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Weapon X-Plained: Marvel’s Mutant Super-Soldier Program Declassified

by  in CBR Exclusives, Comic News Comment
Weapon X-Plained: Marvel’s Mutant Super-Soldier Program Declassified

Since the phrase “Weapon X” was first uttered over forty years ago, the name has come to mean many, many things. It’s been used to reference a government program, a few different characters as well as a number of storylines and comic book series. While Weapon X’s alumni are constantly running around the Marvel Universe, the name is about to make an even bigger return courtesy of a new ongoing series. As part of Marvel’s ResurrXion line, Greg Pak and Greg Land are launching a new “Weapon X” series — one that will see alums Old Man Logan and Sabretooth unite to stop a new iteration of the deadly project from starting.

RELATED: Marvel Announces Weapon X Creative Team, Deadly Roster

As is true with many things related to the X-Men, Weapon X is a bit complicated when it comes to continuity. That’s fitting considering that the organization has been around for just as long as Wolverine and had dozens of creators contribute to its mythology. Before the new “Weapon X” series launches and kicks off another chapter of the facility’s saga, let’s try to set the record straight on exactly what — and in some cases who — Weapon X really is.

If you’re wanting a simple explanation of what Weapon X is, it’s this: Weapon X is a shady and secretive genetic research project, usually with official ties to a country’s government. Basically, they turn people into weapons through grisly experimentation and then sic them on enemies on behalf of whichever government hired them. Weapon X’s most notably alumni is Wolverine, and the facility also gave power-ups to similarly vicious mutants like Sabretooth and Deadpool.

RELATED: Weapon EX: 15 Graduates Of The Weapon Plus Program

Weapon X was first mentioned in 1974’s “Incredible Hulk” #181, an issue written by Len Wein with art by Herb Trimpe. In that story, Wolverine himself was codenamed Weapon X, and the secret government agency he worked for was left vaguely Canadian. We wouldn’t get a good look at the inner workings of Weapon X or see how they transformed Logan into the adamantium-clawed Wolverine until 1991. Written and illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith, the “Weapon X” storyline in “Marvel Comics Presents” #72-84 would become the strong foundation upon which dozens of later Weapon X stories would be built upon.

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Later that year, the second character to bear the name “Weapon X” would debut. Garrison Kane, a robot-armed soldier with a bad attitude, debuted in September 1991’s “X-Force” #2, thus bringing the Weapon X moniker back into publication. In 1995, the “Wolverine” ongoing series transformed into “Weapon X” for four issues during 1995’s “Age of Apocalypse” event. Following that, there was a “Weapon X” series in 2002 that starred the program’s lethal agents. The most recent ongoing with Weapon X in the title was 2009’s “Wolverine: Weapon X,” an early chapter in writer Jason Aaron’s lengthy run with the character.

That’s the overview of what Weapon X has meant in the comics over the last 40+ years. It’s been a codename twice and in the title of a comic book three times. With that basic understanding, let’s get into the complicated history of Weapon X — and Weapon Plus.

RELATED: Marvel Announces X-Men: Prime One-Shot, Reveals New ResurrXion Info

In 2002’s “New X-Men” #128, Grant Morrison pulled the rug out from under established Weapon X continuity. Ten years after “Marvel Comics Presents” finally revealed Wolverine’s origin, that “New X-Men” issue reframed the Weapon X project in a radical way. Instead of “X” being a letter, it was revealed to instead be the Roman numeral for 10. Morrison’s retcon established that Weapon X, the tenth such program, was part of a larger initiative named Weapon Plus.

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“New X-Men” #129 interior art by Igor Kordey and Ian McCaig

Within this new continuity, Weapon Plus was first created in the 1940s as a means to deal with the impending threat mutants posed on Earth’s human population. Weapon Plus’ founder John Sublime — secretly the host body for a hostile sentient bacteria — really only targeted mutants because they were immune to his influence and he wanted them wiped out. Weapon Plus’ first super-soldier, created as part of Project: Rebirth and retroactively designated Weapon I, was Captain America. The methodology behind Steve Rogers’ transformation into the super-soldier was lost when Dr. Abraham Erskine was murdered immediately after the experiment concluded.

