Monday, October 3, 2011

Moments That Made the Bronze Age: Wolverine Begins

When we talk about shining moments of the Bronze Age of the 70's, there is one hero that we have to mention: Wolverine. His first sighting was an almost-unnoticed-at-the-time appearance in Hulk #181, a battle in which he fought the Wendigo and the Hulk, and lost when the Hulk sucker punched him.

He disappeared for a while until he was picked up in Giant-Sized X-Men #1. Ironically enough, the hero wasn't supposed to be a mutant, and his claws were actually just supposed to be attached to the gloves. That meant technically anyone could have become Wolverine later on. The guys are Marvel decided he'd make a good fit, turned him into a mutant, and threw him into the team.

Wolverine was a hit with the rest of the group, but unfortunately Thunderbird and he were both deemed too close to the same character and one had to go. Instead of just retiring the guy, they decided to kill Thunderbird in a toss-up decision that turned out to be the best one they could have made. Imagine how differently the next few years would have turned out if Wolverine had been the one they chose to kill off!

When John Byrne picked up the X-Men, he immediately focused on Wolverine as his favorite because they were both Canadian (true story) and he wanted a cool Canadian superhero. With Byrne's artwork, Wolverine became a superstar and helped propel the X-Men to one of the most popular comic titles of the 80's.

I can still vividly remember the first time I read X-Men #132 and saw that final panel where a soaked and beaten Wolverine finished the issue off with "Now it's my turn!" I couldn't wait for the next month!

When X-Men #133 came out, it did not disappoint. Wolverine was finally given the spotlight with his first solo cover! Inside he was basically the last free X-Man (the rest were captives of the Hellfire Club) and he tore through the faceless bad guys with some amazing action! There was no graphic scene of blood or guts like there would be today, but the story itself was so incredibly effective in every way. After the Dark Phoenix Saga ended, Wolverine got a new costume of brown and orange, and slowly the book focused more on him with the appearance of Alpha Flight, and even the return of the Wendigo.

If you missed out on this golden age of the X-Men, I highly encourage you to grab a copy of the "Essential X-Men" from that time. Even in black and white, Byrne's artwork and Chris Claremont's stories show you why everyone flocked to the title.

Today Wolverine is in just about every Marvel comic you pick up, either as a guest star, team member, or focal point, but back in the 70's and 80's all we had were these once-a-month appearances (imagine that: just one X-Men title a month!) to feed our Wolverine frenzy.

Then in 1982, Frank Miller gave us what we were hoping for: Wolverine's own title. Granted, it was just a four-issue miniseries, but it was wonderful. Having grown used to seeing Wolverine's sleek look from John Byrne's pencils, it took a bit to adjust to Miller's gritty style and his odd way of drawing Wolverine's claws like they were coming out of his fingers rather than the back of his hand. Still, it was Wolverine and he was solo, so I was a happy camper.

Eventually Wolverine moved to a regular solo title with Madripoor as the setting, and the rest is history. Unfortunately, the Marvel execs soon realized that every comic with Wolverine as a guest star sold a bunch, so they started dropping him into every comic out there. His first showdown with Captain America was cool...his "battle" with Power Pack was not. It was a hit-and-miss affair that eventually diluted the character to the point where it was actually more fun trying to find a title that went six months without an appearance by him.

Today he's in Wolverine, X-Force, X-Men, and a few other titles on a regular basis. They've stripped him of his adamantium claws, given them back, killed him off, brought him back, gave him a son and a female clone daughter, and the list goes on and on. But for me, I'll always remember him as the cool yellow-and-blue guy in the X-Men who really gave us something to look forward to each month. I guess in hindsight giving him his own title was the beginning of the end. Maybe he was just one of those awesome secondary characters who was best in smaller doses.


William said...

Nice article.

Just like you, I really loved Wolverine in those early days. Especially when Byrne was handling him in X-Men. All of the examples you mentioned are right on the mark in my book.

I also agree that him getting his own title was the beginning of the end of the character's ultimate awesomeness. Not that Wolverine didn't deserve his own book, mind you, it's just that his solo adventures were not handled very well at all. In fact, I think that Wolvie is one of the most mismanaged characters in history. They should have kept it simple and left him a cool badass, Clint Eastwood with claws. Instead they heaped all that crap about implanted memories on him and it got totally out of control, until Logan became a confusing, watered down and over-exposed mess of a character.

A lot of his adventures as a solo character were kind of lame as well. The stories always seemed so disjointed and unfocused. That's why the early issues of his comic aren't really worth that much on the back-issue market, because they just weren't very good or memorable. What a missed opportunity to make one of the most awesome comic-books ever.

I think Marvel also further screwed up Wolverine by giving him a definitive "Origin" story. It effectively erased all of the cool mystery-man image that I loved about the character. And what was up with changing his name from the very cool "Logan" to the rather mundane "James Howlett"… LAME.

More recently, they have further weakened his image and diluted his uniqueness by giving him a son, a brother and a clone daughter with his exact same powers and personality. It's like what they did to Superman in the 50's and 60's. I'm surprised Marvel hasn't yet introduced "Clawsy" Logan's pet Wolverine with a healing factor like his. lol.

Which reminds me of one other factoid you didn't mention in your post. When Wolverine was first introduced, his original origin (as intended by his creators at the time) was that he was an actual Wolverine that was mutated and evolved by government scientists into a humanoid form. Luckily they ditched that idea and went with the idea of a human with animal based powers instead. Also, when Wolverine first appeared, in Hulk #181, he was only supposed to be about 19 years old. However when he joined the X-Men they decided to make him older. Then later, when they revealed that he had a healing factor that suppressed his aging, they made him really old.

When handled correctly, Wolverine is one of the best comic/superhero characters ever created, but unfortunately he is rarely given the proper justice he deserves.

BTW, have you seen the Wolverine Anime that is currently running on G4? If so, what do you think of it? I have mixed feelings about it myself. I don't like the character's design and the story is very slow and a little plodding. However, there are some pretty cool moments thrown in there as well.

Brian Reaves said...

Great observations, William! I haven't seen the anime (I'm probably the only comic geek in the world who doesn't care for anime), but I've seen some previews on the Internet. It looks ok, I guess, but I'm probably not getting into the series.

Mike said...

I remember waiting for X-Men 133 and being worried I might not be able to get it. The store that I usually got my comics at didn't have any of that issue left when I got there and I had to talk my mom into stopping at another store so I could see if they had it before we went home. She did and my world was saved.

I believe that may have been the first time Marvel actually showed Wolverine killing people, it happened off panel before that.
The lack of a graphic scenes was one of the things that made comics better in that era. The graphic scenes that later would become the norm in comics is one of the main reasons for comic books being "in crisis" these days. Some people will not buy them for their young children due to the graphic scenes. When their kids get a little older and the parents are willing to get comics for them, the kids interests have moved on to other things and the opportunity has passed never to return.

Brian Reaves said...

I completely agree, Mike. I think comics have gone way too graphic in their violence today. I still remember how cool it was to see Wolverine charge through those guys simply because we hadn't seen it up until that point. Suddenly it had an impact. Today, we're desensitized to that stuff because of how every comic has it in it.

Chris said...

Wolverine at his best was when he was just another character in an X-book and occasionally got a bit of disjointed origin in the Marvel Comics Presents books. He was Boba Fett...

Wolverine at his worst was when they stripped him of his adamantium, went feral, and started wearing a ninja hood...

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