Welcome back to “Before You Go,” the rarely used segment where I fill you in on all you need to know about the character starring in tomorrow’s big movie. Today we focus on The Wolverine and that’s a big, big challenge.
I doubt there’s another fictional character who has as confusing, convoluted and constantly-under-revision backstory as Wolverine. Anything we discuss today will probably be retconned tomorrow, so just keep in mind: None of this is real.
Most origin stories are simple, summed up in a sentence or a paragraph: boy gets bit by radioactive spider, gets spider powers; man gets dosed with gamma radiation, becomes giant, green, rage monster; boy sees parents gunned down by mugger, dresses up like bat to fight crime. Silly, but simple.
Here’s how insane Wolverine’s origin story is: Created in 1974, Wolverine’s origin story wasn’t told until a 2001 miniseries. A comic called “Wolverine: Origins” ran for 50 issues. At Comic-Con last week Marvel announced they would be publishing yet another origin miniseries for Logan.
Building the Perfect Beast
According to legend, Wikipedia and “Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics,” editor Roy Thomas went to writer Len Wein and asked him to come up with a character who was Canadian, short, hot-tempered and named Wolverine. The character’s look was designed by John Romita and drawn by Herb Trimpe. Wolverine debuted in “Incredible Hulk” 180 and gave the big, green one considerable trouble the following issue.
In this first appearance Wolverine was not given an origin story. He just shows up as a superhero working for the Canadian government. His next appearance would be in “Giant Size X-Men 1,” where he is recruited along with Storm, Colossus, Banshee, Nightcrawler, Sunfire and Thunderbird to rescue the original X-Men from a mutant island. Yes, a mutant island. Laugh if you want, but that 50-cent comic goes for hundreds of dollars today. (My copy is not worth a dime. If only 13-year-old me had known to bag and board.)
The rest is comic book history. Wolverine goes on to become the most popular character in the most popular comic of the modern era. He eventually breaks out into a solo series and before long becomes an entire franchise of his own.
Who Are You?
If you’re wondering at what point did Wolverine become second only to Spider-Man in the Marvel pantheon, it occurred in “Uncanny X-Men” 132 (1980). Wolverine, crawling out of a sewer, ready to get even with the punks who put him there.
John Byrne, a Canadian artist, had taken over art chores on the book and, working with writer Chris Claremont, shifted the emphasis to Logan. Sales soared.
But here’s the catch. Wein didn’t bother to give the character a backstory when he was introduced and Claremont was juggling a dozen characters so Logan became a mystery man. His background was shrouded in mystery and in a convenient twist of fate, Logan didn’t know it either. So for the next 20 years writers would toss in bits and pieces of his past randomly and if some of it contradicted some of it, so be it.
Wolverine’s “official” (for now) origin story was told in the 2001 miniseries “Origin,” in which we learn that Wolverine was born James Howlett in 1880s Canada If you ever wanted to read a Wolverine story as if written by Emily Bronte, this is the book for you. No one really cares about Logan’s childhood, so let’s move on.
Wolverine spends many years fighting in many wars, is eventually kidnapped by the Weapon X project, has adamantium bonded to his skeleton, becomes a government worker, fights the HULK. Now you’re caught up.
And you thought “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was a confusing mess.
The Many Deaths of Wolverine’s Women
Wolverine’s childhood crush is Rose, a young redhead who is accidentally killed by Wolverine’s bone claws.
In the 1900s Wolverine had a lover named Silver Fox. She was killed by Sabretooth on Wolverine’s birthday.
Sometime after the First World War, Wolverine meets Itsu in a small Japanese village. They wed and have a son, Daken. She is shot to death by the Winter Soldier (I’ll explain who he is next year when the next “Captain America” movie comes out).
Wolverine meets Mariko Yashida in the 1980s while with the X-Men. They almost wed but she’s brainwashed into calling off the wedding by Mastermind. Mariko is inflicted with blowfish poison by an assassin working for Matsu’o Tsurayaba. At her request, Wolverine kills Mariko to avoid a painful death and preserve her honor. Wolverine then goes on a yearly spree of severing parts of Matsu’o’s body on the anniversary of Mariko’s death.
Jean Grey, whom Wolverine had the hots for despite her being the longtime love/husband of X-Men teammate Scott Summers, has died and been reborn several times. She is currently dead.
Wolverine and The Wolverine
I’ve read the comic. I’ve seen the movie. It’s not.
The only thing “The Wolverine” has in common with “Wolverine” is the opening scene involving a bear. And they didn’t even get that right. Oh, and yes, they’re both set in Japan. But the stories are completely different. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’d rather watch an original story than a retelling of something I’ve already read.