What can we expect of Wolverine when he finally makes his debut at Marvel Studios? And what of Logan’s origin? Buckle up as we dive into it.
Fans have been waiting for Wolverine to come home to Marvel Studios since Disney announced in December 2017 that they would be acquiring FOX studios.
Wolverine has been one of the most popular characters at Marvel for decades and when the purchase of FOX was finalized in March 2019 the big question was:
What will Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios do with the character?
Whatever we do will be quite different than what’s been done before
That’s what Kevin Feige told IGN back in June, 2019, with the assumption that he’s referring to the Fox films.
What does ‘different’ mean? And how radical could the changes be?
I think we have to conform ourselves to smaller changes because the Wolverine IP is a major seller of merchandise. Meaning very different threats to economics above and beyond box office. We will get, roughly, someone who, while distinctive from Hugh Jackman, will still recognizably be Wolverine.
Wolverine at Fox
The Wolverine IP at Fox was run by Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos respectively (both eventually pushed out and now the heads of Sony and Universal—failing as an executive isn’t as impactful as failing in a regular job).
The duo produced ten X-Men/Wolverine films over roughly 20 years, seven of which heavily feature Wolverine as a character.
What did they do in those films?
In a largely unique origin, Wolverine is portrayed as someone who just wants to be left alone. He meets Rogue (whose characterization is a mix of Kitty Pryde and Jubilee) and helps her out; is convinced by Xavier (and Jean Grey) to stay with the X-Men; and through the events of the film becomes a member of the team.
There’s nothing quite like this in the comics—the only similarities being his Canadian beginning and a fatherly relationship with a younger X-Men. His name here is Logan and ‘Wolverine’ is his military tag.
Wolverine is looking for clues about his past and learns that William Stryker is responsible for his amnesia and the adamantium process he underwent; he eventually kills Stryker. While this broadly echoes the comics (particularly Barry Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X, 1991), it’s again a unique take on his story.
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
The Wolverine arc is that he’s the only one who can fulfil Jean Grey’s request to kill her and stop the Phoenix force, which is quite different from her self-sacrifice in the Dark Phoenix comic inspiration.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
The film borrows heavily from the lamentable Wolverine: The Origin (2001).
Wolverine is now someone called James Howlett from the 19th century, growing up with Victor Creed (Sabretooth) and then fighting in all the wars involving America because he’s Canadian…or something. Eventually he’s recruited by Stryker for Team-X (which includes Wade Wilson).
He leaves the group, becomes a logger (reminiscent of the bizarre Magneto-as-coalminer in X-Men: Apocalypse) while living with Silver Fox, but circumstances bring Stryker back. He gets the adamantium treatment, his memory erased, needs Gambit’s help after he escapes, see’s Wade with his mouth sewn shut, Silver Fox dies, etc.
It’s a pile of nonsense justifiably mocked in the Deadpool films.
The Wolverine (2013)
Inspired by the late 70s/early 80s love story from Chris Claremont between Wolverine and Mariko Yashida, but poorly integrated into the incomprehensible Fox continuity.
It’s not much of an improvement over the previous solo film, although because its focus is more narrow it’s not as convoluted.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Wolverine is sent back in time to prevent the apocalyptic future the film opens with—the film adapting the famous 1981 John Byrne/Chris Claremont story of the same name (although in it, Kitty Pryde is sent back, not Wolverine).
The comic was intended as a one-off, but Marvel could never leave well enough alone. This is undoubtedly the better of the second set of Fox films (beginning with First Class), for whatever that’s worth.
Inspired by the Old Man Logan (2008-09) story from Mark Millar, it follows familiar tropes from Westerns and other narratives about the last stand of an old warrior.
Well-received, but the death of Wolverine isn’t something the MCU has to worry about any time soon, so isn’t of concern to us here (indeed, there’s no obvious benefit to Marvel ever killing him off).
We had an original story in the first trilogy of Fox films that was loosely inspired by the comics; then there was the anomalous 2009 film (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) penned by David Benioff (yes, that David Benioff), which shoves some of the convoluted crap writers have inserted over the last 40 years, but the two films that follow ignore it.