That didn’t keep Weapon Plus from plugging along, though, and they spent the next few decades creating Weapons II through IX. These experiments, the ones that would ultimately lead to Wolverine’s adamantium-infused makeover, started in the aftermath of World War II when the journals of a Nazi scientist named Nathaniel Essex (also the deranged geneticist and supervillain Mister Sinister) were obtained by Weapon Plus. Following Project: Rebirht, Weapon Plus continued to run tests. Weapon II tested on animals (like this “Squirrel Girl” character), Weapon III survived to become the “Uncanny X-Force” villain the Skinless Man, and Weapon VII became the Daredevil adversary Nuke. The experiments conducted during the Weapon VII phase also resulted in Wolverine’s adamantium-skinned enemy Cyber. After various levels of mild success and utter failure, Weapon X became Weapon Plus’ first attempt to turn mutants — the thing the organization was created to destroy — into living weapons. For Weapon X, Weapon Plus partnered with Canada’s Department K.

The initial Weapon X test subjects included the future X-Man Logan, Sabretooth, Maverick, a cyborg named Aldo Ferro, Mastodon, the teleporter John Wraith, expert fighter (and Wolverine’s ex) Silver Fox. Logan’s inclusion in this group was revealed in 2007’s “Wolverine” #54 to be the doing of Romulus, a seemingly immortal mutant and ex-emperor of Ancient Rome. Like John Sublime, Romulus was also retconned into being behind the scenes of Weapon X.

In addition to experimenting and enhancing mutants, Weapon X also ran an assassin program named Team X. Wolverine, Sabretooth and Maverick all served together in Team X years before they’d take on those super-powered identities. A 1992 storyarc stretching from “Wolverine” #48-50 revealed that the Weapon X project also implanted false memories in Logan’s mind during this time.

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The experiments eventually moved past physical enhancements and biological upgrades. Due to his natural healing factor, Logan was chosen to taken part in a dangerous procedure that would graft an unbreakable metal called adamantium to his bones — including his bone claws. The adamantium experiments were directed by Professor Andre Thorton, and he was assisted by Dr. Carol Hines, Dr. Dale Rice and the brilliant scientist Dr. Abraham Cornelius. Cornelius would play a major role in many Wolverine storylines to come, as he was specifically the man that oversaw the process that bonded the adamantium to Wolverine’s bones. That’s a process that Cornelius stole from Lord Dark Wind, the father of Lady Deathstrike. The experiment was a success, although the blinding pain sent Logan into a berserker rage. The mutant assassin, now gifted with an unbreakable skeleton and claws, slashed his way out of the facility, killing several people and disfiguring one security guard (that will come into play later).

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Following Wolverine’s escape and the dissolution of Team X, Weapon X split from Weapon Plus and became solely operated by Canada’s Department K. This iteration of Weapon X found more humans and mutants to turn into super-powered soldiers, including Wade Wilson, Garrison Kane and Kyle Gibney. A mutant with enhanced physical skills and senses, Gibney turned into the hero Wild Child and served as a member of the Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight as well as the U.S. government’s X-Factor team. Kane, who served as a young soldier in Cable’s mercenary group prior to hooking up with Weapon X, was given mechanical limbs containing enhanced weaponry. Kane became the second subject to bear the codename Weapon X. The fast-talking merc Wilson was gifted with a copy of Wolverine’s healing factor and became Deadpool.

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But Weapon Plus didn’t stop just because Weapon X split off and became its own thing. The original shady government organization kept right at it, with their post-Weapon X experiments yielding more memorable X-characters. The con artist, thief and adventurer Fantomex sprung out of Weapon XIII. The Stepford Cuckoos, a set of telepathic quintuplets, were revealed to be Weapon XIV after they enrolled at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning and fought alongside the X-Men.

At some point following Deadpool’s generation of recruits, the splinter Weapon X project shut its doors. Years later, Weapon X reformed in the guise of the Facility. The 2005 “X-23” limited series written by Craig Kyle and Chris Yost revealed this chapter in Weapon X history. Led by Director Martin Sutter, Dr. Zander Rice and Dr. Sarah Kinney, the Facility attempted to replicate the Weapon X process that created Wolverine, starting with a damaged DNA sample of the X-Man. Mutant geneticist Doctor Sarah Kinney was able to salvage the DNA except for the Y chromosome, thus yielding a female “twin” clone of Logan. The 23rd attempt to successfully turn this sample into an embryo worked, thus the name X-23.

