Welcome to the five hundred and thirty-second in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the first five hundred (I actually haven’t been able to update it in a while). This week, was Wolverine about to be written out of the X-Men when John Byrne took over the book? Did Walter Simonson create his Surtur Sage over a decade before becoming the writer on Thor? And did an artist quickly put out a comic book to keep a cartoon company from stealing his idea?
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: Wolverine was about to be written out of X-Men when John Byrne took over as artist on the title.
STATUS: A Mixture of True and False
Make no mistake about it, a huge chunk of Wolverine’s success as a character comes directly from the fact that Canadian artist John Byrne grew attached to the Canadian mutant and made a point of making him a major focus of the X-Men during his run on the title with Chris Claremont (scripter and co-plotter of the series). He and Claremont developed the character to the point where he became the breakout star of the X-Men. It certainly didn’t hurt that Byrne and inker Terry Austin drew Wolverine as the ultimate badass…
However, legend has it that Wolverine was actually on his way out of the book when Byrne took over. Reader Marta P. wrote in to ask me to clarify the story.
I’m a fan of the X-Men of Claremont and a fan of Wolverine. Lately, I have been reading a bit about the history of the X-men during the 70s and 80s and the creation of the characters. In several of those articles said that Wolverine wasn’t exciting enough and was going to be killed off or written out of the book, but because he is Canadian, Byrne “saved” him when he started penciling and co-plotting the X-men
The “false” aspect of the story is that clearly Wolverine wasn’t in any immediate danger of being written out of the title. In his last issue as the regular penciler on the X-Men, artist Dave Cocrkum gave Wolverine a brand-new costume, a costume that Cockrum had to fight for a long time with Marvel editorial to get approved (everyone wanted a say in Wolverine’s new costume, with the guiding principle that it was supposed to look more like a wolverine than his original bright-colored costume)…
That’s not the sort of thing you do to a character you’re about to write out of the comic.
In addition, when asked if he and Chris Claremont were planning to write Wolverine out of the comic, Cockrum told Tom DeFalco (in DeFalco’s excellent book, Comic Creators on the X-Men):
Even though I didn’t like him and I didn’t know exactly what to do with him, I don’t think we were ever thinking about actually removing him from the book
Byrne, however, said in Back Issue #4 (in a great interview with Peter Sanderson) that early in his stint on the book (when he was not yet co-plotting the book and it wasn’t even absolutely clear that he wasn’t going to be giving way back to Cockrum as the artist on the series):
Chris told me at one point, “We’re going to write Wolverine out because we don’t know what to do with him. And I stamped my little foot and said there is no way you’re writing out the only Canadian character. And so I made him mine. Whenever I do a group book I make one character mine and sort of focus on that character so I have a focus for the book.
More recently, Byrne has noted that there was no set end point in sight for Wolverine.
What I think it sounds like is that IF Dave Cockrum stayed on the book, their plan was likely to eventually write Wolverine out, but I don’t think they ever solidified it, but it was more a case of them, as they say, not knowing what to do with him, while Byrne clearly knew what to do with him, as Byrne not only made him a star, but he and Claremont made him so cool that when Cockrum returned to the series after Byrne’s departure, Cockrum was now a fan of Wolverine!
So I don’t know, it’s tough. Byrne says Claremont told him they were going to write Wolverine out, so I believe he DID tell Byrne that, so in a lot of ways, I do go with a “True” here, but I think Marta’s main point in asking me about this is that she feels that stories have made it sound like Wolverine’s departure was imminent when Byrne took over and even Byrne has noted that Wolverine’s departure was not imminent (it didn’t even have a set issue in mind) and when it comes to stuff like, “I figure we’ll write him out later,” those types of things often doesn’t actually come true, so as the story is most commonly told, I think it is misleading enough that I’m going with a false.
But Byrne clearly DID save Wolverine in the sense that he made Wolverine what he is today (something that Byrne often, presumably jokingly, apologizes for).
Thanks to Marta for the suggestion! And thanks to Peter Sanderson, Tom DeFalco, John Byrne and the late Dave Cockrum for the information!
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