Superhero Makeovers: Wolverine
Created in 1974, Wolverine is one of only a handful of superheroes who were born after the Silver Age but still have iconic status. He is Marvel’s cash cow character, appearing in just about any book they can cram him in. With different looks and different attitudes over the years, he’s come quite a long way from his beginnings as a Canadian super soldier.
Introduction via the Hulk:
Wolverine actually got his start as a villain in The Incredible Hulk. Well, villain might be overstating it. He was definitely an antagonist – the Hulk as a whole tended not to have as many truly evil baddies thanks to his nature as an anti-hero himself. Wolverine got his first appearance in The Incredible Hulk #180 when the Hulk was rampaging through Canada and the Canadian government unleashed their “Weapon X” soldier on him.
After a one-page introduction in #180, he got a full issue to shine in The Incredible Hulk #181. Wolvie’s initial outing did not go so well for him. He wound up getting caught up in a battle between the Hulk and Wendigo, where he was pretty hopelessly outmatched. His adamantine claws were indestructible, but they lacked the force to cut the Hulk’s nearly impenetrable hide. In the end, he got KOed by a glancing blow and was recalled to base at the start of the next issue, despite his claims that he could capture the Hulk if given another chance.
The classic Wolverine costume was already largely in place in his first appearance. The yellow and blue design has undergone some changes here and there, and the flared mask has gotten bigger over time, but otherwise the classic look is largely the same as his initial appearance.
Whether Wolverine’s claws were retractable is something of a mystery. In his first appearance, he never sheathed his claws and the implication was that they were just part of his costume, affixed to his gloves. However, the original costume design was done by John Romita, Sr. and he claims to have intended the blades to be retractable because, “If a man has claws like that, how would he scratch his nose or tie his shoelaces?”
In his first appearance, Wolverine was just a really strong, fast, and durable mutant. His past wasn’t delved into in any great detail, his adamantine skeleton wasn’t mentioned, and he displayed no special healing factor. Some people speculated that he was originally intended to be an actual wolverine who had been mutated into human form (possibly by the High Evolutionary, who had appeared as a Hulk antagonist now and then), but writer Len Wein denies the rumor. From his beginning, Wolverine was just a rough and tough scrapper. He was also yet another in a long line of third-tier characters that got a test run in the pages of The Incredible Hulk. Little did anybody know that this C-list super was actually going to stick…
Joining the X-Men:
The original X-Men comic created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby never quite hit it off with readers. Most readers just considered it a poor man’s Fantastic Four. From 1970 to 1975, the series did nothing more than reprint old issues. Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum came on board in 1975 and created an international team of X-Men that was featured in Giant-Sized X-Men #1. By virtue of being Canadian, Wolverine made the team. That’s right – Wolverine essentially made the X-Men because he fulfilled an affirmative action quota.
Wolverine’s costume during his early X-Men days was a slight variation on his original outfit, with the only big change being that his flared mask was larger. This was apparently because Cockrum liked the idea of making Wolverine’s mask look more like Batman’s cowl.
Wolverine didn’t enjoy Batman-level popularity at first, though. He was generally a one-note character that a lot of people didn’t really like. Then Cockrum left the book and was replaced by John Byrne, who himself was Canadian and started giving extra attention to the savage little runt. Byrne and Claremont went on to create some of the most beloved X-Men stories of all time, including the Dark Phoenix Saga. As the X-Men gained popularity, so did Wolverine, largely because his own origin was shrouded in myth. Claremont and Byrne made him very old, kept young due to his healing factor, and gave him amnesia regarding most of his past. A dark, mysterious history is a good way to develop interest in a character, especially when hints would surface here and there about who Wolverine really was. Thanks to the popular storytelling style of Claremont and the extra care given to him by Byrne, Wolverine developed into one of Marvel’s most recognizable characters in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The Brown and Gold Look:
In Uncanny X-Men #139, Wolverine just showed up wearing a new costume. When asked why, he basically shrugged the decision off as an arbitrary choice, as though he had just pulled out a brown and gold costume out of his closet that day. This, naturally, leads one to wonder how many costumes in different color schemes Wolverine has. When somebody like Spider-Man goes through a costume change, it’s reflective of a major life event that’s altered his personality. When Wolverine goes through a costume change, it’s because he felt like wearing brown that day.
If you’re like me and got introduced to the X-Men through the failed 1989 television pilot Pryde of the X-Men, the Nightcrawler is probably your favorite X-Man. More to the topic here, though, you probably think of this costume as Wolverine’s classic look. (And you probably also wonder why Wolverine never had that weird Aussie-esque accent in the comics.) Wolverine wore this costume throughout the 1980s, then abruptly changed to a different look. As with his adoption of the brown and gold costume, the change was never explained. I guess Wolverine just likes to change things up once in a while.
