WOLVERINE: PREHISTORY is a collection of stories, packaged together to coincide with the theatrical release of LOGAN. Much like the film, these stories present an in-depth look at the combination of primal instincts and fragmented human spirit that makes Logan tick. This is a massive tome collecting stories that range from the 1988 WOLVERINE run to a WOLVERINE one-shot from 2010. In the vast spectrum of these stories, the essence of Logan’s character has remained remarkably consistent.

These stories are mostly non-canonical and present a more or less alternate history of Logan’s development. But through the various divergences in storytelling, Logan himself is a rock. Logan remains a character on the outskirts, fearful of letting his animal instincts gain control. He isolates himself while remaining attuned to humanity’s plights. He enters the picture when he’s needed, but retreats as soon as he’s not.

These comics present structures and organizations that represent the worst of humanity, driving Logan away further. But through all the corruption, Logan meets souls who are generous in spirit and worthy of saving. This brings Logan closer to humanity by just a little bit. Logan’s life is a sad cycle of broaching contact and making meaningful connections but never really keeping them. Ultimately these stories show how Logan, despite being a mutant and a loner, is battling himself for one primary reason — to find the humanity that we all seek.

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Wolverine: Prehistory
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

WOLVERINE: PREHISTORY — Lost Horizons

The first story, “Lost Horizons,” was published in WOLVERINE #93 back in 1988. It begins with Logan in a very familiar place — the Canadian wilderness. There, Logan searches for memories he has lost. And he stumbles upon some of these memories in a dream. Diving in and out of consciousness, Wolverine dreams of a time he met the Blackfoot tribe. In the dream, Logan assists in their battle against beasts possessed by a demonic spirit named Unceglia, who kills and then inhabits animals. The specter of Unceglia is not unlike the nightmarish beasts portrayed in the Hayo Miyazaki film, “Princess Mananoke.” Like that film, this story exists somewhere between the realm of history and fantasy.

As Logan sleeps fitfully, the dreams take on a disturbing nature, and it’s clear that these memories have been altered. He remembers Silver Fox, his long lost love. In this story, Silver Fox is part of the Blackfoot tribe. Unceglia quickly murders and consumes Silver Fox, driving Wolverine into a primal fury. Although this is clearly not the real fate of Silver Fox, Logan’s emotional memory of the woman he loves is no less powerful for him.

Silver Fox’s swift and brutal annihilation unleashes Wolverine’s animal self, driving him into a berserker rage as he forces the beast back. Logan stalks the monster through the remainder of the comic and eventually kills it. As a result, the Blackfoot tribe welcomes him as one of their own. They name him “Carcajou,” a Canadian term for a small and willful animal that never gives up. The name “Carcajou” also translates to “The Wolverine.”

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Wolverine: PrehistoryThis story significantly represents both the animal and human aspects of Logan. Interestingly, the tale brings Logan’s humanity to the forefront through his love of a woman, Silver Fox. She’s a calming presence, someone who can tame the savage beast inside. Once she’s killed, the beast returns to the forefront, unleashing Logan’s animal impulses. Although this story takes place in a dream realm, it’s a consequential journey for Logan. The Blackfeet give Logan his true name — Wolverine. This naming ritual is primarily reflective of the journey he’s undergone. Logan has dealt with both aspects of himself, discovering his capacity for love and his determination to seek revenge. Because of this, he’s earned his name.

WOLVERINE: PREHISTORY — The Immortal Man

The idea of Logan finding his humanity through women is fairly constant. It’s been a recurring theme in the X-MEN films, and it recurs in many of the comics in this collection. The comic WOLVERINE: THE IMMORTAL MAN & OTHER BLOODY TALES is another such example. In this tale, Wolverine is caged among literal animals. He’s part of a traveling circus, performing death-defying stunts for entertainment as “The Immortal Man.” When he’s not performing, he sits among the lions, more comfortable with the beasts than the people who ogle him day and night. And yet, the real reason he stays is a woman.

Going by the name of Olga, she’s the pregnant wife of the circus owner, who’s more interested in stealing money than the safety of his wife. Logan takes it upon himself to protect Olga. Much like the previous story, the moment he learns that Olga is in danger, Wolverine unleashes his berserker rage, clawing his way out from the lion’s cage. The imagery is quite impactful; Logan savagely escapes, surrounded by lions who are tamer than him.

