The Modern Art Of Telling Great Wolverine Stories

With LOGAN imminent, we dig into some of the character's best recent books.

Logan is out now! (Buy your tickets here!) To celebrate, we're featuring a week of articles in honor of everyone's favorite mutant.

Wolverine, created by Roy Thomas, John Romita, Sr. and Len Wein and called Logan when out of costume, is an awesome character. Between his ubiquity and the dreadful, empty SniktBub version of him that emerges when he’s handled poorly, it can be easy to forget that sometimes. But when Wolverine’s creative teams are working at their peak, there are few superheroes whose stories can match his.

He’s served as the unexpectedly wise voice of reason in Keron Grant, Frank Quitely and Grant Morrison’s New X-Men: Riot at Xavier’s. He’s begrudgingly honored the last wishes of his (formerly, because comics) late friend Kurt Wagner in Davide Gianfelice and Jason Aaron’s Wolverine: Weapon X - The End of the Beginning and found a kind of grace in mourning. He’s grappled with his disastrous decision to form a covert kill team in Phil Noto and Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force: Final Execution. And he’s died at peace with himself after an act of (comparatively, for comics) quiet self-sacrifice in Steve McNiven and Charles Soule’s Death of Wolverine. These are great comics, stories whose success turns in large part on their creative teams knowing how to use Wolverine as a full-fledged character, rather than an empty vessel through which readers might live vicariously.

So, who is Wolverine as a character? And what is it about his character that makes him so wonderfully compelling? There are, of course, a multitude of answers to that question. There has been a whole wide range of different Wolverines over the years, developed and put out into the world by the creators who’ve worked on him. The one I find most compelling, the one that I think best explains why Logan endures in the popular consciousness, is that he is a man who continuously pushes against the worst of himself and works to be better, both for his own sake and the sake of the people he cares about. This is never easy. It often comes with a great cost, one that stretches far beyond the obligatory physically awful things that happen to a man with superhuman healing. And in some cases, Logan gets it badly wrong. But he never gives up. No matter what, he keeps clawing his way towards a better tomorrow. It’s both dramatically compelling and wonderfully human.

Logan, Hugh Jackman’s massively acclaimed farewell to a character he played for 17 years, is here. Even in the often uneven X-Men film series’ most dire moments, he has reliably done very fine work. The cultural spotlight that’s currently shining on him is more than deserved. With Wolverine on everyone’s minds, I want to take a moment and celebrate his appearances in the comics mentioned above, comics that I count amongst the finest depictions of Marvel’s Most Famous Canadian. These are books that well and truly get what makes Logan special, and if you haven’t had a chance to read them yet, I urge you to give them a shot.

New X-Men: Riot at Xavier’s

Available in the New X-Men omnibus, trade paperback and on ComiXology.

Art by Frank Quitely and Keron Grant.
Words by Grant Morrison.

Frank Quitely and Grant Morrison’s New X-Men is the high-water mark of the X-Men post-2000. Quitely’s semi-military, semi-casual X-jackets are simple, elegant and iconic. His body language and expressions are amongst his finest work, save perhaps for his unatched Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery. He even makes Logan’s awful early-2000s soul patch almost tolerable. And, amongst writer Morrison’s mainstream superhero work, New X-Men is unmatched. He developed the mutant community into a genuine community, one with its own music, fashion, ideology and culture. He dug into the process of social change and the idea that the past generation’s leaders (Xavier and Magneto) have a moral imperative to admit that their perspectives are not going to mesh with the perspectives of those who will follow them, and ultimately must step aside. He made “X” into a roman numeral and Weapon X into Weapon Plus, a storytelling decision that would have consequences for Wolverine specifically and the X-Men generally for years. And he wrote a wonderful Wolverine.

Over the course of New X-Men, Logan would uncover a major part of his long enigmatic past (several years later, he would remember the entirety of his long life). But outside of pure plotting, New X-Men lets Logan be wonderfully wise, in his own gruff way. He knows that he loves Jean Grey, and that she has feelings for him that could potentially be more romantic than platonic, but he is not going to be a cretin and ruin their friendship and her marriage. He is remarkably patient with the young mutants at Xavier’s school, and clear-eyed in his observations about their character.

