Wolverine is pretty much the most overexposed character in all of comics lore. Though he is in no way the oldest character in comics, the way he totally embodies pure, unrivaled masculinity has made him the ultimate power fantasy for the general comic-reading demographic and propelled him to massive popularity long before he’d earned it. It didn’t hurt that Hugh Jackman being cast in the role for one of the most explosive superhero film franchises in the 21st century was one of the single most brilliant casting choices in the history of the industry. Apart from being a general power fantasy, Wolverine also had and air of mystery about him. He was missing most of his memories and all he remembered was his military service and his powers. Slowly over the years, writers have been chipping away consistently at Wolverine’s aura of manliness.
They gave him kids to mentor, revealed his true backstory piecemeal, and even offed him in one of the most shocking comic book stories since Superman’s demise. In correspondence, the number of Wolverine imitations has risen over the years with dozens of characters looking to become the next, even better incarnation of the character. While some of them are generic knock-offs which don’t last more than an issue or two, some of them are genuinely discovered characters in their own right who progress the grand Marvel narrative further than Wolverine ever could have by himself. Here’s a quick run down of ten Wolverine imitators who failed to eclipse his popularity and ten characters who managed to do so.
20 FAILED: OMEGA RED
Though he was originally supposed to be Russia’s answer to Captain America, the Soviet criminal known as Omega Red always bore a closer resemblance to Wolverine, with his retractable appendages made of a fictional metal. While he has an iconic look, Omega Red never really had any consequential presence in the comics. Plus, he was a little too convoluted to get over with fans.
He was a criminal, a heartless brute, a dangerous adversary, and a cyborg and a zombie and a vampire. It was a clear case of too many factors being shoved into one character, and that success would never be in his future.
19 REPLACED: LADY DEATHSTRIKE
For all his clout and pomp, Wolverine is a fairly directionless character. His only real goal is to regain his lost memories and once he does that, he stops being the agent in his own story. From that point on, things happen to him as opposed to him driving the narrative. This is not true for Lady Deathstrike.
Blessed with all of Wolverine’s powers and sick claw-nails, Deathstrike has one goal and one goal alone: take out Wolverine at all costs. And since Wolverine is seemingly invincible, she is forever cursed to try and come up with new ways to end him. Her motivation and wicked character design have endeared her to fans over the years.
18 FAILED: DEATHLOK
Deathlok is what happens when writers try to take Wolverine further towards his sci-fi elements and away from the more fantastic aspects of his existence. In short, it doesn’t really work out. Like Wolverine, the various Deathloks were all experimented on and implanted with cybernetic technology which made them into heartless machines.
Unlike Wolverine, all the Deathloks were boring characters who were far too technical. Their comics were so filled with sci-fi jargon that it became hard to follow their stories and character progressions. They’re still around today, but more as a subculture of C-listers rather than as actual characters.
17 REPLACED: WOLFSBANE
Though it’s not often brought up in the comics, real life wolverines are actually closer to bears than any other animal. The character was named after wolverines as opposed to the wolves he was clearly modeled after because of the former’s ability to tackle prey many times its size, a trait shared by the famously short Wolverine.
Wolfsbane fixes this incongruity by simply transforming into a full-fledged werewolf, better resembling what Wolverine was supposed to be in the first place. Like Wolverine, she is emotionally unstable, sees herself as a villain, and doesn’t like to talk about her mysterious past.
16 FAILED: SHIV
Shiv only ever appeared in a single comic story as a gangster mercenary hired as a bodyguard by a man that Wolverine was hunting down. When the two met, they immediately recognized each other but could not remember where from. It could have been that each saw the other in the mirror that morning because they were almost completely identical, down to their accents, love of cigars, and horned hairstyle.
For all intents and purposes, they were the same character, sharing a healing factor, claws, and a fighting style. After the story, Shiv was never seen again and it’s probably for the best that he stay that way.
15 REPLACED: FERAL
Despite being an acclaimed team of comic book artist and writer, Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza were notoriously unoriginal when it came to character design. Case in point: Feral, a feline mutant with the body of Wolfsbane and the personality of an exaggerated Wolverine.