What do these films preclude if we’re doing things differently?
- James Howlett/19th century Wolverine
- Victor Creed’s early involvement in his origin (or at least at a very early stage)
- Wolverine’s participation in every major American event until the mid-70s (if a president farted, Wolverine was there to smell it)
- Chris Claremont’s love story between Wolverine and Mariko
- The Days of Future Past story
- William Stryker’s involvement in his origin
- Wolverine’s love story with Jean Grey
- A fatherly relationship with Rogue (which is not from the comics regardless)
- “Wolverine” being a military call-sign or tag
This eliminates a couple of classic stories, but happily also cuts some of the modern additions.
This begs the question, what is Wolverine’s origin?
This would be an essay unto itself, but rather than give you a Wikipedia entry, let’s boil things down to the essentials.
From his introduction in 1974 (via Len Wein), up until the early part of Bill Mantlo’s run on Alpha Flight in 1986, he had a stable and logical origin story.
Since then, particularly from the 90s onward, various writers have complicated his origin and pumped it full of incidents throughout history. Creators haven’t done this not because the original version didn’t work, but to put their own stamp on him and push whatever narrative they were currently working on. Unfortunately, Marvel has only retconned a few of these elements away, rather than eliminating the whole rotting edifice.
In brief, here are the origins of Wolverine from Len Wein/Chris Claremont/John Byrne (the sources for this are The Incredible Hulk #181, Giant-Sized X-Men #1, Uncanny X-Men #109, #120-121, #139-140, #147, and Alpha Flight #17):
Wolverine is an unpredictable, violent man, probably in his mid-30s—his name is Logan, something he rarely shares. He doesn’t reflect on his past, has no military background to begin with, nor has he undergone the adamantium process.
James Hudson and his wife Heather McNeil find Wolverine starving and freezing and take him in. Hudson works for the Canadian government, having designed a suit (ala Iron Man) while working for Am-Can Petroleum–not trusting the corporation with it, he turned it over to the government and began to work for them.
They take Wolverine to government psychologists who consider him a danger to society who needs to be institutionalized; James and Heather disagree and put him through years of therapy (a bit like MCU Hawkeye with Black Widow, they made a different call)—during this time James and Wolverine become best friends, basically brothers, with Wolverine fighting off a crush he has on Heather (thematically meant to echo the one he later has for Jean Grey—both younger, attached redheads).
Department H, the branch Hudson works for, decides to test the adamantium process on Wolverine—this is done without James’ knowledge. Wolverine becomes Weapon X and James believes he should lead Alpha Flight—the super team the government is having him put together.
Weapon X becomes an agent for the government, doing the dirty things they can’t—this is work Wolverine resents, both because he was asked to do it and because he does it. At the same time he trains with Alpha Flight whose members respect him, but Hudson realizes Wolverine is simply too aggressive for leadership.
Wolverine interacts with the Hulk and, months later, is approached by Charles Xavier with an offer: join the X-Men and escape the bonds of government servitude—Wolverine agrees—wanting freedom, but never blaming his teammates or friends for that predicament.
Wolverine then joins the X-Men. Twice the Canadian government tries to get him back—the first time sending just Hudson, who leaves when the X-Men come to help him; in the second he brings Alpha Flight and Wolverine essentially talks them into leaving him alone.
Later Wolverine returns to Canada to make peace and Hudson tells him he’s a free man and the government won’t seek him again. Alpha Flight is subsequently defunded by the government and Hudson goes independent with it (leading into John Byrne’s iconic run on that comic).
The MCU isn’t likely to follow this beat-for-beat, as they never just copy/paste a story from the comics. Kevin Feige typically likes more modern interpretations of heroes, but that seems less likely with the X-Men IP, both because of how popular their earlier stories are and because it was culturally ahead of its time.
What this origin provides is something completely distinct from what Fox did and unlike anything DC or anyone else will do (Canadian elements in an IP aren’t economically important, so aren’t imitated).
Do we know anything about what that approach will be?
Well, we have had some clues.
The Russo Brothers
The duo, the most successful Marvel Studios directors thus far – along with their undervalued writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely – have talked a lot about Wolverine over the last five years.