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Once again Logan becomes the animal to save a woman he loves, and once again he fails. Olga’s death prompts Logan to leave the circus for good, and return to his path of lonely wandering. Metaphorically, this story works phenomenally to illustrate the essence of Logan’s nature. The carnival confines him to the life of an animal. This story furthers the themes of the animal/human conflict, while also adding in an element that factors into many of the other stories: Logan against the corrupt organization.

Con jobs and dirty money fund the carnival, at the expense of human life. This combination of factors puts Olga’s life in jeopardy and prompts Logan to rebel. Logan is a primal force, a whirlwind single-handedly capable of taking down entire organizations. Logan against the system is a theme that repeats itself throughout this collection.

WOLVERINE: PREHISTORY — Prisoner Number Zero

Wolverine: Prehistory
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

One of my favorite stories in the collection, WOLVERINE: PRISONER NUMBER ZERO, is a one-shot written by Mark Millar. It’s a ghost story that takes place in a genuinely haunting location — a Nazi prison camp. The ghost is Wolverine, and the victims are the Nazi generals. The story begins with a narration from a Nazi general who takes over the Sobibor death camp in Poland after the previous general commits suicide. The new general is confident he can handle the camp but quickly comes up against a problem — a man who refuses to die. Throughout the comic, the general murders this man over and over again. Each time, he comes back, without saying a word, merely taunting him. Eventually, the new general commits suicide, too, and the story starts all over again.

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This tale uses Wolverine brilliantly as a powerful spirit. He protects the many souls in the camp by distracting the Nazi commanders and taking all their bullets. Much like earlier stories, Wolverine is a force of nature here. He doesn’t utter one word in the entire comic. He simply is. Wolverine comes back, again and again, standing watch, looking after people who will never know him. He is both human and animal, camouflaging himself as a regular man, and subverting his attack instincts so that the Nazis destroy themselves. Logan never even has to lift a finger.

The story is also a definitive example of Logan against the system, taking on one of the most corrupt and evil ideologies of all time. The fight against Nazism can’t be won easily, but Logan takes the steps to do the best he can. He uses his powers to strike a mighty blow against this anti-human regime, taking a stand for humans and Mutants alike. This is another alternate history tale, not really present in Wolverine’s canon. But whether Wolverine was ever an inmate at the Poland death camps or not is irrelevant. Millar uses this setting to wonderfully explore Logan’s character, utilizing him in a way that has never been done before, yet feels totally authentic. That’s why this story is so important.

Wolverine: Prehistory
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

WOLVERINE: PREHISTORY — Last Men Standing

Logan is ever a loner, working on the outskirts of society. This is true both when he’s working against a governing system, and when he’s working with it. The next two stories present Logan working with the American government in two different wars. This fleshes out his character in several nuanced ways.

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In “Last Men Standing,” Wolverine goes on a spy mission to help American soldiers in the trenches of World War I. The men don’t trust him, having heard stories of Wolverine’s savagery. Instead, Logan earns their trust by attacking a German tank head-on, saving the men from cannon fire. Logan begins the story on the outskirts, playing his usual role of the outsider. But by the end, the men invite Wolverine to join them for a cup of coffee around the campfire. He’s earned their trust, and subsequently becomes just “one of the guys” in the eyes of the soldiers. Wolverine’s still a savage – after all, it was his savagery that enabled him to take on the tank. But he used his savagery to defend the soldiers. That makes Wolverine a-ok in their book.

It’s a pure and simple tale, but it presents a different outlook at Logan the Loner. Rather than the tragedy and oppressive groups that drove Logan to isolation in the preceding stories, “Last Men Standing” is heartwarming. The tale shows different possibilities for how Logan can interact with a group. Logan truly believes in this group. He, therefore, has no problem throwing his life into jeopardy for the lives of good men. Unfortunately, this sentiment doesn’t last in the story immediately following.

