Back Issues [Wolverine Month]: The Incredible Hulk #181


When readers were first introduced to the character of James Howlett, better known by the names “Logan” and “Wolverine”, it was in the pages of The Incredible Hulk. From his first full debut in issue 181 all the way back in November 1974 to him officially joining the X-Men in 1975, the character has become one of Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and enduring superheroes, regularly featuring in solo and team comics, cartoons, movies, videogames, and countless other merchandise. To celebrate the first full appearance of the character, I’m making November “Wolverine Month” and dedicating every Sunday from today to everyone’s favourite ol’ Canucklehead!


Story Title: And Now…The Wolverine!
Published: November 1974
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: Herb Trimpe

The Background:
In 1974, Roy Thomas, then editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, called upon writer Len Wein to introduce readers to the first Canadian superhero; a short, feisty character named “Wolverine” who would be as scrappy and fearsome as his namesake. Though it was the legendary John Romita Sr who sketched up the original design for Wolverine and thought up his now-iconic retractable claws, it was artist Herb Trimbe who finalised the character’s design. In what would become a staple for the character for many years, Wolverine’s past and true identity was initially kept a mystery; however, despite claims for years that Wolverine was to be a mutated wolverine cub, Wein insisted that this was never the plan and that Wolverine was always intended to be a Mutant.

Wolverine (or “Weapon X” was sent to stop the fight between the Hulk and the Wendigo.

Of course, nowadays, James Howlett (better known as “Logan” or by the codename Wolverine”) has been established as one of Marvel’s most popular characters but back in 1974, Wolverine was simply meant to be another in a long line of one-off characters to spice up an existing title. The character actually made his first, brief appearance at the conclusion of The Incredible Hulk #180 in a one panel cameo after being ordered by the Canadian military to put a stop to a raging battle that is taking place in the forests of Quebec, Canada between Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk and Paul Cartier/The Wendigo.

The Review:
“And Now…The Wolverine!” hits the ground running right from the first panel and doesn’t waste any time with copious flashbacks to the previous issue; we get a lovely one sentence recap of the Hulk’s origin at the top of the first page (which was the style at the time), a few dialogue boxes to give us context as to the place and what’s happening, and then jump right into the action…and rightfully so considering that the battle between the Hulk and the Wendigo was so fierce and destructive in the last issue that the Canadian military had to call in the mysterious “Weapon X” (which, of course, turned out to be “The World’s First and Greatest Canadian Super-Hero!”, Wolverine).

Wolverine attacks both the Hulk and the Wendigo without fear or hesitation.

A small, muscular figure in a skin tight yellow outfit, Wolverine makes an instant first impression not just for his striking appearance (not very many superheroes wore yellow back then and his cat-like mask and gleaming metal claws make him instantly unique) but also for leaping head-first into battle with two of Marvel’s most physically daunting creations. Despite being dwarfed by his opponents, Wolverine strikes without fear or intimidation, using his incredible speed and agility to compensate for the two’s superior strength. As mentioned above, Wolverine’s exact origin is largely a mystery but he does boast that his retractable claws are made of “diamond-hard Adamantium”.

Wolverine takes advantage of the Hulk’s misconception and the two defeat the Wendigo.

So dangerous are Wolverine’s claws and so vicious is his attack that he wounds the Wendigo and begins to not just hold is own but actually dominate their battle. Hulk, confused by Wolverine’s appearance and temperament, decides that if Wolverine (or “Little Man” as he calls him) is attacking the Wendigo, whom the Hulk sees as an enemy, then he (Wolverine) must be his (Hulk’s) friend so he jumps in to join the fight against the Wendigo, galvanised at the idea of fighting side-by-side with an ally. Wolverine takes advantage of the distraction and unnecessary assistance and, between the two of them, they are able to fell the Wendigo.

The Hulk is enraged when the Wolverine seemingly turns against him.

Wolverine delivers what appears to be a killing blow to the beast (which is quickly revealed to have only subdued the creature since the Wendigo is functionally immortal) but the Hulk’s momentary victory and elation turns to his trademark fury when Wolverine immediately lashes at him now that the Wendigo has been defeated. Enraged at the betrayal, the Hulk attacks mindlessly, earning Wolverine’s respect and frustration since the Green Goliath refuses to fall and only gets stronger and more enraged as the battle continues.

Marie plans to free her brother from the Wendigo’s curse by passing it on to the Hulk!

While the fight is going on, Georges Baptiste and Marie Carter (who was the one who originally lured the Hulk to Quebec) take advantage of the situation to bring the Wendigo’s unconscious form to safety. It turns out that the Wendigo curse has overtaken Marie’s brother, Paul, and that she intends to use “the black arts” to transfer it from him and into the Hulk, much to Georges’ horror. To facilitate this, she evokes the “Spell of Subjugation” to render both Wolverine and the Hulk unconscious. However, Georges’ objections to Marie’s intentions are exacerbated when the two watch in stunned awe as the Hulk, now calmed, reverts back into the unconscious form of Bruce Banner. Georges leaves in protest at the idea of cursing an already cursed man to a fate even worse than that he already suffers with but Marie is determined to see her plan through out of the desperate need to see her brother returned to normal.

The Hulk delivers a decisive blow to the Wolverine, ending their fight as the clear victor.

