Wolverine- The Most Popular X-Man Ever:
-Hard to believe Wolverine started out as the least-popular character of the early Giant-Size-era X-Men
. Initially imagined as a smart-assed, egotistical teenager, he debuted in an Incredible Hulk
issue, acting as the Canadian government's own personal superhuman, brawling with the Hulk and Wendigo. Despite being drastically outpowered, he did well enough. He was the brainchild of Roy Thomas, who wanted a small, scrappy Canadian in a Hulk
issue, and had John Romita draw up the character for Len Wein to write. Herb Trimpe, the artist of the issues, drew the first "official" Wolverine drawings, but has denied his part in the creative process.
-Envisioned as kind of a one-off, he was curiously brought into 1975's Giant-Size X-Men #1
, one of the only characters not invented for that issue. Likely because the writer, Len Wein, had JUST worked on him, and they were working on an "International" team of mutants. It's quite funny, though- most one-off characters don't suddenly get into the starring role in another book so quickly. In a funny accident, Gil Kane accidentally made Wolverine's mask far too large on the cover he drew for the issue, and Dave Cockrum (the new penciller) liked it so much that he just kept it. It's hard to imagine the older style of the character being that popular.
-Wolverine's introduction into the X-Men was pretty funny, though- he isn't recruited as a solitary character (Nightcrawler was on the run; Storm was being worshipped as a Goddess; Colossus was on his family farm), but in a group of his bosses. Professor Xavier gives him a bunch of reasons to join his X-Men, and Logan more or less shrugs and goes "why not?", royally pissing off his bosses in the Canadian government by quitting on the spot. A very characterful moment- a bit more rebellious than we'd later expect from him.
Wolverine- The Least-Popular X-Man:
-Wolverine would slowly get more development- early on, he was impetuous and kind of annoying, flirting with Jean Grey (who was in a relationship with Cyclops), mouthing off, and smirking a whole bunch. New writer Chris Claremont had taken over, and with John "Thunderbird" Proudstar dead, the soon-to-be-named Logan was the odd man out, getting less to do than the others. Claremont & Cockrum (who based Logan somewhat on Timber Wolf character-wise and visually- he was a grump with pointy hair) had suggested dropping the character from the series, but Cockrum's successor, John Byrne, championed the character, being Canadian himself, and got his way. He would even eventually drop the trademark yellow & blue costume (which was more inspired by the University of Michigan's "Wolverines" colors) for a brown & tan look, figuring that it was goofy that a stealth-themed character would be wearing the most visible costume on the team. He briefly wore Fang's Imperial Guard uniform when that character was killed, but Byrne dropped it, as it was hard for him to draw.
-A LOT of Wolverine was up in the air, however. Right before Jean is turned into The Phoenix, a year or so into the run, it's finally revealed that his claws are REAL, not just things on his gloves. When Cyclops is astonished, Logan just says "You never asked"- a typically-flippant remark from the guy who was mostly known for calling Jean a "frail". We never really learn what ACTUALLY makes him a Mutant for a while, I believe- he eventually develops Enhanced Senses and a Healing Factor as powers.
Wolverine Gets Popular:
-The well-recognized "Game Changer" of Wolverine's popularity was when the team had been badly beaten and embarrassed, held captive by the Hellfire Club. Wolverine had been thrown into the basement of the Club by the density-altering Harry Leland, and was thought dead, while the rest of the team were bound and helpless. But then, in an AMAZING piece of business from John Byrne & Terry Austin, he rises from the waters beneath the HQ, costume torn up and looking pissed off as all hell, declaring that "now it's MY turn!". Logan single-handedly fights through the HQ, savagely mauls a trio of Hellfire Club goons who come to see him, and is believed to have EXECUTED Harry Leland in their rematch (Cyke asks what happened to Leland, and Logan goes "Don't ask."). In short, Logan was now AWESOME, engaging in some bad-ass stuff that you just didn't SEE from most comic book superheroes!
-And yeah, you could feel the shift happened, as the creative team slowly "got" the character. He shifted into more of a "Desperado/Free Rider" type, which was a LOT cooler than being a smirking punk kid. His rebellion was less immature, and more "I'm my own man". And he was SAVAGE- when every other hero was talking about how life was sacred, and pulling their punches, and rescuing innocents, here was this BAD-ASS just moving down bad guys if he had a chance, occasionally getting so angry he'd nearly kill his own teammates! Now THIS was something different! In an era before The Punisher, Logan was one of the only heroes I can think of who actually fought to kill- though only sparingly, and when he was either enraged, or there was no other way.
-By 1982, Wolverine was so popular he even got a LIMITED SERIES, where Claremont ramped up something else he'd been adding- his love of Mariko Yoshida, and a Japanophile bent that was then very new and VERY unique for comics. Before that, most characters from Japan were wearing rising suns on their chests and ranting about Hiroshima; here, we got the full breadth of the culture- reserved, shy women. Samurai. Ninjas. Claremont & Frank Miller's work in the decade (and on the Wolverine
four-issue Limited Series) completely lionized Nerd Culture in thinking that "Japan Was Awesome", changing comics forever.
