He’s the best at what he does. But what he does best isn’t very nice. A quick search of the best Wolverine comics will show plenty of violence, anger, blood, and pain. Most think Wolverine is a killing machine. Many fans think that’s what the comics should be. And there are a few out there (including some of his earliest writers) who are honestly surprised Wolverine lasted this long. Sure, there is a certain appeal to the Marvel bad-boy with his tough and rough outlook on life. But as seen through the amazing catalogue of work, Wolverine is a far more complex character. For much of his life, he didn’t know what was going on. And he sure as hell wasn’t eager to admit that to anyone else. It became one of the beautiful and fundamental elements of the best Wolverine comics: slow reveals of his history, tidbits and glimpses to give us an idea of who Wolverine was meant to be.
When the mantle was handed to X-23/Laura Kinney, there was concern this would be the end of The Wolverine. That has proven not to be the case. You can’t kill Wolverine. If anything, the spirit of the Wolverine lives on, and the comics are getting better and better each day. So, too, is the diversity of creators behind the character. In the early days, the majority of creative staff at Marvel was white-male dominated. I’ve used the phrase “pale, stale, and male” in the past, and it looks like I can use it again. With fresh new Wolverine stories, we are attracting a greater diversity of writers and artists. I’m looking forward to seeing more on this list in the future.
With that said, diversity in comics should not rely on a change of guard for the main characters or creative teams. If white male writers and artists can claim they can do a great job portraying characters of various genders and ethnicity, I’m pretty sure we can find more BIPOC and non-male creators for stories about the Wolverine, whether it is Logan, Laura, or the next generation after this. Wolverine is one of the best comic book characters of all time, and every version deserves to have their story told with a variety of life experiences and talent. These are the best Wolverine comics to date, and I believe there are even better ones to come.
The Best Wolverine Comics from the Bronze Age
The Incredible Hulk #181 (1974) by Len Wein
Let’s be honest: if you can get your hands on an original copy of this comic, you won’t be reading it. You’ll be sealing it away until you can sell it to buy a house. It is considered the Holy Grail of comics and features the first full appearance of Wolverine with the added bonus of having him pitted against The Incredible Hulk. I mean, what an entrance! Wolvie has undergone some changes over the years, but this introduction gives us the basics: adamantium claws, and mutant powers for great stamina, speed, and strength. On the other hand, there is no mention of a healing factor, nor do we hear the name “Logan” (though we do hear “Weapon X”). If anything, this sets the scene for all future Wolverine comics — only tidbits of information are released purely at Wolverine’s leisure.
Wolverine #1-4 (1982) by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller
Wolverine was the first of the X-Men to have his own solo mini-series, and this has become the definitive story arc in Wolverine’s character development. To be frank, Wolverine was never intended to be a stand-out; he wasn’t even expected to survive beyond the two issues of X-Men (Claremont talked about it during a Nerdist Comics Panel at Phoenix ComicCon in 2014).
Despite Claremont’s initial disinterest in the character, he understood the duality of Wolverine’s personality: the balance between savage animal and organised civility. Miller was interested in exploring Japanese history without relying on a hack-and-slash storyline. That, and Miller likes to draw ninjas. There’s plenty of opportunity for it after Logan travels to Japan to find his lost love, Mariko. Logan simply wants to be a good person. To save Mariko, he needs to save himself with honour and inner peace. One of the great turning points is during Logan’s big fight scene (there are lots of them, but this is the big one) when Lord Shingen calls him an animal. It is everything Logan is fighting against and continues to fight against to his dying day. The combination of fantastic writing from Claremont and emotionally-charged art from Miller puts it at the top of the pile for best Wolverine comics.
The Best Wolverine Comics in the Modern Age
“Weapon X” in Marvel Comics Presents #72-84 (1988) by Barry Windsor-Smith
Like any good Black Ops project (emphasis on “good”), Wolverine’s backstory was redacted. Especially from him. The most we had to work with was “Weapon X,” first mentioned during his fight with The Incredible Hulk. While much of this was covered in the movies, it is nothing compared to the magical panels created by Mr. Windsor-Smith, a wordsmith and artist of the highest level. Windsor-Smith sets a steady pace, gradually revealing the political machinations and experiments behind the scenes as it builds to its ultimate and devastating crescendo. He exposes the scientists as they dehumanise Logan, treating him as a lab test for their convenience.