The story “Last Ride of the Devil’s Brigade” jumps ahead to World War II, where Logan is on a private mission to find the Nazi’s super soldier formula. Logan seeks to stop them from creating a race of super-powered Aryan men. By this point, Logan’s team has already died, so there’s no one here for him to save. He enters the compound and takes out the Nazi’s mutant wolf super soldier hybrid. But right before he’s about to take out the Nazi’s chief scientist, he’s stopped by none other than Nick Fury.

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Wolverine: Prehistory
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

This is where things get interesting. Most of the comic is relatively inconsequential, with a distracting, formal narration from Logan that sounds nothing like him. However, the Logan we know emerges in the final pages. Nick Fury tells Logan they need the scientist alive because Captain America’s dead. The American government needs this scientist to develop more soldiers for them in the coming “battle against Russia.” But Logan isn’t fooled. He leaves as he ordered to but privately recognizes how the Americans are preparing for the next war before it’s even started. They’re only using Captain America’s supposed death to “make a deal with the devil.”

The Americans stealing Nazi tech is rooted in historical reports of actual programs, such as Operation Paperclip. Logan’s presence during this moment of history is important in his personal development. Logan’s been around for a long time; he’s seen a lot of things. Watching his own people sell their souls clearly has a profound impact on Logan. He comes to understand the perpetual war mongering humanity is capable of. This experience acts as an explanation for the development of Logan’s cynical nature, his distrust of any group or organization. His later problems syncing with the X-Men can easily be traced back to events like this when the very people he risked his life for become the enemy.

WOLVERINE: PREHISTORY — Path of the Warlord

Japan has long held an interesting place in Logan’s evolving story. Many of his most memorable single adventures and romantic unions occurred in the land of the Samurai. There is something about the Japanese code of honor, their traditions, and quests for internal peace that complement Logan. They are everything he lacks and simultaneously seeks. In “Path of the Warlord,” Logan once again finds himself tied to Japan’s culture and history, as he learns to tame the beast within.

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Logan trains with a new sensei named Miyagi (*eye roll*) deep in the forests of Japan. During a test, Miyagi attacks Logan, unleashing the Wolverine from within. Logan strikes with his sword, drawing blood — a deep error in his training. As a punishment, Miyagi takes Wolverine’s sword from him and, instead, gives him a wooden katana called a Bokken. Miyagi instructs him to use this child’s weapon alone until he learns to control the beast within. The story takes some wild turns from here, as an old business partner named Chang recruits Logan. His mission is to fight an inter-dimensional immortal warlord named Kimora, who plans to subjugate all of Japan. The story itself is nothing of merit. But it allows plenty of interesting character development for Logan as he continually comes face to face with his animal self.

Wolverine: Prehistory
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

This comic deepens Logan’s relationship with the soul of Japan. He seeks to protect the country from a mad conqueror while simultaneously trying to heal himself through Japanese ritual. Logan’s battle against his animal nature is a constant theme throughout WOLVERINE: PREHISTORY. In “Path of the Warlord” it takes special significance because he has a heightened awareness of that environment. Logan is actively fighting against it.

The use of the wooden Bokken is particularly intriguing. It symbolically represents an alternative to his metal claws. Fascinatingly, Logan does not use his claws at all throughout the story, and no one mentions them. It almost appears as though Logan doesn’t even have them — though he clearly does, given this story’s timeline. Wolverine struggles to master himself, a task that the reader understands is more challenging than it appears. We know all too well that Wolverine possesses deadly adamantium claws that he can pop out whenever it suits him. This makes it all the more significant that in “Path of the Warlord,” he chooses not to use them. Even when he almost succumbs to his rage during the final battle with Kimora, he does not once pop those claws. Instead, the wooden Bokken saves him.

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“In the end, it’s all that kept me from losing my grasp on humanity… From sliding permanently into that bestial rage,” Logan says after the conflict. He, of course, is referring to his prized wooden sword. Ultimately, his claws didn’t save him. A blunt object that represented the exact opposite of Logan’s baser instincts and abilities saved him. In the battle between his human and animal selves, this simple device returned him to his humanity. It took an instrument of subduing, rather than fatality. Of all the comics here, “Path of the Warlord,” uses this direct, physical representation of Wolverine’s inner struggle to create the most external portrait of the battle between man and beast.

