Welcome to another edition of “Back Issues”, the column where I examine a character, concept or theme making waves in comics today through issues from the past. With 20th Century Fox’s “Logan” opening in theatres today, it’s a big day for everyone’s favorite hirsute Canadian (sorry, not you, Eugene Levy). The film marks the final time Hugh Jackman will sheathe his claws (unsheathe his claws? Both?) in the role that made him a star, and which he’s played nine times in seventeen years. It’s also got a tremendous amount of buzz and early praise swirling around it, so anticipation is high.
Which is why, in light of this high point for the character, I’ve elected to take a look at five truly batshit moments in the character’s comic book history. And before you start, I’m only going with comic book appearances (so no examples pulled from “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “Pryde of the X-Men,” or that one time he was a literal popsicle.
I’m also going to skip over some of the more familiar moments of craziness in his history, like those months where Wolverine devolved into a primitive neanderthal-like creature with no nose.
Instead, I’m going to focus on a few less well known, but no less nutty Logan moments. I’d say these were drawn from all throughout his history, but let’s face it, this stuff is going to come from that unbroken decade of completely bonkers developments in Marvel’s most overexposed hero; the wonderful 1990s.
5 – Earth X – Logan as Archie Bunker…..nah, Al Bundy.
In 1997, Wizard Magazine asked Alex Ross to envision a dystopian future for Marvel not unlike his work on DC’s “Kingdom Come.” That preceding sentence might have been the most 1990s comic book sentence ever written, by the way. It could only be more 1990s if it included unecessary pouches, mullets and a hologram cover. Ross’ pitch was a hit, and Marvel soon commissioned him to develop a full-fledged miniseries in collaboration with writer Jim Krueger and artist John Paul Leon. Debuting in 1999, the mini was a hit and spawned a few sequel series that grew ever more esoteric.
The setting of “Earth X” was a world where most people had gained super-powers, and the resulting chaotic chain of events had rendered most of the original Marvel heroes irrelevant, corrupted or disillusioned. The series had as its stars a mix of A-listers and more obscure characters, with Uatu the Watcher, Machine Man, Captain America, Reed Richards and a few other taking the lion’s share of the focus.
But oddly, some of the most popular characters of the era get little more than cameos. And the most memorable of these was Logan himself, who appears in a couple of scenes as a fat, belligerent alcoholic trapped in a bitter marriage with who he thinks is Jean Grey, but is later revealed to be Madeline Pryor.
This version of Logan kind of mocks the whole idea of the character, giving the impression that Ross and Krueger might not be his biggest fans. To be sure, if you take the version of Wolverine who initially appeared (a surly, course loudmouth) to his most logical conclusion, this is who the guy kind of is. If he hadn’t attained that “fallen samurai” component, this is easily what an old bitter Logan would look like. And it’s hilarious to me that the creative team is telling fans that one the most popular characters of the day is going be a useless tool in Earth’s darkest hour.
4 – Beware the Dark Claw….I guess
In 1996, DC and Marvel joined forces in an historic even that saw the most popular characters from each company do battle….for some reason….with the outcomes decided by us, the fans! In the miniseries, Wolverine faced off against Lobo in an off-panel (!?) fight that saw Logan emerge the victor.
Midway through the event, both universes were combined for reasons too insane to go into or care about, resulting in what be came known as the Amalgam Universe, a universe where famous DC and Marvel characters merged into the least interesting versions they could possibly be. And in a move that made the marketing guys and nine year olds dizzy with happiness, the two most popular heroes from each universe, Batman and Wolverine, were combined into…Dark Claw!
The amalgam heroes were little more than professionally executed stories based on doodles done by an 11 year old who wanted his comics to be more badass. In the Dark Claw book, Logan Wayne’s parents were murdered when he was five, after which he was sent to live with a relative in Canada. Eventually, Logan enlists in the Royal Canadian Air Force and finds his way to the Weapon X project. He learns of his mutant abilities and goes through the experiments that would give him an adamantium skeleton and claws. The other Weapon X test subject is Creed H. Quinn, who would become the vicious super-powered Hyena.
