Wolverine’s Most Iconic Appearance Inspired By The Least Likely Actor

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

hugh jackman wolverine

Pop quiz, hotshot: which movie actor do you think inspired the most iconic appearance of fan-favorite X-Men character Wolverine? Many fans are quick to say Clint Eastwood, and there’s some truth to that. When Frank Miller worked on the first Wolverine miniseries, he went out of his way to make the character look a bit more like the star of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. However, it was John Byrne who gave Wolverine his most iconic design after the character’s earlier appearances, and he modeled the character after a mostly obscure actor named Paul D’Amato.

Wolverine’s First Appearance

To understand how Wolverine’s most lasting design could be based on an actor most people have never heard of, we need to take things back to the beginning. Wolverine originally appeared in 1974 in The Incredible Hulk #180, kicking off what would become a series of grudge matches between the tiny scrapper and Hulk. Many details of the character were different back then, ranging from the fact that the “ears” of the mask are shorter to the fact that Wolverine was not originally meant to be a mutant in the first place.

Removing The Whiskers

He had previously pitched a group of supervillains to DC which included a character named Wolverine, two whole years before the premiere of the Marvel character. DC passed on the idea and Cockrum later integrated some of his designs for that character into his redesign of DC superhero Timber Wolf. By the time Cockrum was drawing Wolverine for Marvel, he seemed to borrow from his own earlier ideas, giving the grumpy mutant the same hairstyle as Timber Wolf.

Paul D’Amato In Slap Shot

Eventually, John Byrne replaced Dave Cockrum as the artist on Uncanny X-Men, which was now being written by Chris Claremont (the prolific writer who inarguably turned the X-Men into one of the most powerful franchises in comic history). When it came to Wolverine’s outfit, Byrne switched him back to the iconic yellow design, replacing the brown costume Cockrum had put the character in. Byrne also ended up giving the character under the mask a new design, one that ended up sticking (more or less).

The Wolverine design Byrne used made the superhero look a lot like the actor Paul D’Amato from the hockey movie Slap Shot. If you go back and watch the movie (it’s surprisingly great), it’s impossible to look at D’Amato’s character without seeing Wolverine. Even beyond surface-level details like the sideburns and big hair, the actor offers some fierce expressions in the film that certainly inspired Wolverine’s bouts of berserker rage.

The Artist Couldn’t Remember D’Amato

Perhaps the wildest thing about this Wolverine design detail is that even the artist didn’t remember the name of the actor. When Peter Sanderson interviewed John Byrne for TwoMorrows’ Back Issue #4, the artist dropped this hilarious bombshell on us. “My Wolverine is an actor whose name I don’t even know, who’s on camera for all of five minutes in a Paul Newman hockey movie called Slap Shot.”

Paul D’Amato Passes Away

There you have it, folks: if you didn’t already know the name of the man who inspired Wolverine’s most iconic design, neither did the man who drew it. Nonetheless, an unknown actor’s five minutes of celluloid fame ended up changing comics history forever.

Sadly, there’s no chance of Paul D’Amato making a winking cameo in the next Deadpool movie: the actor sadly passed away this week after a four-year struggle with brain disease progressive supranuclear palsy.

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