Wolverine has had many ups and downs throughout his life, but the time Magneto pulled out his adamantium skeleton changed his character’s trajectory. This era of Wolverine lasted from 1993’s X-Men (Vol. 2) #25 to 1999’s Wolverine (Vol. 2) #145, a period of six years where Wolverine functioned without the fabled metal. Some fans look down on this era because of the way it led to his feral arc. Some fans still make fun of this noseless version of Wolverine but many of their complaints are overblown.
Wolverine’s time without his adamantium was way more interesting than it gets credit for. Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton and healing factor make it hard for his stories to have any real stakes. Removing those elements took away a crutch and led to six years of Wolverine stories unlike any others out there.
Wolverine losing his adamantium was a seminal moment in ’90s comics history and it’s honestly kind of surprising that Marvel actually did it. In 1993, Wolverine was massively popular. He was easily the most popular member of the X-Men, which was already Marvel’s best-selling comic every month. His solo book also sold extremely well, easily overstepping everyone else at Marvel that wasn’t Spider-Man. Wolverine was a sales titan and was also starring in X-Men: The Animated Series. In this day of Marvel embracing outside media synergy, the comics going their own way at a time when there was something as big as X-Men: The Animated Series going on is inconceivable. Taking away Wolverine’s adamantium was a huge change that removed an iconic aspect of his character.
Of course, it also made perfect sense. The fact that Magneto hadn’t just killed Wolverine early in his career with the X-Men already stretched credulity something fierce. The Claremont years had made Magneto into a sympathetic almost hero; the post-Claremont X-office was going in a different direction and they needed to redefine him by having him do something drastic. The X-Men in the ’90s didn’t really have any spare characters to use as cannon fodder. Just about all of them had pretty big fanbases or were otherwise impossible to kill off. Wolverine was the easiest team member to break, as it were because he was known for surviving. He was also the character most in danger of getting stagnant, which made him ripe for a big change.
At that point, Wolverine was only a couple of years away from the revelations of Weapon X and Marvel had taken that story as far as they could in his solo book. They weren’t going to reveal all Wolverine’s secrets yet because that would take away the man of mystery aspect to the character that made him so intriguing. Larry Hama, the writer of Wolverine (Vol. 2) at the time, was excellent but his hands were tied by Marvel editorial. Going back and reading those old Wolverine stories that tried to dig into Weapon X lore can be very frustrating because they’re set up to feel like there’s a big reveal just around every corner but they never pay off. Marvel wasn’t going to let Hama reveal any of Weapon X’s secrets because then they’d tethered to a set story and there was a good chance of reader backlash.
So, Magneto removed Wolverine’s adamantium instead. Suddenly, there was a sea change in Wolverine stories. Up until this point, readers had seen a lot of Weapon X stories and stories that dug into Wolverine’s past during the Cold War. All of those suddenly vanished the minute Wolverine lost his adamantium. The character had moved on and the bone claws years had begun.
Reinventing Wolverine’s Claws
Wolverine (Vol. 2) #75 dropped a shocker on readers. He’d barely survived the loss of his adamantium and it ravaged his healing factor and body. In order to prove his worth to the team, Wolverine went into the Danger Room to test himself and instinctively popped his claws — which at this point had always been pure adamantium blades implanted by Weapon X, as established in the story of the same name. Six razor-sharp bone claws popped out of his skin and suddenly, fans understood something new about their favorite character. Of course, it was a shock because it contradicted what Weapon X had literally just told them but that is part of what made it such a great twist. This moment completely redefined what readers knew about Wolverine and his powers.
Suddenly Wolverine couldn’t cut through anything in his way. His claws had limits, which meant that Wolverine had limits. Wolverine’s bones could be broken, which meant he had to rethink the way he fought, even with his healing factor. In fact, in the immediate aftermath of losing his adamantium, his healing factor was actually much weaker because of the trauma of keeping him alive after such a catastrophic injury. Suddenly, Wolverine (Vol. 2) had stakes again. The Canucklehead wasn’t just an unstoppable tank who could walk into any fight and soak up damage. Now, it felt reasonable to assume that Wolverine could lose or die. His battle against Cyber really drove this point home. Cyber’s adamantium arms and super strength made him a tough fight for Wolverine with his adamantium. Without it, Cyber simply shattered Wolverine’s claws and the hero had to come at the fight from a new angle.
