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Nov 22

The Incomplete Wolverine: 1976

Posted on Sunday, November 22, 2020 by Paul in Wolverine

Part 1: Origin to Origin II | Part 2: 1907 to 1914
Part 3: 1914 to 1939 | Part 4: World War II
Part 5: The postwar era | Part 6: Team X
Part 7: Post Team X | Part 8: Weapon X
Part 9: Department H | Part 10: The Silver Age

Last time, we entered Wolverine’s early years of publication. Now, let’s travel back to a strange time before Wolverine was a breakout character, and before the creators were all that bothered about him.

And for reasons I’ll explain, we kick off 1976 with an issue from 1977…

X-MEN vol 1 #106
“Dark Shroud of the Past!”

by Bill Mantlo, Bob Brown & Tom Sutton
August 1977

The X-Men fight psychic projections of the original team, subconsciously created by Professor X’s evil side during one of his nightmares. (These nightmares are a major subplot in the first couple of years of X-Men, but they don’t directly affect Wolverine. Basically, they’re the result of a botched psychic message to Professor X, foreshadowing the introduction of the Shi’ar.)

This is a fill-in issue, which explicitly takes place shortly after Moira arrives at the X-Men Mansion – even though it didn’t see print for over a year after that point. Although it appeared with a framing sequence by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum, Wolverine doesn’t appear in that bit, so we won’t be coming back to this issue again. There’s a bit of character work at the start: Cyclops accuses Wolverine of putting on a “mad killer” act, while Wolverine complains that Cyclops has been pushing the team too hard ever since Thunderbird died. Banshee chips in to agree, just so we know that the brattish Wolverine actually has a point for a change.

Technically, this is Wolverine’s first encounter with Professor X’s suppressed evil side, which will eventually show up again in X-Men vs Micronauts as the Entity. The story is so unimportant that the Classic X-Men reprint series just skipped it.

X-MEN vol 1 #97
“My Brother, My Enemy!”
by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum & Sam Grainger
February 1976

The X-Men accompany Professor X to the airport to see him off on a trip – except for Banshee, who’s hanging around with Moira, and Wolverine, who’s just antisocial. The plane is attacked by a new Erik the Red (who later turns out to be Shi’ar spy Davan Shakari) and his brainwashed henchmen, Havok and Lorna Dane (now Polaris). The X-Men drive them off. Wolverine and Banshee show up as reinforcements at the very end, with Wolverine whining at Cyclops for not shooting the escaping villains with his optic beam. Wolverine calls Cyclops “gutless”, Cyclops decks him, and Storm stops him retaliating.

Wolverine’s in this story for a grand total of two pages, but they sum up his position in the team at this point: he’s a macho idiot who yells stupid things at the sensible people in charge, and gets dressed down by any other character with an ounce of authority while the audience cheers. It’s 1976, and Wolverine isn’t cool yet.

“…And the Nightcrawler Came Prowling, Prowling”
by Len Wein, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito
October 1976

Nightcrawler teams up with Spider-Man and the Punisher to fight Jigsaw. (Bear in mind that in 1976 the Punisher was still using rubber bullets.) Wolverine has a brief cameo at the Mansion, having more pointless arguments. He’ll meet Spider-Man soon enough, but he won’t meet the Punisher until much, much later. This one comes out of publication order because the X-Men are about to embark on a lengthy storyline which doesn’t allow many obvious gaps for guest appearances.

The Marvel Chronology Project lists a flashback in X-Men Unlimited vol 1 #25 as going in here – it’s a brief scene of Logan and Kurt talking about religion while they fix the Blackbird, and the placement is probably arbitrary.

“Tag, Sucker”
by Chris Claremont & John Bolton
June 1987

Logan has spent the better part of a week wandering New York and getting to know the place. Sabretooth stalks him, taunts him, and kills an innocent girl. Wolverine finally realises who he’s dealing with, and changes into costume to fight him – only to get swiftly beaten and thrown into the sea. As he clambers onto the Staten Island Ferry, Wolverine thinks to himself that he’ll need to change and grow if he’s ever going to beat Sabretooth – and doubts whether he can.