Wolverine Gains Dimensions:
-Just being a tough, rebellious kill-happy superhero would have been enough to make Wolverine popular, especially in the 1980s, but an ICON? No- you need something more. And then we got it- despite his gruff exterior and free-wheeler lifestyle, Logan had a soft spot for numerous people. He was a great drinking buddy with Nightcrawler. He respected Colossus, but though of him as a "kid" and would try to steer him right. He REALLY respected Storm. He even had a Tortured Romance with Jean Grey, who loved Scott instead of him, breaking his heart and giving him some pathos. But with Kitty Pryde, we saw his softer side. Where you'd think he wouldn't be able to stand an over-eager little kid, he instead became protective and almost a father-figure, getting a soft spot for the "Kitten". In a Wolverine and Kitty Pryde
Limited Series, the two saved each other's lives, and gained a new relationship as she slowly became his "Junior Partner". This would humanize Logan, much as Robin would humanize Batman in THAT book, and give a new depth to the character. The contrast of the broad, grumpy Logan with a tiny, svelte teenager would be pretty fascinating, though the repetition of this schtick over the years would lead to some... uncomfortable questions.
-And of course you can't mention Wolverine without mentioning THE MYSTERY!!! Yes, his origin was famously shrouded in mystery for decades- we didn't even know his FULL NAME. We didn't know how old he was, where he came from, how he got his metal claws (said to be in "Bionic Housings", ie. he probably wasn't born with them), and more. And the whole "Mystery" thing became a huge aspect of the character, as Logan himself didn't know his own past. And the bits and pieces we'd figure out over the years only made fans want to see it EVEN MORE.
-A big part of Wolverine's appeal also came from the "Indiana Jones" factor- he took a LOT of ass-kickings, and could SELL the damage, given that his power was to eventually recover from it. Claremont even added a bunch of "he's aging" stuff to the character, as he'd reflect on the aging process, and how he wasn't healing as quickly any longer. He now acted more of a grizzled veteran than a smirking youngster.
Wolverine Gets His Own Book, aka "The Logan Sensation":
-November 1988 finally saw Logan become the first X-Man with his on ongoing series- thirteen years after his debut. Jesus- a couple years later and guys would get their own solo book MONTHS after their debut in another book! The Wolverine
book was grittier than the X-Men
one, often going around the world and doing more "regular guy" stuff like Spycraft, fighting personalized assassins, etc., instead of Costumed Mega-Villains. By this point, Iron Fist
baddie Sabretooth would be morphed into a Logan-specific villain, and they'd gain this huge backstory. We'd learn more about his past- his old loves, his old jobs, and more.
-By the early '90s, Wolverine was simply the biggest name in comics. He was EVERYWHERE- Wizard Magazine
featured him on the cover more than any other character. Copycats sprouted up like wildfire in every company imaginable- the Silver Slasher was the first (the Legion of Super-Assassins were pastiches of the X-Men the same way the Imperial Guard were pastiches of the Legion of Super-Heroes), but we'd soon gain craploads of shameless attempts at cashing in, especially once a band of '90s artists would join forces and revolutionize comics (and later form Image). Every superteam you can think of had a gruff, angry, claw-wielding psychopath who didn't take orders well, and was very animalistic. The Avengers would add Deathcry. Every X-Book would have a mandatory "Claw Guy" (Feral on X-Force
was among the more bald-faced attempts at creating a "New Wolverine"). Image Comics would more or less be founded on the concept of "Copy Wolverine and Cable as Much As Possible". The X-Men would later add Marrow to copy Logan's gimmick all over again (now, it was LOGAN who was left corralling the newbie, in a cute twist).
-And of course every character started picking up a "Mysterious Past" as a generic, lazy-ass way of both ripping off Logan, and making it so the writers didn't have to write actual backstories any longer. That's right- in the 1990s, LAZY BACKSTORIES BECAME A CLICHE.
Wolverine In The '90s:
-Logan would get a lot to do in the '90s. When Claremont left the X-books (his plan was to have Wolvie brainwashed by The Hand and become an assassin for a number of years), Larry Hama took over Wolverine
, giving us some of his patented "grounded" stories, including stuff he liked, such as military tactics, World History and "Airplane Porn". He'd gain cover privileges on the Anthology book Marvel Comics Presents
, always getting one of the four stories to himself. His enemies would now include Cyber, Shiva and Omega Red, and Kitty Pryde would be replaced as "Teen Sidekick" by the extremely-different mall rat, Jubilee. He'd be the most important character on the X-Men
Animated Series, which would become very popular (though not really beloved in retrospect, it DID give us a very iconic "Wolverine Voice"). And in the Fatal Attractions
crossover, he'd have the Adamantium ripped off of his skeleton by Magneto (!!!), savagely injuring him and leaving him a mess, and revealing that his claws had always been a part of his skeleton. It would take a considerable length of time for him to get it back, making "Bone Claws" his status quo for years, as well as an odd bit where he was more monstrous, thanks to artists drawing him as a noseless animal when Cable's son tried to re-bond Adamantium to him.
(To Be Continued... my essay got a little out of control)