Wolverine has the luxury to be the only X-Men character to consistently hold down a solo comic title since his ongoing debuted in 1988. With an overwhelming onslaught of stories, it can be hard to know where to start. But just like Logan anytime he runs across a teenage girl, I am willing to be your gruff mentor with a heart of gold through the raging seas of Wolverine because I have compiled the 10 best Wolverine stories of all time.
Now, you will not agree with every pick, but trust the master. There are some iconic classics in here, some modern favorites, and some stories where Wolverine fights a sentient pile of cocaine. This is intentional. Each odd arc, each harrowing ronin’s tale, each bloody team-up, highlights a different aspect of Wolverine and you must understand the whole of Wolverine to truly appreciate him.
Wolverine #1-4 (1982)
By Chris Claremont & Frank Miller
By 1982 Chris Claremont was riding high, having written the seminal “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days Of Future Past” nearly back to back in Uncanny X-Men. Frank Miller was in the final stretches of his game changing run on Daredevil, having just passed the baton on art duties for the book. They were the biggest names in comics and they were about to make Wolverine the biggest character in the industry.
In a way, Wolverine is a mini-series that is a perfect fusion of its creators. Claremont’s pathos and love for soap opera theatrics combine with Miller’s deft sense of action and passion for drawing ninjas. It’s a dense, emotional story where Wolverine battles hopelessly to not just save the woman he loves from an abusive marriage, but prove that he is more than a mindless animal. Logan has to find honor, inner peace, and a direction for his life.
He also has to fight a metric ton of ninjas.
Miller puts on a masterclass in setting up action scenes in what is arguably his best work (and yes I’m including The Dark Knight Returns so don’t even ask). Claremont takes plenty of time to write long, contemplative monologues as he is want to do, but also knows when to step back and let his artist take control.
Every Wolverine story lives in the shadow of this one, and for good reason. It is two of the best creators in the industry, at the peak of their strength, writing a tight story that utterly defines the most important character in comics since the Silver Age. It’s that good.
If you like it: Make sure you read the direct follow up in Uncanny X-Men #172-173, which adds in the rest of Marvel’s merry mutants for a heartbreaking denouement.
Weapon X (Marvel Comics Presents #72-84)
By Barry Windsor-Smith
Even though it has become the centerpiece of nearly every adaptation of the X-Men, Wolverine’s past was shrouded in mystery until 1991. In a bi-weekly anthology series called Marvel Comics Presents, artist Barry Windsor-Smith told a gripping tale chronicling how Wolverine got his claws. You know the beats, it’s been shown three separate times in three seperate movies. Shady government scientists building the ultimate living weapon, adamantium injected into a man’s body, a beast escaping and leaving a bloody trail in its wake. You don’t have to read this comic to know what happens.
What may surprise you is how slow, how contemplative this story really is. Windsor-Smith’s number one concern in this comic is setting a mood. He controls the reader’s reaction, ratcheting up the tension like a slasher movie. You know this isn’t going to end well for Ms. Hines or Professor Thorton or Doctor Cornelius as they bicker and prod and treat Logan like an experiment, a toy to be played with. You just don’t know when it’s all going to come crashing down.
Wolverine is presented as a monster here. The scientists at Weapon X unleashed an animal they could never control as Wolverine stalks the halls of the facility, relentless as he tramples through a storm of bullets and blood and viscera. This is what they made him, this is what they unleashed, and this is what Logan is constantly fighting to contain.
We never needed to know more about the history of Wolverine than this. He was a tough man, an aimless, dangerous man, who was transformed into a deadly weapon. Now, he’s trying to be better. All we needed to know was how bad he could be, so we could see just how far he’s come.
If you like it: Uncanny X-Men #205 is another stunning Barry Windsor-Smith Wolverine story where he just murders the hell out of some robots in the snow. You can draw a straight line from the imagery in that issue to Weapon X.
