It is safe to say that those are as close to my first visuals of Wolverine as I can find on Google images. The first from Marc Silvestri & Dan Green and the second from John Byrne & Terry Austin. Technically my first Uncanny X-Men issue was #224 but he's not on the cover and image finder was no help getting an interior page of Wolvie from that ish. The second image is originally from UXM #113 but I first read it as part of the wonderful Classic X-Men series...ish #19 to be exact. That series enabled me to essentially read the entire history of the All New, All Different team from their Giant Size intro until the Classic issues and my back-issue collection met up somewhere around issue #170.
They were a great way to immerse myself in the history of the team plus, for the first 44 issues, they contained great back-up stories that further fleshed out the characters. Several of them are quite memorable for me including the Magneto back-up from #19, several great Wolverine back-ups with him & Crawler, him and Jean, a story about what happened between panels when Jean became Phoenix, when Proteus played with Wolverine, not to mention awesome covers & page art like these from John Bolton:
It was a phenomenal introduction as an 8 or 9 year old kid to these characters and while this blog is not intended as a a reflection on that series (the back-ups are largely available in the X-Men:Vignettes collections), it is because of stories like these, and in the way in which he was presented, that I fell in love with Wolverine.
I imagine the hairy little (at least back then) Canadian guy with his adamantium claws was a gateway into comics for many a kid. He was tough, hell everything about him screamed tough. He fought tough, talked tough, healed from everything, and HE HAD FREAKIN' CLAWS! Created by Len Wein and first drawn by Herb Trimpe for an Incredible Hulk story, he immediately demanded my attention more than any other character in that first UXM issue I bought (Longshot and Havok were distant seconds). I followed him everywhere, into Alpha Flight, into his own solo on-going series (the Claremont/Miller book was before my time so I read it much later), into Marvel Comics Presents, basically if Wolverine was there so was my (dad's) money. I even remember him freaking out when I asked him to buy me the Wolverine Saga books because they were priced at the insanely high tag of $3.95!!!!
So yeah, suffice it to say that I was a huge fan of Wolverine...I'd dig up my Halloween costume picture if I had the slightest clue where it was located...so it slightly saddens me to realize how little I actually follow the character anymore. I mean I still put my money down for Wolverine & The X-Men every month, or rather twice a month now, but I haven't purchased a single issue of his solo books in several years. What happened?
I suppose I'll show you some of the highlights of a text conversation between me and my friend that put this whole thing in my head in the first place:
ME: I want to write a Wolvie tale but despite reading the guy for 20+ years I find I have nothing original to say
RYAN: That's probably part of the problem...
ME: Aside from Jason Aaron...I can't think of the last good take on Wolvie
RYAN: Last Wolvie run that stick in my head is Millar
ME: Old Man Logan?
ME: All I think of was how insanely delayed it was because they though McNiven could do a monthly...
RYAN: Or even Enemy of the State
ME: Enemy of the State was good
RYAN: They need to treat Wolverine like Spidey...make it a flagship title, put one committed writer on it with a long-term plan, like Slott, and rotate a few regular artists
2004/5 and 2008/9....comics from eight and four years ago respectively were the last standout Wolverine story arcs either of us could think of...that's not a good thing for someone who is such a flagship character for Marvel and the X-Franchise. Look at other flagship characters; you have Captain America under Ed Brubaker, Spider-Man under Dan Slott, Daredevil under Bendis/Brubaker/Waid, and Iron Man under Matt Fraction who have had lengthy, critically acclaimed runs. They have told long form stories with their characters and I find myself unable to think the last time this happened for Wolverine. I suppose it would be Millar's run from #20-#32 of Volume 2 or perhaps Jason Aaron's extended tryst with Logan across multiple books over the last several years that still continues in Wolvie & The X-Men. Still, as much as I love that book, it's not so much a Wolverine book (despite the title) but more an ensemble piece.
Daniel Way wrote all 50 issues of this book! That's the longest run I can remember on a Wolverine book since Larry Hama wrote basically every issue save four from 31-118 and yet, despite that four year run, Origins has largely faded from my memory. Started with lots of promise to unravel the ridiculously convoluted history of Logan and somehow managed to make it even MORE convoluted with the stupid Romulus character's involvement (which now Jeph Loeb has made even worse and I hope everyone who touches a Wolvie book from now until the end of time pretends it never happened). Also, Way is not the caliber writer in terms of skill and recognition that a Brubaker, Bendis, Fraction, or Aaron are...