Obviously, this is Claremont writing early Wolverine through the lens of a later interpretation of the character, and inserting his lifelong feud with Sabretooth – Sabretooth had debuted in Iron Fist by this point, but their rivalry wasn’t established until 1986.

The story accompanies a reprint of issue #102, but that’s in the middle of a lengthy storyline, and so this is the latest available gap for it. The MCP has it even earlier, but I’m not convinced that’s needed. The MCP also takes this fight as one of the near-death experiences which leads to Wolverine fighting Lazaer in flashback in Wolverine vol 3 #58, which seems fair enough.

“A Miracle a Few Blocks Down From 34th Street”
by Scott Lobdell, Dave Cockrum, Joe Rubinstein & Paty Cockrum

A throwaway Christmas story. The X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants – a makeshift roster consisting of the Blob, the Toad, Unus the Untouchable and Mastermind – compete to find a powerful mutant in New York. It turns out to be Santa Claus, who turns the Brotherhood into toys and then wipes the X-Men’s memory of the whole thing. (Look, it’s not like it’s the only Marvel story to canonise Santa Claus.) I suppose it’s meant to be a riff on the X-Men and the Brotherhood competing to recruit the Stranger in X-Men vol 1 #11? Anyway, it ends by leading directly into…

X-MEN vol 1 #98-100
“Merry Christmas, X-Men… the Sentinels Have Returned!” / “Deathstar, Rising!” / “Greater Love Hath No X-Man…”
by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, Sam Grainger & Frank Chiara
April to August 1976

The X-Men visit the Christmas celebrations in midtown New York. (Cover dates were miles out of synch with reality in those days, because they wanted issues to stay on the shelves for longer.) Also present are Moira MacTaggert, Jean Grey, and two supporting characters that Logan meets for the first time: Amanda Sefton and Betsy Wilford. Naturally, Logan is a surly grinch, who wanders off on his own, claiming he has “no use for Christmas”.

The Sentinels capture Wolverine, Banshee, Jean and Professor X, and take them to the space station base of Project Armageddon, under the command of Steven Lang. The rest of the X-Men mount a rescue mission using a space shuttle piloted by scientist Peter Corbeau. They fight Lang’s “X-Sentinels” – replicas of the original X-Men, which Wolverine exposes as robots. Lang and his men flee, and the X-Men have to escape the damaged base aboard Corbeau’s space shuttle during a dangerous solar flare. Jean volunteers to be the unshielded pilot, but more of that in a bit.

These are important issues for Wolverine, as Claremont and Cockrum are starting to retool him. It’s the first time we see Logan without his mask, and Dave Cockrum’s character design is wildly at odds with the childish brat that’s so far shown up in the stories. Cockrum makes Wolverine look much older than we’ve been led to expect, which immediately drags him away from the “toxic reckless youth” interpretation, and positions him more as “disturbingly strange”.

This is also the first time Wolverine uses his claws out of costume. Until now readers would have assumed that they were gimmicks in his gloves. Somewhat implausibly, Wolverine has apparently been keeping this secret from the other X-Men – it’s not really something that seems to bother him at any other point in his continuity, and quite how this never came up in their training sessions is difficult to understand. In the first few years, though, Wolverine is consistently written as being insanely secretive, and as fending off questions with improbable “you never asked” explanations. (They must have asked, and he must have ducked the question until he was in the mood to answer.)

Wolverine also uses his senses for the first time, to identify that the X-Sentinels are robots – but it’s played not so much as a superpower as something to do with his generally animalistic perspective on the world.

His attraction to Jean Grey also comes into play here. He obnoxiously cuts away more of her evening gown than necessary in order to make it practical in a fight. It’s specifically Jean that he instinctually recognises as a robot impostor, not any of the other founding members. And it’s only him and Cyclops who try to dissuade Jean from taking on the suicide mission – though Jean shows absolutely no sign of reciprocating his concern, dismissing him as an “obnoxious little upstart”. (Admittedly, he told her she was just trying to impress to her father figure Professor X, which probably didn’t go down well.)

