Villains of The Wolverine: Silver Samurai and Viper

Silver Samurai and Viper are antagonizing Logan in the latest Wolverine movie, but they have a rich (sometimes bizarre) comic book history. Get up to speed on the roots of these dastardly villains!

For a villain that is expected to be a viable threat to Wolverine in theatres this summer, the Silver Samurai had a rocky road to becoming a badass. The first Silver Samurai, aka Kenuichio Harada, was created by the late Steve Gerber and Bob Brown and first appeared in Daredevil #111 (1974). It would be a number of years before Harada won fans over and became a respectable and threatening villain to Wolverine and the X-Men. In fact, his first few appearances were anything but glorious.One thing the Silver Samurai had going for him (aside from the unfortunate get-up he was saddled with in his first appearance) was his beyond awesome design. Clad in traditional gleaming samurai armor and wielding an energy charged katana, the Samurai was an impressive looking figure. Adding to his memorable and appealing design, the Samurai had the awesome mutant power to supercharge any material or object. Harada usually focuses his energy on his katana, enabling it to cut through anything (or almost anything as he would find out a few years down the road when attempting to cut through Wolverine’s adamantium bones).It didn’t help that during the Samurai’s first appearance he was a bodyguard to a monkey. In Daredevil #111, he was hired by a half-man, half-human ape named Mandrill who had the power to control women using his enhanced pheromones. So essentially, the Samurai first appeared while taking orders from a simian date rapist (hard to shake that reputation, I tells ya!). The villain that would soon become one of Wolverine’s most imposing and multi-layered foes, was easily dispatched by Daredevil and no doubt spent the next few months trying to wash out the shame and flung monkey poop stains from his signature silver armor.By his next outing, the Samurai was a little more careful with who he worked for. Harada hired himself out to the femme fatale, the Viper, in Marvel Team Up #57 (1977) by Chris Claremont and Sal Buscema where he took on Spider-Man and the Black Widow at the behest of the Viper. He was defeated by the pair of heroes, but it’s a little more honorable to be defeated by the great Spider-Man and a highly trained super spy than getting his armored rump handed to him by Daredevil while following the orders of a red-assed monkey swinger.With his close contest with Spider-Man and the Widow under his sword belt, it seemed the world would soon be taking the Silver Samurai seriously. His next defeat came at the hands of some very unlikely opponents. Yes, Spider-Man had his hands in the Samurai’s latest defeat in the pages of Marvel Team-Up #74 (1978) by Chris Claremont and Bob Hall. But he wasn’t teaming with Iron Man, or Thor, or the Hulk, or any of the X-Men that would one day be the Samurai’s greatest foes. No…it wasn’t even Spidey teaming with Man-Thing, Quasar, or Shanna the She-Devil. Hell, it wasn’t even Spidey and Howard the Duck!
The Silver Samurai was defeated by Spider-Man and the cast of Saturday Night Live, a.k.a. the Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players. Yes, the villain fans everywhere are about to see take on Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine on the big screen was once taken out by a team featuring Laraine Newman. Y’see, at the time, John Belushi’s skit, “Samurai Delicatessen,” was really popular, so Marvel thought it was funny to have Belushi’s samurai take on a real samurai. It was, but poor Harada had a hard time living this one down. You would too if you got your ass handed to you by Garrett Morris.The next team of heroes that took down the Samurai was way more respectable than Bill Murray, Jane Curtin, and Gilda Radner. In Marvel Team-Up #83-85 (1979) by Chris Claremont, Sal Buscema, and Steve Leialoha, the Samurai again teamed with Viper and a new partner, Boomerang, to take on Spidey, Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung-Fu. There is no shame in getting defeated by that awesome foursome, and Samurai’s path to respectability began in earnest. It’s interesting how history works in comic to film adaptations. It’s been almost 25 years since Harada teamed with the Viper, and yet here he is, joining forces with the sultry terrorist on the big screen in The Wolverine. It’s amazing how these little pieces of minutiae take on a life of their own, and decades after the two villains teamed up, they are paired together in a major Hollywood production.