The Wolverine moment that sticks out to me the most from New X-Men isn’t a fight (although he has a few great ones, particularly during the Assault on Weapon Plus arc), it’s his response to an angry teenager. Quentin Quire, an immensely powerful psychic, has learned that he was adopted. Already lonely and angry at the world, the revelation pushes him to begin using a power-boosting drug, embrace hardcore mutant separatism and ultimately start a riot at the school. But for all his rage, rhetoric and power, Quire is ultimately an angry kid lashing out at a world he’s still learning to understand. And Logan gets this. When the X-Men confer shortly before Quire’s riot, Logan offers an astute analysis of the boy:

“I’m only talking about life… trust me, people don’t change much from one generation to the next. I don’t need telepathy or a psychology degree. I watch people. I stalk ‘em… The got habits, same as every other beast ever lived. The kid’s feeling raw and vulnerable – he doesn’t know who he is anymore, so he’s re-creating himself, complete with some half-baked manifesto.”

Before the X-Men can formulate a comprehensive response to Quire, he and his gang start their riot. It ends badly for everyone involved. The X-Men, and Xavier specifically, are forced to confront their limits as leaders, teachers and caregivers. Logan, cynical though he may be about his own character and those of his greatest enemies, possesses a great deal of empathy for other people, and it drives him to both try and do right by them and push them to do better. Consider what he says to Quire’s gang when he explains the consequences they’re facing for starting a riot and killing two of their fellow students:

“…you’ll get to put all that revolutionary energy to good use… helpin’ people who need it. You’re gonna help people until you bleed and you sob. And then you’re gonna help some more.”

Logan isn’t angry with the gang because they were rebellious, he’s angry because of their complete and utter moral failure and their subsequent attempt to blame their actions on Quire. Though he would deny it, he’s a deeply moral, compassionate man. New X-Men illustrates this beautifully.

Wolverine: Weapon X – “The End of the Beginning”

Available in the “Wolverine by Jason Aaron” omnibus, trade and on ComiXology.

Art by Davide Gianfelice and Ron Garney.
Words by Jason Aaron.

Wolverine: Weapon X was a comparatively short-lived series. It ran for 16 issues, split between three long stories and two standalone tales. It followed Logan’s solo adventures in San Francisco, where the X-Men and many among the greater mutant community had relocated after the Xavier institute was blown up (again) over a big battle for the life of a mutant baby. The series was drawn by a rotating team of artists and written by Jason Aaron, who would go on to work as Wolverine’s primary author for several years after the conclusion of Wapon X. It was Aaron who developed a bitter, longstanding rivalry between Wolverine and fellow long-lived mutant Raven “Mystique” Darkholme. It was Aaron who took Logan’s protectiveness towards younger mutants and developed it to the point where he chose to open and run his own academy for gifted youngsters. He’s done some very fine work with the character, and Weapon X was the first full-blown Wolverine series he would right.

“The End of The Beginning” was both the second of Weapon X’s standalones and its final issue. It is easily the quietest tale in the series, and it follows Logan’s efforts to fulfill a request the then-deceased Kurt “Nightcrawler” Wagner made in his will. Per Kurt’s wishes, Logan must transport a beautiful, expensive, delicate concert piano to a tiny church in South America. The church is in a small village on top of a mountain. The mountain is surrounded by a massive, dense jungle. Logan himself notes that he could easily ask Angel to fly the piano there, but he’s not going to welch on his best friend’s last request. So, piano in tow, Logan sets off into the jungle, grumbling all the way.

Despite the combination of a giant, cumbersome musical instrument, one of the most complex and dangerous ecosystems on Earth, and his semi-perpetual surliness being cranked up even further than it usually is, Logan succeeds in delivering the piano. And as he schleps through the jungle, he reflects on the width and breadth of his friendship with Nightcrawler. It began sharply. Logan’s cynicism and decades of combat experience clashed with Kurt’s easy-going nature and status as a combat novice. Kurt’s faith was another point of tension, as Logan was so bitter that he couldn’t view his teammate’s convictions with anything other than contempt. But Kurt didn’t give up on the possibility of friendship. And, over the years, Logan came to like and trust the blue, fuzzy man he called “elf.” They still clashed on matters of faith, but Kurt’s response to Logan’s doubt was warmth and compassion. The two found common ground in their desire to do good (and their shared love of beer), and it both strengthened their bond and brought the restless Logan a degree of peace.

Wolverine, as insightful as he can be about others, has never had the easiest time turning his gaze upon himself. He spent a long time convinced that he was a bad person who did awful things for the sake of the good people he cared about. Over the course of “The End of the Beginning,” Gianfelice and Aaron track Logan’s transition from isolation and contempt to his more recent engagement with the world and his approaching something like peace. Gianfelice, whose art tends more towards cartooning than realism, does a marvelous job with Logan and Kurt’s body language, specifically the gradual release of tension in Logan’s body as he moves away from being the angriest Canadian in the Marvel Universe.

