fist: Romulus’ Nemesis”. Naturally, Romulus is curled up like a scared puppy on the cover, while Iron Fist has just turned his head towards him as is giving Romulus this _really stern_ look…

    An epic tale for the ages, folks. And as a bonus, it is likely to be told only once.

    What is not to love?

  7. Chris V says:

    Black Cat put Sabretooth in the hospital.
    It’s really Black Cat that should be in that story.
    She can put Wolverine in his place.

    To be fair, I’m pretty sure that Claremont clarified that the Sabretooth which fought Iron Fist and Black Cat was a clone created by Sinister.
    Sinister’s clone was a lot weaker than the original.

  8. Luis Dantas says:

    Sure. That is what Creed wants you to believe.

  9. Daniel says:

    Strange how The Complete Moira was ten times more interesting (trying to tie it in with Hickman’s run, of course). And I second Apocalypse, there’s a lot to untie there.

  10. Andrew says:

    The complete Apocalypse would be interesting.

    He’s a character who had endless amounts of backstory added through the 90s and his various supporting characters like Ozymandias who turned up and were mysterious but added fuck all to the events they appeared in.

  11. Col_Fury says:

    I remember really enjoying X-Men: Origins – Sabretooth when it came out. I either didn’t realize who Kieron Gillen was at the time, or it just didn’t register in my head. Also, I think this was the first time I noticed Dan Panosian’s new art style and really liked it. I pulled the comic out to re-read it after reading this, and it holds up. Good stuff!

    I think by this point, the Team X stuff has to be unhooked from real world dates and is tied to the “however long before Fantastic Four #1” sliding timescale. Meaning, Wolverine torturing Nuke in 1968 would happen before Wolverine joins Team X, and we just have to ignore the JFK assassination Team X stuff.

    Also, I always liked John Wraith. He really was the smartest one. I’d have to go back and check; do we see Wolverine wearing a cowboy hat in any flashbacks before he met John Wraith? Is Wraith the reason Logan wears cowboy hats? (probably not)

  12. Chris V says:

    The fact that Nuke got brought in to this whole Romulus nonsense was the worst part for me.
    If they want to ruin Wolverine’s character even more, that’s one thing. It was already convoluted enough. Why not make tack on a completely new and different story to everything else that had already been revealed?

    Yet, Nuke was definitely a character who did not need anything extra added to his story, so of course they had to drag Nuke in to to Logan’s back-story too.

    The Romulus ret-com really is like terrible fan fiction.

  13. Rob says:

    IIRC, Nuke was already established as part of the Weapon+ program in Morrison’s New X-Men.

  14. Paul says:

    Logan’s back story hangs together more or less in broad strokes but suffers from the fact that it’s littered with flashbacks written by people with very different ideas of how he was meant to be acting at any given time – most of them treat him either as a cynical intelligence professional (or in extreme cases a borderline villain), or as already having the veteran persona that he develops into by the late1980s. One thing that’s striking on a re-read is how anomalous Wolverine’s initial depiction in the 1970s now seems, and how his first decade of character development under Claremont winds up being retrofitted so that he was ALWAYS like that. (That said, that first decade or so is still the best bit of the character’s history.)

    Wolverine: Origins faced an almost impossible task in trying to wrangle all this stuff into some sort of coherent overall history, and I can see why Daniel Way ended up going for the idea of a unifying villain to tie together all the variants on working for a morally dodgy intelligence agency. The trouble is that there’s no real sense of progress in any of this (or at least progress that sticks) until we reach Weapon X and Department H… which are only a couple of posts away now.

  15. Chris V says:

    He was, and I’m ok with that because it does work with the character.
    We already knew that the US government was involved in turning him in to a super soldier shortly after the Vietnam War.
    There was no reason that couldn’t have been an early Weapon Plus experiment. The Weapon Plus Program was heavily involved in attempts to create Super Soldiers.
    It just sort of simplified continuity to say that all the US government’s Super Soldiers experiments were under the aegis of the same program.
    I’m pretty sure that Anne Nocenti had already made the connection during her run on Daredevil anyway.
    Plus, Captain America was the original Super Soldier experiment. Miller used Steve Rogers in the initial story.

    It was just all the additional baggage that was brought to the character by having to link it all with Logan and Romulus.
    Why not just say that Nuke was an earlier Weapon Plus experiment and leave it at that?

    It’s just stupid and reads like fan fiction to me.
    Nuke was in Vietnam and became part of the government’s Super Soldier Program…but wouldn’t it be so much cooler if Wolverine was involved too? What if Wolverine even carved the American flag on Nuke’s face? So awesome!
    Nuke’s past should just be left alone. We already knew all we needed to know-he was a soldier involved in atrocities during the Vietnam War. There’s his back-story.