There are echoes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, creating a monster but never fully understanding the ramifications of this. Weapon X is the origin story of Wolverine and the never-ending battle between who he was and who they made him to be. Special shoutout for the iconic image of Logan in the tank. The combination of the simple pencil work with the minimal colour palette and his utter isolation leaves a perpetual impression on any Wolverine comic you read after.
“On the Track of Unknown Animals” & “Endangered Species” in The Punisher War Journal #6-7 (1989) by Carl Potts, and Jim Lee
It was inevitable for Wolverine and Punisher to team up at some point; of course, they will both argue the other guy was the sidekick. To be fair, I was kind of surprised to find it set in Congo with an anti-poaching storyline. It seems a little out-of-character for Castle, but the portrayal of Wolverine in this comic is fantastic. This is Lee’s first time drawing Logan, and he really captures the rage and pain Logan is feeling at this point in his life. He has been hiding out in Madripoor, presumed dead by many. He tracks a ring of poachers to the Congo, where they specialize in endangered species. Castle is supposedly on “vacation” with a safari group in search of rumoured dinosaurs. Naturally, the two fight at first sight, but they soon realise they are cut from the same cloth. This was one of the best examples of Logan accepting that a little “beast” inside us isn’t a bad thing. We don’t have to be animals to be able to empathise with them.
“Fatal Attractions Part 4” in X-Men #25 (1993) by Fabian Nicieza, Andy Kubert, and Matthew Ryan, and “Fatal Attractions Part 5” in Wolverine #75 (1993) by Larry Hama and Adam Kubert
There is a lot to unpack here. The full story arc can be found with X-Men Milestones: Fatal Attractions, collecting every crossover issue from Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, X-Force, X-Men Unlimited, X-Men, Wolverine, and Excalibur. Wolverine highlights feature in Part four and five. And it’s massive. The X-Men face off against Magneto and no one is willing to hold back. At a crucial moment when Magneto is willing to kill his own son, Quicksilver, Wolverine steps in and slices across Magneto.
Enraged by this attack, Magneto does the unthinkable: he uses his mastery of magnetism to pull the adamantium off Wolverine’s skeleton! The art is so amazing, you cringe with empathy, thinking of how indescribably horrible that would be! The torture provokes Professor X to retaliate by entering Magneto’s mind and shutting him down from the inside; something Charles had sworn he would never do. The actions of both Magneto and Professor X unknowingly lead to the next great calamity to challenge the X-Men: Onslaught. But before that horror is unleashed, Wolverine spends a lot of time in recovery. On a physical level, Wolverine fans were shocked to discover his bone claws and further revealed his unknown history. On an emotional level, this story arc forces Logan to come to terms with his own identity. Is he defined by his claws? Is he worth the downfall of a great man who reacted to Logan’s own pain and torture? A significant milestone in Wolverine’s story and one of the best Wolverine comics of all time.
Wolverine: Origin (2001) by Paul Jenkins, Andy Kubert, and Richard Isanove
Finally, we learn about Logan’s true origins — and it remains one of the most controversial and divisive Wolverine comics in the history of Marvel. There are two ways to look at this: it is either the origin story of Wolverine from his very first experiences OR it is the origin story of Logan, with the birth of Wolverine arising from the Weapon X program. The two can be seen separately, with overlapping influences in both directions. In Wolverine: Origin, we meet James Howlett, a young boy in a complicated family. It’s hard to see any ghost of Logan within the frail body of this child. Instead, we discover he is born from circumstances (I’m not going to reveal spoilers here). This is a far more emotional depiction of the history of Logan; one that does not sit comfortably with the fanboys who craved more blood and gory for Wolverine. However, it stands out as a foundation to build Logan’s persona, showing the lost boy who is still tucked away inside Logan’s mind. It’s a great Wolverine comic as it shows more about the path he has travelled and how it has shaped him.
