In the Marvel Universes, since the dawn of humanity, there have been people on Earth born with the X-gene, a genetic bonus that gives them unique or superhuman traits. One such mutant was born over a century ago in Canada and later discovered that he had been born with heightened senses, incredible regenerative abilities and a set of three bone claws housed in each forearm. After the tragic deaths of his parents and the shocking realization of his mutant abilities, this young mutant (who took on the name Logan) left his home and became a miner for a while. With his short stature, unwillingness to quit and his digging prowess, he earned the nickname of “Wolverine” and became a respected member of the town. But when his mutant nature was discovered, he had to flee again.
Over the decades, Logan traveled the world. He lived with a pack of wolves, fought with Americans in World War I, lived in Japan and its neighbor Madripoor, fought in World War II and eventually joined the CIA. For much of this time, he was manipulated by the mysterious Romulus, acting as the man’s assassin and agent for reasons he never fully questioned. Often times, Romulus caused Wolverine to suffer amnesia after major events or missions. Eventually, Logan became the test subject of the Weapon X Program, which intended to create a perfect biological weapon. Logan had most of his memory wiped out and his skeleton became laced with the indestructible metal called Adamantium, making him even harder to kill than before. He was also given layers of mental programming.
After 18 months, Wolverine escaped from the Weapon X project and was eventually found by agents of the Canadian government. He worked as a secret agent and occasionally his mental programming had him still doing missions for Romulus. The Canadian government eventually asked him to become a costumed, national superhero and almost immediately afterward Logan was asked to join the mutant team known as the X-Men. Romulus ordered him to kill the telepath Xavier, mentor of the X-Men. But Xavier saw potential in Wolverine and freed him from his assassin programming, though this also meant causing Logan to lose much of his memory again. In the years afterward, Logan’s true nature emerged and he became a hero as an X-Man, working to protect a world that feared and hated him. Thanks to the team that embraced him as a family and the experiences he had with them, he finally saw himself as a man rather than as an animal.
Eventually, Logan regained his full memories and was shocked by what he’d done in the past and the people he had victimized. Now with a somewhat darker outlook on life, Wolverine continues his fight against threats to himself and the world, not merely on his own but also as a member of the Avengers, the X-Men and his own covert team X-Force. Yes, he’s on that many teams (and possibly more).
Over the years, Wolvie’s worn quite a few outfits. He may be “the best there is at what he does,” but that doesn’t necessarily include fashion. So let’s take a look at the Canucklehead’s apparel, shall we?
THE FIRST COSTUME
In nature, wolverines are fierce critters, closely related to weasels, badgers and polecats (in fact, when Marvel was creating Wolverine, he was almost named “Badger”). They’re small, furry, have whiskers, often have a stripe or two circling their forms, and wield serious sets of claws and teeth. They can kill bears despite their small size and can crush bone in their jaws.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at this outfit that Wolverine wore in his very first appearance, from Incredible Hulk #181 in 1975, designed by John Romita, Sr. We’ve got the whiskers and we’ve got claws, certainly. But we’ve also got some strange elements here. Check out those decorations around his eyes. It’s true that wolverines often have coloring around their eyes or on their brow, but these, along with the whiskers, make Logan seem much more feline in nature.
The shoulder pads aren’t needed but neither are they so large that I’m concerned about Logan’s movements. The boots have a nice design to them, matching the slash marks on the shirt. We can call them “slash marks” or “claw marks,” but either way they serve a very nice bit of symbolism. They mimic the marks that could be made on your body if Wolverine were to use one of his sets of claws on you. So they’re a design element and a warning. Pretty cool, that.
But one thing that stands out to me: what’s with the bright yellow and blue? Those aren’t the colors of a wolverine. Later writers emphasized that Logan was given this costume to identify him as a superhero that Canada could come to trust and admire, so the bright aspect of this suit makes sense in that light. Just seems an odd color choice. Then again, maybe he’d look even more ridiculous if this costume was decked out in red and white with a big maple leaf on the belt.
One thing you gotta give the costume credit for, it works for our boy. Logan is a guy who relies on agility and martial arts often, so skintight leggings and lack of sleeves give him good freedom to move around. Of course, Logan’s also known for stealth and these colors seem to contradict that. Blue and gold aren’t exactly ideal for camouflage.
Now, some of you have perhaps heard of the urban legend that Wolvie’s traditional colors here were based on the University of Michigan’s football uniforms. Sorry, it’s not true. Len Wein, Wolverine’s initial creator, has stated many times that this is not the case at all and any similarity in color scheme is a coincidence.