So, yeah, that is nuts. The “Legends of the Dark Claw” one-shot written by Larry Hama with art by Jim Balent does about as well as can b expected with the concept of a Wolverine sworn not to kill and armed with the kind of gadgets and persona of Batman. The hero faces off against a mixture of the Joker and Sabretooth in the form of the Hyena, a shirtless green-haired harlequin with his own set of claws. If that sounds like a fever dream Steve Englehart might have had while on a bad peyote trip, well, you’d be right.
The design of Dark Claw is the most Dark Claw thing you can think of. If you kidnapped a twelve year old who wants to be a fashion designer when they group up and asked them to design a super hero, and only gave them the words “dark” and “claw” as a guide, this is exactly what they would come up with. There’s just so many points and angles and shadows. There is literally not a single element of this costume that doesn’t bellow “dark” or “claw” at the top of its lungs.
And the rough-hewn earthy Wolverine-vibe really DOES NOT mesh with Bruce Wayne’s silver spoon exceptionalism. He calls Sparrow (a mix of Robin and Jubilee into the most annoying sidekick ever devised. Seriously, Sparrow is THE WORST) “darling.” It’s somehow not creepy when the canuckle-headed Wolverine calls teenagers “darlin'”, but add that “g” back on to reflect Bruce Wayne’s classiness, and it suddenly seems less a term of endearment and more something Hannibal Lector would say to Clarice Starling.
Luckily things would soon return to normal, and by that I mean normal for mid 1990s excess, which Marvel was particularly fond of during this time. But Dark Claw remains a particular goofy example of taking two amazing concepts, putting them together, and completely wrecking both of them. To the Claw-mobile, Sparrow, darling!
3 – The Best There Is At Disclosing the Health of Marvel’s Fiscal Year, But Marvel’s Fiscal Year Wasn’t Very Nice
Marvel in the 1990s was a financial mess. There were a variety of reasons, but it spent much of the decade teetering on the edge of disaster until finally filing for bankruptcy in 1997. Flashback to 1993, and put yourself in Marvel’s corporate shoes. You have to produce an annual report for the shareholders of the company, and you’d like to put a nice rosy glow on things, despite the fact that the mid-level titles of the line were being regularly crushed, the big crossover events weren’t selling like they used to, and changes at the corporate level resulted in a philosophy focused less on publishing great comics and more on creating a merchandising empire.
And maybe this is why their 1993 report is so endearingly bonkers. They got the idea that, instead of sending their investors a boring old annual report of charts and graphs, they would cobble together the most randomly designed comic book adventure ever, largely about charts and graphs. If you ever wanted to see mutant despot Apocalypse face off against Gambit and Wolverine while saying the line, “One must not forget Marvel’s advertising promotion revenues!” and then waxing poetic about an X-Men/Pizza Hut tie-in, well, this is the annual report for you!
This report is chock full of truly hilarious moments, and the only reason this wouldn’t be in the top spot is because it’s never been widely distributed. But my favorite and most disturbing moment is the section dealing with Toy Biz, Marvel’s toy licensee. The “story” features Iron Man, Spider-Man and good ol’ Wolverine talking up a line of toys while battling Arcade. All that’s well and good, and actually super-heroes and toys are a match made in heaven. Then this occurs:
First off, I’m not sure why Wolverine’s eyes are glowing red this entire report, but that’s the least unsettling thing. The fact that he’s talking about Gerber baby toys with this degree of excitement isn’t a great sign, nor is his comment about watch babies in light or darkness.
You have to give Marvel points for ingenuity and for unintentional hilarity. Fact of the matter is that Wolverine and the X-Men were among the hottest character in comics, and all sorts of tie-ins were pitched, proposed and acted on, the concept being that people would check out anything with Wolverine on the cover. And that led to some team-ups and tie-ins that defy logic. Like our next entry.
2- Live Long and Prosper, Bub.
Remember earlier when I mentioned that Marvel was pretty focused on become a merchandising machine rather than simply a comics publisher at this time? Well, in 1996 Marvel reached a deal with Paramount Pictures to create an imprint called Paramount Comics, to feature properties controlled by the studio. And their first swell idea was to unite Marvel and Paramount’s biggest franchises, the X-Men and Star Trek, in a story called Star Trek/X-Men!
