With Hugh Jackman's final performance as Wolverine hitting this week with Logan, fans might want to catch up on the stories which inspired so many of his big screen adventures. But where to start? Here are the top five essential Wolverine solo stories for you to read in anticipation of Jackman's last big screen outing as everyone's favorite hairball of a mutant.
(We left his exploits in the pages of X-Men off this list, and focused on Canada's #1 mutant hero's solo adventures). And starting things off is the mini-series which started it all:
Wolverine Original 4 Part Mini-Series (1982)
By Chris Claremont and Frank Miller
When Wolverine was added to the X-Men back in 1975, he wasn't supposed to be the standout character, but just another member of the team. It wasn't uncommon for the character to not even be on the cover of the comic for several issues at a time. But slowly, writer Chris Claremont's characterization of of Logan made him the fan favorite, as it started to become clear that people were picking up Uncanny X-Men more for Wolverine than any other character. Marvel finally decided to see if the character could sustain his own mini-series -- the first ever for a member of the X-Men -- in the 1982 Wolverine four part limited series, by Claremont and artist Frank Miller.
Claremont and Miller took the character to even greater heights of popularity with this four part mini-series, which featured Logan travelling to Japan, now as a sort of fallen samurai in search of redemption. Logan faces off again the ruthless Lord Shingen in this series, and his feelings become serious for his daughter, Mariko. In one very memorable scene, mostly because of the spectacular artwork of Miller, Logan fights his way through a whole gang of ninjas from the organization known as The Hand to save his lady love. This comic series is also notable for two other reasons -- it's Marvel's first ever limited series, and it's the first time Chris Claremont used these words to describe Logan: “I’m the best there is at what I do. But what I do isn’t very nice.” It would not be the last.
Movie Influences: The second Wolverine film, simply titled The Wolverine, pulled a lot from this story, including the Japanese setting, Logan vs. The Hand, Lord Shingen and Mariko. Some changes made for the movie by director James Mangold are for the better, some others less so. But it is definitely heavily inspired by Wolverine's first ever solo outing.
Kitty Pryde and Wolverine #1 -6 (1984-85)
By Chris Claremont and Al Milgrom
Wolverine's second outing without the rest of the X-Men wasn't entirely alone, as he took the X-Men's youngest member, Kitty Pryde, along with him this time. Actually, Kitty's name comes first in this six issue limited series, if you can believe that (not something that would ever happen now). In this story, Chris Claremont crafted a sort of spiritual sequel to the original Wolverine mini-series (Claremont returned as writer, but not Frank Miller as artist).
Kitty Pryde's father gets into major trouble with the Japanese Yakuza, so Kitty follows him to Japan while he's on a business trip. But soon she is captured by a Yakuza mob boss and the mysterious Ogun, who then brainwashes her into becoming his own deadly ninja assassin, one who is even more dangerous due to her ability to phase through walls. Before too long, Logan finds himself tangled up with Japanese underworld once more.
This story sets up the lifelong bond between Kitty and Wolverine, and also established Logan's "softer side", and his tendency to be a (totally non-creepy) mentor to a young teenage female mutant. Jubilee would come next, followed by Armor. He might be a killer, but this mini-series established Wolverine as the killer with a heart of gold.
Movie Influences: Wolverine's mentorship of a young teenage girl was echoed in his very first X-Men film from Bryan Singer. Instead of the young mutant being Kitty or Jubilee, they transferred Logan's relationship with them to a teenage Rogue.
Weapon X from Marvel Comics Presents #72-91 (1991)
By Barry Windsor-Smith
Despite his huge popularity in the '80s, becoming one of Marvel's marquee characters, fans actually knew next to nothing about the history of Wolverine as a character. We knew he had an adamantium skeleton, and that he was older than he looked, but that was pretty much it. The circumstances of how he got those claws were never revealed, until 1991, when legendary writer/artist Barry Windsor-Smith gave us Weapon X, a serialized storyline in Marvel Comics Presents.
