Wolverine is a powerhouse whose claws, super-strong adamantium skeleton and incredible healing factor make him a force of nature. He’s also a messed up guy with a history filled with tragedy, confusion and contradictions. It was established early on that Wolverine suffered from a combination of brain damage, mental trauma, psychic blocks and memory implants that gave him amnesia and flashbacks of things that never happened. That makes him… complicated, to say the least.
Until Wolverine’s origin was laid out in the pages of the appropriately-named 2001 mini-series “Origin” (by Bill Jemas, Paul Jenkins and Joe Quesada, with art from Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove), his life was a collection of ideas that would get changed whenever a new writer came along. Those changes are known in comics as retroactive continuity or “retcons,” and they can be both interesting and problematic. He’s not the only character with retcons, of course, but he’s one of the most famously affected by them. With Wolverine’s new movie “Logan” making a stir in the ether, the CBR team runs down 15 of Wolverine’s biggest retcons.
15. HIS HEALING FACTOR
One of Wolverine’s defining powers is his healing factor, which allows him to quickly walk off almost all injuries. It’s part of what makes Wolverine almost indestructible, which is why it’s kind of surprising that he didn’t start out that way.
In his first appearance in Len Wein and Herb Trimpe’s “Incredible Hulk” #181 (1974), Wolverine didn’t heal rapidly at all. Instead, he was so fast that Hulk could barely touch him, except for one moment when Hulk hits Wolverine, but he mysteriously shrugged off the impact. It was only when he became a regular member of the X-Men in 1977’s “X-Men” #107 that his healing was established, but throughout the ’80s, it took him weeks and even months to heal from major injuries. Starting in the 1990s, Wolverine’s healing ramped up until he healed from a nuclear incineration within minutes. He later explained this by saying his healing factor grew more efficient the more he used it, retconning his earlier weakness.
14. HE KNEW EVERYONE
For a long time, it was said that no one knew how old Wolverine was, because his healing factor made him both immortal and also kept him from showing his age. That meant writers could say he was as old as they wanted him to be, and wrote stories of Wolverine hanging around for decades. With his long life, it makes sense that he met a few familiar faces along the way, but it kind of got out of hand.
For example, in Archie Goodwin and Howard Chaykin’s “Wolverine/Nick Fury: The Scorpio Connection” (1989), Wolverine tells Nick Fury that they knew each other in his days serving with Canadian intelligence. However, “Wolverine Origins” #17 later shows them meeting during World War II. Since Fury didn’t dispute Wolverine in ’89 and didn’t recognize Wolverine, that was clearly a retcon. Also, the story showed him meeting Captain America, even though Cap didn’t recognize him decades later. How can you forget Wolverine? That hairdo alone tends to stick with you.
13. WEAPON PLUS
One of the defining moments of Wolverine’s life was his kidnapping by the Weapon X program, which forced the powerful adamantium metal onto his bones and tried to brainwash him. But Weapon X itself has gone through a lot of changes throughout the years. In 1975’s “Giant Size X-Men Annual” #1, Wolverine was codenamed Weapon X, but that changed in “Wolverine” #50 (1991), when Weapon X became the name of the super-soldier program that experimented on him.
In Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s “New X-Men” #129 (2002), another huge retcon was introduced when it said the “X” in Weapon X stood for the Roman numeral ten, meaning there were other experiments going all the way back to World War II, with more created after Wolverine. The program’s full name became the Weapon Plus program, and included most Marvel super-soldiers (including Captain America) as former members. At that point, it was said that early Weapon Plus experiments involved animals, but “Uncanny X-Force” #22 (2012) retconned Weapon III as the human supervillain, the Skinless Man.
12. HE MET PROFESSOR X
Wolverine became an official member of the X-Men in “Giant Size X-Men Annual” #1 (1975), when Professor X went to the Canadian government to recruit Logan because the original team of X-Men was lost on the mutant island Krakoa. Wolverine reluctantly agreed, which seemed kind of odd, considering he’s always been a lone wolf and didn’t fit in well with the rest of the team.
It was always the first meeting between the two, but that all changed with Daniel Way and Mike Deodato’s “Wolverine Origins” #29 in 2008. In that issue, Professor X revealed that Wolverine had been sent years before their meeting in Canada to kill him. Xavier knew about Wolverine’s mission, but used his psychic powers to erase his memory of the meeting and also implant the suggestion to become an X-Man because Xavier wanted to use Logan as a weapon. This retcon set up Xavier as kind of a jerk, manipulating and lying to Wolverine for decades.
11. HE FOUGHT THE ANGEL OF DEATH (A LOT)
As we mentioned earlier, Wolverine’s healing factor has grown to pretty ridiculous levels. Even with his unbreakable skeleton and rapid healing, Wolverine seemed to be able to brush off death way too easily, and it got to the point where someone had to explain why. When Marvel decided the time had come to kill off Wolverine, a new explanation for his miraculous healing was retconned.