THE SECOND MASK
In his second published adventure, it was revealed that Wolverine was a mutant and he joined with the second team of X-Men to be formed. This is the same costume as his first appearance, except for the mask. Artist Gil Kane made a mistake when drawing the cover of Giant-Size X-Men #1 (the comic in which Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm and others were first recruited to join the new X-Men team) and made the eye ornaments on Wolverine’s mask much larger than they were supposed to be, turning them into what Len Wein called “giant ear wings.” But interior artist Dave Cockrum liked the new mask that Kane had accidentally created, noting that they resembled Batman’s mask, and so he copied this design on the interior pages. Thus, a classic mask was born.
What worked for Wolverine before works again here. But the mask adds enough of an improvement that I’m now willing to forgive the color combination. The mask is quite memorable and gives our character a unique silhouette. It is also far more fearsome than a cat-like mask with whiskers drawn around the mouth. The shape of the mask implies a certain expression to us, making Wolverine look as if he’s perpetually scowling or snarling. It is also matched by the design of his boots, unifying the outfit. For the first years that he wore this, Wolverine had a simple belt with a plain buckle. Later, he adopted an X-buckle, finally giving his outfit that touch that identified him as part of the famous mutant team.
And in fact, Wolverine’s colors now at last make some sense. Traditionally, the X-Men uniforms were black and gold, quickly followed by blue and gold. In the 1990s, the team even divided into two strike forces, designated Blue Team and Gold Team. So now, Wolverine’s look kind of fits.
But one criticism comes up later when Wolverine finally removes his mask. After several adventures, readers finally saw the clawed Canadian hero’s true face and were surprised to see that the man’s hair style seemed to mimic his mask’s shape.
This increased further over the years as artists began to make Wolverine’s hair larger and more like a styled mane. It seems very odd and, frankly, very detrimental to a secret identity for a character to have his hair in the shape of his mask. Wolverine already stands out with his build and height, this wasn’t helping matters.
THE FANG COSTUME
DC Comics has this group known as the Legion of Super-Heroes, a bunch of teenagers from many different planets who live in the 30th (later 31st) century and protect the United Planets. Since the X-Men were originally teenage heroes with powers, the question occasionally came up, “What if the Legion and the X-Men fought?”
So Uncanny X-Men writer Christ Claremont at last introduced us to the Imperial Guard, a group of warriors from different planets who protected the alien Shi’ar Empire and all of whom, by sheer coincidence, seemed to mimic a member of the Legion. The character Fang was meant to emulate the Legionnaire called Timber Wolf, who has a few traits in common with Wolverine. When the X-Men fought the Imperial Guard, Wolvie’s costume wound up getting torn to shreds due to an energy attack. He then saw Fang and jumped the poor guy, stealing his outfit after defeating him.
This is definitely a different look for our boy. The lack of a mask kind of works, since Wolverine’s hair-style is so unique and makes him easily identifiable even when drawn by different artists. Of course, at this point in time the X-Men were pretty secretive and so the more masks or disguises its members had, the better. Especially considering that Wolverine had led the life of a spy and maybe didn’t want to advertise his presence so old enemies could find him.
The colors are nice and definitely make more sense for a character called Wolverine. They also emphasize Logan’s animalistic nature. But man, those fangs might be a bit of overkill. Having them around the belt is one thing. Having them around the collarbone like a necklace, okay, maybe I could deal with that too. But having them decorate his gloves and his boots as well? As if Wolverine’s claws aren’t all the proof we need that we may get slashed? And why wear not one but two wolf-life amulets? Wolverines are not related to wolves and Logan’s face is fearsome enough that we don’t need an animal face on his neck and belt.
THE BROWN AND TAN UNIFORM
From the end of 1980 until January of 1992 (with a few brief interruptions), Wolverine sported this brown and tan look designed by John Byrne. When asked why he made the change, Wolverine countered “Why not?” Like Fang, the colors here make a lot more sense. This is definitely more evocative of a wolverine. The earth tones also work nicely with the fact that Wolverine is very much a man of the wild, one who has been comfortable living as a frontiersman or as a member of a wolf pack.
The loss of shoulder guards make Wolverine sleeker and the design is now more minimal than the yellow outfits. This outfit comes across as utilitarian and the only true criticisms against it are the shorts outside the pants (something I never like) and the fact that the mask, cool as it is, seems weird when you consider it’s the same shape as his hair.
I also would have liked it if Wolverine had worn an X-buckle with this look. Around the time he adopted this uniform, Logan had begun truly accepting the X-Men as his family and I think wearing their symbol would have been a nice nod to that. He did eventually get himself an X-belt buckle for this uniform, but then he switched back to his old yellow and blue look just a few issues later.
Another cool thing about the brown and tan look? It made Wolverine truly look like the opposite number of Sabretooth, another John Byrne-designed character who dressed in earth tones and was revealed to have a past with the mutant hero. For a while it was suggested they were father and son, and later it turned out they had been former comrades-in-arms who had similar powers. Still, others wonder if Sabretooth and Wolverine may not share at least one parent. In any case, having them both in the same color palette is an effective nod to their connection.