Old Man Logan
By Mark Millar & Steve McNiven
If you only read those first two entries, you would be forgiven for thinking that Wolverine is all about dark, violent, stories contemplating the human condition. It is very important to realize that Wolverine is a character whose whole deal is that he has six knives on him at all times, and that’s pretty dang silly. At its core, Old Man Logan is about two card-carrying AARP members going on a road trip across a Marvel Universe gone wrong.
Decades ago, the villains won. The heroes were killed and Logan retired to a farm, vowing to never pop his claws again. Circumstances lead to him joining a blind Hawkeye to go eastbound and down, delivering a secret package. Along the way they run from hillbilly Hulks, Venom T-Rex’s, and a vindictive child with an Ant-Man helmet that you do not want to mess with. It’s a story with a strong emotional vein that never forgets its pulpy roots.
Steve McNiven puts on a masterclass of artistry while Mark Millar reminds folksjust how damn good his can be at writing bombastic popcorn comics. Not everything in this book has aged gracefully (looking at you Ashley Barton) but if you want that beautiful mix of dangerously silly and honestly cathartic, you could do a lot worse than this comic where Wolverine decapitates President Red Skull with Captain America’s shield and then yeets back to California in stolen Iron Man armor.
If you like it: The recent Wolverine: Infinity Watch by Gerry Duggan and Andy MacDonald takes the concept of Wolverine on a Marvel road trip and elevates it to a cosmic scale. It really, really, shouldn’t work, but somehow they make it all come together.
Wolverine #17-23 (Cocaine)
By Archie Goodwin & John Byrne
If Old Man Logan thought comic book nonsense was fun to play with, the first Wolverine ongoing series ground that nonsense into a fine power and snorted lines of it in the bathroom. This specifc story, by Archie Goodwin and John Byrne, is collected in an edition called Wolverine Classic, Vol. 4, which I gotta say is a wild title for a comic where Wolverine fights a Nazi ghost cyborg and also sentient cocaine.
But honestly? This comic rules. It has everything you want from that weird era where Wolverine disguised himself with an eyepatch and everyone pretended they didn’t recognize him. Wolverine hangs out in the island nation of Madripoor before getting caught up in an escapade with Nazi backed drug cartels. He then decides to invade the small Central American nation of Tierra Verde and helps overthrow their facist, drug running president and his Nazi friend. It’s a beautifully drawn book with a narrative propelled by its own audacity. This comic doesn’t give you enough time to even question if it’s dumb.
And then there’s Spore.
Spore is a bio-weapon created to murder the Eternals (do I have to explain who the Eternals are or can I assume they are household names since there’s apperently a damn Eternals movie coming out somehow) who got smushed into dirt, had plants grow on him, and had those plants turned into cocaine that makes people into cocaine monsters. The fact that he’s killed by a mutant nun isn’t even a top ten most interesting thing about this perfect creation.
If you like it: There’s very little that matches the lunacy of this book, but Wolverine: In The Flesh is a very real comic where the winner of Top Chef Masters, Chris Cosentino writes a self-insert fanfic about solving meat related crimes with Wolverine.
All-New Wolverine: Enemy Of The State II
By Tom Taylor, Nik Virella & Djibril Morissette-Phan
Some people think Laura Kinney isn’t the best Wolverine, and they need to stew in their wrongness. Writer Tom Taylor did something special in his run on All-New Wolverine, he evolved the character formerly known as X-23 past the walled-off, brooding killer she had been and turned her into a three dimensional member of the Marvel universe. He gave her a family, forced her to move beyond her past trauma, and plotted out a real future for her.
In Enemy Of The State II, Taylor, alongside artists Nik Virella & Djibril Morissette-Phan, brought out all the skeletons in Laura’s closet, challenging her with the horrors she faced in her earliest appearances. Much like Logan, Laura can’t escape the guilt of what she did in her past as an assassin. The reemergence of her sadistic handler, Kimura, and the threat of losing control, drives Laura to push everyone away.