Logan’s past means that such a peace may not be possible over the long term, but when he does find a moment of grace, it’s genuinely lovely. “The End of the Beginning” closes with one such moment, as Logan watches the sun and comes to understand how Kurt saw God in the world. It’s a worthy ending to a very fine tale about how Wolverine has grown and changed over the years, and about how opening up to people outside of himself helped facilitate that development.

Uncanny X-Force: Final Execution

Available in the Uncanny X-Force omnibus, trade and on ComiXology.

Art by Phil Noto, Mike McKone, Julian Totino Tedesco, Jerome Opeña and David Williams.
Words by Rick Remender.

Uncanny X-Force is a book built on a bad idea. I don’t mean that the idea for a book about Wolverine leading a team of covert assassins dedicated to protecting mutantkind by any and all means is a bad idea. I mean that Wolverine leading a team of covert assassins dedicated to protecting mutantkind by any and all means is a bad idea. Writer Rick Remender’s thesis for Uncanny X-Force is that X-Force, however well intentioned, is a moral disaster. Logan ducks this fact for as long as he can, and insists that the kill team is a necessary evil. But in Final Execution, the book’s tremendous final arc, he come face to face with the reality that brutally assassinating potential threats to mutants with consideration for only the most immediate consequences has been rotting them from the inside out (in the most extreme case, the stress of being on X-Force drives team member Archangel to fall to evil and become a new version of longtime X-foe/man prone to LLLLLEEEEEARRRNNNNNIIINNNGGG Apocalypse). It has also given the team’s many enemies a target, a target they can turn into a weapon against the very people Logan and his teammates care the most about.

Final Execution turns on the fate of Evan Sabahnur, a teenaged clone of the infamous mutant warlord Apocalypse. Evan was raised to be a good, kind, heroic person in the simulated world his creator, X-Force member Fantomex, built for him. But life outside the simulation has proven hard for Evan, since his heritage has made him a target for hatred and revulsion even amongst his fellow mutants, who look at him and see a man who has tried to lay waste to the world more than once. A new incarnation of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, dedicated to destroying Wolverine and X-Force after making their lives a living hell and led by Logan’s estranged son Daken, kidnaps Evan. They hope to corrupt him, and use X-Force’s hypocrisy to do it. Despite their sadistic best efforts, they fail. Fantomex raised Evan with too much of a moral compass, and his refusal to turn to evil, coupled with the consequences of X-Force’s past missions adding up to a (mostly contained) disaster, convinces the team that they need to stop if they are to have any hope of preserving their souls.

Logan leads X-Force during Uncanny, and he has some very fine moments over the run, but his finest hour comes in Final Execution. Daken, despite some level of regret for how toxic his relationship with his father ultimately became, refuses to back down. Even with his plan to corrupt Evan in shambles, Daken insists on trying to kill his father. Between that and a warning from the future that if allowed to live he will murder Logan’s students at the Jean Grey School, Logan chooses to kill his son. As he cradles Daken’s body and apologizes for failing him so completely, Logan is confronted by Sabretooth, his archnemesis. The Brotherhood turns out to have been his creation, an elaborate trap designed to make Logan suffer either by corrupting Evan or forcing Logan to kill Daken. Enraged at Sabretooth’s cruelty, Evan attacks him, and comes very close to killing him. Logan, despite all the trauma Sabretooth has inflicted on him, and all the damage he did to his own soul by running X-Force, talks him down:

“Look around you son. This is revenge. This is what it gets. It’s all a mess. Ain’t a thing… Ain’t a damn thing solved… You see that, Evan? For the love of god… Tell me can you see that?”

X-Force, although it did save mutantkind and the larger world several times, was ultimately one of Logan’s greatest failures. He and his teammates corrupted themselves in the hopes that the violence they did would lead to a better tomorrow. Mostly, it led to more violence and trauma. But to the team’s credit, they are ultimately able to see past what they told themselves was necessary and accept the consequences. While X-Force should never have existed, the team is ultimately able to stop. They will have to live with what they have done, especially Logan, but they choose to accept that, rather than continuing to lie to themselves.

Phil Noto drew most of Final Execution, and in addition to his wonderful eye for the varying physiques of his cast, he has a knack for eye work and expression. Sabertooth’s dead-eyed grin is unsettling. X-Force member Deadpool’s desperate attempts to pull Evan back from the edge of rage (Remender’s take on Wade Wilson as perhaps the most openly ethical and kindhearted of the team is one of Uncanny X-Force’s many virtues) are desperate and hopeful. And Logan’s despair in the wake of drowning Daken is palpable.

