For four decades Wolverine, the man called Logan, has been a major character in Marvel Comics. In some ways, he can even be considered the company's most popular character. At his peak, Wolverine starred or co-starred in eight different ongoing titles each month, a number of comics rivaled only by Spider-Man. The Spotlight that preceded this is a chronological record of Wolverine's life and experiences, from his birth in the late 19th century until his most recent published appearances. Because Logan's history can be politely described as "often under revision," the Spotlight contains titles that are published decades apart, yet double back on the same events more than once.
This overview is to provide a second viewpoint on Logan's history: a brief look at the "real world" chronology of Wolverine, and his development in terms of when facts about him were first published. What's interesting to note is that some of Wolverine's most famous and iconic characteristics are relatively late additions to the character. These ideas were not concretely established as part of Wolverine's character until 1990 or later, more than 15 years after his debut.
"Wolverine is a Mutant with Super-Senses, a Healing Factor, and Adamantium Bones and Claws"
It took quite awhile to really establish Wolverine's powers. He was a mutant with Adamantium claws from his first appearance, but in Incredible Hulk (2nd series) #181 he was only described as having "natural-born speed, strength, and savagery." The other, more iconic aspects of his mutation evolved over time. He was certainly animal-like from the beginning, but since the Adamantium claws were originally assumed to be built into his gloves, Logan's real "mutant power" only seemed to be his ferocity and constitution.
Wolverine's animal senses were first referenced relatively early in his career. In X-Men (1st series) #100 (August 1976) Logan revealed his hyper-senses while battling Steven Lang's X-Sentinels, robot duplicates of the original X-Men. While fighting against "Marvel Girl", he said, "Y'see, folks, I'm like an animal -- I don't know from faces. I know from scents, voices... feelings... I also know Jean Grey. An' lady, whatever you are -- you AIN'T Jean Grey!" By ripping open the robot, he revealed the X-Sentinel for what it was. Several months later, Wolverine once again referenced his enhanced senses in #106 while fighting psychic illusions created by Dark Xavier. "It's like my senses are telling me [Iceman's] here... but he ain't here!" From that point on, Wolverine's enhanced senses were a regular part of the character.
Many people know how Wolverine's claws were at first thought to be part of his costume, until X-Men (1st series) #98 when Banshee and Jean Grey first saw him pop his claws without his gloves (incidentally, this was also the first issue that saw him unmasked). So the Adamantium claws were established early on, but the Adamantium skeleton took longer to reveal. For instance, in early encounters with Magneto from #104 and #112, Magneto was clearly dragging Logan around by his claws, quite different from how he cast aside the totally metallic Colossus, or the way he immobilized Wolverine with a gesture in the X-Men movie.
The first sign that Wolverine's Adamantium involved more than his claws was a key scene in X-Men (1st series) #116 (December 1978) where a dinosaur in the Savage Land chomped down on his outstretched hand. When Storm remarked on how Logan was hurt, he responded "Not so's you'd notice. It's okay, babe -- I heal real fast! And the beast ain't been born that can break MY bones." This notion of unbreakable bones was cemented during Wolverine's first encounter with Proteus in X-Men (1st series) #126 (October 1979). The body-jumping mutant could warp reality to his will, but needed a human host to sustain his energies. Unfortunately for him, Proteus was also deathly allergic to metal, and when he attempted to possess Wolverine, he found the Canadian mutant full of it. As Logan stated, "It ain't just metal, sweetheart. I got a skeleton made of about three million bucks worth of Adamantium," he confirmed the unbreakable nature of his Adamantium skeleton for the first time.
The aforementioned line from #116 is also the first mention of Wolverine's healing factor. No one can deny Logan had a hearty constitution from the beginning -- anyone who survived a direct hit from the Incredible Hulk must have some remarkable recuperative abilities. Even after joining the X-Men, Wolverine's resilience was remarked on in #96 after Colossus accidentally hit him with his "full strength" during a Danger Room session. When Peter asked if he was hurt, Wolverine stated, "Naw -- you only made me mad - and, baby, the Wolverine just loves to get mad." Still, much of this could be written off as macho, tough guy talk, combined with Wolverine's aggressive ferocity and berserker nature. Later on, the revelation of his Adamantium skeleton alone could have been the explanation for Logan's demonstrated resilience. It wasn't until Uncanny X-Men (1st series) #142 (February 1981) that Logan's healing factor was officially mentioned. As Wolverine was attacked by Pyro, Storm was concerned that "even Wolverine's mutant fast-healing ability can't cope with the damage that flame hand will do." After she dispersed the fire and Nightcrawler went to check on him, Logan said, "I'll... live, Elf. The fireproof unstable molecules of my costume shielded me from most o' the flames, an' my fast-healing ability's already dealin' with my burns." And with that exchange, the last of Wolverine classic super-powers was finally confirmed, about seven YEARS after his debut.
