Retcons, Reboots And Resurrections #44: The Ultimate Connections Of One James Howlett
by Scott Redmond
They’re the best at what they do, and often what they do isn’t very nice!
Welcome to a new month of Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections. We’ve followed the Marvel star-spangled Avenger and company as well as the big blue boy scout at DC and his family, now it’s time for some SNIKT SNIKT as we dive into the Wolverine family! Plenty of retcons, reboots, and resurrections between them to fill more than a month. But we’ll contain ourselves to the month format!
As usual for this column: Retcons are elements retroactively added to a character’s history, reboots can either be revivals of a character/their title or extensive changes to canon, and resurrections are characters clawing their way back from the afterlife. Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections!
All the way back at the start of this year, for the big 25th entry of this column we delved into the big giant reboot attempted by Marvel that was the Ultimate Comics universe. This was Marvel’s plan to be able to do a fully restarted Marvel Universe, free of continuity while keeping their main continuity universe fully intact and running. That whole have their cake and eat it too sort of situation.
Naturally, though this proved to be a lost cause since there was no way to do a continuity-less universe since the very fact that just by existing and having continued stories being told it was building its own continuity. This of course meant that eventually the retcons, reboots, and resurrections that are a heavy part of the regular ongoing universe would start popping their heads up in this new universe.
One of the biggest retcons to one segment of this universe happens to fit into this month’s theme perfectly because it deals with Wolverine and the very origins of mutants.
Out of all the characters, the Wolverine that was introduced at the start of the Ultimate universe was very similar in many ways to the main universe version. A mysterious past, the adamantium skeleton, a surly attitude, a fixation on/relationship with Jean Grey (though that was not great since she was 19 in that universe), and a propensity to be tied to everything and everyone in the universe.
What was different at the start was that he was actually an assassin for Magneto’s Brotherhood, sent to kill Xavier, before realizing that he actually somewhat believed in what Xavier was saying and defected to the X-Men. Weapon X came back for him (and got the rest of the X-Men), he tried to off Cyclops, there was a whole thing with Storm after she was grieving Beast’s death, and a whole bunch over time.
While the regular Marvel Universe had Wolverine as pretty darn old and part of a ton of things, there were other mutants that beat him in years by a whole ton. Namely En Sabbah Nur/Apocalypse and others. In the Ultimate Universe, this was quite different, in a way that made Wolverine somewhat the ultimate father character in a sense.
The Nitty Gritty:
In 2008 Marvel released the limited series Ultimate Origins from Brian Michael Bendis and Butch Guice which was meant to explain the entire origins of superhumans in this universe, connecting all the dots and making the universe fuller. It started off reconnecting to Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #3, an issue written by Bendis years before, where Bruce Banner was cryptically telling Peter Parker/Spider-Man that everything was connected in ways that no one actually knew.
From there it jumps to World War II, where we see James Howlett/Logan/Wolverine as a Canadian soldier alongside U.S. soldiers Nick Fury and a guy named Fisk, who was the grandfather of the Kingpin Wilson Fisk. These three are breaking into a safe during the Allied invasion of Sicily, planning to take all the riches within for themselves. As Fury warned they were a bit too loud and while Fisk escaped (while being winged with a bullet) Fury and James/Logan are taken into custody and shipped off to separate facilities. While Fury was experimented on by American scientists trying to create the ultimate super-soldier (which gave him the super strength, and extended life that let him make it to the modern-day), James’ fate was ultimately much larger in scale.
As noted above Logan had been a prisoner of Weapon X in his recent modern past, that’s where he got his adamantium, but Origins establishes that it wasn’t the first time that this program worked on him. In the ’40s the original Weapon X was also trying to crack the code to create super soldiers, but the lead scientist Doctor Cornelius found something much different when he poked at James and his genes. Escaping his holding tank, James/Logan flees but is shot down by soldiers who are astonished to see his wounds heal as they are ordered to bring him back before he wakes up.
Three years later Cornelius reveals to the program director Colcord that within James/Logan they have actually created a mutated genome. This altered genome would grant different people different abilities depending on their DNA, and Cornelius coins the term “mutants” for them. Logan is given the name “Mutant Zero” and Doctor Cornelius speaks about these mutants being the future of humanity and their means to survival, and about how they need to get the altered genome to spread.
Yes, you read that correctly: in the Ultimate Universe Wolverine is actually the very first mutant. Essentially he gave birth to mutantkind thanks to the meddling of Weapon X. While the regular universe Logan has tons of biological children, the Ultimate Universe Logan now has him beat in the sense of “fathering” a whole new offshoot of humanity.
At some point, it goes unsaid within this story or any others after this one, Cornelius plans happen as the mutant gene is spread. Turns out that Magneto/Erik Lehensherr’s parents worked for Weapon X and they were part of the team experimenting on James/Logan for many years. When Erik turned 13 he developed his mutant powers his father pulled a gun on him and Erik managed to turn the bullet in midair back at his father which killed the man. Eventually, Erik learns about James’ existence, releases him, tells him James is his real name, lets him go, and kills his mother before escaping because she was experimenting in order to ‘cure’ him of his abilities.
Eventually, Logan was recaptured by Weapon X and they gave him the adamantium, erased his memories, and used him as a weapon for years. Leading back to the story we had seen at the beginning of the universe.
Funny enough outside of the original assassin/Brotherhood connection, the lives of Magneto and Wolverine would keep crossing through various retcons in the universe before and after this one. In Ultimates 3 it was revealed that Wolverine met Erik’s wife Magda and slept with her, Erik threw him out off Wundagore Mountain but either forgot or acted like he forgot once they met again years later when Logan was invited to the Brotherhood. After the big event Ultimatum in 2009 (where the secret about mutants was used to defeat Magneto and was revealed to the world leading to anti-mutant government laws), Logan’s son Jimmy Hudson was revealed, and eventually, it was revealed in Ultimate Comics Wolverine that his mother was Magda and Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch were his half-siblings.
So much for avoiding that whole messy continuity stuff.
On the surface, this retcon isn’t that far out there with the world that was being built here, but in the end, it’s not a great one. Mostly because these retcons/revelations from Ultimate Origins and subsequent stories made the universe smaller, not wider. Instead of the universe being like the main Marvel Universe where people had their own distinct origins, with some crossing over (mostly with villains/heroes), this one made it so that every major character basically was connected to each other at some point in the past either personally or through family.
This just needlessly made Wolverine more the center of things and created an even worse situation for the mutant characters of the universe. Mutants being a creation of humanity, bad scientists at that, rather than a natural evolution takes something away from it all.
Really though everything that came from Ultimate Origins was one of many signs that the Ultimate Universe was starting to unravel, as the subsequent years were full of retcons and attempted restarts before they just pulled the plug on the whole mess in 2015.
Next Week: What’s Thicker, Blood/DNA Or A Retcon?