Equipped with sharp claws, animal senses, and a deadly temper, she played both hero and villain over the years. She differentiated herself from her originators by playing up her femininity, involving herself in love triangles, and generally being fairly catty and duplicitous. She even had an opposite in her sister, Thornn, an analogue to Sabertooth if there ever was one.
14 FAILED: WILD THING
MC2 was a fun little side world Marvel created around May Parker, aka Spider-Girl, the future daughter of Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson. Though reasonably popular, the alternate universe never managed to bleed into the 616 continuity in any measurable capacity. Wild Thing was the proposed future child of Wolverine and Elektra, inheriting her father’s temper and her mother’s ninja skills.
She had a healing factor, pyrokinetic claws, and was a master fighter. Though she was popular, she never got the expansion she deserved as a character and is now little more than a passing memory in the now-defunct universe.
13 REPLACED: WEAPON H
Wolverine originally debuted in Hulk comics as an agent of the Canadian government sent to reign in the Hulk’s rampages. Some 40 years later, Weapon H was introduced -- a tangent off of the Weapon X program which sought to combine the Hulk’s raw, destructive power with Wolverine’s unending endurance and claws with a bit of cybernetic thrown in for good measure to make him easier to control.
Though he’s a fairly new character, his sheer premise has skyrocketed him to popularity and his own title launch. Trained as a soldier, he’s able to direct both Hulk and Wolverine’s rage in a much more direct and precise way.
12 FAILED: JIMMY HUDSON
For every couple dozen bad ideas in the Ultimates Universe, there was at least one good one. But for every good idea it birthed, there were three or four good ideas that were so ruined in execution that they became bad ideas again. Enter Jimmy Hudson, the son of Wolverine abandoned at birth and raised by a kindly couple in Florida.
The idea of a Wolverine raised in a positive environment is intriguing and leads to suggestions as to what Wolverine himself could have been like, but Jimmy is, for lack of a better term, boring. He joins the X-Men seemingly on a whim, is randomly reshuffled into the 616 Universe, and if just going through the usual motions of a Wolverine archetype.
11 REPLACED: OLD MAN LOGAN
One thing Marvel loves doing is making alternate universes for their writers to play around with and then cherry-picking the best or most popular elements from these elsewhere stories and incorporating them into their mainstream 616 continuity. Examples of this include Miles Morales, anyone still kicking around from the "Age of Apocalypse" storyline, and, most relevantly, Old Man Logan.
A more experienced and grizzled version of the character we already loved, Old Man Logan showed what happens when toxic masculinity grows up and realizes just how destructive it actually is. His determination to see things put right and prevent the events of his homeworld from happening is a big departure from the Wolverine we saw before.
10 FAILED: PANTHA
Oh Pantha, how misguided an attempt you were. Aside from having one of the most ridiculous names in comics, Pantha’s only claim to fame was that she was a direct rip-off of X-23. The secret society that created her even denoted her as X-24 because subtlety is for losers. She wore a yellow and blue suit reminiscent of Wolverine, had sharpened claws, an animalistic appearance, and a healing factor.
On top of that, she was anti-social and often violent, only tempered when she was adopted into a family role. She was Wolverine in all but name except significantly less interesting and not written nearly as well. And that name!
9 REPLACED: DAKEN
One of the problems with Wolverine is that he represents masculinity and male promiscuity from the perspective of the mid to late '70s. To make such an ideology relevant in the modern day, writers chose not to change Wolverine’s character but to simply replace him with his son, Daken.
The son of Wolverine and his deceased wife Itsu, Daken was much more aggressive, philandering, and willing to go to the kind of violent extremes his father simply wouldn’t. He wasn’t just a berserker, he was a sadistic psychopath and master manipulator, a genuinely dangerous individual who embodied the worst aspects of masculinity.
8 FAILED: WILD CHILD
Thrown out by his parent for his monstrous appearance, Wild Child was raised by the Secret Empire and subjected to physical and psychological torment from a young age. Because of his healing factor, he survived lone enough to be saved by the military who folded him into their ranks.
