Off The Page: Wolverine Vol 1 (Anniversary Special)
Here we are: it's been one year since I've been writing for We Want Insanity about comics and I've had a blast! Special thanks to James Gutman, who’s allowed me to write for the site and to the readers. I hope you've enjoyed my ramblings and I have plenty more comics to investigate, so stay tuned!
Wolverine is one of the most distinctive and popular characters in comics’ history. An enigmatic loner, who is a mystery even to himself, the man known as Logan was a breakout hit upon his creation. Making his debut in the final panel of The Incredible Hulk #180 and his first full appearance in the following issue as an opponent for the Hulk in 1974, Wolverine captured the public imagination as the first of a wave of antiheroes that would buck the trend of the stereotypical "good guy" image. He would sometimes be selfish, irascible and difficult to get along with, but would always do the right thing in the end. As society was becoming more sophisticated and nuanced, Wolverine's complex characterisation offered readers an intriguing character that they wanted to see more of. After fighting the Hulk, Wolverine would next appear in Giant-Size X-Men #1 and X-Men #94 in 1975, but was almost dropped from the team as he was overshadowed by the other characters, outside of a love triangle between himself, Cyclops and Jean Grey. It was artist John Byrne who stood up for the character, redesigning his look and convincing writer Chris Claremont for Wolverine to remain a part of the team. Increasing popularity meant that it was time for Wolverine to be taken to the next level and so Claremont and writer-artist Frank Miller, known at the time for his groundbreaking work on Daredevil , teamed up to write a four issue miniseries, exploring Logan's background, tying his backstory to Japan in a tale of honour, love and betrayal.
After receiving his unopened letters to his long-time girlfriend Mariko Yashida, Wolverine travels to Japan in search of her. In so doing, Logan becomes embroiled in the political machinations of Markio’s father, Shingen, who seeks to tighten his grip on the Japanese criminal underworld.
Lord Shingen Harada
Wolverine was the first time a member of the X-Men was given their own solo title. As the most popular member of the team, it was a no-brainer that Wolverine would eventually be given his own series. Chris Claremont sought to revise the character’s development, having been lost in the shuffle during his own run on X-Men and delve deeper into Logan’s psyche, with the help of then upcoming comic superstar Frank Miller as illustrator. The story begins as Wolverine introduces himself with what would become his signature catchphrase: "I'm the best there is at what I do, but what I do best isn't very nice." In the Canadian Rockies, Logan tracks down a bear that has attacked several people due to an arrow in its back from a poacher. After putting the bear to rest, Logan tracks down the hunter responsible, subduing the tracker and handing him over to the authorities. A very similar scene appears in the film, The Wolverine , where Logan also confronts a poacher who kills a bear. Returning stateside to the X-mansion, Wolverine finds his unopened letters to his girlfriend, Markio Yashida and finds out that she has been summoned back to Japan. After being unable to get a response from her family, Logan travels to the country to find her. Finding Mariko at the Yashida compound, Wolverine discovers that her father, Shingen, whom Mariko thought dead, has returned, forcing his daughter to marry a fellow crime lord to placate a business obligation. Logan sees that Mariko has bruises on her face and deduces that her husband, Noburu-Hideki is responsible. Wolverine vows to deal with Noburu upon confronting him but Mariko stops them both. An embittered Logan decides to return to New York, but is ambushed by poisoned shuirkens and awakens at the feet of Shingen, who goads Logan into a duel for Mariko’s honour. Using wooden swords, Shingen cheats by kicking Wolverine, prompting Logan to unleash his claws in retaliation, but his weakened state allows Shingen to gain the upper hand, with Logan waking up in a Tokyo backstreet. As a mob approaches Wolverine, a mysterious woman, known as Yuiko kills the group, saving Wolverine.
After a brief skirmish with the Hand, a criminal organisation, Logan and Yukio return to his hotel, during which Logan rejects her advances as he is still in love with Mariko. It is later revealed that Shingen hired Yukio to kill Wolverine and that the attack from the Hand was a deception. Angered by her refusal to kill Logan, Shingen gives her a chance to redeem herself. Wolverine and Yukio infiltrate a "peace conference" held by Shingen, with crime lord Katsuyori, who are watching a play. During the final act, the actor "ninjas" take aim at Mariko and Wolverine leaps in to save her. Wolverine dispatches the ninjas, while Katsuyori and his wife flee in a car, which explodes, as a result of Yukio’s handiwork, now redeemed in Shingen’s eyes. Revelling in the carnage, a horrified Mariko stares at Logan before turning away in disgust. A dejected Wolverine finds himself in bar fights with wrestlers and pursues a relationship with Yukio. However, despite what has happened, Logan still loves Mariko, dreaming about her while drunk, causing a frustrated Yukio to kick him in the face before walking out. Logan turns down a deal from special agent Asano Kimura to help in a Japanese underworld takeover, but turns him down only to find him later killed by Yukio, discovering that it was she who poisoned him in the first place. Realising the deception, Logan swears vengeance against her, tracking her down to a Zen garden, but is ambushed yet again by the Hand, allowing Yukio to escape.
Wolverine goes about dismantling Shingen’s operation, slowly making his way to the crime lord himself. Yukio infiltrates the Yashiada complex but is captured by Shingen, who receives a radio message from his guard, before being abruptly cut off, signalling Wolverine's arrival. Mariko and Noburu-Hideki attempt to escape in a helicopter, but are confronted by Logan. Noburu tries to shoot Wolverine but is killed by Yukio, accepting that she cannot be with Logan and disappears. Shingen takes his clan’s honour sword and battles Wolverine in a fight to the death. This time, Wolverine gains the advantage, impaling his claws through Shingen’s head. Mariko appears and presents Logan with the honour sword, expressing gratitude for restoring honour to her family. In a rare happy moment, the X-Men receive an invitation to Logan and Mariko’s wedding.
As stated, Wolverine was the first time a member of a superhero team was given their own, individual series, which speaks volumes as to how popular Wolverine was becoming. The miniseries aimed to explore Wolverine as a character, laying out an intricate relationship with a Japanese royal, whose refined manner was in stark contrast to Logan's rough and ready attitude. Even though Wolverine is front and centre, supporting characters get a chance to breathe like Yukio, who is initially hired by Shingen to assassinate Logan, but ends up falling for him before ultimately realising that his heart belongs to another. The success of the comic would see the creation of an ongoing Wolverine series starting in 1988 and lasting until 2003, once again with veteran writer Claremont and Larry Hama. The 2013 movie, The Wolverine took inspiration from this miniseries, with a story set in Japan and involving the characters Mariko and Yukio, albeit with different relationships to Logan. Wolverine is undoubtedly the most popular member of the X-Men and his enduring legacy lives on, as immortal as Logan himself.