"Wolverine Is Also Known As Logan"
It is well established by this point that Wolverine's real name is James Howlett, as revealed in Origin #2 (December 2001). And yet for decades, he was known only as Logan. Even after he revealed his face to the X-Men, however, it was many years before he allowed them to call him anything other than "the Wolverine". Surprisingly, the first time Logan's name was used, it was by a leprechaun at Cassidy Keep in X-Men (1st series) #103 (February 1977). None of the other X-Men heard this, though, and Wolverine's real name remained his secret to keep. The name was reused during his fight with Weapon Alpha in #109, and Logan chose to reveal his name to Mariko Yashida when they first parted in #120. The X-Men did not learn his name for quite some time after that, however...not until Wolverine and Nightcrawler paid a visit to the Hudsons up north in X-Men (1st series) #139 (November 1980). When Heather Hudson first saw Wolverine she greeted him as Logan, prompting Nightcrawler to ask Wolverine why he never told them his name. His reply? "You never asked."
"Wolverine is Older Than He Looks"
For those of you who follow our Secrets Behind the X-Men articles, you know that Wolverine was intended early on to be a very young man, perhaps 19 years old. His relationship with Xavier and Cyclops would have been similar to the dynamic between Hawkeye and Captain America in the Avengers during the 60's. This idea was discarded behind the scenes, as Chris Claremont and John Byrne reworked Logan's history with the notion that he was over a century old. It took many years before this information made it into the comics, however.
As many fans are aware, it's not in Chris Claremont's nature to rush his plot developments. Hints about Logan's true age were very slowly slipped into publication. In X-Men Annual (1st series) #4 (1980), Logan thought how he hadn't seen weather as bad since Italy and "that bloody winter below Monte Cassino." Years later, another reference was slipped into Alpha Flight (1st series) #33 (April 1986), where Logan mentioned being a member of the Devils' Brigade during the War. If you were familiar with Canadian military history, you might have recognized "Cassino" as an Allied assault against the Italian fortifications from 1944, and the Devil's Brigade as a group of Canadian paratroopers who hit silk over Normandy on D-Day; if you weren't, the reference likely went by unnoticed. Taken at face value, this statement indicated Logan was an adult over 40 years earlier, but that wasn't necessarily the case. Marvel-Time is funny that way -- Reed Richards and Ben Grimm were originally WWII veterans who fought alongside Nick Fury in the Deuce when they debuted, but these topical references were quietly dropped as the years went on. Logan's reference to the Devil's Brigade could have been a similarly topical reference, if a little late.
Other stories from Logan's past were shown in Wolverine (2nd series) #10 (Aug 1989) and #25 (June 1990), but these tales left the time frame relatively vague. Taking place in an isolated mountain or completely in the wilderness, the lack of technology or signs of modern life could be explained away by the extremely rustic nature of the settings. One of the most important issues in Wolverine's history is therefore the modern classic Uncanny X-Men (1st series) #268 (Sept 1990). In that issue, Logan was shown as the same age he appeared in the present, active alongside Captain America in Madripoor in 1941. Mere months later, another flashback to World War II took place in Wolverine (2nd series) #34 (Dec 1990). Wolverine encountered an RCMP officer named Doolan who recalled parachuting over Normandy on D-Day with his tough-as-nails Corporal Logan.
These are the first two stories that undeniably took place more than 40 years in the past with Logan not having aged a day since. Considering future revelations about Wolverine and his memory implants, Doolan's recollection was also the first confirmed tale of Logan's past, since it was remembered by someone other than Logan. There's even some foreshadowing at the end when Logan doesn't remember Private Doolan himself, hinting at Logan's memory problems more than a year before they actually were confirmed in print. From this point forward, it was uncontested that Logan had been around far longer than he appeared.
"Wolverine Doesn't Know His Own Origin"
Well, he thought he did. Despite all the publicity Origin #1 received in Nov 2001, what most fans (and publishers) seemed to forget was that Wolverine's origin was already told... in 1990. In Wolverine (2nd series) #25, a Madripoori mobster called in a favor with Logan, asking him to stand guard over his young son while the wharf gangs went to war over territory. Logan entertained the frightened boy with a story of his own childhood. Logan related how he grew up small and weak in Canada, and was branded a coward by his people. Logan's father, the leader of their people, cast his son out into the wilderness in shame of his weakness. Young Logan faced a pack of wild wolverines and was adopted into their family, learning to hunt and track through the snow-covered forests as well as the animals did. He eventually proved his courage by protecting his adopted family from a group of fur-trappers and poachers.