In 1988, when the world believed the X-Men were dead, Wolverine relocated to his old stomping grounds in the island of Madripoor for a while. There, he adopted the identity of “Patch” when he operated openly. But when a situation required the attention of his mutant abilities, he took on a different look altogether.
I am not a fan of this look. The black, utilitarian suit makes some sense since this is Wolverine acting more clandestinely and with no association to the X-Men. But it’s a little too plain. It would work for a movie, but it’s just boring for a comic.
And what’s with that small netting mask on Wolverine’s face. Is that really supposed to keep people from recognizing him as the man called Patch? I wonder if folks would think I was two different people if I wore an eye-patch and then switched it with a see-through mask made from a veil. I suspect even Clark Kent would look at this and say, “you know, you should at least change your hair too.”
When Wolvie went back to working with the X-Men, he resumed his, then-standard, brown and tan uniform.
For a few months in 1991, the old school X-Men uniforms came back into style. Although, several belts and buckles were added because it was the 1990s and God forbid if you didn’t have the minimum amount of belts on a costume. For the few months it lasted, Wolverine followed the example.
In a way, this costume recalls his original suit with its gold and blue colors, along with the red belt. It’s certainly practical for Wolverine’s purposes since it looks pretty good for someone intending to do a lot of athletic maneuvers. The gloves are a bit too swashbuckler for Wolverine, but not a big deal. And once again, Wolvie shows us that he doesn’t need a mask to be memorable or even achieve a unique silhouette.
But here’s the thing. He’s lost his individuality. This suit is identical to the other members of the team and that doesn’t work for a guy who often goes his own path and is definitely a loner even among a group of fellow outcasts. If this outfit had one or two personal touches, such as slash marks on the arms, it would be a different matter.
FERAL WOLVERINE: “NOSES ARE SO 1995″
In 1993, in a crossover called Fatal Attractions, the terrorist Magneto ripped out the adamantium from Wolverine’s skeleton. This nearly killed Logan and seriously taxed his healing factor. Three years later, an experiment was attempted to give Wolverine a new adamantium coating, but the procedure failed and Wolverine’s healing factor kicked into overdrive to deal with the trauma. The result was that, starting in 1996, Wolverine became a monstrous, more feral version of himself, increasing in body mass and seemingly losing his nose in the process (no, seriously, half the time it looks like he just has nostrils).
Here, the major change is in character design rather than style choice, since Feral-Throwback-Wolverine just wore the tatters of his classic blue and gold suit. Sometimes he seemed to wear a ripped version of the standard X-Men uniform instead, which leads me to question just why he would put on another uniform that he knew wouldn’t fit him and would rip when he could have easily just asked to borrow a larger-sized uniform from one of the others. Hey, in fact, aren’t many of the X-Men uniforms made of unstable molecules? Why is ripping even happening?
Well, screw it. The point is, Wolverine definitely lost all sense of style during this time. Even the famous mask couldn’t be salvaged, leaving Logan to wear a bandanna that made him look like a thief or a biker. Also notice that the bone claws have gotten extra spurs.
A weird change that lasted too long. Even when Logan got uniforms that fit and didn’t tear, he just didn’t look right with that bandanna. And the new fingerless gloves just looked silly when there wasn’t a biker jacket to go with them.
THE HORSEMAN DEATH
In the Marvel Universe, a nasty mutant terrorist called Apocalypse has occasionally recruited (or forced) formidable super-humans into becoming his elite guard known as the Horsemen. At one point, he decided Wolverine would be his new Horseman called “Death.” He brainwashed Logan, laced his skeleton with a new coating of adamantium, and then set him loose on the X-Men.
This is not at all a Wolverine costume. But it’s not supposed to be. This is Logan with a new identity and it is creepy. You’ve got the funky belt buckle and the ornamentation all over. And if the Canucklehead HAS to wear armor, well this suit would be fairly practical. Being lightweight and is set up as several joined pieces, this isn’t going to weigh our boy down or impede his movements. It also has a Middle Eastern feel to it, which makes sense since Apocalypse is from that part of the world.
The only thing with this look is there is no real need for the sword when Logan has claws. The only reason to use a sword instead of claws is to keep readers guessing who this new “Death” is supposed to be until you can reveal it dramatically.
In 2001, writer Grant Morrison took over the X-Men series, temporarily renaming it New X-Men, and decided to take the team into a new direction. The costumes were dropped since they no longer wanted to be confused with superheroes such as the Avengers, preferring to emphasize that they were a mutant volunteer-rescue squad with a special focus and agenda. The team started wearing leather outfits and jackets decorated with large Xs on them. Morrison also hated Wolverine’s mask for the reasons I mentioned above, so that was tossed away. Soon afterward, the team went public, revealing their identities and true mission to the world, so these looks made even more sense.