WOLVERINE: PREHISTORY — The Shadow Society

The end of his journey in “Path of the Warlord” makes for a nice transition into the following story, “The Shadow Society.” Unlike “Path of the Warlord,” “The Shadow Society” presents a version of Logan that’s completely calm and in control of himself. The comic is, in fact, a detective story. It depicts Logan working with pre-Captain Marvel Carol Danvers to investigate a series of murders that link back to the Hellfire Club. This story takes place before the revelation of Mutants to the world. As such, part of Logan and Carol’s investigation deals with discovering the existence of Mutants themselves. Most interesting of all, Logan doesn’t even know he’s a Mutant yet. Though when Logan and Carol track down Dr. Edwards — a man who has all the insider research on Mutants — Logan apparently begins to suspect that he is, in fact, one of them.

Wolverine: Prehistory
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

“The Shadow Society” is one of the best stories in the collection. It reveals the benefit of setting these stories outside the main X-Men canon. I doubt there was ever a time Logan did not know he was a Mutant. Not even after his memory was wiped following his adamantium-bonding in the Weapon X program. But this story presents the fascinating possibility of “what if.” What if Logan didn’t know he was a Mutant? How would he relate differently to those around him?

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“The Shadow Society” brilliantly answers that question by depicting him in a healthy and trusting partnership with Carol Danvers. Logan displays virtually none of the antisocial and loner qualities that readers usually associate with him. He trusts Carol completely, is open with her, and is clear about the closeness of their friendship. At several points, he even refers to her as his “best friend.” When was the last time Logan admitted to having a best friend?

Unfortunately, the openness doesn’t last. Fascinatingly, Logan’s withdrawal from his close friendship is directly related to the discovery that he’s a mutant. At the end, Sabretooth attacks Logan and Carol, goading Logan into admitting he’s a mutant. As a result, Logan unleashes his berserker rage, and Sabretooth takes advantage of the distraction. He sets off a bomb that nearly kills Carol. After the ordeal is finished, Logan decides to pull himself away, withdrawing to the Canadian wilderness. He tells Carol that he’s going to try to forget he ever heard the word “Mutants.”

Logan coming to terms with his Mutant origin allows us to once again peer into Logan’s inner conflict. “Path of the Warlord” saw Logan attempting to tame the beast inside. “The Shadow Society” depicts a Logan who’s completely in denial of the beast. He prefers to pretend it doesn’t even exist. Logan’s final realization forces him back into exile. Though on the surface he continues to deny his Mutant gene, the subtext appears to indicate that Logan knows, and he’s leaving Carol behind in order to protect her.

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Logan does not yet know the persecution that Mutants will later face. This explains his more open and trusting attitude in this story. But as he comes to grips with the magnitude of his powers, he realizes he can’t risk the lives of humans; especially those he cares about. In this story’s rendition of Logan’s journey, his desire to protect the people he loves ultimately drives him into the lonely life of a nomad. “The Shadow Society” has the distinction of a Logan that thinks and acts like a human being. It offers a glimpse of who he could be without that animal deep inside: a detective, a partner, and a good friend.

Wolverine: Prehistory — The First X-Men

Wolverine: Prehistory
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

“The First X-Men” presents yet another version of Logan — team leader. This comic is unusual for several reasons. It features a ragtag team of mutants assembled by Logan and Sabretooth. The two savage mutants are friends and allies here, taking it upon themselves to safeguard a group of young mutants who the U.S. government are targeting for experimentation. The story takes place years before X-Men, and it features young versions of Charles Xavier and Magneto.

Xavier, interestingly, is in denial about being a mutant — much like Logan in “The Shadow Society” — and it’s actually Logan who attempts to convince Xavier that the world needs him. This is a fascinating bit of role reversal for Logan and Charles, and it speaks to the overall strangeness of the story. This tale sees Logan as the mentor and father figure of various teenage mutants, who are all original characters — Holo, Bomb, and Yeti.

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Adding to the strangeness, Sabretooth is a relatively good guy here. He’s more aggressive than Logan but still a team player; he even winds up falling in love with Holo, and they engage in a romantic relationship. With Wolverine a leader and Sabretooth a romantic lead, this story presents perhaps the strangest iteration we’ve yet seen of these two savage beings. Yet their characters are very much the same internally. The arc of “The First X-Men” eventually takes them on the journey towards becoming the characters we know.