The story featured the X-Men chasing reality-altering enemy Proteus through a rift in pace and time and winning up in the future where they encounter Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, then on its first five-year mission. In the time honored Marvel tradition, our two heroes spend some time fighting each other before teaming up to stop Proteus, who has revived Kirk’s dead friend Gary Mitchell, who perished after gaining similar powers to the reality-warping mutant.
Look, it’s not that this is a bad story per se. But these are two universes that are even less well-suited to each other than the DC/Marvel Amalgam debacle. Star Trek, aliens and technobabble aside, is about fairly ordinary people doing an extraordinary job. The X-Men may be engrossing and relatable and beloved, but they aren’t within hooting distance of being anything close to realistic. Even the design of each property doesn’t mesh. You wouldn’t think the slightly goofy 1960s kitsch of Star Trek’s velour uniforms would ever look reasonable, but when compared to what the X-Men sport in the story, holy shit they look downright sedate. The clashing weirdness of the whole thing is best summed up by this moment:
You know things are bad when Spock has the more sensible hairstyle in a scene.
1 – Crush Your Enemies, See Them Drive Before You, and Hear the Lamentations of Logan!
Marvel used to publish a series called “What If…” The original run was in the 1970s, and revolved around the Watcher showing readers alternate versions of famous stories or taking established characters and rearranging their histories or characters. In the late 1980’s, the series returned.
The thing about “What If…” is that, for every solid story that took risks and blew your mind, there would be a goofy slice of insanity like What If #16, where it was decided Wolverine and Conan needed to fight. I can understand why this idea held a fascination. First off, putting Wolverine on the cover never hurt a book’s sales. Second, Logan and Conan aren’t a million miles apart in temperament or style.
However, I kind of love how absolutely crazily writer Glenn Herdling grabs hold of this concept and runs with it. The story opens during the Dark Phoenix saga, at the moment when Wolverine stumbled into the Watcher’s home and was booted around reality for a brief span. In this story, the watcher opts to let Logan bounce around the multiverse, and he gets stuck in Conan’s era, whereupon he immediately encounters Red Sonja. In a scene that can really only be described as “icky”, he and Sonja initially fight until Logan bests her, which of course gets Red Sonja all down for some sweet hirsute Canadian action. And she’s a redhead, so you know Logan’s up for it. Then Conan arrives.
Does all this seem incredibly hinged on coincidence? You are correct. There’s not even the semblance of an interesting plot here. It’s structured around Logan going somewhere, meeting another Marvel character, fight ensues. That’s the extent of it.
Anyway, Conan arrives, and proceeds to seriously block Wolverine’s little Logan. They fight, and things are going pretty well for Wolverine until Conan succeeds in nearly chopping Logan’s head off and leaves him for dead. But in the night, Wolverine’s helming factor repairs the damage, even if the injury has left his mind more added and feral than usual. Logan hunts down Conan and Red Sonja, who are haggling with a sorcerer at the time. The sorcerer opens a portal to Logan’s time, but before he can return, Logan and Conan’s uncontrollable levels of testosterone take over and a fight commences, during which time Logan chops off Conan’s hand!
The fight eventually results in Conan going through the portal by mistake, blowing Logan’s one chance to return home. The story ends with Logan and Red Sonja going on to glory in the Hyborian Age. And Conan? He returns to Logan’s place in the present, on the moon in the midst of the Dark Phoenix saga. The Cimmerian reverts to default setting, which means just killing everything he sees, which results in Jean Grey never sacrificing herself and going full Phoenix and devouring the Earth, killing everyone. So, yeah, got dark at the end there.
Part of the fun of a character as popular and durable as Wolverine is how many times creators take him in some truly odd directions. I hope you enjoyed a look at just a few of the times he went into the tall weeds of the 1990s. But, if you need a palate cleanser after all this excess and bombast, don’t worry, head on down to your local theatre and see “Logan”, opening today nationwide. And keep your eyes peeled for my review of the film Friday night!
That’s it for this edition of “Back Issues.” Until next time, see you ’round the quarter bins, bub.