In Marc Guggenheim and Howard Chaykin’s “Wolverine” story arc in 2008, it was revealed that Wolverine actually had died many times in the past, but each time had fought Lazaer (the Angel of Death) for the right to escape Purgatory and come back to life. As quickly as that was set up, Wolverine discovered his soul had been damaged and made a deal with Lazaer that if it was fixed, he would stay dead. Just in time for the “Death of Wolverine” stories, Logan was killed for good. Or at least, so far…
10. HIS REAL NAME
The real name of Wolverine has been a huge mystery, which makes sense since he couldn’t even remember where or when he was born. It didn’t help that he spent some time as a secret agent using false names. Over the years, there have been a few suggestions for his name, several of which contradict each other.
In Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s “Uncanny X-Men” #139 (1980), it was first revealed that Wolverine’s name was “Logan,” but he didn’t say if it was his first or last name. This became a critical point, and something other comics played with. Throughout the comics, they’ve also made references to the name “James,” but the matter seemed to be settled in “New X-Men” #143, when a file in the Weapon X program listed his name as “James Logan.” However, in “Wolverine Origins,” it was retconned and finally made canon that his original name was James Howlett. Logan was just the name of the family groundskeeper.
9. SILVER FOX
It’s hard to overstate how complicated Wolverine’s relationship is with the woman known as Silver Fox, since she’s both one of his greatest loves and greatest mysteries. In fact, she’s arguably been the subject of more retcons and switcheroos than any other character in his history.
First introduced in “Wolverine” #10 (1989), Silver Fox was a former lover who was killed by his archenemy Sabretooth, and her death became the spark that lit the flames of hatred between the two for years. Yet, in “Wolverine” #60-64 (1992), her death was retconned when Wolverine discovered she never died at all, and was actually an agent of HYDRA. In fact, the comics went so far as showing him a fake cabin that was used to implant his false memories of her. Her death was retconned yet again in Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel’s “House of M” in 2005, when Wolverine recovered memories of Silver Fox being killed by Sabretooth, after all. They didn’t even bother to explain that one.
8. HIS FATHER
As we mentioned before, Sabretooth is Wolverine’s most cruel and sadistic archenemy, revelling in tormenting Logan. There have been a lot of attempts to explain the conflict between the two, and one went way too far.
Sabretooth was originally created by Chris Claremont and John Byrne in “Iron Fist” #14 (1977), but readers quickly noticed his similarity to Wolverine, so they became enemies. The two fought lots of times, but in “Wolverine” #41 (1991), Sabretooth shocked the comic world by telling Logan they were father and son. It kind of made sense, since the two look similar, have similar powers and Sabretooth is indeterminately older. Later, Claremont in interviews confirmed he intended for Sabretooth to be Wolverine’s father. However, in the very next issue, this was revealed as false by Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., who conducted DNA testing to prove Sabretooth wasn’t Wolverine’s father, after all. That left their relationship to continue, but the roots of their hatred still hasn’t been solved… at least not the way readers may have wanted.
7. HE WAS A LUPINE
Now we’re getting into some of the bigger retcons Wolverine has gone through, which were changes to his very species. From his joining the X-Men, it’s been said that he was a mutant, which was how Professor X was able to locate Wolverine. That all changed in “Wolverine” #53 in 2007, though. In that story, Wolverine met a new enemy named Romulus (who we’ll get to later); he explained they were actually not mutants, but a new species of human evolved from canines instead of simians, or what he called Lupines. More than that, he claimed that all other wild mutants like Sasquatch, Sabretooth and Feral were Lupines, and that Sabretooth hated Wolverine because he was from a blond-haired tribe that hated the dark-haired tribe on sight.
That retcon went over with fans about as well as a screen door on Wonder Woman’s invisible airplane, which may be why this was reversed in “Wolverine” #312 (2012), when Romulus’ own sister Remus told him that Lupines didn’t exist, and said Wolverine was a mutant, after all.
Speaking of Romulus, let’s get to that big ball of retcons. By any standard, Wolverine has had a hard life. He’s been crushed, blown up and poisoned, but his physical injuries are nothing compared to his mental trauma. Pretty much every woman he’s ever loved has been brutally murdered, he’s fought through countless wars, and most of his life has been spent not knowing who he was or where he came from. There was no rhyme or reason to any of that, except to show why he’s such a hard-drinking and angry loner.
That all changed in Jeph Loeb and Simone Bianchi’s “Wolverine” #50 (2007), when Wolverine had dreams of a mysterious figure known as Romulus, who was thousands of years old and had been manipulating Wolverine before he was born. He secretly controlled Weapon X, took Wolverine’s son Daken from his mother’s womb, arranged for the death of Wolverine’s lovers over the years and pretty much got the ball rolling on anything bad that ever happened to Logan. His entire existence is a retcon of Wolverine’s sucky life.