But she isn’t alone. She’s never along. Not any more as a cast of supporting characters from every corner of the 616 comes to have her back.
This is a fun story that puts a unique twist on Wolverine staples like Madripoor, loss of control, and SHIELD action. It ends with one of the most powerful moments of catharsis ever poured onto a page of comics. Enemy Of The State II closes one chapter of Laura’s life, and cements her as the true Wolverine.
If you like it: The whole Tom Taylor run on All-New Wolverine is worth checking out. Especially the opening arc “The Four Sisters”, which introduces Gabby, the sensational character find of 2016.
By Tsutomu Nihei
The manga boom in the early 00s led to some experimental work from Marvel Comics. Most of it was utter dreck, but the hidden gem of those efforts was Wolverine: Snikt! Unlike other books, which simply tried to emulate the style of manga, Wolverine: Snikt! came directly from mangaka Tsutomu Nihei, best known for Blame! and Knights of Sidonia. Nihei told a wildly different Wolverine story, but with a fluidity and eye for action that few comics ever match.
At the core, Wolverine: Snikt! has a fairly generic premise. Wolverine gets sent to the future to fight biomechanical zombie robots who can only be destroyed by attacking their glowing red weak spot with adamantium for maximum damage. This is all just an excuse to have Wolverine slice his way through beautiful splash pages of monsters out of Shōnen Jump. This is not a criticism.
Wolverine: Snikt! is a stunning comic. The action is unrelenting and there is a sense of scale that evokes the best of kaiju stories. Wolverine’s small, the conflict seems insurmountable, the victories hard won. This is a singular work from Nihei and the kind of unique book more comics should strive to be.
If you like it: Sam Keith’s stylish arc “Blood Hungry” from Marvel Comics Presents #85-92 is another fever dream of a story coming from a singular creative vision with stunning action.
Wolverine: The Jungle Adventure
By Mike Mignola & Walt Simonson
When Mike Mignola was asked about drawing what was, at the time, just another Wolverine Annual he said “You get Walt Simonson to write it and you make it about Wolverine going to the Savage Land and becoming king of the cave men and I’ll do it.” They called his bluff and Wolverine: The Jungle Adventure was born. In 1989, Simonson had recently completed what is arguably the greatest run of superhero comics in The Mighty Thor, while Mignola was still a few years from creating Hellboy. But the combination of these two legends, drawing Wolverine fighting dinosaurs, made for an unforgettable story.
Wolverine goes to the Savage Land, you know, the part of Antarctica where there’s dinosaurs, because he dropped his lighter there, and quickly becomes the leader of the Tribe of Fire. These warriors are impressed by Wolverine’s ability to beat their chief in hand to hand combat, and also his ability to murder a T-Rex from the inside out. Then he fights a robot of Apocalypse for reasons that are, frankly, never exactly clear.
The plot is fun but the real star of the show is Mignola’s moody, geometric art. There’s no one out there like Mike, and it’s a real joy to see him drawing Wolverine. Everyone making this book is obviously having a lot of fun making a big, pulpy adventure that will leave you smiling.
If you like it: Check out Wolverine: Rhane of Terra, which is, similarly, just an excuse for Andy Kubert to draw a high fantasy book about castles and knights.
Wolverine Vol. 2 #35-46 (Blood And Claws)
By Larry Hama & Mark Silvestri
Larry Hama often talked about how he plotted “two or three pages at most” ahead of the page he was currently working on. This had mixed results, it was either absolute inane nonsense or a trancented work of art. Larry Hama had no middle ground. He wrote Wolverine for most of the 90s, and when it worked, it really worked. This arc, with artist Mark Silvestri, highlights that madcap energy Hama brought to the table with an almost Rube-Goldbergian logic to this eleven issue tale.
