Wolverine is unique among superhero superstars. The other big heroes (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc.) all started out as solo heroes and then were added to teams like the Avengers or the Justice League of America based on their popularity. But Wolverine started out as a member of a team. He wasn’t even the star of the team when he started. He was the foil who moved up to favorite and finally graduated to superstar status.
For that reason, Wolverine doesn’t have the same set of foes as other heroes. He doesn’t have a classic nemesis like Lex Luthor or The Joker. He doesn’t have a huge rogues’ gallery like Spider-Man. Many of his favorite antagonists are borrowed from other heroes or his home team, the Uncanny X-Men. Yet there are villains who were created to face Wolverine. And there are others who have migrated to so many of his stories that they’re now primarily associated with Wolverine.
Here are my assorted thoughts on Wolverine’s villains: the regulars, the oddities, the frenemies, the good, the bad and the ugly.
The Good The best villains always reflect something back to the protagonist. Sometimes, they fulfill that role by being the opposite number. The Joker is chaos to Batman’s control. Lex Luthor is the brains to Superman’s brawn. Wolverine is the savage beast struggling to be civilized. Therefore, many of his best villains are those who use the veneer of civilization to cover a savage heart.
Lord Shingen is a great example of this. Lady Mariko’s father (and Logan’s prospective father-in-law) is about manners and titles. He’s respected and courteous. Where Wolverine is all rough edges, Lord Shingen is as smooth as silk. Yet Shingen’s civilized exterior hides a heart that is ruthless. He’s more bloodthirsty than Wolverine. Yet while Wolverine succumbs to an uncontrollable bloodlust, Shingen is coldly calculating in the way that he both orders and delivers death.
However, Lord Shingen isn’t alone. The resplendently dressed Matsuo Tsuyaraba has more respect for fine clothes than he does for human life. Donald Pierce is willing to throw his own humanity away in his quixotic quest to destroy those that he sees as inhuman. And the Silver Samurai displays the nobility of the samurai externally while consistently choosing the wrong side of any moral issue. Then, there’s Geist. He has old world aristocracy. He’s also a former Nazi with a disdain for inferior races because every hero needs at least one ex-Nazi.
Sometimes, great villains fulfill that role by reflecting the hero back to himself. They’re the mirror image, the carbon copy. Sinestro’s ring has the same powers as Green Lantern’s. The Crimson Dynamo wears a suit of armor just like Iron Man. Similarly,Wolverine faces a lot of foes with claws of fury. Most of these will be covered in the third section, “Ugly.” But a few of them fit here.
The closest carbon copy is Lady Deathstrike. She went through the same adamantium bonding process as Wolverine. Her fingers house long spikes, giving her five claws to Wolverine’s three. She has a few other cybernetic enhancements but she’s essentially what Wolverine would be if he had volunteered for the Weapon X program.
The other great mirror image is Sabretooth. Though he originally fought Power Man and Iron Fist, he has become Wolverine’s greatest villain. They are two sides of the same coin. They are former brothers in arms. They have the same healing factor and animal savagery. When Wolverine fights Sabretooth, he fights himself. At least, he fights what he would be if he wasn’t also fighting his own nature to become a better man. The clashes between Wolverine and Sabretooth are almost always classics.
Of course, not every bad guy is going to be a good one. I mean, none of them are good. They’re all villains, after all. But some of them aren’t even good villains. They’re not interesting. They’re not fleshed out as characters with motivation and purpose. They don’t seem to have a reason to fight this hero as opposed to any other.
The first villain that comes to mind in this category is Cyber. He’s supposed to be one of Wolverine’s opposite numbers. However, instead of having adamantium bonded to his skeleton, he has been given an adamantium skin. That should make him invulnerable. Not even Wolverine’s claws can cut him. But his personality is only skin deep (I apologize for the bad pun). He’s a random fighter and a faceless foe. Plus, his name doesn’t have anything to do with his powers.
I would also include Genesis in this category. Genesis is the one who killed Cyber and tried to use Cyber’s adamantium to restore Wolverine. Against Wolverine’s wishes, I might add. That’s a pretty pivotal part to play in Wolverine’s life. So you’d think that Genesis would be a pretty important or interesting character. Unfortunately, he’s not. His real name is Tyler Dayspring and he’s Cable’s son. But that doesn’t explain why he has such an interest in Wolverine. There’s a reason why Trigon fights the Titans and not the Outsiders. One has a personal connection, the other does not.
Wolverine has also faced off against a few uninteresting minor villains. Roughhouse and Bloodscream come to mind. One was big and ugly. The other was pale and ugly. However, they were introduced early in Wolverine’s solo series so they keep coming back, kind of like the Mole Man and the Fantastic Four.
Wolverine is a pretty scruffy fellow. He has big sideburns and wild hair that sticks out. He’s got a bit of the beast in him. And the writers like to have fun with that. Wolverine fights a lot of beasts, a lot of monsters and a lot of ugly villains.
In his debut, he fought a mythical monster known as Wendigo. In one of his classic stories, Weapon X, he actually fought a bear. And in a great ongoing story, he fought a werewolf called the Hunter-in-Darkness. He’s fought actual wolverines, wild dingoes and dinosaurs. Wolverine is often depicted fighting the beast within. But a lot of times, he gets to let loose and fight an actual beast, too.
Yet not every ugly villain is an animal. There are a few ugly humans, too. Some of them are ugly by accident. Some are ugly by choice. Deadpool is the classic example of the former. Like Sabretooth (and so many others), Deadpool debuted outside of Wolverine’s title. And Deadpool has become a bit of a star in his own right, with several solo titles. But they share a connection in their common history with the Weapon X program.The disfigured Deadpool makes for a great Wolverine villain when they do tangle as Deadpool’s sense of humor plays off of Wolverine’s serious nature.
On the other hand, Ogun is ugly by choice. It’s not that he has an ugly face. Rather, hecovers it with a demon mask. However, the mask doesn’t really hide his face as much as it reveals his true character. Ogun is a dark samurai with demon connections. He’s yet another villain who has the humanity that Wolverine so deperately desires and traded it away.
Wolverine’s ugliest villain has got to be Dirt Nap. Even though I didn’t like Genesis as a villain, I enjoyed the Dark Riders who worked for him. They were supposed to be Apocalypse’s minions but they made for a great team of misfits. Yet one of the Dark Riders was more memorable than the rest. Dirt Nap was a sentient rat. I don’t think we ever found out if Dirt Nap was a human who mutated into a rat or a rat who gained sentience. Either way, it was a lot of fun to see an actual gutter rat antagonize Wolverine and his friends.
That doesn’t cover everyone who’s ever fought Wolverine. There’s the android team of Albert and Elsie Dee (good). There’s the cyborg Cylla (bad). And there are the many X-Men foes who have tangled with Wolverine on their own: Mystique, Magneto, Masque, Mojo and a few with names that don’t start with the letter “M.” Yet I hope I’ve shown you that Wolverine has a large and varied cast of villains.