For the first time, fans had a story which gave us the details on how a mysterious government agency in Canada captured Logan and bonded his skeleton to adamantium, and this story also shows how Logan went berserk due to the painful experiments that were done on him. Both the writing and especially the art are top notch on this one, and really stand the test of time.'
Movie Influences: The Weapon X storyline is shown in flashback in X2, and then extrapolated upon (poorly) in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. When X-Men: Days of Future Past undid that version of events, X-Men: Apocalypse gave us another version of Wolverine's origin, and this one had far more visual cues taken from the original Weapon X story.
Origin #1-6, (2001-2002)
By Paul Jenkins, Joe Quesada, Bill Jemas and Andy Kubert
For the 16 years that writer Chris Claremont was at the helm of the X-Men titles, he refused to ever give Wolverine's backstory, believing it should always remain a mystery. But when Wolverine became a household name thanks to Hugh Jackman, Marvel realized that if they didn't give Logan a proper origin, then Hollywood would beat them to it. So with that in mind, Marvel EIC Joe Quesada announced Origin, a mini-series from himself and writers Paul Jenkins and Bill Jemas, together with artist Andy Kubert.
Origin goes back to the very beginning, starting with Logan’s childhood on a massive plantation in 19th century Canada. Because of Origin, we learn that Wolverine was actually a very sickly child, and that his birth name was named James Howlett. The story finally sheds light on the painful time that Logan first popped his bone claws, and writer Paul Jenkins manages to show us just why Logan is always drawn to doomed redheads.
Origin also shows just how he ended up with the name Logan, and explores his long standing rivalry with a boy named Dog, who looks a hell of a lot like future Wolverine arch-enemy Sabretooth. There are those who still think Wolverine's backstory should have remained a mystery, but I believe Origin is a satisfying answer and worthy series.
Movie Influences: For good or bad, X-Men Origins: Wolverine pulls a metric ton from Origin.
Old Man Logan from Wolverine #66-72, Wolverine: Giant Size Old Man Logan #1 (2009)
By Mark Millar and Steve McNiven
Writer Mark Millar is one of the most prominent comics creators of the 21st century, but his work is definitely hit and miss. He's produced some bona fide classics like The Ultimates, The Authority, Kick-Ass, and more, but some of his work is just puerile shock value. Somehow, his time on the Wolverine produced a story that is both shock value and a heartfelt classic. I'm talking about the alternate dystopian future tale Old Man Logan, which he created with his Civil War collaborator, artist Steve McNiven.
Old Man Logan is set in an alternate future world, one where almost all of the superheroes are dead, and the United States has been conquered and divided up among the world’s worst supervillains. Wolverine is still alive and kicking in this future, but via flashbacks we find out that the reason there are no X-Men is because the night the villains united and attacked the X-Mansion, Logan was unable to find his teammates, and he slaughtered the attackers to ensure the safety of the mutant students. As the last, "attacker" was killed, Logan realized that the entire assault was an illusion created by Spider-Man villain Mysterio. Losing his mind, he tried to kill himself, but found that he couldn't die, but swore never to pop his claws again.
Years later, he makes a life for himself on a piece of land ruled over by the Hulk and his inbred children, and even marries and has children. But he agrees to come out of retirement as a favor to former Avenger Hawkeye, and the two embark on a roadtrip to get across country to get a precious item that could save humanity. Needless to say, wackiness ensues, and some of Millar's craziest comic book moments take place over the next several issues. It's both gonzo crazy and emotionally affecting, and one of the greatest Wolverine stories of all time. Old Man Logan proved so popular that this is the version of Wolverine that is out there in the comics right now, replacing the regular Logan who was killed off. But no Old Man Logan story has yet to match the brilliance of the original.
Movie Influences: Although the story is drastically different, the "road trip" aspect, as well as the bleak future in the upcoming Logan are said to be heavily based on the original Old Man Logan story. Sadly, due to the Fox/Marvel situation, there is no way a straight adaptation could have happened.
Which is your favorite Wolverine story, and do you think it deserves a spot on this list? Let us know down below in the comments.
Images: Marvel Comics
Professor X and Logan on their first and last days