One of my favorite parts of comic books is the ability of the story to weave in and out of its main reality, and seeing a glimpse of what could have been. Sometimes the creative teams can conjure a starkly different version, one whose very essence challenges the way the reader sees the character in a regular light…. And sometimes you just got a lame EXTREME version of the character with a mullet and too many pockets.
Seeing as how one of my favorite characters is Wolverine (and I started collecting comics in the 90s…) I’ve always been enamored with alternate versions. Compiled below is a list of my favorite Wolverines from various realities (and some from the current one):
10. Dark Claw (Amalgam) – ‘Member when DC and Marvel smooshed all their characters together? And Batman and Wolverine combined into Dark Claw? And Logan Wayne was like a strange, drunk, blue-collar bro in a mansion? I SURE DO – I’ve got that issue bagged and boarded and waiting for that incredible price hike the 90’s assured me was coming!
DARK CLAW, MOTHERFUCKERS!
9. Days of Future Past Wolverine (Uncanny X-Men) – the original Old Man Logan, this hairy lil’ guy was a huge help to the mutant resistance, and was part of the mission to help undo this particular future. Feisty to the end, he was left a charred adamantium skeleton while biting off more than he could chew against the Sentinels.
What I love most about this character is that he was revived as part of the Earth X universe, and chosen to lead a team of Heralds. Seeing him in action again, being part of a team, was a real treat. Also, him painted by Alex Ross is INCREDIBLE.
8. Ultimate Wolverine (Ultimate X-Men) – I loved this character when he debuted: a fresh-from-the-get-go Wolverine without years of baggage. This was a Logan who was enlisted by Magneto to assassinate Charles Xavier, but was won over by not just a smokin’ hot red head but also Xavier’s ideas of a better future.
He was savage, almost completely merciless, but beneath it the reader could see a person just longing to belong and to be loved. Later on it came to light just how screwed up his past was (the first mutant, anyone?), and other strange narrative choices (Sabretooth as his son?) bogged him down. Additionally, his Ultimate demise foreshadowed his 616 death. Cool costumes, though.
7. X-23 (NYX) – Despite the fact that Laura has actually grown into a complex, unique character on her own, she still started out as a female clone of Wolverine, ergo an alternate take on James “Logan” Howlett.
But her horrific backstory, struggles to overcome her emotional abuse, and constant battle against her inner killer really made her a compelling character. It was similar to watching the evolution of Wolverine himself from a battle-hardened berserker -- a guy who’d gut you for sneezing on him -- to a teacher and a father figure.
But still, Wolverine with boobs is something I’ll never fully be comfortable with.
6. Old Man Logan (Wolverine) – Before he was shoehorned into the current Marvel Universe, Old Man Logan was the dystopian end game of Wolverine that events like “Wolverine: The End” and “Here Comes Tomorrow” failed to deliver.
This was a Logan not just haunted, but tormented by one of the most insidious plots against heroes I have EVER seen, leaving him emotionally crippled and defeated. And yet, when everything is taken from him, when all he’d ever fought for has been destroyed and there’s nothing left but him and six adamantium claws, he finds his inner Wolverine and annihilates evil to save the innocent. An incredible story from Mark Millar and Steve McNiven that stood the test of time, regardless of how moronic it is to pull him into the main Marvel universe.
5. Agent of SHIELD (House of M) – There was a strange satisfaction of seeing Logan being an integral part of SHIELD, but it was tempered by how utterly strange it was to see him recollect his entire past as a byproduct of the Scarlet Witch going whacky-bo-jacky. (Remember: this was at a time when Wolverine’s past was an intense topic of debate, considering all the memory implants from Weapon X and what had simply been lost to the annals of time. Hell, the mysterious past cliché was one of the things that made Wolverine the coolest).
It was also neat for me and other people who had read What If number 7 which featured Logan as a SHIELD agent (fun fact: that issue was drawn by Rob Leifeld, but wasn’t altogether horrible due to layouts by Jim Valentino). Seeing his myriad skills put to use in service of counter-terrorism and espionage was pretty awesome, but the repercussions of his regained memory bleeding into the standard MU was incredible.
4. Ultimate Cable (Ultimate X-Men) – I’ll fully admit that when these issues came out and Cable’s identity was revealed to be a Wolverine from the distant Ultimate universe’s future, I was as livid as a fanboy could be: how DARE they get rid of darling Nathan Christopher Summers! How DARE they change Logan’s future! How DARE they think outside of a box I’m familiar with!
It took some time, but upon further reflection, this reveal was exactly what the Marvel Ultimate Universe was about: figuring out clever ways to reintroduce concepts of characters. Thinking about how to incorporate an ancient Wolverine in a time-travel caper, especially cloaking him as a character we’d gotten used to in the 616, was a task that Robert Kirkman relished and made really accessible, from the robotic arm to the fighting of Apocalypse.
Probably the thing that I enjoyed the most was how efficiently this Wolverine could take out the X-Men; considering how he’d had years of experience by his side it would make sense he’d have a Batman-esque list of flaws he could expose and sound strategies for each. It was slick storytelling that has improved with age (at least in my opinion).
3. Weapon X (Weapon X) – A one-handed Wolverine running missions for the Human High Council in a world conquered by Apocalypse seemed pretty damn intense, especially when this version of Logan is paired with none other than Jean Grey, who manages to love him and keep him in check. To make matters worse, he lost a hand in a fight with this world’s Cyclops (who ended up losing an eye). The reader is treated to a shock, however, when Logan summons claws out of his stump to take on longtime foe Donald Pierce.
I enjoyed seeing this version of Wolverine go from a spy-type role to that of an X-Men team member, and it’s equally fascinating to see his dynamic with Jean Grey when Scott Summers is completely removed from the picture. All in all a really cool take on the character, and a surprisingly rad costume.
2. Death (Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine, X-Men) – The revelation that the Wolverine fans had been following for months was a Skrull imposter was jarring, but the fact that the ol’ Canuckle Head had become Apocalypse’s horseman of Death was absolutely shocking.
Unbeknownst to the readers, Wolverine had been kidnapped and subjected to torture, culminating in an all-out brawl to become Death against none other than Sabretooth. Wolverine, fearing the worldwide destruction that a Death-fueled Sabretooth would leave in his wake, made the sacrifice to take the mantle with hopes of being able to shake the damage eventually.
This Wolverine was a weapon of mass destruction, taking on any and all comers and leaving them bloodied or much, much worse. And still, the shock of Death removing his red scarf to reveal Logan’s wearied mug is something that still leaves me shaken almost 20 years after.
1. General Howlett (Astonishing X-Men, X-Treme X-Men) – In my own humble opinion, this was the best version of the character due to how Howlett smashed commonplace tropes and yet still maintained a true sense of the character.
In a different world, Wolverine retained his identity and eventually became Governor General of the province of Canada. A mix of traditional Logan and Teddy Roosevelt (arguably the best former US president to write into fictional accounts), Howlett battled alongside the greatest heroes of his reality, often pairing with Hercules, and had his skeleton bonded with the Metal of the Gods, Adamantine.
Howlett and Hercules eventually realized that after all they’d been through together that they loved each other and began a romance…which was not tolerated by the gods. They were banished to Hades where they fought for three years to get out.
Howlett was introduced to readers during Greg Pak’s Astonishing X-Men run, and further fleshed out in his incredibly underrated X-Treme X-Men series. He is such a deep character, each with Pak humanizing him and making him three-dimensional. In a sense, he was everything 616 Logan was not – different metal, knowledge of his past, homosexual – but also everything that made Logan so compelling (Powerfully loyal, fearless, caring).