Greetings from the Odinson,
There is no denying the popularity of Wolverine, but he is not the same character he used to be. When he very first exploded onto the scene in Incredible Hulk #181 (his first full appearance), Wolverine was a feisty little tough guy that was not afraid to throw down with not only the mighty Hulk, but with the Hulk and the Green Goliath’s erstwhile sparring partner, the cannibalistic Wendigo, at the same time. Later it would be revealed that Wolverine is a mutant and in Giant-Size X-Men #1 he joined the ranks of the All-New, All Different X-Men in order to save the original team, and the title itself from cancellation. From the very beginning this man simply known as Logan was a loose cannon. Because he suffered from berserker rages during battles, he was just as likely to slash one of his teammates as he was an enemy. He was dangerous. And even his allies feared him.
For nearly three decades (from 1974-2001) Wolverine’s life was a mystery. His mysterious past only being revealed in very small windows that seemed to just add more and more layers to this truly complex character. We already knew that Logan was a Canadian, but in the pages of Uncanny X-Men #109 and 120-121 we learn that before joining the X-Men, Wolverine actually was a member of Alpha Flight, Canada’s premiere super team. The Japan Adventure revealed that he had spent extensive time in the past in the Land of the Rising Sun, and Kitty Pryde and Wolverine expanded on this revealing that Logan had actually studied under the tutelage of Ogun, a deadly assassin and demon sorcerer. In Wolverine #10, we see a younger Logan being tormented by Sabretooth and establishing the longest running and bloodiest feud in the Marvel Universe. In Uncanny X-Men #268, we learn that not only is Wolverine much older than he appears but that he actually fought alongside Captain America in a covert operation during the harrowing days of World War II. The Weapon X story finally reveals how Logan received his unique Adamantium skeleton, but this tale also raises even more questions about his mysterious past. And, in Mutant Genesis we learn that Logan actually served in an international co-ops unit side-by-side with Sabretooth during the height of the Cold War, thus adding even more layers to the mystery that is his past.
This is part of what made this character so great, a bad boy with a mysterious past. Sometimes it’s better not knowing everything there is know about a character. They are just cooler when there is an air of mystery. Now in the wake of Wolverine: The Origin and the Wolverine: Origins series there are very few secrets left to tell. I say the ole Canucklehead has lost some of his mystique. More importantly, he’s lost some of his edge. Back when Wolverine first came on the scene in the ‘70s and ‘80s he was dangerous and feared. Now, in the pages of Wolverine and the X-Men, he’s the headmaster of a school crying out loud. The ultimate bad boy loner is now the father figure/mentor for the next generation of mutant heroes. Though commendable, and some readers may like seeing the softer side of the most dangerous man alive, but give me the berserker. Give me the character that keeps other characters and the reader on their toes because nobody, including himself, knows what he will do next. This brings me to my next point…
Does a character like Wolverine work better as a villain?
Now hear me out on this one. In the Early ‘90s, legendary X-scribe Chris Claremont, before he left the franchise he helped make number one for nearly twenty years, had a story plotted out where Wolverine would be killed by Lady Deathstrike and brought back to life by the Hand and go on to become the X-Men’s greatest foe for a yearlong storyarc that would illustrate why this character was so important to the franchise. He and John Byrne (the masterminds behind the greatest run on X-Men in history) talk about this unused tale and other stories they never got to tell in the Wizard Wolverine Special Edition.
Though Claremont never got to do this story, Wolverine as a villain has been done, several times, and because of the nature of the character, Wolverine as a villain really isn’t that much of a stretch. He makes a great bad guy. In The Shattering, Wolverine is killed in battle by Death, a Horseman of the mutant terrorist Apocalypse. Death is a seemingly unstoppable foe and the X-Men, having lost their toughest ally, don’t know if they can defeat him. Then, in The Twelve, it gets even worse, as the unstoppable foe the X-Men have been fighting is revealed to be none other than Wolverine himself. Brainwashed and given his unbreakable Adamantium back by Apocalypse, Wolverine had become the X-Men’s most dangerous adversary. But if Death is actually Wolverine, then who was the Wolverine that Death killed? This was a good story that brought the mystery and danger back to the character. And it set the stage for a decade of stories that would beg the question: Does a character like Wolverine work better as a villain?
The next event would almost prove to be the end of the Marvel Universe. Enemy of the State not only reestablished Wolverine as the most dangerous man alive, but it is, hands down, the best Wolverine tale of the last twenty years. Writer Mark Millar introduces the ultimate adversary for Logan in the form of Gorgon, a super strong, super fast, telepathic assassin with the ability to murder anyone he makes eye contact with. In the opening scenes of this tale, Gorgon actually kills Wolverine. Then the Hand uses black magic to bring Logan back to life in service of the dark side. Wolverine becomes the ultimate super villain and cuts a swath of terror and destruction across the globe as he sets out to murder the super heroes of the Marvel U. This storyline establishes two things. One, just how dangerous a guy like Wolverine would be if he were a bad guy. And two, just how fortunate and important it is to the rest of the world that Wolverine is a good guy. John Romita, Jr.’s art on this project is some of his best. This tale really illustrates Wolverine as being the best there is, as he takes on a foe who just might be even deadlier than he is.
The plot of Enemy of the State may sound a little familiar. Chris Claremont may not have gotten the chance to tell his Wolverine-as-a-villain story but Marvel sure did, twice, and they weren’t done yet.
In Wolverine vs. the X-Men, once again the ole Canucklehead perishes, but this time, his spirit goes to Hades, while back on Earth, a demon presence has taken control of his body and begins to terrorize Logan’s friends and allies. This certainly isn’t the first time Wolverine has turned against his allies and in light of that, this time Cyclops is ready for him. With Magneto, the mutant Master of Magnetism, and Prince Namor, the Savage Sub-Mariner, at his side, Cyclops sets out to beat the unbeatable foe. During the Dark Angel Saga, a Wolverine led X-Force, in order to save the soul of a friend, venture to the world of Age of Apocalypse. Here they face the dark legacy of a mutant tyrant and come face-to-face with a deadly, yet familiar, adversary, a certain clawed mutant that may go on to become one of the Marvel Universe’s greatest arch villains. Follow the development of this twist in the pages of the Age of Apocalypse series starting this spring.
If you need more examples of just how bad the ultimate bad boy can be, check out What If…? (1989-1998 2nd Series) #24 featuring the tale "What If Wolverine Had Become the Lord of Vampires?" This is a horror story that picks up on plot points from when the Children of the Atom faced off with Dracula in Uncanny X-Men #159 and Annual #6. Also, in the pages of What If: Wolverine – Enemy of the State, see what would have happened in the Marvel Universe if Wolverine had remained the world’s deadliest villain.
There’s a reason why this theme (Wolverine as a villain) keeps getting revisited over and over. The modern day Wolverine has lost his edge. Logan of 1985 would kick the snot out of Logan of 2012 if he saw what a cupcake he’s turned into. Turning Wolverine into a villain gives the character his edge back. It makes him dangerous again, unpredictable. The way he was in the beginning when Wolverine was the coolest and most dangerous character in comics. This last decade has left me wondering…
Does a character like Wolverine work better as a villain?
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell