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  • Writer's pictureAaron Fonseca

Wolverine's Forgotten Mutant Power Is Also His Strangest

Today, we look at the brief period where Wolverine was able to talk to anmals.

In every installment of “If I Pass This Way Again,” we look at comic book plot points that were rarely (sometimes NEVER!) mentioned again after they were first introduced.

One of the fascinating aspects of comic book history is that Len Wein, the co-creator of almost all of the All-New, All-Different X-Men, quit working on the X-Men very early into their existence, literally writing Incredible Hulk #180-181 for Wolverine, and then Giant Sized X-Men #1 and X-Men #94-95 (only plots for the last two, which were originally designed together as Giant Sized X-Men #2) for Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Thunderbird (who also happened to die in X-Men #95).

As a result, Chris Claremont (the scripter of X-Men #94-95 who took over the book full-time after Wein gave it up) and the artist of the X-Men issues, Dave Cockrum, had a much greater than normal impact on the development of the new members of the All-New, All-Different X-Men. This was made especially evident with Wolverine, who was the most mysterious members of the team.

With Wolverine, one of the interesting areas of mystery was something that few writers ever keep as vague as Wein did, which was, "What, exactly, are Wolverine's superpowers?" It was clear from his early appearances that Wolverine had enhanced speed and agility, but beyond that (and his famous claws), Wein's take on Wolverine was basically that he was like the animal that Roy Thomas told him to use as the basis for the new mutant, which is that he is a small animal that can scrap with the best of them. So "ability to hang in fights with stronger opponents" was really all that Wein had for Wolverine's "powers."

Heck, Wein didn't even want the claws to be part of Wolverine, noting years, "The adamantium claws were [only] in the gloves when I first created the character. And the claws were retractable. They were telescoping, and they would fit back in the casing of the gloves."

So when Claremont and Cockrum took over the character, they didn't really know what to do with him, either. This led to the famous story of how they were going to have Wolverine be revealed to be an actual wolverine, mutated by the High Evolutionary. Dave Cockrum's confusing use of the term "we" in old interviews led many people (myself included) to think he was talking about him and Wein, since that was the context that the comments were made (in two separate interviews! He did the same "we" deal in two separate interviews a decade apart where he starts talking about him and Wein and then shifts to him and Claremont without ever making it clear that he did that, just continuing to use "we"), but in reality, he had shifted to him and Claremont as the "we" in the following paragraph, about their idea for Wolverine to be a literal wolverine who was mutated, "Stan Lee himself put the kibosh on it. We were going to suggest that Wolverine was not a human at all, but a mutated wolverine. There were remarks in the storyline at one point where somebody was assessing Wolverine and saying, "I'm not even sure he's human" or something like that, which would have led up to it. But Stan found the concept disgusting."

So without that angle, Claremont and Cockrum didn't do a whole lot with Wolverine, except reveal that he was clearly older than the rest of the new X-Men and that the claws were part of his body. When John Byrne took over the book, however, Byrne was interested in the only Canadian member of the team an so he and Claremont began discussing new takes on Wolverine. This was typically expressed through Claremont and Byrne just introducing new ideas for Wolverine into issues.

In X-Men #116 (by Byrne, Claremont and inker Terry Austin), we see Wolverine (well, HEAR him) kill someone with his claws for the first time (as I have written before, to show up in the air this was, the sound effect was added later by Claremont himself, and that's really the only reason we know he killed the guy)...

has nigh-unbreakable bones...

Shi'ar Imperial Guard, but this is the first definitive mention).

Of course, Byrne and Claremont have a very different idea of what "fast healing" would mean at the time. It slowly developed into a major power.

Finally, though, in that same issue, Byrne and Claremont introduced the fact that Wolverine can speak to animal (or at least animals like Sabretooth Tinges)...

That was the last time that Wolverine talked to an animal, Doctor Doolittle-style (which you could, I suppose, read as Wolverine joking with his teammates, but that doesn't seem to be the case).

Over the years, that "power" has been reduced to the idea that Wolverine has animal empathy, so that he can sort of calm them down, but that seems like something people could do period. But in either event, we saw it happen in Wolverine #1 (by Claremont, Frank Miller and Joe Rubinstein)...

And Peter David and Sam Kieth seem to suggest some version of this ability in Marvel Comics Presents #85...

Here, though, it sure seems more like a sign of how overall animal-like Wolverine is like and less a specific case of him being able to communicate with the animals in a way that is a "power." Now, the literal talk to the animals and be understood is a whole other thing. That was never really followed up on at all and honestly, I think that that is probably for the best as it is a bit of a weird power that Wolverine doesn't even need.

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