  16. Daniel says:

    Wolverine: He’s old, spent time in Japan, and knows a lot of people. There’s his backstory.

  17. Luis Dantas says:

    I probably should not be surprised that after so many hundreds (thousands?) of appearances and probably well over a hundred different writers over almost 45 years people’s opinions on what makes a good Wolverine are all over the place.

    What does surprise me is that there is so little attempt at giving the character some sort of closure and presenting better developed alternatives for the various competing takes.

    I can only assume that, at least by typical editorial and writer perspectives, the appeal of a character that is “famous for being famous” is very much a significant draw.

  18. Paul says:

    There *is* closure, you just don’t get to it for a long while. In terms of Wolverine’s on-again-off-again heroic tendencies, that’s sort of the character arc that Claremont plays out over his first decade or so, culminating in Wolverine graduating to accept his role as the veteran leader figure shortly before “Fall of the Mutants”. In terms of all the Romulus stuff, the pay-off is that Wolverine does finally beat him, but of course that doesn’t happen until after House of M. A lot of these flashbacks are setting up things that *do* eventually pay off miles down the line – in fact, what’s surprising is how few stories have been written which don’t do that, and simply tell a story of Wolverine having an adventure during his spy days.

  19. Paul says:

    Also:

    The tone of a chronological re-read of Wolverine’s appearances changes quite drastically when we reach the X-Men, at which point his portrayal becomes vastly more consistent and there are also many more appearances that aren’t particularly about him – even in X-Men stories. (Current position in the read-through: The Gehenna Stone Affair.)

  20. Chris says:

    Truth be, the only Wolverine character shift I really have issue with is somewhere around the Morrison Era where the writers decided that the Berserker Rage was a super power and that casually mutilating people was an option Logan is comfortable with.

    During the Claremont/Hama/Byrne/David years Logan would certainly kill as neccesary but it was a choice, and he certainly looked at unconscious violence as a way of falling away from his own humanity.

    I think it was a Frank Tieri comic where he casually cut off a guy’s fingers just avoid getting stabbed with a bottle.

  21. Jerry Ray says:

    Maybe combined with the casual violence was the ramp-up of the healing factor from “heals more quickly than most” to “unkillable.”

    It really changed Wolverine from a skilled fighter to a brute, and writers switched from telling stories to creating new ways to mutilate him.

  22. Luis Dantas says:

    Was that avoidable, though?

    Wolverine is written as way above his actual punching level. He does not fly, does not have particularly high strength, does not have anything in the way of ranged attacks.

    For him to continually face enemies that have any or several of those advantages without being at least crippled requires some sort of explanation.

  23. Col_Fury says:

    World War Hulks: Captain America vs. Wolverine has a flashback story where Logan and Winter Soldier are messing around with gangsters in Chicago. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, and don’t recall if Jasmine Falls was mentioned (probably not).

    It would either fall in this batch or part 5.

  24. Col_Fury says:

    Just flipped through it (WWHulks), and there are some conflicting details. The characters are drawn in 1950s/60s fashions, but Wolverine’s claws are colored silver. In the second issue, the claws are more obviously drawn more jagged (or bone-like), but are still colored silver.

  25. Chris says:

    Having not read barely any post Decimation Wolverine I’m now curious which of these flashbacks he uses bone claws in, in addition to the ones where he has no claws.

  26. Paul says:

    @Col_Fury – Yes, some of these placements are more or less arbitrary, and in that case I’m generally just going with the established line where there is one. With sliding time, there’s a definite possibility that parts of Wolverine’s history wind up getting re-ordered, because some of his stories are locked to historical events, while others are tied into a sequence of events leading up to the dawn of the Silver Age – so that the sequence of events that read best a decade or two back may no longer be the most natural in 2020.

  27. Matthew says:

    “The timeline on these flashbacks is obscure and contradictory. Issue #6 has a caption placing it in 1963. Issues #7 and #8 go for “40 years ago”, which at the time of publication would have been 1976!”

    I think you’ve got this second bit wrong. Wolverine Origins #6 came out in 2006, so 40 years before that would have been 1966.

  28. Paul says:

    You’re absolutely right. I’ll get that fixed – thanks.

  29. […] Part 1: Origin to Origin IIPart 2: 1907 to 1914Part 3: 1914 to 1939Part 4: World War IIPart 5: The postwar eraPart 6: Team X […]

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