The book returns to another prominent theme it established in earlier stories — Logan versus the corrupt organization. The actual threat in the “The First X-Men” is the U.S. government itself, which hypocritically targets Logan and his fellow mutants as dangerous threats. Meanwhile, the government is using one the most dangerous mutants of all to track them down: a disgusting, symbiotic mutant called Virus who latches onto people and controls their mind while siphoning off their life force. This looming threat of government hypocrisy symbolically works as the perfect enemy for Wolverine, who in the not-too-distant future will find himself completely violated by the government’s Weapon X program. This secretive body will use and abuse Logan, and determine the course of his entire future existence.

Wolverine: Prehistory
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Ultimately, Wolverine’s confrontation with Virus and the government agents serves to permanently scar Logan, pushing him towards his future distrust of organizations. In the end, the explosive confrontation with Virus kills all three of the younger mutants, including Holo, who dies in Sabretooth’s arms. As Holo dies, she simultaneously projects into Sabretooth’s mind the long life they could have had together. The heartbreaking sequence ends with Sabretooth roaring in fury and swearing vengeance against Logan, who he blames for leading the group to a violent death. Logan blames himself too, believing he got a group of innocent kids killed for nothing. Bitter and resentful, Logan bemoans that he thought he finally belonged to something, to a team. But instead, he proclaims “I’m done tryna be something I’m not. Time I faced up to it. All I do is kill. And I’m the best there is at what I do.”

WOLVERINE: PREHISTORY — Hunger

By now there is a visible commonality in each of these stories: Logan often begins at one end of the human/animal spectrum and winds up at the other end. A shift always occurs. “The First X-Men” uses perhaps the ultimate version of this, beginning with Logan as a leader of men, and ending with him returning to his more primal animal self. This makes the placement of the next story all the more fascinating; it contains the exact opposite arc. “Hunger” is a very short story, and is entirely without dialogue. It begins where “The First X-Men” ends — immediately after his adamantium bonding procedure. Consequently, the story presents Logan in his most primal state; here, he is purely the animal.

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Wolverine: Prehistory
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

The story begins with carnage, the bloody remnants of Wolverine’s captors strewn around the Weapon X lab. We then see Wolverine, naked and crawling on all fours through the woods. He even tries to feast on a bird. Wolverine’s hunger eventually leads him to a family in the woods, who Wolverine looks prepared to feast on, too. But at the last second, Wolverine turns and instead fights off a rabid band of wolves, who actually WERE going to feast on the poor family. After he kills the wolves, he ponders the family for a moment, then turns and walks away — this time, on his legs.

And that’s it. “Hunger” is the shortest story in the collection, and also presents Wolverine’s internal conflict in the purest form. He begins as an animal, living in the wilderness amongst animals. But when he sees the defenseless humans, it triggers something in him. It reminds him of his old human self. At this point, the encounter submerges his animal instinct to attack, and his instinct to protect emerges. Both are animal instincts, but in Logan’s case, it’s his familiarity with human life that triggers his instinct to protect the family.

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In the simplest of terms, this story presents the exact opposite of Logan’s much longer journey in “The First X-Men.” That story ended with Logan losing his humanity. “Hunger” ends with him gaining it back. This fascinating dynamic across multiple stories boils down the essence of Wolverine’s struggle — the perpetual, constantly tilting see-saw between human and animal.

WOLVERINE: PREHISTORY — Guts and Glory

Wolverine: Prehistory
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

The final story in the collection is one that, ironically, doesn’t really focus on Wolverine all that much. Instead, it uses the time-traveling mutant Cable to tell the most compelling Wolverine story in this collection. WOLVERINE/CABLE: “Guts and Glory” tells a parallel tale of Cable traveling from the future to prevent an apocalypse, while Wolverine works with the government to subdue a mutant named D’Von Cray, another man from the future. Cray ties Logan and Cable together, having traveled to the past to hunt Cable down, but losing his memory in the process.

Wolverine manages to subdue Cray, and U.S. government forces bring him in for “safe keeping.” Cable, meanwhile, meets a friendly war veteran named Frank Rhodes, who sees Cable as a kindred spirit and takes him in. Logan sees Cray as a different kind of kindred spirit, one who the U.S. government is unconscionably tampering with — just like they did to Logan. “Guts and Glory” weaves together a complex character portrait, using three different people to tell a story about the same kind of journey.