Wolverine followed suit but did not look identical to the others. Although he wore a similar style, his jacket was markedly different, decorated with three stripes on the forearms and smaller X symbols on the shoulders rather than one large X across the front. In this way, we avoid the problems brought on by the traditional blue and gold look. Now, Wolverine identifies himself as part of the team but also that he stands apart. He works with the team but the team is not his entire life. The lines on his sleeves are a nice nod to the three claws housed in each forearm and emulate his classic Canadian costume.
Of course, in a few later comics, Logan did wear a jacket identical to the others, which goes against all the points I just made. He also sported a soul patch for a while, which I’m definitely not a fan of. And after the movie X-Men, some artists began toning down his hair to make it looser and more realistic. This didn’t last too long and eventually Logan started sporting his classic, near-impossible mane again.
When he appeared in the titles X-Treme X-Men and Uncanny X-Men, Wolvie could be found sporting this outfit, similar in design to what his counterpart in Ultimate Marvel comics wore. We’ve got here a black body suit with two slash marks on each shoulder.
It’s not bad. The X-symbol on the heart is a nice touch. But this might be too plain for a comic book costume. Even the leather jacket in Morrison’s stories had more color and design elements involved. This just looks a little boring.
In 2004, soon after Morrison’s run ended, the X-Men went through a lot of changes. In the title Astonishing X-Men, Wolvie and the others got back to a more traditional superhero look. Wolverine got a new costume that recalled his classic threads but put a new spin on them.
The gloves and boots are padded now and look like they can take some damage. The shorts have been removed and the yellow has become less overwhelming, now allowing the blue to go down Logan’s sides. This design makes it look more serious as a uniform. The slash marks being yellow against blue is a nice reverse of the old design. The boots still have the basic shape as the classic ones Logan wore, but now they are held tightly against the calves and so seem less flashy, more in keeping with our hero’s personality.
This is definitely an improvement on the old look. What’s interesting though is how some artists have toyed with this look. John Romita, Jr. often drew it so that the blue areas were colored black, which gives a whole different impression. By toning down the yellow to a more tan-like color, this now becomes a great blend of the original blue and gold suit with the later brown and tan uniform.
The black sections makes the lighter areas stand out more and also lend some credence to Logan being a stealth fighter. And the suit looks just as good when he’s not wearing a mask and remove the shoulder pads. If you took this design and put it in the John Byrne colors or made it tan and black, I would be all about it.
But other artists maintained it as blue and yellow, so Romita’s idea did not become the standard. The outfit was tweaked later so that the pants were mostly yellow with no claw marks on the legs at all.
Later still, the costume was given further alterations, giving us the design Logan currently wears in the X-Men and Avengers books. The boots and gloves have become more realistic still, now ribbed and looking like they’ve got a better grip for multiple surfaces. The shoulder guards are gone, making it a sleeker look again, and the belt seems like it may actually be used to carry things in it rather than just provide color contrast. This is a comic book costume with just a touch of “what would be more practical in a live-action film?” Pretty effective.
I’m not sure about the diamonds on the boots, they seem unnecessary. And in this case, an X-Men badge on his chest since Wolverine now operates not only with the X-Men but also with the Avengers, as well as a certain other group…
X-FORCE BLACK OPS UNIFORM
The world’s a more dangerous place now and since he’s regained his memories and now recalls all the horrible, amoral things he did just because he was given orders, Logan’s got a darker outlook on life again. He is now the leader of the new version of X-Force, a team of folks willing to proactively hunt down certain enemies of mutantkind so they can be killed before they cause more trouble.
For these missions with X-Force, Wolverine wears this black outfit. It is, honestly, not terribly imaginative. After all, it’s really just one of Logan’s classic outfits, given new red lenses for the mask and with the colors washed out. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure that “black ops Wolverine” would wear, well, black.
But when you think about it further, this costume really doesn’t make sense. If X-Force is supposed to be black ops, kept secret from even the X-Men, why would Wolverine lead it while wearing a costume that would make it easy for people to still know that it’s him? I mean, look at that mask. You think coloring it black is going to fool me into thinking that that’s NOT Wolverine’s mask if I see it? Even at night?
And with that, I think we’re about done here.
Of course, there are alternate universe and possible future versions of Wolverine. There’s also the live-action Wolverine as portrayed by Hugh Jackman. And we will discuss these things in future columns. In the meantime, this has been Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E.
Alan Kistler writes the comic book history/fashion column Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. He is an actor and freelance writer living in New York who has been recognized by Warner Bros. Films and major media/news outlets as a comic book historian. He is also the creator/host of the web-show “Crazy Sexy Geeks: The Series.” He knows entirely too much about the history of comics, Star Trek, Doctor Who, time travel, and vampires that don’t sparkle.