Clawing His Way To the Top : A Look At Wolverine

This weekend The Wolverine debuts in movie theaters.  It is the second solo movie for the moody and often violent X-Man character, Wolverine, starring Hugh Jackman.

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Back cover of Wolverine #1, by John Bolton, November 1988.

Wolverine debuted in October 1974 as a character in The Incredible Hulk #180.  He had a three-issue story arc and battled the Hulk with his embedded, retractable claws made out of indestructible adamantium metal (unique to the Marvel Universe.)

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Artwork by John Romita, Jr. and Dan Green, Uncanny X-Men #207, July 1986

He was created when Marvel’s editor in chief, Roy Thomas, decided to create a Canadian character to help boost Canadian sales of Marvel books, which were between 5-10% of total sales.  Thomas wanted to name the character after a Canadian animal, and after rejecting the moose and the badger, picked the wolverine since it was small but fierce.

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Frank Miller, pencils & Josef Rubenstein, finishing, Wolverine mini-series #2, October 1982.

The artist for the Hulk books, Herb Trimpe, ended up drawing Wolverine’s first appearances.  However, the clawed-mutant’s physical features with his yellow and blue costume came
from Marvel art director John Romita, Sr.

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Artwork by Arthur Adams, Classic X-Men #1, September 1986.

Wolverine would not become an X-Man until the following summer, when Marvel reintroduced the X-Men series.  The original series, featuring Charles Xavier, villainous Magneto, and five students had been canceled seven years earlier in 1970. Unlike the Avengers or Fantastic Four, this team of heroes was feared and despised by the public, even as they saved the world.  The concept never became as popular as the other team-based titles and the “second string” comic book eventually ended its run due to declining sales.

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Jack Kirby, pencils & Sol Brodsky, inks, X-Men #1, September 1963, reprinted in The Official Marvel Index to the X-Men, May 1987.

Marvel decided to revive the X-Men with international mutants Xavier recruited from around the world.  Wolverine, the only Canadian on the new team, was a minor character who argued with the other characters or carved tic-tac-toe into Xavier’s furniture.

Eventually, writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne decided there was more they could do with the character. They gave him a name, Logan, as well as a mysterious past as a former operative in Department H.  In addition to his claws, he now had tracking abilities and a healing power that not only healed injuries but also blocked out memories.  One of Logan’s storylines was developing a crush on fellow X-Man Jean Grey.

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Back cover of Classic X-Men, #1, by John Bolton, September 1986.

In 1982, Wolverine was given his own mini-series and a new brown and tan costume that looked more like an actual wolverine.  Clarement came up with the plot with artist Frank Miller after the two of them were stuck in traffic after a ComicCon. Miller thought Wolverine was a dull character ; he and Claremont ended up passing the time by talking about why Logan is who he is.  Eventually, the plot for the popular four-part series developed.

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Frank Miller, pencils & Josef Rubenstein, finishing, Wolverine mini-series #4, December 1982.

By the time Mark Silvestri was penciling Uncanny X-Men in 1987, X-Men was no longer considered second-string by artists.  Silvestri believed that the artwork should be able to tell the basic story without the need for words.  Silvestri saw Wolverine as a scrappy man who always looks like he’s just been fighting.
Silvestri likes to draw thumbnail images first, and then create the layouts with the gestures and background details.  He then adds in the detail work like hair,costume details, and clothing folds.

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Pencils by Mark Silvestri , ink by Dan Green, Uncanny X-Men #226, February 1987, p. 1.

Wolverine was given his own title in 1988 and has become one of the most popular X-Men.  Throughout the years, artists have given him different looks, including a moodier, film noir look and more fashionable sideburns.

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Back cover artwork by John Bolton, Classic X-Men #26, October 1986.

Modern Graphic History Library has comic books featuring Wolverine and other X-Men from the 1980s and early 1990s.  They are part of the Center for Humanties Comics Collection.

Credits:

Information for this blog came from the following:

  • DeFalco, Tom, editor. Comic Creators on X-Men. Titan Books, 2006.
  • Misiroglu, Gina, editor. The Superhero Book. Visible Ink Press, 2004.

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.