James Howlett was born on his family's estate in Alberta, Canada, in the last quarter of the 19th century. He was raised the son of John and Elizabeth Howlett, and the younger brother of John Howlett Jr. The Howlett family was quite rich, with James' grandfather being a self-made millionaire (truly impressive for the time period), and his father John managing the family fortune well enough. Despite being well off, however, the Howletts seemed touched by tragedy and scandal – the lady of the manor, Elizabeth Howlett, had an affair with the groundskeeper, Thomas Logan, making him the true father of one or both of her children. Furthermore, young John died tragically and mysteriously before his 13th birthday, and this event prompted Master John to send his wife away to a sanitarium for a time. The full events surrounding young John's death, Elizabeth's mental state, and the odd claw-like scar marks on her backside remain unexplained.

[Note: Contradictory reports exist about Wolverine’s exact age. In Origin #2, a tombstone showed that James’s elder brother John was born in 1885. In X-Men: Prelude to Schism #4, however, James was reportedly nine years old in 1891, meaning he was born in 1882.]

Young James developed problems of his own as he grew, becoming a weak and sickly boy with all manner of allergies, sensitivity to the sun, the water, the cold and so forth. Down in the village, the housekeeper Mrs. Hopkins found an orphaned girl named Rose, who was around James' age. She hired Rose on as a companion for the young master while his father was busy with work and his poor, addled mother locked herself away in her quarters. Rose was a kind and gentle girl and her friendly manner bonded her not only to James but to the only other child on the estate, the groundskeeper's son who answered only to "Dog." The three of them got along quite well in their younger days, despite Dog's scrappy manner and James's frailty. One day, James and Dog were hiding from Rose when a sudden weakness struck James and he fell into the channel. Dog jumped in and saved his friend's life, but he and Rose ended up being blamed anyway for letting poor, weak James fall in the water to begin with. Master John was very mild with his reprimand to Dog and his father, but even this mild chastisement was enough to spark Thomas Logan's intense resentment of "Soft John." Thomas took this resentment out on his son with belt and fists. A drunken, angry man, Thomas often tried to beat his opinion of the Howletts into his son, even on Boxing Day when John took pity on Dog and gave him a toy train as a present.

As they grew up, Thomas' beatings took their toll on Dog, and he became more and more distant from James and Rose. One day, Dog attempted to force himself on Rose and, while James couldn't stand up to Dog physically, he ran and told his father, which led to yet another beating for Dog. He blamed James and came after him, killing his puppy as an act of revenge. This was more than Master John was able to stand, and he threw Thomas Logan and his son off of the property. That night, Thomas and Dog broke into the mansion in order to take Elizabeth away with them. The question of whether or not she would have gone willingly became academic when John walked in on the scene and a scuffle ensued. Awakened by the voices and noise, James wandered in to the bedroom just in time to see Thomas blow John's head off with a shotgun. James panicked and, without intending to, popped his claws for the first time and raked them across Dog's face before gutting Thomas in the chest. Only then did he notice the bone claws, and began screaming in shock and agony. [Origin #1-2]

James was nearly out of his mind with pain and confusion, made only worse when he ran to his mother for comfort and she cast him away in horror. Rose ran out into the courtyard after the hysterical James, only to have the unstable Elizabeth blow off her own head with a shotgun as she departed. Rose hid with James in the barn, unsure of what to do.In the meantime, Dog spread a story of Rose being responsible for the incident, leading the detectives to declare her a fugitive. She returned to the house with James looking for help, but James's grandfather, upon seeing the bone claws, commanded Rose to take the boy as far away as possible. He gave them money and sent them to the train station, where they caught a car into British Columbia and frontier country. Rose basically had to fend for herself, since James was still in a state of shock from the whole affair, his mind blacking out the pain of the memories as best it could.