Wolverine: Snikt! (2003) By Tsutomu Nihei
Wolverine, as a character, has always had strong Western/Samurai vibes. When Marvel Comics went through their “manga phase” in the early 2000s, it would have been too easy for a Wolverine issue to blend in with all of the others. Thankfully, Nihei did not choose the safe path and gave us a very different Wolverine story that flowed like a river and burst forth from the pages with dazzling action. The foundation is fairly simple: Wolverine is sent to fight biomechanical zombie robots. The futuristic vibe is a great juxtaposition to Wolverine’s unrelenting battle with his savage, primal nature. The art is rough, almost gothic, and VERY different from any other Wolverine comic you will ever read.
“Old Man Logan” in Wolverine Vol.3 #66-72 (2008) by Mark Millar, Steve McNiven
We never knew how much we needed a post-apocalyptic Logan until it was handed to us on a gold platter. The Age of Superheroes has long passed, leaving the land divided between Abomination, Magneto, Doctor Doom, and Red Skull as self-declared Presidents. Logan has retreated to Sacramento with his wife Maureen and young children Scotty and Jade. In desperation, Logan takes a job with a blind Hawkeye to travel east to New Babylon and deliver a package. But this isn’t some fun road trip; Logan attracts trouble like a moth to a flame (the same can be said for Hawkeye). No matter how hard he tries to run from it, Logan can’t escape his past. This is a violent and sometimes disturbing story arc for one of Marvel’s greatest characters, but whether or not he finds peace or even redemption at the end is left to the judgement of the reader. It’s masterful and moving, connecting us with Wolverine/Logan as the broken man looking for an end.
Uncanny X-Force #1-7 (2014) by Rick Remender (writer), art by Jerome Opeña, Esad Ribić, Billy Tan, Phil Noto, Mark Brooks, Mike McKone, Greg Tocchini
Wolverine leads his own secret squad of assassins, tasked with the ethically questionable job of dealing with threats before they become threats. It is a slippery slope as the team takes justice into their own heads. Remender doesn’t pull any punches, starting with Apocalypse and the age-old question, “Would you kill him as a child to avoid the atrocities of the adult?” It’s not a new concept, but when seen through the eyes of Wolverine, it shines a light on how age and experience weary our judgement and don’t necessarily provide the enlightenment we strive for. Wolverine is not usually seen as the natural leader, nor is he comfortable being chief decision maker. However, Remender gives Wolverine room to breathe and grow as he steps into the new role. The artwork is also brilliant throughout, and I’ll never say no to a bit of Deadpool with my Wolverine.
A New Look for the Best Wolverine Comics
All-New Wolverine: The Four Sisters (2016) by Tom Taylor, David Lopez, David Navarrot, Bengal, Mario Takara, Ig Guiara, Nik Virella
It’s hard to recover from the death of Wolverine (at least the most recent one), but Laura Kinney has never been one to shy away from a challenge. The same can be said for Taylor as he takes on the unenviable role of bringing out the All-New Wolverine. Laura has recently learned she isn’t the only clone in the laboratory, following her fellow “sisters’” escape. As Laura strives to understand what has happened with the other clones, she faces new enemies who are working equally as hard to remove all evidence they ever existed — including Laura herself. Taylor’s witty dialogue brings All-New Wolverine into the light, giving us characters who are created from their relationships and not in spite of them. Laura’s inner conflict as she struggles to honour Logan is possibly the best salute you can give to a retired character because it is so in tune with the original character himself. Plus, the introduction of Gabby/Honey Badger is the icing on the cake.
X-23: Family Album #1 (2018) by Mariko Tamaki, Juann Cabal, and Noaln Woodard
Laura continues to honour the spirit of The Wolverine. She even has her own teen-girl sidekick, just like Logan did for however-many years. Though don’t tell Gabby she’s the sidekick. It’s clear Laura has the strength and the stamina (as well as other benefits) to carry the name. But like the Wolverine stories before her, the greatest battle is often in your own head. Tamaki nails this narrative, pitting Laura and Gabby against the Cuckoo sisters, cloned daughters from Emma Frost/White Queen with super-telepathic levels. It’s clone against clone, family against family. An issue that always went to the heart of Wolverine, in any form. Cabal’s art is absolutely glorious, and Tamaki has done a great job honouring the spirit of Wolverine in a new generation. This was also listed by fellow Book Rioter Rachel as one of the best comics on Marvel Unlimited. You can see the rest of the list here.
For more best-of marvel character comics, check out our list of the best Thor comics.