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The story uses Cable to create a lot of dynamic mirroring of Logan. Cable is lost and trying to find the pieces of his world, just like Logan. D’von Cray also exists without a memory as Logan once did, wild and lost. Much like Logan, the government has designs to use and abuse Cray for their own purposes. These other characters reflect Logan’s lonely position in the world, but also show how he’s evolved past them into something more secure: a man with a purpose. Significantly, Logan finally wears his X-Men costume in this story, and he wears it comfortably. The X-Men, though not a part of this tale, clearly have helped to give Logan a sense of purpose, putting him in the unique position to deal with Cable and D’Von; souls that are even more lost than his own.

“Guts and Glory” is yet another showcase of a nefarious government entity, first condemning mutants, and then exploiting them for their own shadowy benefit. WOLVERINE: PREHISTORY again has used this theme throughout its stories. Logan constantly has to face both his own animal instincts and the chronic lack of trust that comes from his awareness that virtually any entity that COULD give him a purpose also has their own corrupt agenda. This leads Logan to mistrust almost any group, (except, sometimes, the X-Men) and simply continues his life-long pattern of isolation.

Wolverine: Prehistory
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Frank Rhodes plays a fascinating role in the story, providing an essential human voice among all the mutant warfare. Frank tells Cable about his time in the war, and his description of war is very moving, resonant, and completely identical with today’s conflicts. Though this story was written 17 years ago, humanity’s weaknesses have not changed. That’s part of why Wolverine is such an iconic figure. He’s been adjacent to man’s wars all along. Mankind doesn’t change and, as a result, neither does Wolverine. Logan is humanity’s rock.

READ: Our review of LOGAN, a cinematic masterpiece that inspired the release of the WOLVERINE: PREHISTORY collection!

Logan’s determination to defend humanity at all costs drives him to team up with Cable, and together they manage to take down Cray. Though Cable takes center stage, Wolverine’s personal drive and focuses resonate powerfully. Sometimes the best storytelling comes when the writer uses another’s journey to tell a tale of multiple journeys. The fact that Wolverine is not the focus here makes us look at his story more objectively. Cable and Wolverine are men of parallel histories, spiritual allies even though they don’t quite know it yet. In this tale, Logan is the most fully formed version of himself. Looking at “Guts and Glory” in the context of the whole collection, we don’t need to see any more of Logan’s internal conflict than we’ve already seen. By now we know that Logan is both human and animal — and so does he.

“Guts and Glory” is, in fact, a summation of everything this collection has been about: Controlling animal instincts, putting together the past, trying to find a place within society, and understanding both the corruption and the loving spirit that humanity can offer. Cable comes to understand this through the moving sacrifice of Frank Rhodes, who falls in battle with Cray. Frank’s humanity gives Cable a new purpose and sense of hope. Humanity is capable of horrible deeds, but great kindness and honor too. Looking at this ideal through the lens of the WOLVERINE: PREHISTORY collection gives it even more weight. Perhaps this is why Wolverine, after so much pain and suffering, even after being horribly violated by humans, continues to fight for them: he knows they’re still worth saving.

WOLVERINE: PREHISTORY — Conclusion

Man. Beast. Human. Mutant. Teammate. Leader. X-Man. Logan will come to be all of these, but he could never have gotten there without the lessons he learned in this volume. As much as Logan evolves through these tales, he also stays very much the same. He often begins the stories in a strange and different place. But by the end, he returns to the place he’s most comfortable — the outskirts. And that’s exactly why Wolverine has become so iconic. He moves forward, but he doesn’t truly change. He simply grows to accept himself.

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Logan shifts the role he plays from time to time, but deep down, he knows he can serve human and Mutant kind best as the man on the outside — the loner, the unbreakable warrior. This collection has been Logan’s journey, and the final passage represents that journey beautifully. The narration refers to Nathan Dayspring Summers, but swapping out Cable’s name, the declaration still rings equally true: “Logan, the man that most will know as Wolverine, must continue to move forward…. One step at a time.”

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