Claiming James was her cousin named "Logan," Rose got them work and board in a small mining town. Despite his burgeoning healing factor and superhuman senses, James was still a weak and pampered boy -- he tried his hardest to do the jobs presented him at the quarry, but it was hard learning. The work was all the harder thanks to a man named Cookie Malone, a sadistic blimp who constantly cheated the other workers out of their fair share of rations. Still, after two years, James had grown considerably and the work not only came easier to him, but he had also developed an instinctive skill for hunting and tracking in the forests surrounding the camp, bringing in extra food for him and Rose. He even gave some of his extra kills to people who needed it in the camp, which garnered him a good reputation but made Cookie hate him all the more. His dogged determination at whatever he did got some of his fellow workers to start calling him "Logan the Wolverine."

The camp foreman, Smitty, took "Logan" under his wing in some ways, making him an unspoken apprentice and clearly favoring the young lad. After Logan miraculously survived a cave-in and saved a young boy in the process, Smitty gave him a book from Japan on samurais to expand his horizons. Unfortunately, Smitty also had developed feelings for Rose, which she reciprocated much to James' dismay. The two of them planned to marry and leave the mining town, leaving James alone in the only place he clearly remembered in his life. Smitty had signed up for a cage-fight tournament in order to make some quick money before the wedding, and James did as well.During their fight, James gleefully got a few licks in on the man who was stealing the girl he loved. In the end, though, James took a dive for Smitty and gave him and Rose his blessing. Smitty even recommended that James replace him as camp foreman when he left. Things took a sudden and nasty turn, however, when Dog Logan showed up in the camp -- old man Howlett had asked him to bring James home, and if Dog wasn't out for revenge for his scarred face and his father's death to start, he certainly went into a rage after hearing James had "stolen" his name, Logan. James took a beating at first but, when Dog's taunts jogged his memory of his father's death, he snapped into a fury. Popping out his claws to gut the barely-conscious Dog, James swung his hand backwards... and accidentally stabbed Rose in the process. She died from the wounds, and a horrified James fled into the wilderness, his mind regressing to an animal-like state. [Origin #3-6]

James spent an extended period living alone in the wilderness and Dog continued to hunt him for a time. [Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #3] The next time James walked among men, he wouldn’t answer to any name but "Logan." Logan tried to kill himself several times, but could not find a way his healing factor would not reverse. Eventually, Logan resigned himself to surviving.

By 1907, Logan had found a family of wolves in the wilderness and began running with their pack. By suppressing the man beneath the instincts of the animal, Logan found a manner of peace. It didn't last. The sinister scientist Nathaniel Essex conducted an experiment by releasing an apex predator like a polar bear further south into the Canadian woods. The bear could not adapt its hunting techniques to the new environment, but its strength and raw power was enough to overcome Logan's pack while he was away, killing and eating the wolves. When he returned, Logan and the bear mortally wounded each other in a struggle, but only one had a healing factor. Logan survived and was alone again.

His victory did not go unnoticed. Essex's hired men soon found the bear's corpse and the signs it was killed by neither man nor beast. One of the men began telling tales of the "savage" at the local watering hole, drawing the curious and entrepreneurial. A circus promoter named Hugo came to the North with a brother and sister team called Saul and Clara, his tracker and animal trainer, respectively. Their skills allowed them to locate Logan where the brute force efforts of Essex and his Marauders failed. Logan remained the wild man and was promoted by Hugo as a "missing link" when he appeared in the big top. Clara believed there was a human soul inside Logan and tried to encourage him to speak, but Logan refused and just accepted his inhumane treatment as a new form of penance.

Essex was undeterred, however, and lured Hugo with Logan to his laboratory to "authenticate" his specimen. Essex killed Hugo and began experimental torture sessions on Logan to study his healing factor, including vivisection. Clara convinced Saul to help her rescue Logan, and the three of them escaped Essex's lab together. Clara spent the next month teaching Logan to behave like a man again, but their relationship made Saul jealous. He sold their location to Essex but, when it appeared as if Clara was killed in the crossfire, Saul and Logan joined forces to kill Essex. Clara and Saul were also mutants with healing powers, however, and when Clara tracked them down and Saul's misdoings were revealed, Logan was furious. Ignoring Clara's pleas, Logan drowned her brother in one of Essex's vats. Clara rejected Logan after that, retorting that the man inside him wasn't worth as much as the animal. (Logan never learned that Clara Creed told her older brother Victor about Saul's death, prompting an obsession that would last lifetimes.) [Origin II #1-5]