Anyway, before I move on, let me say that Aaron is responsible for what I think is the best single issue in recent memory of a Wolverine book:
ME: I gave up on Wolvie after its first relaunch...picked it up again after House of M...dropped it again and have DL'd ever since...bought some Weapon X
RYAN: Aaron started out great, got silly towards the end. Bunn started out ok, got lame. I'm gonna DL the new titles, not buying. "The Best There Is" kinda scared me off extra Wolvie titles
ME: Best There Is was awful...and Loeb's arc was shit. I hated that story where his memories got cut up too...was that Bunn?
RYAN: Yeah, think so. Bunn continued the Dr. Rott thing which started w/ Aaron...but I think Bunn screwed with his memories. Don't remember.
ME: It just pissed me off...like he thought "I like Wolvie better when he couldn't remember stuff" so he just found a way to make it happen
I read an interview with Mark Waid where he said "...the next guy who does Daredevil will either drop a safe on everything I did, or go back because he remembers what Ann Nocenti did with great fondness and he wants to do that".
It immediately came back to my mind when we were talking about Wolvie and Bunn's decision to erase his memories (I am not even sure if Aaron has incorporated that into his book now that I think about it). For the longest time, right up until post-House of M and this:
Wolverine had little memories of his past prior to the Weapon X program and the adamantium bonding process. It made for a fun sandbox for various writers to play in because, since he had no concrete origin or history, it was possible for Logan to have been everywhere and seen everything. He could know anybody, could have had experiences and adventures in every country around the globe, and it was a game that writers milked to death.
It made for fun stories as Chris Claremont, Larry Hama, Fabian Nicieza, Scott Lobdell, and a slew of others over the years explored the endless possibilities that Wolverine's tabula rasa state provided. So when the moment happened, when Marvel showed some balls by having Logan remember it all, it closed some doors creatively I imagine. Essentially writers were now in the game of creating a true history of Wolvie, of cementing his memories as fact, and sorting out the chaos of a history that had been created over the years.
It all really started with the Origin mini written by Paul Jenkins that predated this memory unlocking. That story set-up his age, his true name, his love for redheads, and then it was the Origins series by Way that spun out of the returned memories that was supposed to explore this stuff. Instead it gave us Dakken, Romulus, and a whole lot more confusion if you ask me.
RYAN: I actually think its his character in general that people have trouble with. Too man contradictions over the years. He's a killer...he's not a killer. He's a loyal boyfriend...he's a ladies man. He's a team player...he's a loner. It changes writer by writer. Doesn't help that his very memories keep changing writer to writer
ME: Yeah...it helped when you only had two writers handling him for his first 15 years but now...Remender may be the closest to what I think of
RYAN: Yeah...everyones got diff idea for what he's like, its confusing. Its easier with a character like Spidey
ME: To me he is Claremont & Hama's failed samurai...loyal and cares about the kids, the guy who stayed loyal to Mariko until she died
RYAN: I actually really grew to like Morrison's version.
ME: I did too...Its Grant after all
RYAN: Yeah, Just felt...different.
ME: Wolvie stripped down to his "I am 200 yrs old and have seen it all" badass core
RYAN: Yeah, I mean seriously, he's THAT old and he's still trying to "find himself"...
Peter Parker is largely the science guy for whom nothing seems to go right a vast majority of the time (except for his ability to attract the hotties), which is actually why the Big Time arc was so different. He got the job, the girl, the respect, etc.
Reed Richards is the genius & family man, Tony Stark is the genius playboy industrialist, they all have a very concrete identity and although they may slightly stray from type occasionally, they always come back to form.
Wolverine, on the other hand, is a huge contradiction in almost every aspect of his personality. As Ryan pointed out, and as the recent X-Force books have played up, he is a killer...for awhile he was the only true killer on the X-teams. Sure other X-people had killed but part of the struggle of Wolverine's life was his battle with the killer inside, with the berzerker. It's part of where the Claremont ideal of "failed samurai" came into play.
