With Logan currently tearing up theaters and fans already amped up for Deadpool 2, the grittier side of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men universe appears to have hit a nerve with audiences. Unsurprisingly, two of the most popular members of the antihero club are Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Gifted with superior strength, hyper-accelerated healing abilities, and in James Howlett’s case, an adamantium skeleton and those character-defining razor-sharp claws use their powers for the betterment of humankind, for the most part. Hugh Jackman's bleak, final film also introduced audience to Laura Kinney, or X-23, a female clone of Wolverine.
Casual fans may wonder where Laura, Logan, and Wade got all their wonderful toys. It turns out they're all graduates of a very special and disturbing program (or one of its offshoots) called Weapon X, a covert group dedicated to designing the super-soldiers of tomorrow, whether their “volunteers” like it or not. Weapon X wasn't the first attempt at subverting the laws of nature for military superiority, and it certainly wasn’t the last.
Weapon Plus Program
Casual fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe probably aren’t entirely familiar with the Weapon Plus Program, but they're undoubtedly familiar with its first success story: Captain America (a.k.a. Weapon I). The arms program itself began life during the tumultuous years of World War II. The theory of Eugenics – the darkest edge of genetics that uses selective breeding to eliminate traits considered "flaws" from the human genome – led the Nazis to experiment with creating a chemically or genetically engineered human beings. The first super-soldier program began with Dr. Abraham Erskine (or Josef Reinstein) and his attempt to develop the soldier of the future.
Although their initial efforts failed, Dr. Erskine soon defected to the States, continuing his research for the U.S. Government under the codename Project: Rebirth. Erskine was able to refine his serum, injecting it into a scrawny kid from New York named Steve Rogers. Unfortunately for the Allies, immediately after Captain America’s successful beefing-up, Erskine was shot and killed by a Nazi spy. Since he didn't leave behind any notes on his revamped formula or his research, the project stalled out and Rogers became one of the few genuine super-soldiers at the time.
Captain America wouldn't be an exclusive member of the Weapon Plus club for long, though.
Throughout the years, the Weapon Plus program continued its drive to make superior combatants under various guises and names (check out our full breakdown of the Weapon Plus program). The second and third variations were, for the most part, tests run on animals – although a Marvel retcon gave the Weapon III title to British mutant Harry Pizer, whose super-stretchy skin was enhanced by Weapon Plus. Weapon IV-VI apparently were a series of experiments conducted on minorities and/or prisoners, and although the success rate is never specified, it’s presumed the test subjects sadly did not survive.
Titled Project: Homegrown, Weapon VII (which had S.H.I.E.L.D. and United Kingdom-based offshoots) dealt with turning Vietnam enlistees into the ultimate fighters. Much like most Weapon Plus volunteers, most of the test soldiers died during the process. The only known survivor was Sergeant Frank Simpson, dubbed “Nuke.” Nuke was initially captured as a child by a brainwashed Logan, when he worked for the initiative. He was implanted with sub-dermal platelets (precursors to the later adamantium implants) and given addictive narcotics and adrenaline capsules. Rendered hyper-violent and likely schizophrenic, Nuke wound up as a bounty hunter and hired gun, bouncing around the Marvel Universe.
Despite the near successes and many failures of Weapon VII, the program kept on running, as Weapon VIII and IX were experiments on criminals, primarily drugging and implanting them to become unwitting spies and assassins. Originally, Deadpool's intended designation Weapon IX, at least according to his creator Rob Liefeld. Since then, he's been retconned to become an official member of the Weapon X series of experiments.
Weapon X, or the 10th iteration of the program, was another spinoff from the Weapon Plus initiative. Canadian black ops researchers, Department K, led by Professor Andre Thornton and his staff, made use of Nazi doctor Nathan Essex's (Mister Sinister) research and captured primarily mutants, enhancing their physiology or their existent powers. One of their greatest and most painful achievements was Experiment X, a means of grafting the near-indestructible element adamantium onto Wolverine and other program members’ skeletons, as well as attaching those infamous claws to him.
Finding some success, the covert group would imbue a number of individuals with advanced healing skills, superhuman strength, as well as other enhancements, training them as assassins and unstoppable warriors through brainwashing, implanting false memories, or completely wiping their minds. “Graduates” of Department K include everyone’s favorite pointy-haired mutant Wolverine, Deadpool, Logan’s oft-foe Sabretooth (Victor Creed), Copycat (Vanessa Carlyle), and Maverick (Christoph Nord), among others (check out the Weapon X roster here).
The program was eventually shut down after its prodigal son, Logan, went berserk, killing numerous staff members, including Dr. Dale Rice, and setting the other test subjects free. Despite the damage done, the Weapon Plus Program was a long ways from finished with its nefarious experiments.
Weapon X was able to realize much of what the Weapon Plus program set out to create, so it was only a matter of time before another iteration returned to nefarious business as usual. Remnants of the researchers, in addition to several offshoots have attempted to expand or redevelop their classic experiments, creating a few dramatic successes and some disturbing failures as well. The latest iteration of the program also took things one step further, by designing a self-contained facility, The World, located middle of nowhere England. Inside the lab, researchers created an artificial pocket of time, giving them the ability to accelerate, evolve, or slow down their various projects as needed.
Since then, Weapon Plus’ advanced techniques have spawned several notable creations, including Weapon XII, or the Huntsman, an artificially evolved “sentinel” using nanotechnology. Designed as part of the program’s super-sentinel kill squad, he was meant to partake in a failed genocide of mutants. Their next attempt was Weapon XIII, also known as Fantomex, was an attempt to artificially evolve human and technology into one. However, the cyber-mutant was somewhat unstable, personality-wise, and he later went rogue and joined the X-Men.
Later experiments with genetics and psychic connections led to the creation of Weapon XIV, a series of hive-minded clones fashioned using Emma Frost’s DNA and ordered to infiltrate the X-Men. Only three of these young women survived to this day, now known as the Stepford Cuckoos, Celeste, Irma, and Phoebe, are currently members of Professor Xavier's band. After the Cuckoos, the program returned to their human hybrids, crafting Weapon XV, or Ultimaton, a techno-organic mutant hunter that eventually questioned his own design. Weapon XVI was a faith-based virus created for mind-control purposes, known as Allgod, whose main weakness was atheism.
The Facility (Transigen)
Created not long after the Weapon Plus program disbanded, a private group known as The Facility restarted the group's experiments, primarily seeking to replicate the work of the Weapon X program. Director Adam Harkins set out to recreate genetically manipulated warriors, such as Kimura and the mutant stalker Predator X. The Facility also attempted to clone Wolverine from a damaged sample of his DNA (missing the male Y chromosome). Their 23rd attempt, known as X-23, was unwillingly carried to term chief geneticist Sarah Kinney – later named Laura by her surrogate mother.
Raised to be a weapon, Laura is brutalized by her handler Kimura and indoctrinated with a “trigger scent,” which when inhaled induces a murderous rage in her. In a similar fashion to Wolverine’s rampage through the Weapon X facilities (at Alkali Lake in X-Men: Apocalypse), Laura goes berserk on The Facility, trashing the cloning facility and inadvertently killing her surrogate mother. While the secret project is now defunct for the most part, Kimura and other agents of the Weapon Plus redux continue to operate outside its bounds.
In Logan, The Facility has been modified into Transigen, which employs the cyborg Donald Pierce and his Reavers as a security force. While their role in the film is a little more ominous than their comic book counterparts, they do retain certain staff members, including mastermind Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), the son of Dale Rice, who was killed by Wolverine.
Operating covertly the aegis of the Alchemax Corporation, Alchemax Genetics explored work along the same lines as Weapon X. Using technology and genetic material pilfered from The Facility, Alchemax director Robert Chandler attempted to replicate Laura Kinney, successfully cloning her ten-fold. Among Laura’s “sisters” created are her frequent traveling companion Gabrielle (Gabby), Zelda, and on-again-off-again adversary Bellona.
After discovering the stolen Facility technology, Laura’s original handler Kimura sought out the lab to reclaim her property. Wolverine stepped in to help Chandler, until she discovered her genetic siblings, as well as the cloner’s brutal tactics. Faced with the truth, she and her duplicates destroy Alchemax, also alerting Maria Hill and SHIELD to the company’s activities. At present, Alchemax is supposedly over and done with, but some format of the Weapon Plus program probably lingers in the wings, waiting to restart their nefarious experiments.
The Weapons Plus program may have played a minor role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but their experiments and implications stretch far and wide throughout the source comics, as well as the undercurrents of the films. Hugh Jackman’s time as Wolverine may have ended, but his legacy lives on with Laura Kinney’s X-23. It's highly likely that Laura will receive her own solo film, and as a result, her “sisters” and other the aspects of Weapon X, Facility, or Transigen will probably materialize in the MCU. Whether or not Laura eventually takes on the mantle of Wolverine, the super-soldier program and its ramifications have already made their mark on Fox’s X-Men movies and the entirety of the Marvel Universe and will continue to do so for some time.