Does the Marvel Universe really need so many pint-sized mutant assassins? We all love Wolverine, and Marvel knows this. After all, he’s the best there is at what he does, which is killing bad guys, mean-mugging for the “camera,” and looking tough with his condensed musculature, adamantium claws, mutton chops, and perpetual five o’clock shadow. But how much Wolverine does the MU really need?
At present, there are no less than four versions of Logan, each doing their badass mutant thing: the original Wolverine, his clone X-23 (who took on the mantle in 2015), Old Man Logan from an alternate timeline, and Jimmy Hudson, from yet another alternate universe. Logan also has a son, Daken, and the Weapon X program recently created Weapon H, a brutal hybrid of the Hulk and Wolverine.
How did we get with so many Wolverines, and when will all the madness end?
Wolverine: James Howlett
There’s really no one out there like the original Wolverine, or at least, there wasn't. Popping up in The Incredible Hulk #180 (1974) as an antagonist to the Jade Giant, his popularity pushed Marvel to bring him back in their special issue, Giant-Size X-Men #1, making him a full-fledged member of their rebooted mutant squad. As his status grew, he soon eclipsed most of his teammates, becoming one of the most popular Marvel characters of all time. Notwithstanding his popularity, even the top draws get knocked from their pedestals from time to time. Captain America, Tony Stark, Thor, etc each get possessed by a demon, turned into a werewolf, or shot with an arrow by their buddy on occasion. Wolverine is no different.
Over the years, Logan’s “died” on several occasion. His latest end was during the well-telegraphed “Death of Wolverine” mini-series. In an ironic twist, Logan allowed himself to be coated in liquid adamantium – the same substance his skeleton and claws are bonded with – suffocating as the incredibly strong metal hardened around him. Thus, the Marvel Universe went without a Wolverine from 2014 on… or not.
The non-event event of Marvel Legacy revealed the classic character somehow survived his petrification and came into possession of an Infinity Stone (well-played, Logan). Of course, his return to action crams yet another dagger-handed mutant with a hearty constitution into Marvel Universe, albeit the classic one.
X-23: Send in the Clones
One of the most interesting characters to arrive since the original James Howlett is Laura Kinney, a.k.a. X-23. A female clone of Logan, she’s a Wolverine through and through, who first came to light via the short-lived animated series, X-Men: Evolution (2000). Creators Christopher Yost and Craig Kyle sought to capture younger viewers with a teenaged “Wolverine,” and they succeeded. Laura snowballed in popularity, transitioning into the comic book realm in 2004 and landing several limited series and team books (like X-Force and New X-Men), as well as a current ongoing series. After Logan died in 2014, Laura spent a good year mulling it over before donning the familiar outfit to honor her “father.” Her transition to Wolverine in 2015, like many of Marvel’s legacy characters, proved contentious to some fans.
Despite her literally derivative origins, X-23 (All-New Wolvie or not) developed into a rich character with a fascinating mythology all her own. Discovering her roots and reconnecting with her surrogate mother’s family has rounded her out, giving Laura all the hallmarks of a true tortured champion. Perhaps if Marvel had stopped at just Logan and X, though, the MU wouldn’t be so overburdened with Wolverines. But they just couldn’t help themselves.
Laura also has a handful of “sisters,” including the now-deceased Zelda, Bellona, and Gabby, who’s become a semi-sidekick in X's solo book.
From the Future Comes a Ringer
Not long after the demise of Earth-616’s Wolverine, a western-styled stranger with hand-talons appeared on the scene. This elder version of James Howlett once roamed the wastes of Earth-807128 in Mark Millar’s acclaimed Old Man Logan, raising livestock and a family in a world ruled by supervillains. Then, those nasty, inbred Hulks went and murdered his family, so OML pulled out the claws and the ultra-violence again. During the 2015 event, Secret Wars, his bleak future in the Wastelands was recreated on Battleworld, Victor Von Doom’s amalgam planet/attempt to save the multiverse.
Jumping across time and dimensions to Prime Earth, he landed in New York City (presumably as an aftershock from Battleworld's disassembly), trading hillbilly Hulk landlords for Heroes for Hire, Morlocks, pimps, and C.H.U.D.s. He settled into the 616 universe, landing his own ongoing series, as well as reteaming with his cohorts in the X-Men and Weapon X.