He's a father figure...very evident now with the running of the school and whatnot...but it is a role he has always filled to some degree. The list of children he has mentored or played big brother/father for is endless...and filled with females. Kitty Pryde, Rachel Summers, Jubilee, Black Widow, Psylocke, X-23, one of my favorite Uncanny issues of all time is basically all about this:
It's Barry Windsor-Smith art for one, but the story by Claremont is amazing as well. On the surface it seems like another tale of Wolvie fighting baddies while on the run and at the end of his rope, but the true beauty of it is in his interaction with Katie Power. Despite being in what was essentially an animal state, he still does everything in his power (no pun) to protect Katie just as she protects him to the best of her ability until he recovers.
He adopts a daughter in Amiko after finding her in the rubble of a building and Tyger Tiger came into existence because Wolverine chose to save a woman, a complete stranger, who the Reavers mentally violated. He treated a robot child who tried to blow him up named Elsie Dee (ya know I don't think I go that LCD pun when I was 10) just as a normal human girl. Even in the movies he takes care of Rogue. Simply put, he is a caretaker for the next generation and that is why the idea of him running the new school is actually perfect.
Wolverine is a loner but yet is friends with the entire Marvel U. Captain America, Spidey, Thing, Fat Cobra, fn Squirrel Girl (which is a whole other creepy story considering she is likely very young), he has some relationship to any every character you can think of. He had an extraordinarily close friendship with Nightcrawler and was also quite tight with Colossus.
RYAN: Felt to me like he wanted an excuse to write Melita out
ME: That too
RYAN: Or like he didn't wanna deal w/ the relationship so he contrives a way around it
RYAN: Kinda felt like Aaron botched it with Melita too, which is odd because he created it
ME: Yeah...part of me feels like writers have little clue how to handle his love life
He is a "ladies man" but also one of the most loyal men to have on your side. His sexual resume is quite lengthy including Mystique, Yukio, Melita, Silver Fox, Domino, Gahck (Savage Land woman with whom he has a forgotten child), someone compiled a list here and here. Yet, despite all of those women, I will always think of these:
Mariko Yashida will always be the love of Logan's life. He tried to be a better man for her, he wanted to marry her of his own free will (as opposed to Viper who he was obligated to marry), he was different...for her. Jean Grey may be his biggest unrequited love, but Mariko is the one who truly had his heart and I wish some writer would occasionally bring back the idea of Logan visiting her grave every so often (Silver Fox's too). It may seem like continuity porn but I think it is a way to remind everyone of who Wolvie is, where he came from, and a way to let newer readers into his rich history.
Ultimately I think that's what I am looking for...that sort of powerful story like ish #57 of Volume 1 up there. A story that resonates with me and I still remember vividly fifteen, twenty, thirty years later. Maybe it's the tenure I have with comics, maybe it's the volume of comics I read now as opposed to back then when it was maybe four books in an entire month, but there are so few stories that linger for me. It's not just a Wolverine thing, it's a comic book thing in general, I guess I just choose to filter it through the lens of Logan since he who I was a fan of first.
Before Batman, before Brubaker's Captain America, before Johns' Hal Jordan, there was Wolverine. Chris Claremont, Larry Hama, John Byrne, Marc Silvestri, John Buscema, BWS, Romita Jr, just to name a few, they shaped the SHORT and hairy Canadian berserker samurai for me.
Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, the Kubert brothers, Jim Lee, the brought him to another life as I got older.
Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Jason Aaron, Nick Bradshaw, those are the guys who have defined, and are continuing to define, Wolverine for me as an adult, and despite the fact that he looks absolutely nothing like any comic book incarnation of Wolverine that ever existed prior to the movies, Hugh Jackman has done a pretty decent job of bringing him to life on the silver screen.
Wolverine is marketable, and just as well known to the masses as Cap or Spidey or Thor. He deserves greatness in both story and art, not to mention in cinema. Now with Paul Cornell & Alan Davis on one upcoming book and Frank Cho on the recently released Savage Wolverine perhaps he will get that classic story for the modern audiences. He deserves his "Winter Soldier", his "Big Time", his article in USA Today announcing something huge to the world.
Hopefully that day is coming soon and with the movie on the horizon, I certainly wouldn't be surprised. He is the best in the world at what he does after all....