After binding Wolverine with chains, she attempts to drag Banner’s unconscious form to the Wendigo and, in the process, triggers his transformation back into the Hulk. Hulk, equally furious at having been betrayed by Marie (or “Animal-Girl”), is stayed from turning his rage on her only by the sight of Wolverine’s prone and helpless body. Wolverine, however, suddenly and dramatically breaks free from his bindings and their battle begins anew. Marie uses the distraction to slip away but utters a heart-wrenching scream when she comes face-to-face with the Wendigo; this diverts the attention of the two combatants for a split second, which is more than enough for the Hulk to deliver a sudden, powerful blow to Wolverine’s head that finally puts him down for good.

The Hulk ends up comforting Marie in her grief and despair at Georges’ sacrifice.

Marie’s horror at the Wendigo’s appearance turns to elation and then dismay when she realises that Georges has taken the curse upon himself, thus returning her brother to normal, out of his love for her. With the last of his humanity slipping away, Georges, now the Wendigo, retreats into the forest, leaving Marie a wreck of emotion. The Hulk, despite his rage and simple nature, comes across her and, in a moment of compassion, comforts her, the two of them briefly bound together in their tumultuous emotion.

The Summary:
“And Now…The Wolverine!” is a heavily action-packed story; the entire issue is just a long fight between the Hulk, the Wendigo, and the Wolverine and it’s pretty great, to be honest. I’ve read a few Hulk stories from the seventies and it seems like most of them revolved around the idea of the Green Goliath fleeing from human persecution, befriending or being manipulated by someone, and then lashing out in a rage at that person betraying him and a lot of that is packed into this story since the Hulk believes both “Little Man” and “Animal-Girl” have betrayed his trust.

The mysterious Wolverine is more than capable of taking on his monstrous foes.

It’s a simple formula made all the more unique with the debut of the Wolverine; we learn next to nothing about this character but he makes an immediate impact because of his actions rather than his words. It’s easy to say now, with the benefit of hindsight and Wolverine’s immense popularity, but Wolverine really does may a dynamic first impression; he jumps right into a battle with the Hulk, probably the most indomitable of Marvel’s heroes, and the nigh-immortal Wendigo without hesitation and is more than capable of holding his own against the two, instantly making him a force to be reckoned with. Of course, Wolverine isn’t quite the character we know him as today; he never says “Bub” and his speech is a bit more eloquent than it would later be written, for one thing, but we do learn that he is a Mutant and that he was specially trained and crafted by the Canadian government and military to be their most savage warrior. Furthermore, while it’s not revealed that his skeleton is also coated in Adamantium and there is no mention of his heightened sense or healing factor, Wolverine is keen enough to partially sense the Hulk’s final blow to save himself from being killed. This was a common theme back in Wolverine’s earliest appearances; dialogue, thought balloons, and narration boxes often emphasised that Wolverine was in danger of serious injury or even death, which can be a little jarring since we’ve seen him completely regenerate from being reduced to a skeleton. Oh, also, if you’ve always wanted to know what Wolverine is “the best at”, the answer is right here in this story as he says: “Moving is the best thing I do!”

The Hulk is much more child-like and quick to anger when he feels he’s been betrayed!

I’ve mentioned a couple of times hits year how the Hulk was originally a far more articulate and intelligent creature rather than a mindless beast; by the seventies, it seems, the Hulk’s intelligence and vocabulary had degraded somewhat. Hulk is far more irritable at this time, with the temperament of a child; he wishes only to be left alone and is disgusted by “Puny humans” but also revels in combat, loudly proclaiming “Hulk is the strongest one there is!” at every opportunity. At the same time, though, he only fights when he is provoked or enraged and is desperately seeking a friend, usually a monster such as he, to connect with. As I alluded to, this basically never happens and every potential friend he encounters either turns against him, turns out to be a villain, or dies, leaving him in a constant state between rage and anguish. Unfortunately, there’s literally nothing for his human alter ego to do in this issue but, since the fight is the centrepiece of the story, I can’t imagine what Banner would have really been able to bring to the narrative and I like that the writers had Hulk ultimately defeat Wolverine in combat rather than the fight abruptly ending because he turned back into Banner.

The side plot exists to give us a break in the action but the main appeal is the fighting!

As for the Wendigo…well, I’ve never been a massive fan of that character. He’s a bit basic and doesn’t have much going for him besides the tragic nature of the curse; generally, he’s more animalistic and feral than even the Hulk, which is an obvious juxtaposition for the Hulk’s unadulterated rage (and, in this case, Wolverine’s primal savagery) and again it’s another of those ways of showing how truly cursed the Hulk is as at least the Wendigo curse can be passed on to another. If there’s anything that lets this issue down, though, it’s the side plot of Marie and Georges; it’s not as annoying as some side plots in other stories I’ve read but I doubt anyone is reading this issue to see Marie and Peter reunited! We’re here for Hulk vs. Wolverine and that is always going to be the more entertaining aspect of the story.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on “And Now…The Wolverine!” and Wolverine’s impressive debut? Did you read the previous issue and, if so, were you intrigued to find out who this “Weapon X” was? What did you think to Wolverine’s depiction and characterisation here? Were you impressed that he held up so well against the Hulk and the Wendigo or was he just another one in a number of one-off characters? Do you like the Wendigo and the curse associated with the character? Which era/incarnation of the Hulk is your favourite? How are you celebrating Wolverine’s debut this month? Whatever you think about his issue, or Wolverine in general, leave a comment below and be sure to check in next Sunday for more Wolverine content!

3 thoughts on “Back Issues [Wolverine Month]: The Incredible Hulk #181

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