However, the original Wolverine’s return to the Marvel Universe throws a bit of a monkey wrench into things. Aside from dispensing homespun advice about dystopian alternative futures and slicing and dicing with adamantium finger-blades, a middle-aged Logan and an Old Man Logan seem extra-redundant.
Not Just Wolverine But Ultimate Wolverine
To be fair, Jimmy Hudson didn’t really count at one point. Hailing from the alternative world of Earth-1610, or Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, Jimmy was the son of James Howlett and Magda Lehnsherr (Magneto’s former Ultimate wife). This realm’s version of Logan was actually killed by Magneto, during the bloody Ultimatum event. Years before his Weapon X brainwashing, though, he'd entrusting his newborn child to his army buddy James Hudson.
Being raised by a well-balanced family may have altered Wolvie's usual, tough guy-loner upbringing, but Jimmy ended up a bit of a misfit and daredevil anyway. Life-threatening injuries he received from a drag race activated his mutant powers, and not long after, Kitty Pryde introduced him to his birthright, and Jimmy adopted his pop's nom de guerre.
Much like Old Man Logan, he seems to have survived the implosion of the multiverse. In X-Men Blue #4 (2017), the time-displaced X-Men discovered him memoryless, wandering around the wilds of Colorado. Since then, he tenuously joined up with the young versions of the X-Men.
Faced with so many other Wolverines, though, Jimmy might just join the team if or when they head back to their original time.
Honorable Mention: Daken and Weapon H
Unlike Laura, who’s a clone, or one-time alternative universe-dweller Jimmy Hudson, Akihiro is Wolverine's genetic son, born to Logan and his murdered wife Itsu. Much like dear old dad, he inherited the super-healing gene, as well as the gnarly hand-shanks, adopting the code name Daken, which means “mongrel” in Japanese. Unlike his Wolver-kin, though, Daken usually skews to the villainous side of things – although in recent years he’s teamed up with his “sister” Laura and skewed more towards his family's anti-hero traits.
On the inorganic side of things, Weapon H was created by the Weapon X subprogram, Batch-H, under the gleefully sadistic gaze of Dr. Alba and everyone’s favorite mutant-hater, Reverend William Stryker. He bears no direct lineage to the Logan clan, though, and was once a mercenary named Clayton something or other (last name redacted for the big reveal). The program spliced his genes with those of Wolverine and the Hulk, as well as using the adaptive powers of another Weapon X star pupil, Lady Deathstrike.
Originally meant to be a superior, mindless killing machine, H was endowed with the strength of both mutated warriors, in addition to Wolvie's tenacity and restorative prowess. Unsurprisingly, things didn’t go according to evil, hand-wringing plan, and the remorseful former mercenary went AWOL to figure things out (and land his own ongoing series).
With OG Wolverine back in action, his "daughter" rocking an updated version of his classic look, and a grizzled Logan, in addition to Daken, Weapon H, Jimmy Hudson, Sabretooth, The Sisters, and a few other Wolvie-like characters, Mr. Howlett's once-unique skillset is spread pretty thin.
Of course, Marvel Legacy purports to deal with these “legacy” characters. This could mean OML is heading back to his original time, Laura is giving up her pointy-eared spandex, and Jimmy is trying to make things work with the Ultimate Universe. This surplus also could foreshadow a few superhero "deaths" around the Marvel Universe.
For instance, All-New Wolverine #25 introduced the “Orphans of X,” a fanatical group hell-bent on eradicating anyone remotely Logan-esque. They’re attempting to reforge the Muramasa blade, an ancient mystical katana capable of halting Wolverines’ healing powers and, theoretically, killing them. Or, they might all stick around and have the kookiest family reunion ever.
Is having so many Wolverines such a bad thing? After every character became a gritty, Wolverine/Dark Knight/Punisher knock-off in the ‘80s and ‘90s, perhaps it's not such a big deal anymore. With Legacy underway, Marvel may thin the herd in various ways; but until Wolverines stop selling comics, we have a feeling most of them are staying put.