The reasons for this enduring popularity aren't a big mystery. His ornery personality, loner status, vicious fighting style, and (of course) those claws connect with the meaner, more mercenary spirit of the age...replacing the straight-up heroism of earlier superheroes with a more compromised, complicated brand of morality.
So, where did this short, hairy, sawed-off-shotgun of a character come from, anyway? Contrary to what younger fans might assume, Wolverine didn't make his debut in an issue of The X-Men. In fact, Marvel's X-Men was little more than a reprint title on life-support when Wolverine literally burst onto the scene in The Incredible Hulk #180 (1974).
As Canada's Weapon X, Wolverine was dispatched to the forests of Quebec to bring down the brawling Hulk and a supernatural beast named the Wendigo. In that issue's final panel, Wolverine jumps into action wearing a costume that looked a bit different than the one we're familiar with. Designed by Marvel Art Director John Romita Sr., the costume had one feature that, in hindsight, seems to fight against Wolverine's ultra tough-guy image: those cute stylized whiskers surrounding his mask's mouth opening!
John Romita Sr.'s original concept sketch
(from the collection of Vince Oliva)
With his second appearance in the legendary Giant-Size X-Men #1 (1975), Wolverine retained most of his costume's original look....minus the goofy whiskers, which were replaced with a much cooler-looking black mask.
There you have it. As much of a snarling tough guy the comic book and movie Wolverine can be, never forget there was once a time when he willingly wore a costume with whiskers!