He eventually became involved with Alpha Flight and flittered back and forth between hero and anti-hero for a while before his better nature inevitably won out. Think Wolverine but an elf. He was unpopular enough to lose his powers after M-Day, at which point he became an out and out villain because reasons, and was downed by Omega Red not long after.
7 REPLACED: LOBO
DC’s direct answer to Wolverine, Lobo is just about every trope about toxic masculinity rolled up into one character. Lobo is brutal, uncaring, sardonic, and a general pain for anyone unlucky enough to meet him -- basically Wolverine if all his charm and good qualities were forcibly removed.
So why is Lobo so popular? Because at a certain point toxic masculinity becomes so bad that it almost comes back around and becomes "awesome" again. For example, Lobo rides a flying motorcycle through space decorated in the skulls of his enemies. Like a boss. Oh and he also has a healing factor because he too “can do this all day.”
6 FAILED: SABERTOOTH
Sabertooth debuted only a few years after Wolverine and although they weren’t originally related, their shared healing factors, claw-based attacks, and animalistic appearances made it clear that was the direction writers were going in. In terms of being a reflection of his archnemesis, Sabertooth was pretty good all things considered.
He was basically just Wolverine but without all that pesky morality. The problem is that Wolverine’s morality holding back his brutal instincts was basically the most interesting thing about him. With that gone, Sabertooth was just a boring, one-dimensional character who nobody could care about. His staying power is pretty much dependent entirely on his cool look.
5 REPLACED: HONEY BADGER
It’s hard to say that Honey Badger actually replaced Wolverine because she was never supposed to replace him to begin with. Instead of being a clone of him, Honey Badger is a clone of X-23, his clone, making her his de facto granddaughter.
Or something. Like her extended family, Honey Badger has claws and a healing factor but unlike them she has a sparklingly optimistic personality and makes an effort to befriend just about everyone she meets. This happy-go-lucky attitude is why she’s best friends with Deadpool, why she eventually inherits the Wolverine title in the future, and why fans love her so much.
4 FAILED: THORNN
The sister to Feral and very much the Sabertooth to Feral’s Wolverine, Thornn was about as '90s and forgettable as they come. She had was essentially all the edginess that the writer could muster. A horrible past? Check. Took out most of her extended family? Check. Deals with black magic? Check. Is about as close to Wolverine as she can get without being a total rip-off? Hard check.
Basically, she was meant to be a darker alternative to her sister and to Wolverine but never really managed to make a mark, mostly because she was with the Marauders and nobody really ever cared that much about the Marauders.
3 REPLACED: X-23
If Wolverine was always supposed to be the principal archetype of total masculinity, then transposing that same allegory into a female skin virtually doubles it worth. X-23, aka Laura, was a clone of Wolverine created by the Weapon X program who was meant to eliminate and replace her progenitor.
Instead, she ended up joining him as a surrogate daughter. She actually originated in the X-Men: Evolution cartoon, endearing her further to fans, and went on to have her own brand of crazy adventures, mimicking her father’s journeys from when he was a young man but with a decidedly feminine twist.
2 FAILED: ROMULUS
Wolverine’s lore has taken some truly bizarre turn over the years but nothing ever reached the depths of confusion like Romulus. It turns out Wolverine, like Romulus, is not a mutant at all but is a member of a race of humans who evolved from dogs as opposed to primates. No, really.
Romulus is the virtually immortal leader of these ‘Lupines’ and has been manipulating Wolverine’s family tree since Roman times. He had adamantium bones, elongated claws, and a healing factor. He also just happened to look a lot like Wolverine. Frankly, he was ridiculous, and his entire plot line turned out to be a huge hoax.
1 REPLACED: DEADPOOL
No character based on him has so easily and immediately eclipsed Wolverine in terms of popularity than Deadpool. The Merc with a Mouth was visually based on DC’s Deathstroke the Terminator, but he’s closer in origin to Wolverine, with whom he shares a healing factor and Canadian heritage.
He was originally supposed to be just a one-off mercenary character, debuting and leaving forever in the same issue. However, fan support was so strong and widespread for the character that creators Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza were virtually forced to revive him for future issues. Now, he’s one of the most popular character in all of comics.