May 4, 2016 via Collider:
If they could pick any character, who would it be:
JOE RUSSO: Wolverine.
Anothony Russo: Yeah.
Joe Russo: First favorite character growing up was Spider-Man, second was Wolverine. One of my most-prized possessions is Incredible Hulk #181. It was his first appearance.
August 7, 2019 via reddit:
Which superhero’s movie that is not currently in the MCU would you guys most want to direct in the future?
Anthony Russo: We’ve always loved us some Wolverine.
July 6, 2020 via CBM:
Joe Russo: I mean, Wolverine was always one of my favourite characters. Incredible Hulk #181 was one of the first comic books that I remember collecting, which was the first appearance of Wolverine. Hugh Jackman has done an incredible job with that character over the years, and I think they should take a break for a little while before someone else takes a crack at it.”
February 8, 2021 via Spotify:
To realize him on screen, it’s very hard because Hugh Jackman’s performance is definitive. It’s like Batman; you have to really think of a way to, you have to really find the right actor to come in and give a really different take to that character. But I would really love to see him on screen. I think the best thing is to take a break, without question. You need a [palate cleanser], you need to rinse the towel a little bit, let everyone enjoy what was, and then come up with something new. But I’d love to take a crack at Wolverine at some point.
The comments aren’t hugely substantive, but make it clear there’s an attachment to Wolverine’s older origin and an acknowledgement that Marvel Studios will have to do something different from Hugh Jackman, but what does that mean?
Jackman’s performance as Wolverine is understated—a more mature, measured Wolverine—a fatherly Wolverine who becomes a mentor for Rogue. This leaves a lot of space for a different take, space that doesn’t require the extremes of a Jared Leto Joker.
For those who haven’t read Claremont’s run, or haven’t in a while, Wolverine is temperamental, passionate, and trigger happy—someone the X-Men (just like Alpha Flight) have to restrain from going too far. That fits wanting to do his earlier material (or, at least, being inspired by it).
I’m more dubious of his Canadian heritage mattering—it rarely does in the comics, as his writers are typically American (although the people who made him famous were not—Claremont is British and Byrne is Canadian), but it’s something to lean on if Marvel wants to go that way (the changes to his origin have largely Americanized him).
As the biggest fish from the Fox IP you’d think we’d be awash in scoops about the character, but that’s not the case.
Only one reputable scooper, Mikey Sutton (from Geekosity), has discussed him over the last two years and here’s what he’s said.
September, 2019 via MCUandComics
[Paraphrased] Marvel Studios is discussing a Wolverine vs Hulk film. The idea is that they will use the Immortal Hulk-version: “Hulk” won’t be used in the title (due to the rights Universal has); the Hulk gets sent to retrieve Wolverine from Canada, who is also being sought by Alpha Flight. This would echo both the first appearance of Wolverine [Incredible Hulk #181] as well as Alpha Flight’s first interaction with the X-Men [Uncanny X-Men #120-121].
May 30, 2020 via MCUandComics
[Paraphrased] Early title is The Uncanny X-Men; X-Men will be introduced slowly by Marvel Studios before having their own film; the team will be Cyclops, Jean Grey, Thunderbird, Nightcrawler, Sunfire, Havok, Wolverine (in his early Jim Lee costume), and Storm, with the initial story being Thunderbird’s death ala Uncanny X-Men #96. Alpha Flight is coming. [I think the composition of the X-Men is too male-heavy for the MCU, but we’re discussing Wolverine, not the X-Men.]
June 6, 2020 via MCUandComics
Alpha Flight members Marrina, Snowbird, and Talisman are on an R&D list at Marvel Studios. [This is further evidence supporting the idea of Alpha Flight being on its way.]
June 24, 2020 via MCUandComics
“They [the X-Men] break [Wolverine] out as Weapon X. He tells them to call him Logan because he is not a weapon for anyone. He participates [as part of the group] but doesn’t join the team. He strikes a deal with Professor X–I don’t know what the stakes are. At the end [of the film] he calls himself Wolverine and apparently there’s a profound reason for that, but I don’t know what it is yet.”
