Hugh Jackman returns to the big screen this week in The Wolverine, and the new film from director James Mangold aims to remind audiences why the clawed Canadian mutant is one of the world's most popular superheroes by drawing inspiration from one of the character's most famous stories.
With a long history of blood-spattered brawls and violent encounters with both heroes and villains, Wolverine has left an indelible mark on the Marvel Comics universe. But it's a four-issue story by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller that served as the inspiration for Mangold's film. First published in 1982, the miniseries took Wolverine to Japan and explored the nature of honor and sacrifice in the hero's life – without skimping on brutal action, of course.
But the miniseries that serves as the source material for The Wolverine is far from the only landmark saga in the Marvel mutant's history. Here are a few more stories to look for – either as prep for the new film or postmovie reading – that offer a nice reminder of why Wolverine is the best there is at what he does:
Wolverine by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller (1982)
The aforementioned source material for The Wolverine sends the hero to Japan and introduces him to the rogue thief (and occasional assassin) Yukio. Over the source of the four-issue story, he squares off against a Yakuza boss, the mutant Silver Samurai and his partner, Viper, as well as more ninjas than you can possibly count. While the movie will certainly take some liberties with the comic's narrative, there's a very good reason why this saga is viewed as the quintessential Wolverine story, and it's the first book to pick up before or after watching the film.
Wolverine: Weapon X by Barry Windsor-Smith (1991)
Marvel let fans wonder about Wolverine's mysterious origin for nearly 17 years before finally shedding some light on the character's background in this 1991 story arc that ran through multiple issues of the Marvel Comics Presents anthology series. Featuring a story and art by one of the industry's most respected creators, Barry Windsor-Smith, the story explores how Wolverine was turned into a weapon by a shadowy government agency. It's a dark, beautifully illustrated, and incredibly visceral exploration of the trauma the character endured before his first appearance in the Marvel universe. While it's relatively light on action (as compared to other Wolverine stories), it doesn't shy away from showing how far past his breaking point Wolverine was pushed on the road to becoming the character we know now.
Wolverine: Origin by Paul Jenkins, Joe Quesada, Bill Jemas, and Andy Kubert (2001)
The definitive origin story for Wolverine took readers all the way back to his youth and explored the period leading up to the painful discovery of his mutant abilities, as well as the lifelong rivalry with a fellow mutant that would become a recurring source of drama in his life. Origin offers what is widely regarded as the official backstory of the character, and it served as the inspiration for the opening moments of X-Men Origins: Wolverine that revealed the bloody beginnings of the Marvel mutant.
X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont and John Byrne (1980)
Jean Grey's “Phoenix”-inspired rise and fall was brought to the big screen in 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, and previews of The Wolverine indicate that the resolution of that story still weighs heavily on Wolverine's mind. While the events unfolded somewhat differently in the comic book arc that inspired that chapter of the X-Men movie-verse, the story did feature some pretty impressive action, with Wolverine often in the middle of the fray. For anyone wondering what all the fuss is about with Jean Grey, this is the story to read.
Wolverine Classic, Vol. 1 by Chris Claremont and John Buscema (1988)
Wolverine found himself at odds with Silver Samurai once again in this 1988 story arc that kicked off a new volume of solo adventures starring the clawed mutant. Chris Claremont continued to script Wolverine's globe-hopping saga, with his latest journey taking him to a remote island nation in search of a mystical sword. Where other Wolverine stories sought to explore his origins or deepen our understanding of the character, this story took a back-to-basics approach, giving readers an action-packed, violent battle between two superpowered rivals.
Wolverine: Enemy of the State by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. (2004)
What happens if Wolverine goes bad? This dark, savage story puts everyone's favorite savage superhero on the other side of the hero-villain dynamic when a deadly cabal is able to take control of his mind. As Wolverine methodically hunts – and when possible, kills – his former allies, it takes the entire might of the Marvel Comics universe to stop him. But is even that enough? After years of relatively forgettable stories in his solo series, this 2004 arc reinvigorated the hero and reminded everyone of the fine line Wolverine walks in the Marvel universe.
Wolverine: Old Man Logan by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven (2008)
While it's not recognized as part of the official Wolverine canon, this 2008 miniseries explored a dystopian future in which the Marvel Comics villains eliminated their rivals and subsequently divided the nation up as the spoils of their long war against heroes. When an aging, grizzled Wolverine reluctantly teams up with a vision-impaired shadow of the former Avenger known as Hawkeye, the pair set off on a cross-country adventure that tests the limits of Logan's vow never to unsheathe his claws again. The entire saga culminates in a battle that brings everything full circle in Wolverine's comic book history. It's a must-read story for every fan of the character, as it illustrates exactly which elements of what makes Wolverine a hero can never be erased completely.