You think Clark Kent’s glasses are a lame disguise? Wolverine went even more half-assed. In 1989, it was established that Wolverine, who was much older than he looked, had been all over the world and had spent quite a lot of time in Madripoor. In order to disguise his identity, Wolverine adopted the identity of Patch. This involved him wearing street clothes and an eye patch but otherwise acting exactly the same. The theory behind the “disguise” was that people would discount the idea that Patch was actually the X-Man Wolverine because Wolverine has a healing factor and thus wouldn’t need an eye patch. The downfall of this logic was that Wolverine still kept the same speech patterns, the same crazy hair, and the tendency to pop his claws and murder people. It would be like Clark Kent keeping the spit curl in his hair and flying through Metropolis, then saying when he’s called out on obviously being Superman, “No…why would Superman need glasses? That’s just crazy.”
The big benefit of the Patch identity was that it gave writers a chance to delve into Wolverine’s long and hidden history a bit. It also allowed for plenty of action while Wolverine was wearing street clothes, which became a common occurrence later on.
The X-Men Training Uniform:
Did you know the X-Men used to all wear the same uniform? The original team wore the blue and yellow design seen in the movie X-Men: First Class. Okay, it was black and yellow in that movie, but old school comics coloring made it difficult to use black on the page and thus blue was often substituted in. (This is also the reason why Superman’s hair was really blue in the early days.) In the 1990s, there was a brief time when Marvel tried to go back to those days. Wolverine, like the rest of the X-Men, sported a blue and gold look with a red X belt buckle. This lasted for approximately 30 seconds before Wolverine started to rummage through his closet again.
Losing the Adamantium:
Since his inception, Wolverine’s powers had been defined by his healing ability, heightened senses, and his indestructible adamantium skeleton. In the 1993 storyline “Fatal Attractions,” Magneto took the latter away. Ripping out the metal in his bones. This sent Wolverine into a coma and also revealed that he had a set of bone claws. At the same time, his animalistic nature went into overdrive and he started to become more savage. His costume changed to a yellow jumpsuit and a blue bandana. This somehow was supposed to emphasize his increasing feral demeanor, but I don’t know of too many animals that immediately get the urge to dress like colorblind Dread Pirate Roberts cosplayers. I guess Wolverine’s love of tights shines through even in the darkest of times.
The Hugh Jackman Effect:
Remember how the 2000 X-Men portrayed Wolverine as a short hairy Canadian man with terrible body odor and a penchant for hitting on teenagers, just like in the comics? No? That’s because Wolverine was played by 6’2” Australian musical star Hugh Jackman. Now I’m not complaining about that – Jackman was awesome as Wolverine and remains awesome even as the quality of the X-Men film franchise rapidly approaches terrible (First Class notwithstanding).
In fact, Jackman was so iconic as Wolverine that the comics, as they are wont to do, changed to reflect the film series. As a result, Wolverine suddenly became taller, handsomer, and developed a tendency to wear black leather. That is the power of Hugh Jackman.
For about 25 years, one of the big things about Wolverine was that he had amnesia and couldn’t remember most of his past. In 2001, Marvel released Origin, which blew the lid off Wolverine’s past. It turned out that rather than being a rough and tumble badass named Logan, he actually began life as a rich pansy named James Howlett.
Despite the revelations in Origin, Wolverine remained mostly oblivious to his past until several years later when the House of M crossover restored his memory entirely. The biggest benefit of the James Howlett revelation was, in my opinion, a story by Joss Whedon when Wolverine’s mind was temporarily reverted to his James Howlett persona:
An Attempt at Unification:
Are you getting tired of all these costume changes? Well, Marvel wasn’t. When X-Men 2 came out, Marvel decided that they needed a unified look for Wolverine in all different media. Because, obviously, superhero fans are simple-minded individuals who would get totally thrown for a loop if the same character occasionally wore different clothing. This look was pretty much street clothes with some yellow tiger stripes on it.
Naturally, this look didn’t last very long. After all, Wolverine’s desire to experiment with new fashions could not be denied.
Somewhere along the way, Wolverine went from a guy who was trying to keep his savage tendencies in check to a guy who led his own black ops murder squad. In case running a secret murder squad that eradicated threats to mutants wasn’t sinister enough, he also redesigned his costume to be more evil-looking. This included a gray and black color scheme and the addition of glowing red eyes. The gray and black was there for stealth purposes. The glowing red eyes was there because…because.
For a character who is way overexposed, the modern incarnation of Wolverine has actually gone through quite a few cool developments lately. A schism in the X-Men coupled with the death of Professor X has led Logan/James/Weapon X/the runt to becoming headmaster of Xavier’s school, bringing us back to the well-meaning killer who is trying to put his savage ways behind him.
Again showing off the power of Hugh Jackman, the movie The Wolverine led to the removal of Wolverine’s iconic healing abilities. Because Marvel seems to feel that they must superficially mimic every remotely successful movie based on their properties ever, they have similarly removed Wolverine’s healing factor in the comics. Luckily, the guy heading this new direction is the incredibly talented Paul Cornell, who has used the opportunity to show off a Wolverine who is suddenly and unexpectedly vulnerable – truly afraid of death for the first time in his life. This new development can be viewed in the trade paperback Wolverine: Killable, which I highly recommend because it is probably the most interesting Wolverine has ever been as a character.
So there you have it. Wolverine is the best there is at what he does, and what he does is constantly redesign his costume.