Uncanny X-Force is easily Rick Remender’s best cape comic, and my personal favorite of his overall body of work. He pays careful attention to the consequences of X-Force’s violence, both physical and emotional, and he strikes a good balance between the action in his stories being exciting and unsettling. His take on Logan sticks out in my mind for how well he blends his violent past, his stubbornness and his subsequent development into a full-fledged high school headmaster into a coherent whole. He also uses Deadpool, Marvel’s Other Famous Canadian, brilliantly.

Death of Wolverine

Available in trade and on ComiXology.

Art by Steve McNiven.
Words by Charles Soule.

Superhero comics from Marvel and DC tend to be cyclical. Different interpretations of characters come and go throughout the years. Different styles of storytelling move in and out of vogue. On occasion, a character will spend a few years dead. The reasons for this range from moving the title over to another character, exploring the consequences of the character’s world without them or sometimes just giving them a bit of a break. At this point, only Uncle Ben seems guaranteed to remain dead. But that does not mean that the story of a superhero’s death is inherently pointless. Such stories can certainly be told poorly, but when they work they stand as potent, powerful explorations of how characters affect the world around them in both their presence and their absence. In 2014, Marvel tapped Steve McNiven and Charles Soule to kill Wolverine. And they did so quite well.

Prior to his death, Logan lost his famous healing factor. He spends the story more vulnerable than he has been in years. This brings a cavalcade of killers down on him, and with his healing gone and his ability to use his claws compromised, Logan must get inventive. When he learns that some mysterious power player has been stockpiling adamantium, kidnapping seemingly unconnected people and put out a contract on him that specifies he be captured alive, he decides to come out of hiding and get to the bottom of the mystery. Logan’s investigation takes him across the world, to places and people that have long been important to him. He tracks a lead to Madripoor, the underworld-friendly city where he once went by the alias “Patch.” His time in Madripoor leads him to Japan, home of one of the great loves of his life and the place where he learned of the Samurai tradition and worked to move beyond being dominated by his berserker rage. He faces some of his longest standing foes and gains an invaluable assist from Kitty Pryde, one of the first young mutants he mentored during his time with the X-Men.

Finally, he comes face to face with Cornelius, the man who bonded adamantium to his skeleton. Cornelius is a venal cretin insistent that if he keeps making people into Wolverines, surely one of them will be the key to his being remembered as the innovator he deserves to be known as, rather than going down as the man who created a famous killer. When Logan, despite his injuries, overcomes the Cornelius’ chief goon, the cowardly scientist flees. He tries to cover his escape by beginning the adamantium infusion process on his hapless kidnapped test subjects, only for Logan to destroy the unbreakable metal’s holding tank. Despite being completely coated in molten metal, Logan tracks down Cornelius and kills him. A self-righteous hypocrite to the last, Cornelius demands to know what Logan ever did beyond kill people. Once he has slain Cornelius, Logan collapses on the ground. The adamantium is hardening around him, and he begins to suffocate. He ponders Cornelius’ last words. He thinks of his life. His time as a soldier. His time as an outlaw. His time as an X-Man. His time as a teacher. He thinks of the women he loved. As the sun rises and he succumbs to the adamantium, Logan has an answer for Cornelius’ question.


Death of Wolverine will not be permanent. Logan will be back in some way or another at some point. For the time being, Old Man Logan, the McNiven/Mark Millar created incarnation of the character and Laura Kinney, his clone/adopted daughter are serving as Marvel’s Wolverines. Laura’s All New Wolverine is a pretty neat book itself. As it stands, Death of Wolverine is a strong story. Logan dies proving to be far more than the empty killer Cornelius is, and he does so saving others from having to endure the trauma that made him the man he was for both good and ill. And, for a man who so often lived a restless life, it is genuinely gratifying to see Logan at peace with his life and death.

Steve McNiven, whose art provides this article’s header image, is my definitive Wolverine artist. He draws motion and action with clear precision, and when characters he draws get hit, the impact is always different and always visceral. He also does great faces.

Beyond landing the big beats of Logan’s death, writer Charles Soule does neat work depicting Wolverine’s heightened senses. Careful word choice (enhanced by Justin Ponsor’s color work) creates a steady stream of information that Logan is always processing and interpreting. “Hands” in a red box whenever he pops his claws (now exceedingly painful and dangerous without his healing factor) sticks out as a particularly memorable example of this. It isn’t something I’ve ever seen done in quite that way before, and it’s a fresh, exciting use of some of the traits that make Logan a unique character. All told, it’s a very fine comic, and I’d be ok with it if, by some improbability, it ended up becoming the permanent end of Logan’s story.

This article featured artwork by Steve McNiven, Frank Quitely, Julian Totino Tedesco and Ron Garney.