So Wolverine’s starting to come into focus here. But at the same time, the Project run some tests which cast doubt on whether Wolverine is a mutant – reportedly, this was foreshadowing a plot where he’d turn out to be a creation of the High Evolutionary. Obviously that never came to fruition, but it shows that he was still a work in progress.

The expansion pack for this arc:

  • Marvels Epilogue re-tells the fight against the Sentinels in New York from the perspective of photojournalist Phil Sheldon. Logan has a brief exchange with him at the start.
  • Classic X-Men #6 is an expanded reprint of X-Men #98. Banshee and Wolverine get to put up a little bit more of a fight before getting captured. (Wolverine also uses his claws out of costume, which ought to spoil the reveal on the space station.)
  • Classic X-Men #7 is an expanded reprint of X-Men #99. There’s a bit more of Wolverine and the other prisoners being rescued.
  • Classic X-Men #8 is an expanded reprint of X-Men #100, continuing directly into a de facto back-up strip where Jean becomes Phoenix. Wolverine and the other X-Men have a brief cameo in the passenger compartment.
  • According to Uncanny X-Men: First Class #6, the solar flare in this story was caused by the Knights of Hykon battling on the sun. More of them in a future instalment.

X-MEN vol 1 #101 (part 1)
“Like a Phoenix, From the Ashes!”
by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum & Frank Chiaramonte
October 1976

The shuttle crashes in Jamaica Bay, and to everyone’s surprise Jean emerges transformed into Phoenix. Years down the line, this will get retconned into “the cosmic Phoenix Force takes Jean’s place, takes a part of her soul to use as a personality, and leaves the real Jean in an underwater cocoon to heal”. That’s not the original intent (which was presumably “what happens if somebody who has superpowers to start with re-enacts the origin story of the Fantastic Four”), so for the moment I’ll just keep calling her Jean.

Jean is taken to the hospital, where the X-Men keep vigil for several days. Completely failing to grasp the social dynamics, Logan goes to buy her flowers, and is surprised to find that everyone else is already waiting at the hospital – at which point he quietly bins the flowers before anyone sees them. By now he’s clearly smitten with Jean, and it becomes a clear subplot in the coming months. He’s also still claiming (in thought bubbles) that he’s never previously cared about anyone, let alone a girl. Part of the idea here is that Logan is in denial about his feelings, but even allowing for that, Claremont continues along this vein for a while before abruptly retconning it out – the idea that Logan had no meaningful friendships before joining the X-Men vanishes when James and Heather Hudson are introduced in a couple of years time.

But we’re in the early stages of a take on Wolverine that does stick: he views the X-Men as his new family, and that spurs him to try and overcome his animalistic urges and become a more rounded human. That’s basically his long-term arc during the first Claremont run.

Eventually the doctors announce that Jean’s going to be fine in the end… but hold on. Before we get to that, there are some stories that take place while the X-Men are hanging around at the hospital – one deliberately, and the rest as the result of an awkward continuity error.

“The Gift”
by Chris Claremont & John Bolton
May 1987

This is a Nightcrawler back-up strip, which takes place while the X-Men are holding their vigil at the hospital. Wolverine appears for a single panel in the waiting room.

“The Lords of Light and Darkness”
by Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito

This, on the other hand, is a blunder. The problem is that it features Phoenix as a member of the X-Men, but it also ties in to the subplot of Professor X’s nightmares. And that doesn’t work, because by the time Phoenix gets out of hospital and rejoins the team, the nightmare subplot is finished. The easy solution would have been to ignore the references to Xavier’s nightmares, but instead George Olshevsky’s 1980s X-Men Index opted to have Phoenix get better, rejoin the X-Men, and then relapse, all between pages of X-Men #101. It’s a ridiculous stretch but as we’ll see, it later got canonised by a continuity implant – so here we are.

