Long before one of the most recognizable comic book characters of all time graced the cover of innumerable issues and became a standout in Fox’s animated X-Men series in the early 90s and several Fox X-Men films, former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Roy Thomas gave the order that put the clawed loner on the page for the first time.

In 1974, Thomas was working under Stan Lee, who was Marvel’s publisher at the time. According to Roy, The impetus for Wolverine’s creation came from the fact that roughly 5 to 10 percent of Marvel readers were Canadian. Thomas wanted them to have their own hero to root for.

Roy said he was thinking of animals that live in both Canada and the United States to liken Marvel’s first Canadian character to in both name and demeanor. Two animals stood out, a badger and a wolverine.

“I thought about the two of them and Badger, well, it’s a good enough name. As a matter of fact, there was a character— an imitation of Wolverine started a year or two later after he became big who was called the Badger and ran for quite a few years,” Thomas told me over Zoom in late February.

“But I just thought, Badger, it sounds like the verb. It kind of means to annoy. You badger somebody. And so it wasn’t quite as good a name,” Roy said. “And Wolverine had that kind of wolfy sound and the V in it. There was just something about it.”

After Thomas had the name, he remembers going to one of Marvel’s top writers for the story, Len Wein, who was writing The Incredible Hulk at the time. Roy previously wrote for the title.

“I called in Len and I told him [five] things,” Thomas stated. “I said, ‘I want this character in right away.’ Because I just wanted to establish it soon. I said, ‘He’s Canadian. He’s called Wolverine. And like a wolverine—’ It’s a small animal so I wanted [him] to be short.

“Most of the heroes are all six feet, six and a half feet. I wanted this to be a short hero. And the other thing was that wolverines are especially noticed— badgers, that could have worked for it too, is they’re noticed for, the wolverine, in particular, [noticed] for attacking animals up to 5, 10, or more times their own size. I mean, they don’t just defend themselves. They sometimes attack. They’re just vicious creatures. So I wanted him to be especially ill-tempered and kind of fierce.”

After finding Wolverine’s scribe, Thomas needed an artist. He went to John Romita, Marvel’s art director at the time.

Hollywood actor Hugh Jackman attends the Japanese premiere of “The Wolverine” in Tokyo on August 28, … [+] 2013. The film will be released nationwide from September 13. (Photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

“I went to our art director, John Romita, who, of course, was the guy who, as the second Spider-Man artist, had helped make Spider-Man the biggest-selling comic at Marvel, and really, a very good costume designer, great superhero artist,” Roy said. “And I told him, ‘I need you to design a costume for a character called Wolverine.’

“And the funny thing is, John didn’t tell me this at the time, but a little later, he said, ‘I didn’t know what a wolverine was. You came in and told me you wanted a wolverine. I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was a female wolf,’ he says, ‘I thought it was a type of a female wolf.’

“So he said he looked it up, I guess, in an encyclopedia or somewhere, found out what it was. And as a result of finding out what it was and finding how fierce it was, he gave him this costume with a claw motif. He’d do the kind of claws coming around.

“He gave him these three claws coming out of his [gloves] that were several inches long. And that was entirely John. It wasn’t me, it wasn’t Len, it wasn’t anybody else. It was just John thinking, ‘Well, Wolverine. Sounds like he should have pretty big claws.’ So he drew this picture while Len was working on the story.”

Thomas trusted Len’s writing ability and left him alone while he crafted the story. That trust would yield some key details to the character that fans still cherish 50 years later.

“Len, on his own, besides this kind of background of this Canadian secret organization that was in charge of Wolverine and so forth as Weapon X kind of thing; he came up with that. And he came up with the idea [the claws] were made of adamantium, which is the hardest substance known,” Roy recalled.

“I didn’t have anything to do with that, but I was particularly happy since I had invented adamantium for an Avengers story a couple of years earlier. And so I thought, ‘Well, that’s cool.’ But that was up to Len. Once I did my little bit, I was content to have him do the rest of it.”

LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 02: Mark Martin dressed as costumed supehero Wolverine joins over 1,580 … [+] costumed superheroes to break the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of superheroes on October 2, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. The event was organized by DreamWorks Animation for the upcoming film, “Megamind,” to break the Guiness World Record for largest gathering of costumed supeheros. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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Thomas also trusted Wein’s ability to edit. He primarily left the revisions up to Len as well.

“I kind of let Len do his thing and probably every word in there is entirely his,” Roy said. “And he worked, of course, with the artist who was then drawing the Hulk, Herb Trimpe, who I always have [credited]. I know Len did. A co-creator kind of, of (Wolverine) because you draw that first story, you have to do so many things. But sometimes, he gets left off the list of creators. But I feel the guy who actually drew the first story and set up all those things has to be counted too.

“So it was really a kind of a committee. I came first, but then you had John, you had Len, you had Herb Trimpe. Maybe Stan (Lee) was the only person who wasn’t involved. He finally saw a cover thing, he says, ‘Yeah, that’s good.’ That was it. Because he wasn’t intended to be a big character.

“He was just intended to give us a few more Canadian coins and just be an addition to our general list of heroes. No particular big deal any more than any other minor character we created.”

Wolverine would first appear in The Incredible Hulk #180 in a cameo on the last page. His first full appearance would be in The Incredible Hulk #181. The future member of the X-Men would not only be an integral part of the issue, with his storyline wrapping up in The Incredible Hulk #182, but he would be prominently featured battling the Hulk in one of the most iconic comic covers of all time.

Wein passed away in 2017 after struggling with heart issues at the age of 69 and Romita died in his sleep in June of 2023 at age 93. Trimpe passed away in 2015. Thomas is the last living person involved in Wolverine’s creation.

The Incredible Hulk #181 is now considered a holy grail comic, with even low grades commanding thousands of dollars, and #180, with the cameo, demands a pretty penny these days as well. The first-full appearance of Wolverine (#181) was published in November of 1974, though Thomas notes back then it was customary for a book to be in stores around two months before the pub date.

Some controversy ensued a couple weeks ago after Wein’s widow, Christine Valada, received a call from Marvel Entertainment executive David Bogart, who let her know that Thomas would be listed as a Wolverine co-creator with Wein and Romita in the credits of the upcoming July Deadpool & Wolverine film. Valada, plus some fans and comic creators took to social media to voice their frustration with the decision.

Roy hadn’t been officially listed as a co-creator of the character and Deadpool 3 would be Marvel Studios’ first film featuring Wolverine as Fox previously carried all the films with Logan.

Here’s what Roy told Forbes senior contributor Rob Salkowitz about receiving the credit in a recent interview:

“This situation is unfortunate because I am only trying to finally get credit for something where the facts have been known for many years, and I’m being portrayed as a ghoul trying to rob the corpse of Len Wein for credit and money,” Thomas said.

“First and foremost, this is not a financial issue. I’m not getting a penny, as far as I know, and it in no way takes away from whatever Len [Wein] and John [Romita]’s families may be getting, if anything. I don’t know what their financial arrangement is with Marvel. I’m already getting money from my other contributions to Marvel; I don’t need Wolverine money, thank you very much.”

“I don’t think this dilutes Len Wein’s legacy, because he has always been recognized for writing those stories and for everything he brought to the character, including bringing Wolverine into the X-Men [in 1975],” Roy said later in the interview with Salkowitz. “I’m not trying to take anything away from anyone, I just want credit for what I did. If there’s Wolverine money [from Disney], I hope his widow gets rich off it. I’ve got my own. I don’t need Len’s or hers.”

Valada, an entertainment and copyright attorney, responded to Thomas’ claims to Rob in an interview with Salkowitz following Roy’s.

“}]] Long before one of the most recognizable comic book characters of all time graced the cover of innumerable issues and became a standout in Fox’s X-Men animated series…  Read More