X-Men ’97’s Wolverine Twist Sets Up a Controversial New Version of the Character

When X-Men '97's penultimate episode adapted Fatal Attractions, it set up the adventures of feral Wolverine.

Wolverine (voiced by Cal Dodd) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.
Photo: Marvel Animation

This article contains spoilers for X-Men ’97 episode 9.

Wolverine has always been a mystery, ever since he stalked the Hulk through the Canadian wilderness in his 1974 first appearance. Over the years, readers got occasional glimpses into his past, from his real name(s) to his shady black ops missions.

One of the most shocking reveals came in the aftermath to 1993’s X-Men #25, the climax of the crossover event Fatal Attractions, when an incensed Magneto ripped out Wolverine’s Adamantium skeleton.

X-Men ’97 has already run through some of the most important events in X-Men history, covering Inferno, Mutant Massacre, and E is for Extinction in the span of nine 22-minute episodes. But the series set up something much bigger when it pulled from Fatal Attractions in the penultimate episode of the first season, “Tolerance is Extinction Part Two.” By that episodes end, a desperate Magneto stops Wolverine the only way he knows how, by pulling the Adamantium from Logan’s body.

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Wolverine #75 (1993), written by Larry Hama and penciled by Andy Kubert, deals with the immediate aftermath of Magneto’s attack, in which the X-Men hurry to save their friend. The issue builds to a shocking moment when Wolverine pops claws made of bone, revealing that they’ve always been part of his mutation, not just an extension of the Adamantium.

The more important discovery took longer to unfold, and struck at the heart of Wolverine as a character. In his first appearances, Wolverine was a wildcard on the X-Men, given to berserker rages that drove him wild with anger. An unrequited love for Jean Grey gave Wolverine a degree of depth, but otherwise he was the monster you wanted on your side.

Over the years, writer Chris Claremont and his collaborators leavened Wolverine’s bestial side with a haunted nobility. That came to the fore with the first Wolverine miniseries from 1982, written by Claremont and penciled by Frank Miller. That miniseries presented Logan as a ronin, a failed samurai who could never obtain the honor he so richly deserved. The best Wolverine stories explored that tension, presenting him both as a man capable of great good, as when he mentors young people like Kitty Pryde and Jubilee, and capable of tremendous violence.

In light of that tension, Wolverine #75 found Logan at his most tragic. At first, the loss of the Adamantium seemed to also take away his healing factor, leaving Wolverine the most vulnerable that he’s ever been. He left the X-Men and traveled the world, picking fights with old enemies such as Lady Deathstrike to prove he still had it in him.

But after a near-death experience with Deadpool, Wolverine’s healing factor came back with a vengeance. No longer needing to focus on mitigating the effects of the Adamantium in his body, the healing factor started to change Wolverine.

At first, his fellow X-Men assumed that he grew more angry because of the traumatic experience and that he fought harder to regain an edge that the unbreakable metal once provided. But then the truth came out: Wolverine was becoming feral. After seemingly killing Sabertooth, Wolverine effectively devolved, growing hairier, angrier, and losing his ability to speak. In fact, his face even became more animalistic, with his nose disappearing and his teeth sharpening.

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For many fans at the time, the feral Wolverine era was a low point for the character. The massive change in Wolverine was one of many extreme status quo changes for popular comic book characters, such as the Death of Superman and Batman’s back-breaking. Turning Wolverine into an actual beast seemed like one more desperate gimmick.

Re-reading the issues now, however, it’s clear that writer Larry Hama understood the character stakes involved in Wolverine’s change. It’s not just that Wolverine wasn’t the tough guy he once was. It’s that his worst fear came to life, that at the end of the day, no matter how much good he did with the X-Men and alongside other heroes, he was nothing more than a beast, an animal.

Fans breathed a sigh of relief when Elektra and Daredevil’s mentor Stick used Hand Ninja magic to restore Wolverine to his normal state in 1997’s Wolverine #111, written by Hama and penciled by Anthony Winn. But the greater relief belonged to Logan himself, happy to be free once again of his worst aspects. It would still take two more years, however, for Wolverine to get his Adamantium back.

As in X-Men: The Animated Series, X-Men ’97 largely uses Wolverine as a heavy, only hinting at his tragic and noble qualities. If the series follows the comics, then we could get a more interesting take on the character over the next season.

But that is a big “if.” As he’s done throughout the season, X-Men ’97 show runner Beau DeMayo recently tweeted a “homework assignment,” a piece of media that helped inspire the upcoming episode. For the season one finale “Tolerance is Extinction Part Three,” DeMayo recommended the Star Trek: The Next Generation season five episode “Cause and Effect.”

Written by Brannon Braga and directed by Jonathan Frakes, “Cause and Effect” finds the USS Enterprise in a time loop after getting destroyed by colliding with another ship. After realizing that they’re in a loop, Data (Brent Spiner) leaves a message for himself, allowing them to avoid the crash. At the end of the episode, they discover that the other ship is the time-displaced USS Bozeman, under the command of Captain Morgan Bateson (Kelsey Grammer).

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While that hint might point to a surprise Grammer cameo as live-action Beast, like The Marvels, it probably means that the coming of Onslaught and/or the Phoenix will result in a time loop. Wolverine might go feral in the process, but he may very well be back to his old grouchy self by season’s end.

Whatever happens, we can count on one thing: with or without Adamantium, Wolverine is the best at what he does. But what he does isn’t very nice.

X-Men ’97 is now streaming on Disney+.