The X-Men tag along with Professor X on a private flight to a scientific conference about mutation. The plane gets shot down by the Lords of Light and Darkness, one-off villains who gained powers in a nuclear test gone wrong, and want Phoenix to help them destroy the Earth so that they can ascend to the next plane of existence. The X-Men team up with Spider-Man (who was on the plane as a photographer) and eventually find a way to turn the Lords into energy beings without destroying the world, so everyone’s happy. Wolverine’s met a time-travelling Spider-Man before in his youth, but he doesn’t remember that, and in practical terms this is their first meeting.

Professor X telepathically summons the “X-Shuttle” to fly them home, and offers Spider-Man a lift, which leads to…

MARVEL TEAM-UP vol 1 #53
“Nightmare in New Mexico!”
by Bill Mantlo, John Byrne & Frank Giacoia
January 1977

This is of interest solely because it’s the first time John Byrne draws Wolverine. The X-Shuttle comes under attack by military drones, but poor nightmare-plagued Professor X is too exhausted for the X-Men to investigate, so Spider-Man and Banshee investigate on their own. Banshee catches up soon enough, while Spider-Man stays behind to have an adventure with the Hulk and Woodgod.

“A Case of Sunstroke”
by Barry Dutter & Vince Evans
June 1992

This obscure X-Men back-up strip accompanied a reprint of Marvel Team-Up #53. Still on the same eventful trip, the X-Men are now attacked by Sunstroke (Sol Brodstroke) and his Desert Dwellers (Cactus, Butte and Gila) – obscure West Coast Avengers villains who are looting passing aircraft to pass the time while they wait to help out with an alien invasion. The gimmick is that Sunstroke’s teammates all blend into the environment, so the X-Men think they’re just fighting one guy. During the fight, Phoenix passes out from the strain of dealing with her new powers, and the X-Men have to break off and take her back to the hospital – thus canonising Olshevsky’s continuity fix.

X-MEN vol 1 #101 (part 2) to #103
“Like A Phoenix, From the Ashes!” / “Who Will Stop the Juggernaut?” / The Fall of the Tower”
by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, Frank Chiaramonte & Sam Grainger
October 1976 to February 1977

Right, where were we? Jean is out of the woods, but she’s going to be in hospital for a while. So Professor X decides that he, Cyclops and Moira will stay behind, while the rest of the X-Men go on a “well deserved holiday”. Logan takes a bit of persuasion to leave Jean behind, but he backs down quickly enough – the idea is that he’s unwilling to show his feelings openly by pushing any harder than the rest of the team.

So the X-Men (minus Scott) go on holiday to Ireland. At Banshee’s newly-inherited ancestral castle, Cassidy Keep. the X-Men are attacked by Banshee’s vindictive cousin Black Tom Cassidy and his partner the Juggernaut (Cain Marko). (They’re working for Erik the Red, who wants them to capture the X-Men as bait to lure in Professor X.) The X-Men defeat Black Tom and Juggernaut with the aid of the leprechauns of Cassidy Keep, and if you’ve never seen the leprechauns of Cassidy Keep, they’re exactly as awful as you’re imagining. The villains fall into the sea and get swept away in a storm.

Wolverine doesn’t get much to do in this arc, which focusses more on Storm. He shows up to Sean’s formal dinner dressed as if he’s going to a line dance competition, and there’s a bit in issue #102 where he squabbles with Colossus about whether to keep fighting or try and help Storm with her panic attack. Even though he has a point about the villains being a more pressing problem, he’s so obnoxious as to leave no doubt where our sympathies are meant to be. At this point he’s a spiritual ancestor to Guy Gardner – a bozo who tells Storm that there’s nothing she can do to help, seconds before she picks the lock.

The story does have one thing that’s important for Wolverine – one of the leprechauns calls him Logan, the first time that name is used on panel. Wolverine doesn’t go by that name at this point, and it won’t be mentioned again until 1979.

Next time, Wolverine in 1977.

Edited on 5 December 2020 to add Marvels Epilogue, Marvel Holiday Special 1991, and a note on Logan’s name. Edited on 25 July 2021 to correct the entry for X-Men #97.

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