“After Weapon X is liberated from Department K* by the X-Men, he participates in one of their missions but doesn’t join the team, as I reported in an earlier scoop [May]. Logan is still a wanted man. He is considered [Canadian] government property and therefore the country’s own Avengers, named Alpha Flight, are sent to hunt him down. Vindicator. Northstar. Aurora. Puck. Sasquatch. Shaman. Snowbird [this is the group composition used in the animated X-Men from the 90s rather than the comics]. But trying to net Wolverine is one thing, a major problem. Unfortunately, there is an incredible one. Alpha Flight are caught in the crossfire as the Hulk is in Canada as well, in full rage mode.
“Marvel Studios doesn’t think Alpha Flight have the makings of a cinematic franchise; there are too many toys in the box to play with and only enough time. But they would like to see them in the Wolverine movie where he fights the Hulk, which I scooped here almost a year ago now. This isn’t about old news. Marvel Studios sees the potential of Alpha Flight for Disney+ after appearing in a Wolverine movie. The Canadian setting will be fresh and less expensive to shoot, not to mention that the cast is diverse from the beginning, even Marvel Comics’ first openly gay superhero Northstar. They have the potential to have both the explosive action of the Avengers and the social conscience of the X-Men.”
*This was Department H originally, but Rob Liefeld/Fabian Nicieza retconned (1991) it such that Department K were the ones responsible for the Weapon X program
How keen Marvel is to use Alpha Flight is a harder question to answer (and unrelated to the topic at hand, albeit if we’re getting an Echo show than almost anything is possible), although Sutton isn’t the only prominent scooper to think Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios likes the team.
As a fan, I’d love to see it.
Wolverine At Marvel Studios: What To Expect Of Logan’s Origin
I have a problem with the composition that Sutton includes—there are only two female characters (Aurora and Snowbird) out of seven. If the team is a one-off, this isn’t a big deal, but if there’s a chance for a Disney+ show the trends would suggest it would be more balanced.
Sasquatch could be gender-swapped (there’s a comic basis for that), Talisman could be included instead of Shaman (they have the same function on the team), and it could be Heather McNeil instead of James Hudson leading – I consider this the least likely change if they want a show.
I’m also not sure you need the full team in the film, although it depends on how much interaction they’ll have with Wolverine.
Regardless, I’d certainly like to see them, as it’s not something I ever would have expected.
We have, as I was writing this article, had one other rumour about the IP, which says it will be a Disney+ show rather than a film.
This doesn’t come from someone with a reputable track record, but to address the concept, this is something Marvel would only do in a bid to boost Disney+ subscriptions, not something they seem to be struggling with (and therefore, not a strategy I think they’d use such a prominent IP to pursue).
Wolverine films, even bad ones, make money, so giving up on that for streaming seems unlikely.
What to Expect
I think if the Russo brothers want a Wolverine film, they will get one and including the Hulk works well for the MCU since they can’t give Mark Ruffalo his own movie (due to the rights situation with Universal).
What the brothers have said for the last five years and what Sutton is saying lines up perfectly.
If there’s a slow build-up to the X-Men with gradual introductions, then a Wolverine solo feature should appear before the team’s movie.
Such a film would likely be no sooner than 2024, given that there’s no talent, director, or writers assigned yet and the announced slate is already taking up slots in 2023.
Casting the character will be a major struggle and I suspect they will go for someone relatively unknown.
Both for cost reasons and to avoid the kind of backlash that well-known actors tend to get—think of Batman.
Jackman himself was not well known to American audiences when cast and a controversial pick because of his size.
As for the story itself, Sutton’s scoop that involves the Hulk and Alpha Flight works very well.
It includes one of the main Avengers (not that a Wolverine film needs that to interest people), provides an opportunity to explore his Canadian origin and (if they wish) say goodbye to it at the same time.
This is completely different from what we’ve seen before and should lay the groundwork for why Wolverine eventually becomes an X-Men.
The project would also provide space for future solo films in areas you’ll never need to ask:
Where are the Avengers or X-Men?
It’s a future to look forward to.
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