Comics Watch: How Marvel Is Reinventing Wolverine

Wolverine No 1 Cover - Publicity - H 2020
Marvel Entertainment/Adam Kubert
Six years after he was killed off, the mutant's new series shows a vulnerability rarely seen in the character.

Welcome back to The Hollywood Reporter's weekly Comics Watch, a dive into how the latest books from Marvel, DC and beyond could provide fodder for the big (and small) screen. Be warned, there are spoilers ahead.

He’s the best there is at what he does, and what he does, at least on this occasion, is star in a 70-page series relaunch. Wolverine is back! It’s been six years since everyone’s favorite short, hairy mutant with claws has had his own solo series, and in that time he’s been killed off, replaced by Old Man Logan of an alternate dimension who works alongside his clone daughter X-23, resurrected and left in possession of an infinity gem. And now, thanks to writer Benjamin Percy and a rotating team of artists, Adam Kubert and Viktor Bogdanovic, Logan is back to doing what he does best, namely slicing and dicing. In this debut issue, Percy, Kubert and Bogdanovic remind us why Wolverine has remained one of Marvel’s most popular characters, and despite the existence of alternate versions, there really is no substitute for Logan.

Wolverine No. 1 sets up the first two arcs of the series. The initial story finds Logan alone in Alaska; his team, X-Force, dead, seemingly by his own hands; and Logan left with his memories out of whack. Memory, of course, has been a significant element to Wolverine’s characterization. For those of us who grew up reading X-Men in the '70s, '80s and '90s, Logan’s past was shrouded in mystery, with only hints of his life before the Weapon X project delivered unto readers over the course of decades. That changed in 2001 with Origin, which detailed Logan’s early life as a mutant named James Howlett, a story that Logan himself wouldn’t be privy to until his memories were restored by Scarlet Witch’s actions during House of M (2005).

It’s unknown how lasting the effects of Logan’s memory loss will be, but they do set the stage for a Wolverine closer to his past self. The Dawn X relaunch of the X-titles has seen Logan struggling with the comfort that the mutants now have on their island nation of Krakoa, and he fears that if he lets his guard down too much, falls too easily back into his role as teacher, friend and even family member, he’ll be unprepared for what’s coming. Thus, the hook of this new series, as highlighted on the title page, is: “In spite of the wealth and opportunity ahead, Wolverine remains poised for the worst.”

Percy and Kubert’s story tracks backward, leading us to discover how Wolverine found himself alone and injured in Alaska. The X-Force, referred to as the mutant CIA, is tracking down the Flower Cartel, drug runners who have synthesized the healing properties of Krakoan flowers, and the mutant nation’s sole source of exports, into a drug called pollen. With the human CIA also investing the rise in this drug, Wolverine finds himself in a gritty, global espionage tale that promises mystery, bloodshed and a new adversary known as “The Pale Girl.” This story arc feels like classic Wolverine at its best, and as the story that will drive initial issues of the series, longtime Wolverine fans are sure to be pleased.

The second story, equally compelling, pushes the character a little further out of his comfort zone, while bringing back a familiar adversary and putting Wolverine at the forefront of a new war. Percy and Bogdanovic’s arc finds Wolverine reunited with his old foe Omega Red, who arrives in Krakoa covered in blood, having left a car full of bodies in Paris. Red swears his innocence, but Wolverine isn’t convinced, which leads him on a path through the catacombs of Paris, where he discovers the Vampire Nation, led by Dracula, is using humanity’s distraction with this new mutant nation as an opportunity to rise to power and feed. This is Wolverine as a horror book, a genre that the character hasn’t experienced often enough given his power set and history.

Both Wolverine stories are firmly planted in different genres, and Kubert and Bogdanovic give each story its own flavor, not to mention some of the best art work Wolverine’s book has received in some time. Despite genre deviations, there is a consistency to Percy’s writing. Wolverine’s isn’t always the easiest character to get a read on, and while some writers have taken masculine posturing to be his perpetual state, Percy lets us in. Wolverine’s interior monologue doesn’t just narrate what he’s doing and promise bouts of violence, it displays vulnerability. “My body is one big wound, a million scars I carry around inside me,” he says early in the first story. And later, “I got a million reasons to hate Omega Red, but there’s one that stings worse than the rest. He reminds me of my own worst self.” With a character as popular as Wolverine, it’s easy to fall into routine, but every talent on this book seems intent on exploring the character in new ways without stripping him of the concerns and adversaries that have defined his past. The question at the heart of this book isn’t whether Wolverine belongs among the X-Men, but whether his role is best served as weapon, teacher or something else entirely.

There was a point, about a decade ago, when Marvel was burning audiences out on Wolverine with his leading presence in multiple solo series, X-books, Avengers teams and guest-appearances. Even as Hugh Jackman’s performance as the character continued to be welcomed in Fox’s X-Men films, there was a feeling among fans that, in terms of both film and comics, we could do with a little less Wolverine. Marvel, never one to miss an opportunity to capitalize on popularity, has since filled that void with Deadpool. Nonetheless, Wolverine’s death in the comics, and his death in film a year later in James Mangold’s Logan (2017), provided the necessary break we needed from the character and a chance to rethink his role and what we wanted out of his stories. Percy’s Wolverine feels like the clear answer on the comics side of things. But in terms of film, Logan’s role is not so apparent.

The X-Men are now at Marvel Studios and primed for a reboot. While many are still clamoring for Jackman to return to the role, he seems to have hung up the claws for good, leaving the role open for another actor to make his own. While we’ve all been discussing when and where mutants might show up in the MCU, and how the X-Men will factor in with what we’ve seen so far, we shouldn’t forget that Wolverine is one of Marvel’s most mutable (pun intended) characters and able to fit alongside any character and within any genre. Marvel Studios doesn’t necessarily need to wait for an X-Men film to introduce Wolverine, and given the current series, a special-ops mission alongside The Winter Soldier or fighting vampires alongside Blade doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch. We don’t know when he’s coming, but we do know that adamantium is hot, and that the second we see those three claws pop out of a fist and hear the familiar “SNIKT” sound in some post-credit scene down the line, we’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that between comics and film, a new age of Wolverine is upon us.