Wolverine and Puck, an even smaller, even more, Canadian superhero, get attacked by Lady Deathstrike which leads to them traveling back in time to participate in the Spanish Civil War with Ernest Hemmingway. Meanwhile, Deathstrike’s partners create a robot Wolverine as well as a toddler built out of C4 plastic explosives to take him out when he gets back. And folks, by this point we’re only half-way through. Hama and Silvestri are orchestrating the kind of action that can only happen in comics. It takes the Speed approach to storytelling, Hama can’t slow this down or else everything will explode. But that’s not a bad thing, in fact, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
If you like it: The next major story Larry Hama tells is The Shiva Scenario which takes that same logic, but applies it to Wolverine’s mysterious past and implanted memories, brilliantly turning a writing tic into a stylistic expression of a characters’ confusion.
Uncanny X-Men #133
By Chris Claremont & John Byrne
Let’s be clear about one thing, Uncanny X-Men #133 is but one chapter in the epic “Dark Phoenix Saga”, the most influential X-Men story of all time. Uncanny X-Men #133 doesn’t even have that famous panel in where he’s hanging out in a swerer saying “Okay suckers — you’re taken yur best shot! Now it’s my turn!” What it does have is Wolverine taking his revenge on the foot soldiers of the Hellfire Club in a moment that cemented Wolverine in the annals of comic book history.
Chris Claremont had been writing Uncanny X-Men for about five years now, and while there were good moments, Wolverine still hadn’t completely clicked as a character. Claremont debated killing him in his second issue, finally opting to off Thunderbird instead. Still, Claremont and collaborator Dave Cockrum were toying with writing him out of the book, but the title’s new artist, the Canadian John Byrne, was enamored by having a character from his homeland. Logan lived to fight another day, and John’s love for the canucklehead led to deeper development of the character.
Which brings us to Uncanny X-Men #133. The X-Men are trapped by the Hellfire Club and Wolverine is the only one who can rescue them. While today’s reader may be used to seeing Logan slicing and dicing mooks, it hadn’t been seen in 1980. Any killings he had committed had been off screen, implied. Here, Wolverine was finally unleashed and comics would never be the same again.
If you like it: Uncanny X-Men #139-140 is a tight two-parter after the “Dark Phoenix Saga” that continues to build the legend of the Wolverine into what he is today.
Wolverine & The X-Men #42
By Jason Aaron, Nick Bradshaw, Pepe Larraz, Ramón Pérez, Shawn Crystal, Steven Sanders, Nuno Alves, & Chris Bachalo
We’ve had a lot of fun here talking about how cool it is when Wolverine stabs folks, or is upset about things, or just does generally buckwild stuff for twenty pages. I get it, it’s a blast. But that’s not what Logan wants for his life. He’d rather sit back with a brewski and watch the Calgary Flames piss away Power Play opportunities in the third period. He just wants to have a nice, peaceful day. In the finale to Jason Aaron’s Wolverine & The X-Men, Logan gets just that.
Writer Jason Aaron had been putting Wolverine through the paces since 2008. He literally sent Logan to hell and had him unwittingly murder five of his bastard children. He broke the character down to build him back up again. To do so, Aaron had Wolverine give up violence to become a teacher, a mentor, a guide to the young minds at the Jean Grey School. It should never have worked, but it did. Logan had a purpose in life beyond chaos and carnage, and he was finally happy.
Wolverine & The X-Men #42 alternates between graduation day at the school, and twenty-five years in the future. Wolverine is forced to come to terms with the fact that his new status quo is ending, that maybe he’s obsolete. It’s a beautiful comic that sums up everything Jason Aaron had been trying to say with the character for the last six years as Wolverine wakes up the next morning, pops his claws, and remarks to himself “A whole day. I went a whole damn day without doing that once. Heh. Ain’t that somethin’?”
If you like it: Wolverine: Weapon X #16 is another touching Jason Aaron Wolverine tale about his conflicted relationship with religion as he remembers his late best friend Nightcrawler.
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