Samurai’s next battles were against Spider-Woman and later the New Mutants, both times teaming with the Viper. With his appearance in New Mutants #5-6 (1983) by Chris Claremont and Sal Buscema (this creative pairing was determined to make this character work, I guess). The Silver Samurai became a frequent foe and reluctant ally to Marvel mutants, particularly Wolverine.Harada started out as a hired thug, a one dimensional character with a cool look but no real motivations. This all changed with the death of his father, Shingen Yashida. Harada was the illegitimate son of Shingen, and the villain wanted to prove his worth by taking over Shingen’s Yakuza clan. The organization was currently being run by Mariko Yashida, the true love of Wolverine, and thus began a conflict that would define the character of Silver Samurai forever more.  This story from Wolverine #2 and 3 (1988) by Chris Claremont and John Buscema saw the Samurai go from simple thug to a complex character trying to prove his worth to his dead father. This would be one of many conflicts with Wolverine as Harada became a major foe to Logan; a foe who existed outside of the seemingly endless conflict between the X-Men and the many evil mutants that made up the Brotherhood. The Samurai became Wolverine’s connection to the East, an adversary always waiting when Wolverine returned to his beloved Japan or Madripoor. After Mariko’s death, Harada ascended to the leadership of his family’s Yakuza clan and became a reluctant ally to Wolverine. During this time, the Samurai joined Japan’s Big Hero 6, a group of nationalistic super-heroes that fought in the name of Japan (and soon to be stars in Disney’s first animated Marvel production). Wolverine and Silver Samurai fought the creature known as Doombringer (Wolverine: Doombringer, 1997) and the Samurai seemed to become a staunch ally to the X-Men and a defender of his homeland.Tragically, an encounter with the mutant Blindspot transformed Harada back to his evil ways. Blindspot brainwashed Harada into believing that his reformation was just the mind manipulation of Professor Xavier, the bitter and angry Harada turned his back on his nationalistic heroism and became a sword for hire once again. The next few appearances of the Samurai were a bit of a mess continuity wise as he lost his hand to Wolverine on two separate occasions.
Finally, the Samurai was killed in Secret Warriors by the Hydra offshoot organization Leviathan. With the last of his strength, Harada crawls Mariko’s grave and dies. The character would later appear in Wolverine Goes to Hell, but Harada’s last moment was trying to reconcile with the sister he had once betrayed.  A new Silver Samurai, “Shin” Harada has risen up to fill the void in Japan’s criminal underworld and has allied himself with Mystique, but with Silver Samurai coming to life thanks to the acting prowess of Will Yun Lee, do not expect to Harada to stay dead for long.From ignoble defeats at the ends of sketch comedians to the dishonor of serving an ape master to one of Wolverine’s greatest and most complex foes, the Silver Samurai is ready to cut of swath of summer destruction in theatres everywhere this summer. He certainly has come a long way from dueling with John Belushi’s mustard stained sword.The Viper, on the other hand, had an easier road to super villain stardom on her way to starring in The Wolverine as played by Svetlana Khodchenkova. The Viper was created by the legendary Jim Steranko in Captain America #110 (1969), and other than the Black Widow, the Viper was possibly Marvel’s first true femme fatale. She was pure Bond girl evil: exotic, sexy, and as deadly as a snake’s kiss.  When Marvel readers first met the Viper, she was a student of the villain Commander Kraken, but she soon surpassed her mentor by becoming the de facto leader of Hydra and taking the name Madame Hydra.Her appearance in Captain America comics and her association with Hydra puts her in that amorphous trademark realm between Marvel Studios and Fox (similar to characters like Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch). One can imagine the Viper appearing in future film installments of Avengers or Captain America while maintaining her presence in Fox’s X-Men franchise. The Viper’s comic book history ties deeply into the X-Universe as well as the world of the Avengers, making her a potential big bad for two companies for years to come.Some of the evil highlights in Viper’s career include an attempt to crash the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier with her associates Boomerang and Silver Samurai, and sending her assassin, the Constrictor, against the original Spider-Woman. In fact, as a pawn of the demon Chthon, it has been suggested that the Viper is in fact Jessica Drew’s mother, but whether this is a lie of the always manipulative Viper, a suggestion planted by Chthon, or the truth was always a point of contention surrounding Drew until Brian Michael Bendis cleared it up in his Spider-Woman mini-series. Her ties with the X-Men began when she tried to poison Wolverine’s lover Mariko at the behest of the Viper’s suggested lover, the Silver Samurai. This bond between Samurai and assassin has led to the cinematic pairing of the duo years after she first tried to poison the X-Men.
The Viper has had ties to the Hand, the Serpent Society, and the Hellfire Club and is even the sometime lover of the Red Skull who adores her unique brand of forced nihilism. Listen, if a lady is boning the Red Skull, she’s evil. Period.One of her greatest villainous moments was when she blackmailed Wolverine into marrying her. She did this to secure her title as leader of the criminal underworld of Madripoor, but she suggested she had feelings for Logan and even forced him to consummate the marriage! The Viper was possessed by the evil spirit Ogun and stabbed by Wolverine. In exchange for saving her life and freeing her from the spirit, Viper granted Wolverine a divorce, yet she remains the one woman in the Marvel Universe to know both Wolverine and the Red Skull in a biblical manner.The Viper and the Silver Samurai will both have their greatest exposure this summer, but this wasn’t the first time the Viper appeared outside the pages of a comic. The character appeared in the 1998 made for TV David Hasselhoff pilot, Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. where she was portrayed by actress Sandra Hess. That little televised disaster notwithstanding, the Viper is sure to make a huge splash this summer in The Wolverine with her armored partner Silver Samurai, and, who knows? Maybe there is some screen time for the green-haired femme fatale in a future Marvel Studios productions as well.Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!