There’s a reason some of Wolverine’s best fights are from his bone claw years. These fights weren’t just Wolverine trading shots with his enemies like an unstoppable gunslinger in the Old West; they were desperate battles where Wolverine had to figure out how to win fights against enemies who challenged him when he had unbreakable bones. Wolverine always had a tendency to throw himself into fights, even against foes like The Hulk. Now, he had to have a plan. He had to think. He had to use his vaunted skills and experience to do something besides jump in claws first and hope to win. It was an exciting time to be a Wolverine fan because readers finally got to see why he was the best there is what he does and not just watch him survive wounds that would kill anyone else.
Mainstream comic readers don’t get a lot of chances to read stories they’ve never seen before. The comic industry is based on nostalgia and appealing to what readers have always had. The status quo can change for a little bit, but it’s always going to snap back, sooner rather than later. Bone claw Wolverine was a chance to get a fresh angle on Wolverine. It challenged creators to use Wolverine in new ways, which gave readers more exciting stories.
The Feral Wolverine Problem
Wolverine (Vol. 2) #76-90 was about Wolverine re-learning his limits. Wolverine (Vol. 2) #91-100 was about him going feral. Wolverine’s return to the X-Men revealed that his adamantium had been holding back his mutation, and without it, he was going feral. These nine issues gave fans a wilder Wolverine than ever and represented another drastic departure from what Wolverine had been. Wolverine was always wild, but now he was walking on a razor blade, always on the edge of a berserker rage. This took a well-known Wolverine trope and tweaked it, adding even more danger than before. This was a new face for Wolverine and it was refreshing for fans to see him in this frightening light.
Of course, issue one hundred was the one where Wolverine finally went completely feral and this turned off a lot of his fans, as he became a more animalistic hero. However, there’s a kernel of a good idea from this time. Wolverine was suddenly more savage than ever. He had to train and work hard to keep from snapping. It honestly seems like Marvel got cold feet at this point because they basically fast-forwarded through this part of Wolverine’s character development to get him back to a recognizable status quo, explaining his return to normal as a set of image inducers before even that sort of just went away.
A lot of readers reacted badly to Wolverine turning into an animal and it’s the main reason the bone claw era gets such a bad name. Marvel getting cold feet so quickly was definitely a part of it, and the constant complaints from readers who just wanted the old status quo back played a huge role in the story’s abrupt end. Fans didn’t like the change because they had been conditioned to expect the familiar. Marvel kneecapped the plotline but kept the bone claws around. They also kept the more jagged Wolverine font for years to come, reminding readers that despite looking normal, things definitely weren’t normal inside of Logan’s head.
Knowing how the bone claw saga shook out, it’s easy to say that making Wolverine go feral was a mistake. However, it’s impossible to say that it was a bad idea because Marvel never gave the idea the chance to breathe. There were a lot of great stories released during this period — Wolverine (Vol. 2) #91-100 is full of issues with cool action, great set-up, and amazing character moments from Wolverine and the other characters. The fact they backed off nearly immediately after pulling the trigger on the plotline is the most disappointing part, as is the way that fans of the character reacted to the story. It’s the main blemish on the bone claw years, and it’s colored the way readers have perceived them ever since.
Looking back at Wolverine’s bone claw years, it’s amazing they lasted as long as they did. Modern Marvel would never allow a big change in a popular character to drag on for years. Wolverine lost his adamantium skeleton for six years. The character went through most of the ’90s, one of his strongest, best-selling eras, without it.
The bone claw years are interesting because they gave readers a new Wolverine. Gone was the Hulkbusting Wolverine of the past. If bone claw Wolverine was going to fight Hulk, he was going to have to have an impeccable plan. The tank that could cut through anything in his path was gone and in his place, readers found a smarter, scrappier fighter. Wolverine with adamantium is fine, but bone claw Wolverine gave readers better stories that actually tested Wolverine in ways they hadn’t seen before.
Wolverine first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #180, where he battled the Jade Giant to a standstill, before joining Marvel’s X-Men in 1975. Since then, the short-tempered berserker with unbreakable claws has proven himself as one of Marvel’s most popular characters. The mutant hero was also the backbone of the X-Men film franchise, which ran from 2000 to 2020, and critics consider his solo film, Logan, one of the best superhero movies ever made.
Known as an unstoppable tank who can cut through anything, Wolverine isn’t technically one of Marvel’s most powerful heroes but he’s one of the deadliest characters on their roster. Even villains like Magneto and the Juggernaut have learned to be wary of Wolverine’s claws.
Fans today laugh at bone claw Wolverine and his noseless face but losing his adamantium challenged the X-Men’s greatest warrior like never before. Read More