For Marvel comic book fans, and those who’ve seen the X-Men movies, the name “Weapon X” has become synonymous with the character Wolverine. The most famous test subject of the fictional super soldier program, Wolverine tends to dominate any conversations about Weapon X. With someone as charismatic as Hugh Jackman embodying the role on the big screen, it’s inevitable that fans would want to know more about him. Since Wolverine’s debut on the page more than 40 years ago, he and the program that created him have gone through some serious changes, to the point that he’s not even the only interesting subject to come out of it.
Weapon X, as well as the “weapons” that came before and after this particular branch of the comic book program, is responsible for creating some of the most memorable characters in Marvel Comics, and some of the most interesting storylines. Keep reading for 15 things you didn’t know about the Weapon X Program, and why there’s so much more to it than a man with claws who’s hitting the big screen for the ninth time in Logan -- even if he’s the program’s star graduate.
15 Weapon X Made Its Official Debut in 1974
Comic book fans got their first hint at the Weapon X Program way back in 1974 in an issue of The Incredible Hulk. In #181, Wolverine burst onto the scene, quite literally, as he emerged from the middle of nowhere to engage the Hulk and Wendigo in a fight. Technically speaking, Wolverine was introduced in the previous issue, but things really got going when he got in the middle of the battle.
At the time, Hulk (not the Bruce Banner we know today, but Roger Banner instead) had been “lured” to Quebec in an effort to cure the Wendigo of his malevolent nature. As the Hulk battled the creature, and the people behind getting him to Quebec sought refuge in a cave, Wolverine jumped in the middle of the fight, first taking on the Hulk, only to find that his claws couldn’t penetrate the big green guy’s skin. So, he decided to take on the Wendigo next, helping Hulk subdue him before turning his attention back to the Green Goliath he's so often warred against over the years.
Needless to say, the tease of a guy with claws who seemed ready to fight anybody he encountered made comic book readers want to know more. The full story of Weapon X would be fleshed out over decades, though, not just a few subsequent issues.
14 The Canadian Weapon X Facility Debuted in 1991
Over the 17 years in between Wolverine’s debut and a 1991 story arc that gave the Weapon X Program some dimension, Wolverine went through a lot of changes, and many of those would inform how the Program was written as well. Most of what was written about the program over those years was shown as bits and pieces of Wolverine’s hard-to-recover memories and informed by his interactions with others who knew about Weapon X. In 1991, however, comic book fans finally got (most of) the story.
As part of an issue of Marvel Comics Presents, Logan had flashbacks to his time at the Weapon X facility, also called Neverland, during one dark and stormy night. As he recounts the tale of being experimented on, he also reveals that he has the same nightmares every night. Similar experiences occur throughout the comics for those who were subjects of the Weapon X project, as their memories are manipulated to the point that they aren’t sure what’s real and what’s not.
13 Mister Sinister Is The Weapon X Architect
Comic book fans know Mister Sinister for his obsession with another Marvel hero -- Cyclops -- and not necessarily for his work on Weapon X. Initial research for the program, however, was based on Mister Sinister’s work, discovered in 1945 in a felled concentration camp. His work was used to experiment on animals and humans alike, studying (and at times corrupting) genetics until mutant genes could be exploited. Mister Sinister was even revealed in one storyline to be working in a Weapon X facility decades after his initial research had been put to use. Using the name Robert Windsor, he pretended to be a scientist helping mutants to escape the program, when in reality, he was taking them for further use in his own experiments.
Rumor has it that, behind the scenes, Mister Sinister wasn’t the first choice to be behind Weapon X or Wolverine. One rumor that’s persisted in the comic book community is that original writer Len Wein actually wanted the High Evolutionary to be responsible for the creation of Wolverine. The High Evolutionary is known for his work with animals in an attempt to make them more human as he pushes the boundaries of science. One old rumor even suggested that Wolverine was initially going to be an actual wolverine that was turned into a human.
The High Evolutionary’s own research was also inspired by the work of Nathaniel Essex, the character who would go on to become Mister Sinister, so the path to Weapon X remains largely the same either way.