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Sarah Kinney was forced to carry the baby, giving birth to X-23. At the age of seven, the manipulative and vengeful Dr. Zander Rice (the son of Dale Rice who worked with Weapon X during the experiments on Wolverine) began the adamantium bonding process by exposing X-23 to radiation years too early and causing her mutations to emerge prematurely. Once her claws popped out, Rice coated them in adamantium using no anesthetic. Rice also developed a “trigger scent” that would cause Laura to go into an uncontrollable berserker rage upon exposure to it. X-23 became a killer for the Facility until her mother Sarah helped her escape. Unfortunately, as X-23 ended Rice’s life, he exposed her to the trigger scent. The enraged and mindless X-23 killed Sarah, who — with her dying breath — gave X-23 the name “Laura” and told her about the X-Men and Wolverine.

RELATED: X-23 X-Plained: From Logan’s Clone To The All-New Wolverine

After the rise and fall of the Facility, Weapon X moved stateside for its third iteration — one operated by Director Malcolm Colcord. Debuting in 2001’s “Wolverine” #166, Colcord was revealed to be a former security guard in the Canadian Weapon X facility whose face was disfigured by Wolverine’s claws during his escape. Colcord’s Weapon X was closely modeled on the original Team X initiative; his recruits carried out missions more than they served as guinea pigs. Among his recruits were Weapon X alums Sabretooth, Maverick, Kane, Wild Child, Copycat, Sauron, Mesmero, Aurora and Marrow.

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But Colcord’s ambition grew and he started a mutant concentration camp called Neverland. Mutants were abducted and placed in Neverland, with useful mutants joining the Weapon X Program while the rest were turned over for experiments. In a bit of a circular coincidence, those experiments were secretly conducted by Mister Sinister — the very geneticist whose work in World War II helped inspire Weapon Plus. Eventually a coup was staged against Colcord and his Weapon X initiative was terminated with most of his agents returning to their prior lives.

That wasn’t Colcord’s last attempt at starting a Weapon X program, though. A 2011 crossover between “X-23” and “Daken: Dark Wolverine” brought Malcolm Colcord back as he attempted to kickstart a new Weapon X in the crime-filled island of Madripoor. X-23 and Daken together prevented this new Weapon X from getting off the ground and, as punishment for his many crimes, left Colcord chained up and forgotten in an apartment building in Madripoor.

More recently, Canada’s Weapon X facility served a counterintuitive purpose when it became the New Charles Xavier School for Mutants. In early 2013, “Uncanny X-Men” writer Brian Michael Bendis had his fugitive X-Men set up shop in the last place anyone would look for them: a facility widely known for torturing and experimenting on mutants. The Weapon X facility became the New Xavier School and, for a time, housed both a team of X-Men and their fledgling trainees. Following the events depicted in “Death of X” and the spread of the Terrigen mist induced M-Pox, though, that team of X-Men disbanded and the facility was abandoned.

In another full circle moment, Dr. Abraham Cornelius — the man responsible for bonding adamantium to Wolverine’s skeleton — came back recently as part of the “Death of Wolverine” storyline. Cornelius launched his own Weapon X program and conducted aggressive experiments to create a better soldier than Wolverine. His tests resulted in a number of super-powered agents, all of which starred in the 2015 “Wolverines” series. Cornelius, craving all the adamantium he could find, placed a bounty on Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton — which wasn’t a smart move. Wolverine took the fight to Cornelius, killing him but also covering himself in molten adamantium, trapping him in the unbreakable metal.

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That brings us to the present. Wolverine is dead, covered in unbreakable metal. Most of the major players behind past Weapon X iterations have been killed for their crimes. The Canadian Weapon X facility lies empty. But the Weapon X name will live on in a new series as a new mystery player seeks to start up the program one more time — but not if Old Man Logan, Sabretooth and their group of cutthroat mutants have anything to say about it.

“Weapon X” #1 by Greg Pak and Greg Land” arrives in stores in spring 2017.

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