Marvel retroactively changes Wolverine's creators, 50 years after character's debut

The Marvel Comics superhero character called Wolverine — also known as Logan or Weapon X, or occasionally James Howlett — made his original comics debut in 1974's The Incredible Hulk #180. For the last 50 years, the credit for the character has gone to writer Len Wein and then-Marvel Art Director John Romita, Sr. (Although the comic itself was illustrated by Herb Trimpe.)

Over the weekend, however, former Marvel Editor-in-Chief Bobbie Chase took to Facebook to announce that the credit for Wolverine's creation has been curiously changed. Or perhaps — in the language of comic books — retconned? From the post:

Recently my friend and Len Wein's widow, Christine Valada, got a call from Marvel executive David Bogart, informing her that in the upcoming Wolverine & Deadpool movie (coming out this July), Roy Thomas will now be credited as the co-creator with Len Wein and John Romita Sr., and David said it's a done deal. I was standing in Christine's kitchen this past Sunday as she told me about the phone call. Of course Christine is seriously concerned about Len's legacy. Len was profoundly important to the comic book industry, and that legacy is being changed for the worse, six years after his death.

As Chase points out, Wein, Romita, and even Trimpe have all passed away. Roy Thomas, however, is still alive. At the time of Wolverine's creation, Thomas was serving as Marvel's Editor-in-Chief, having stepped into the role upon Stan Lee's promotion to Publisher.

So what was Thomas's contribution to the character? In a 2014 interview with Alter Ego, he explained that he had realized that Marvel had a decent number of Canadian readers, and mentioned to Len Wein that it might be lucrative to create a Canadian character:

I had only three requirements of the Wolverine, all of which I gave to Len in my office: (1) He was Canadian, and announced as such right away. (2) He was short, because a wolverine is a small animal. (3) He had a quick temper, because wolverines are known for being fierce and taking on beasts far bigger than they are.

Since art director John Romita remembers me asking him to design a wolverine costume, I may have looked at it once or twice before Herb Trimpe drew it into the story. Nor did I have any special contact with Len or Herb about the character after that. I had done my job by coming up with the general concept and name of the character called the Wolverine, who would be introduced as a villain (but, of course, at Marvel, that didn't mean he wouldn't be a hero any day now, and I wouldn't have bothered conceiving a Canadian super-character who was ONLY going to be a villain, would I? That might just annoy Canadians, when I was trying to give them an extra reason to buy Marvel comics). After that, Len did his part, which included developing the Wolverine. I consider that I, Len Wein, John Romita, and Herb Trimpe are all the co-creators of the Wolverine, in that chronological order–no one else was involved, unless you want to count the colorist.

Indeed, that's a story that Thomas has been telling since at least 1982 — that he gave Wein the idea to creator a Canadian character (along with a few different naming suggestions, including The Badger and Captain Canuck). Wein himself has acknowledged this as well.

To be fair, Marvel — and superhero comics in general — have an ugly and complex history when it comes to Intellectual Property Rights. But even within that context, this is a uniquely strange move, in that retroactively bestows creative credit for a successful character…upon a salaried member of the managerial staff. As numerous comic book editors have pointed out, the idea of crediting editors — let alone Editors-in-Chief! — for IP that was created under their watch is particularly unprecedented.