5. HE STARTED WEAPON X
Since Barry Windsor-Smith’s classic story “Weapon X,” which appeared in “Marvel Comics Presents” #72-84 in 1991, Weapon X has been portrayed as a dark and shadowy organization that kidnapped and subjected Wolverine to the torturous process of bonding adamantium to his skeleton. The moment the Weapon Plus program came into his life changed Logan forever, and certainly wasn’t something he agreed to. At least, that’s the way it always was until 2012’s “Wolverine #312.”
In that story, Wolverine has a climactic fight with Romulus, who reveals that his claims of the Lupine were lies (another retcon mentioned earlier) and that he wants to create a new race of his own. In the final moments, Romulus also says that Wolverine was the one who altered his own memories to make himself into a test subject, and that Weapon X is and always was Wolverine’s idea. So far, that hasn’t been explained, because it makes no sense. It also contradicts the claims and flashbacks of Wolverine and other people involved in Weapon X.
Besides his claws, Wolverine’s unbreakable skeleton is one of his most defining physical features, with the indestructible metal used to reinforce all his bones, making them unbreakable. His skeleton is one of the strongest objects in the Marvel Universe, second only to Captain America’s shield. Much like everything else involving Wolverine, his adamantium skeleton is also a retcon.
In his first appearance fighting the Hulk, it was never said that Wolverine’s entire skeleton was covered in adamantium, only his claws. Wein only intended the claws themselves to be adamantium, and removable at that. After Logan joined the X-Men, later comics established that the adamantium ran through his entire skeleton. That made him not just fast with a quick healing factor and razor-sharp claws, but unbreakable, leading to his legendary immortality and invulnerability. It’s hard to imagine the old Canuckle-head without his metal skeleton, but that’s exactly what his creators did.
3. HIS CLAWS
When it comes to Wolverine, his most prominent feature is his pair of razor-sharp adamantium claws. That’s why we’ll be getting into how those claws have changed over the years, and how they’ve been retconned since the very beginning.
In his first fight against Hulk and Wendigo in “Incredible Hulk” #181, Wolverine fought the Hulk with his claws out the entire time, and never retracted them. That implied that his claws were attached to his gloves, which was actually the original writer Len Wein’s intention. When he returned in “Giant Size X-Men Annual” #1, Wolverine could retract his claws, but everyone assumed the claws were attached to his gloves. In “X-Men” #98 (1976), Wolverine surprised everyone when his gloves were removed, and he still was able to pop his claws, showing they were a part of his body, not his gloves. Reportedly, this was changed because Chris Claremont felt it would be easy for anyone to be Wolverine just by putting on his gloves. By having the claws inside his arms, they became a part of him and one of his most distinguishing features.
2. HIS (BONE) CLAWS
In his early appearances, it was said quite clearly that Wolverine’s claws were added during the process at Weapon X. Wolverine himself said this many times, and Weapon X confirmed it. In Fabian Nicieza and Scott Lobdell’s “X-Men” #25 (1993), Magneto infamously ripped the adamantium out of Wolverine’s skeleton, leaving him a shattered mess. Everyone expected Wolverine’s claws to be torn out as well, since they were (as previously said) believed to be a part of Weapon X.
But in the aftermath, they discovered his claws were actually made of bone, and the adamantium was just covering the claws. This was a huge retcon, since it meant his claws were in fact part of his mutation after all. It also meant his claws had been a part of him all along. This became clarified in “Wolverine Origin” #2, when he was shown as a young boy popping his bone claws for the first time.
1. HE WAS AN ACTUAL WOLVERINE
This is the big one, the mother of all retcons, so controversial that it never even made it to the printed page. It involves Wolverine’s very nature and existence, and goes all the way back to his first Hulk appearance, where he appeared to fight the Hulk and Wendigo with no explanation of who he was and where he came from. When he returned in the pages of “X-Men,” Xavier said he was a mutant, but that’s not what his creators intended.
Rumor has it that Marvel planned to reveal Wolverine wasn’t a mutant, but an actual wolverine, who had been turned into a human being. The idea was that the High Evolutionary (pictured), a supervillain obsessed with evolving animals, would have created Wolverine, making his mutant history a huge retcon. Wein has loudly stated that the evolved wolverine idea wasn’t his, laying the blame on Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum or John Byrne. In an interview with Cockrum, he did admit he planned to have the High Evolutionary involved in Wolverine’s origin, which seems like confirmation. Given everything we’ve seen of Wolverine over the years, we’re kind of glad that idea never saw the light of day.
What do you think is Wolverine’s biggest retcon? What other Logan retcons have you noticed?