In hindsight, this story can be explained as one of Logan's memory implants, created by Romulus or the Weapon X Program. At the time, however, it was clearly intended to be an actual memory of Logan's past, one that firmly established that Wolverine had all the memories of his childhood that normal people did. Or at least, he thought that was the case until he later learned otherwise.
"Wolverine Can't Trust His Own Memories, and Has Many Gaps in His Past"
This is another recent addition to Wolverine's status quo that has become so well known it eclipsed what came before it. Prior to the 1990's, Wolverine constantly mentioned people and events he remembered from both before and after the experiment that gave him his Adamantium claws. He was not an amnesiac, and had nearly full recollection of his faculties. The first (and for a time, the only) memory gap he confirmed suffering from was revealed in Alpha Flight (1st series) #33. This story first introduced the details of Logan's meeting the Hudsons, as a wildman they came across on their honeymoon. It was also the first direct reference to how he received his Adamantium skeleton and claws, and established that the people behind the experiment were a mystery to even Logan. As far as Logan knew, however, he remembered his life before the experiment as well as anyone. He suffered a traumatic memory loss relating to the experiment itself and his time lost in the wilderness as a feral beast afterwards, but everything else was crystal clear.
It wasn't until Wolverine (2nd series) #48-50, beginning Nov 1991 -- released concurrently with X-Men (2nd series) #1-3 -- that the idea of false memories was introduced. Logan uncovered substantial background details about the Weapon X Program for the first time, including a series of sound stages and backdrops used to simulate various memories he believed were real. From that point onwards, Logan knew that any memory he had that couldn't be independently confirmed was suspect. And as we all know, it got even more complicated from there.
"The Weapon X Program Implanted Him With an Adamantium Skeleton"
Like many aspects of Wolverine's past, the concept of the Weapon X Program did not crystalize until the 1990's. Originally, Wolverine was a man with bionic Adamantium claws, and its likely most readers simply assumed he got them from the same Canadian special forces outfit that employed him. The first indication that this wasn't the case came from X-Men (1st series) #140 (December 1980). Here was the first passing reference to James and Heather Hudson finding Logan lost in the wilderness and in need of care. Details were not provided, but the implication was that the Canadian secret service only took advantage of a miraculous find, and therefore were NOT the ones who gave Logan his skeleton and claws.
More information trickled in slowly over the years. In Daredevil (1st series) #196 (July 1983), Wolverine teamed up with Daredevil when Lord Darkwind first came looking to recruit Bullseye for his Adamantium bonding experiments. Wolverine explained to Daredevil that his sources informed him the Japanese might have something to do with his Adamantium, the first unequivocal statement that Logan did not actually know where his Adamantium skeleton came from. Finally, Alpha Flight (1st series) #33-34 (April 1986) told the whole story about how Mac and Heather found the wild Logan in the woods, still reeling from the experiment forced on him by unknown parties.
Marvel fans learned the truth a short time before Logan did, when Marvel Comics Presents (1st series) #72-84 (1991) published their now famous Weapon X serial. It is important to note, however, that the Professor and Cornelius never referred to their endeavor as the "Weapon X Program" in that serial either. Logan was personally referred to as Experiment X or Weapon X, but the project itself went unnamed. It wasn't until Wolverine (2nd series) #50 (December 1991) that the phrase "Weapon X Program" was first uttered by Cyclops and Xavier while they searched through Logan's de-classified S.H.I.E.L.D. file. Even in that issue, the experiment was also referred to as Project X, but "The Weapon X Program" is the phrase that stuck.
For many years, Wolverine and readers alike also believed the Weapon X Program was responsible for implanting him with purely artificial Adamantium claws, claws which were not a part of his mutation. This general assumption was implied to be false in Marvel Comics Presents (1st series) #74 (1990). At first, the Weapon X scientists were perplexed when their Adamantium reservoirs were being drained more than expected in the area around Logan's wrists and forearms during the bonding procedure. Their confusion was explained when, to their outright shock, Logan first sprouted "knives from his hands" after the experiment was over. As most people know, however, it wasn't until Wolverine (2nd series) #75 (November 1993) that Logan first tried to pop his claws after Magneto removed his Adamantium skeleton, and found bone claws still present in his hands.