12 Weapon X Is Part Of The Larger Weapon Plus Program
While Weapon X was originally given as the designation for the experiments performed on Wolverine, as more comic book writers took on the subject, they expanded the program. Though the first hints at Weapon X appeared with Wolverine in 1974, and then the Weapon X facility in 1991, the Weapon Plus Program was revealed in 2002 when Grant Morrison was writing for the X-Men comics.
With the 2002 arc, Weapon X was actually revealed to be the tenth incarnation of the experimental program, with the “X” actually being the Roman numeral for the number ten instead of another analogy to the name of Marvel's team of mutant heroes. All in all, the Weapon Plus Program has sixteen pieces, the most recent culminating in a virus targeting religious beliefs. So far, the X-Men films have only taken on the most famous of the programs in referencing Weapon X, by including Wolverine and Deadpool in their cast of characters.
11 Weapon X Advances an Old Super Soldier Program
Though Weapon X originally began in the comics with post-World War II research that was discovered and expanded upon, the retconning of the experiments as part of the Weapon Plus Program means that Weapon X actually develops from a slightly different process than originally presented. Though Mister Sinister’s research is what contributes to the genetic manipulation of mutants as the program progresses, the first Weapon Plus success story is that of Captain America.
Weapon I is the designation for Captain America, the product of Project: Rebirth. By now, comic book fans and movie audiences alike know his story. As part of an experiment, Steve Rogers becomes the ultimate patriot when he volunteers to be exposed to a super soldier cocktail that leaves him with super strength, stamina, a heightened metabolism, and a host of other abilities. Weapon Plus, and eventually Weapon X, has a goal of creating more super soldiers for armed forces, but over time, the comics shift its focus to mutants specifically. Original notions of ridding the world of mutants gave way once scientists realized that mutants could be used to their advantage.
10 The Weapon X Program Creates Team X
As is the case in comic books with shady organizations that either experiment on superpowered people, create their own superpowered people, or capture them, a team is created. All members of Team X don’t necessarily team up on all of their missions, and they don’t even all appear in the same comics, but as the story of Weapon X is revealed over the decades, a picture emerges of the experiment subjects in the original Weapon X Program with Wolverine.
Also on Team X were Sabertooth (who would go on to become one of Wolverine’s greatest enemies over the years), Silverfox (a sometimes love interest for Wolverine and a Hydra agent), Maverick (AKA Agent Zero), Kestrel (a teleporter), Mastodon (a firearms expert), and Psi-Borg (a cybernetically enhanced man who could alter memories).
9 Weapon X Subjects Have Serious Memory Issues
The subjects involved in the Weapon X Program don’t exactly have their memory intact when they leave, if they ever really get to leave. But their memories of their time spent in the Weapon X Program weren’t exactly erased, either. Instead, false memories were implanted in their heads. The scientists didn’t just devise this trick on their own, though. Instead, Psi-Borg, who was capable of manipulating memories, made a deal with the scientists at Weapon X. In exchange for manipulating the memories of his teammates, he expected the program to outfit him with slowed aging and advanced healing. The Weapon X higher-ups didn’t exactly follow through, however, and he was left to rely on his own cybernetics to keep himself alive.
Memory wipes and false memories are a Marvel hallmark, tropes that have been used for many a retcon in the comics. Wolverine, for example, has conflicting memories of just who Silverfox is, and which ones are real are often left up to the interpretation of the reader. Sabretooth even believed that he was Wolverine’s father for a while. The technique isn’t just employed by the comic book side of things either. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has done it on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: in the first season of the television series, Phil Coulson’s memory was revealed to have been manipulated as part of the TAHITI program that also brought him back to life after his untimely demise in The Avengers. Eventually, he recovered his real memories, though sometimes, he might wish he hadn’t.
8 Unruly Weapon X Subjects Meet Shiva
When you’re running a government organization that doesn’t always bring its subjects in willingly, there’s always something of an incentive for participants to remain involved. Though those involved in Weapon X were experimented upon, they were also covert operatives carrying out missions for the big bosses, which sometimes included the CIA. In DC Comics, the Suicide Squad has explosives placed within their members to ensure that they follow orders. Team X has a robot that will take them out.