Alone again, Logan wandered back out into the wilderness, but could not return to the wild as the animal he once thought he was. Fleeing Canada, Logan traveled down into California, where he worked in the fruit orchards. He met a young girl, a Mexican migrant worker, and despite the language barrier they felt an attraction for one another. One day, she led him without a word into the orchards and they made love for the first time. Logan never learned her name, and they never saw each other again. [Wolverine: Weapon X #10]

Logan soon made his way to Japan and began living on the streets (and bars) of Tokyo. His hard-fighting and hard-drinking ways brought him to the attention of the Hand. The Hand knew of a gaijin in Tokyo killing prostitutes like a wild animal, and at first they suspected Logan of being that man. When they confirmed it wasn’t him, the Hand made a deal with Logan instead. In exchange for his life, they armed Logan with a samurai sword and sent him out to find the killer for them. Logan found the killer, and in doing so had his first meeting with another mutant and the man who would shape many of the major tragedies of his life: Victor Creed. (Whether Creed tracked Logan to Japan after his encounter with Saul and Clara is unclear.) Initially daunted by the idea of fighting a larger, more bestial version of himself, Logan eventually succeeded in stabbing Creed through the chest with his sword. Before he could finish the kill, however, Logan was struck from behind. By the time he woke up, Creed was gone.

Little did he know, but Logan had just had his first encounter with another major figure in his life… the near-immortal Lupine warlord known as Romulus. Romulus was a shadowy power broker who commanded a vast network of agents and informants through bribery and fear. For unknown reasons, Romulus employed Elizabeth Howlett’s family, the Hudsons, for generations. He intended to use Logan as he used his uncles and grandfather before him, and it was Romulus who directed the Hand to send Logan after Creed in the first place. He used Creed as an agent as well, and thrived on instigating competition between his pawns. [Wolverine (3rd series) #52-53]

After Japan, Logan returned home to Canada, and settled into a larger mining town called Mount Logan in the Yukon Territories. He set up a new life for himself there, a good life -- even fell in love with a local Blackfoot woman named Silver Fox, and they lived together in a cabin near the town. Paradise started to turn sour, though, when a man answering to the name “Sabretooth” joined the town's work force. Logan apparently didn’t recognize him from Japan, but even so they never got along, each one spoiling for a fight with the other from the moment they met. Sabretooth poked at Logan, goaded him, always trying to get a rise out of him. What ultimately worked, however, was a tragedy. On Logan's birthday, Silver Fox asked him to leave the cabin for an hour while she decorated for him. When he returned, he found her lifeless body, beaten and violated. In shock, he carried her into town and, at the local waterhole, found Sabretooth eating a slice of his birthday cake and grinning from ear-to-ear. Logan flew at Sabretooth in a rage, but ended up getting trounced severely. He fled into the wilderness, even climbed a mountain peak with his bare hands to get away, but Sabretooth beat him to the top without even trying. They fought again, but Sabretooth was still clearly the better man: the fight ended with both plummeting off the mountain top, and Logan lay broken and beaten as Sabretooth dragged him off and tossed him into a pit. [Wolverine (2nd series) #10]

It was here that Logan was first inducted into the control of Romulus. Logan apparently underwent some brainwashing in that pit, at the hands of Romulus and Sabretooth, until he was convinced the people of Mount Logan killed Silver Fox instead of Creed. The genesis of his conditioning was that, while he could not beat Sabretooth, the townspeople would be an easier outlet for his rage. That's exactly what happened and, after taking an axe to the entire town's population, Logan became the living weapon Romulus wanted. These events became the template for Romulus’ control over Logan for decades to come. Every year on his birthday, Creed would track down Logan and administer another beating, using the physical pain as a means of reinforcing his conditioning. The death of a woman close to him, typically a lover or someone he was responsible for, could be used as a trigger to reactivate Logan’s conditioning if he ever tried to slip his leash. Logan’s own healing factor “protected” him from psychological harm by scarring over unpleasant memories as he reduced to a wildman state. A combination of trauma and brainwashing made Logan highly susceptible to memory implantation. Thanks to this basic set-up, Logan became the ultimate programmable assassin and agent. [Wolverine: Origins #5]