Shiva made its debut in Wolverine #50 when the title character went looking for clues about his past and accidentally activated it. A computer program, Shiva came to life as a menacing robot. Shiva not only was responsible for going after rogue members of the Weapon X Program, but it also learned from its experiences. If a team member was able to defeat Shiva, the program created a new robotic clone and made sure not to make the same mistake again.
7 Everyone Gets To Heal!
At this point, comic book readers are well versed in the mutant ability that is rapid healing. There is such a huge number of comic book heroes and villains who have an accelerated healing ability stemming from other mutated genetics that it might seem like it’s one of those 'dime a dozen' superpowers, but that’s not exactly true. In the case of Weapon X, that particular mutation comes from one member of the team, and it’s probably no surprise which member it is.
Wolverine’s actual mutant abilities include his claws, enhanced hearing and smell, accelerated healing, and slowed aging. The slowed aging and rapid healing are somewhat tied together, as typically, any mutant that has one is going to have the other. In Wolverine’s case, when these abilities were realized by the Weapon X scientists, they decided to figure out just how he got those mutations and manufacture them in other team members. Making sure that everyone involved in Team X could heal faster than normal meant that they never really had to worry about operatives being killed/having to be replaced. Slowed aging meant they could keep them around for a long time -- as long as the program itself stayed operational.
6 Weapon X Was Shut Down More Than Once
Shady experimental programs have a tendency to get shut down, but someone always seems ready to revive it (just ask Hydra). The Weapon X Program went through a lot of changes every time it was supposedly wiped off the face of the Earth. At times, it was a CIA-sponsored program, but after being shut down, scientists within it decided to branch out on their own and make the Weapon X Program its own entity.
The program was also, for a little while, absorbed into the Canadian government’s Department K in the comics, the branch that gave comic book readers Deadpool. When that was shut down, The Facility was born. The Facility is actually “The Weapon X Re-Creation Project,” with a goal of getting someone else just as effective as their star subject, Wolverine. Because of that, The Facility attempted to clone Logan several times over, but his X chromosome was especially tricky for them to deal with, which eventually led to the birth of Laura Kinney, also known as X-23.
5 Adamantium Claws Are A Weapon X Addition
A common misconception about Wolverine is that his adamantium-laced skeleton and claws are one of his many mutations, but that’s not the case. In fact, in his early days, his claws were simply bone that he could extend through his skin, and he operated with just the bone claws under his initial time with Weapon X.
It was actually long after the Weapon X Program was shut down and revived by another group that he was taken back into the program and given that adamantium upgrade, or so one of his many retcons suggests. After having his skeleton laced with adamantium, Wolverine went into a rage and attacked everyone at the facility, the comic book sequence that inspired his big scene in X-Men: Apocalypse. While adamantium is one of the strongest materials in the Marvel comic book universe, it also makes his brawls against mutants who can manipulate metal (read: the arch-nemesis of the X-Men, Magneto) a pretty difficult fight for him.
4 Everybody Wants a Piece of Wolverine
Despite the fact that there are so many interesting characters who have been involved with the Weapon X Program over the years, like many comic book fans, the scientists that revive the program are always interested in Wolverine. Logan wasn't even all that popular when he was introduced in the ‘70s, as it took a while for the character to gain traction with readers. Once they did, though, comic book writers (and readers) never looked back.
In addition to Logan mentoring Jubilee and Kitty Pryde, as well as joining several comic book teams like the Avengers and the X-Men, he is also nearly constantly pursued by those in charge of the various incarnations of Weapon X. In fact, right after the program was revived for the third time, the first mission for the new Team X was to gain control of Wolverine so that he could be used to track down other former test subjects. That particular team was made of his favorite enemy Sabretooth, the always popular Deadpool, Copycat, Mauvais the Sorcerer, and former S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who were tired of being the good guys.
The reasons for pursuing Wolverine have ranged from needing him for missions and further experimentation, to wanting to reset his memories, to just wanting him dead so that the secrets of Weapon X can remain hidden away from the outside world. Speaking of which...
3 The Secret Program Isn’t So Secret
In the real world, a program like Weapon X would probably be talked about in hushed tones by former government officials or blogged about on conspiracy websites. In the world of Marvel Comics, however, it doesn’t have an easy time staying secret. In its various incarnations, the facilities associated with the program have been attacked and infiltrated, and not just by former personnel.
The time traveling mutant Cable, who most fans know for his connection to the Summers family and his friendship with Deadpool, is not a fan of the Weapon X Program. One of his time travel jaunts involved him leading a raid on the compound to rescue mutants inside. The X-Men, years after learning about the program, even sent Chamber inside to infiltrate it. Chamber, a former Generation-X member who had graduated to the X-Men, was supposed to gather intelligence for them by pretending to want to work for the program and reporting back, though in his storyline, he ended up losing his mutant abilities thanks to the M Day arc. The program frequently vanishes for a time and then pops up again in a new comic series years later, though, so it’s definitely not the last readers have seen of it.
2 Screen Rights For Characters Are Split
In the early 1990s, Marvel was in a little financial trouble. To help the publishing giant out, executives made the decision to lease different characters out to different movie studios and reap portions of the profits. It was a good deal at the time, one that may have saved the company from going under, though it that meant the X-Men went to 20th Century FOX, Blade went to New Line, Spider-Man went to Sony, etc. Some of those deals have since expired, as studios stopped making movies with the characters (like Blade, whose rights are back with Marvel), and in some cases, new partnerships have formed (like Sony and Marvel sharing Spider-Man). These days, Marvel is completely out of financial trouble, and it even has its own outrageously successful studio. FOX, however, still holds onto those character rights pretty tightly, and as a result, they have a large chunk of the characters related to the various Weapon Plus programs.
FOX has access to Wolverine and Deadpool, obviously, but also to X-23, Sabretooth, Copycat, the Stepford Cuckoos, Mister Sinister, and more. If the studio wanted to expand on the Weapon X stories, they’ve got a whole lot of room to do it. They are missing two characters that have an impact on the Program’s history, however: Captain America and Nuke.
Cap has the honor of being Weapon I, but he’s on the big screen as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the MCU has done exactly what the comics did with him: used him as inspiration for the offshoots of the program (though they can’t call it Weapon Plus or anything like that). As a result, every time someone in the MCU experiments with giving a character super strength, stamina, etc, it all goes back to "but the experiment worked with Steve Rogers!"
Likewise, a version of Nuke made his debut on Jessica Jones as someone who was part of a super soldier program while in the military. The two are steps in the evolution of the Weapon Plus program that will likely never be explored in the FOX movies.
1 More Weapon X Is On The Way
It remains to be seen just how much of the Weapon X Program audiences will see on the big screen once Hugh Jackman takes his final bow as Wolverine in Logan. Though the film introduces X-23, there’s no concrete information about just what the X-Men universe of films will do with the characters going forward. (Deadpool teased the group without actually naming the scientists who worked on the Merc with a Mouth as part of Weapon X, but that's about all we have to go on for now.) There’s always the potential recasting of Wolverine to delve into more backstory, as the studio did with the bulk of the characters in X-Men: Apocalypse, but for fans who want more Weapon X a little sooner, there’s a new comic book series on the way.
As part of Marvel’s new line of comic books, Weapon X will make its debut in April. The series will feature Old Man Logan, Lady Deathstrike, and Sabretooth as Marvel reveals a new director of the Weapon X Program. The original teaser artwork also featured X-23 and Sauron, so Marvel appears to be pulling out all the stops and uniting characters created through the program over the years. You can see just what new twists the publisher puts on the old favorites when the comic book hits store shelves and digital platforms on April 12.
Do you know of any other fun facts surrounding the Weapon X program? Let us know in the comments.
For another taste of just what happens to those in the Weapon X Program, Logan lands in theaters on March 3.