- Wolverine’s costume change in X-Men #139 was a major shock in 1980.
- Jim Lee’s fandom for Wolverine’s original X-Men costume influenced the decision to bring back the classic look in 1991
- The change was explained in Wolverine #49 and #50 due to Wolverine’s struggle with memory implants.
This is “In The Spotlight So Clear,” a feature where we spotlight times in comics where characters or plots need to be cleared out of the way to make room for a new status quo. Like, for instance, you want to introduce a new Captain Superhero, you might want to first get rid of the previous Captain Superhero. Or if you want to do a new Captain Superhero series, you might want to wrap up all of the plots from Captain Superhero’s previous series first. Stuff like that. Stories that are specifically meant to clear things up for upcoming stories. Today, we look at how Wolverine’s costume change in Jim Lee’s X-Men was explained in Wolverine’s solo series.
While obviously, major characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Captain America all underwent slight evolutions of their costumes over the years, it’s amazing just how rare it was to see any MAJOR changes have been made to most superhero costumes once they sort of hit a certain “set” point. For instance, Iron Man went through a number of different looks in his earliest issues, but after he hit on the yellow and gold design in Tales of Suspense #48, it wasn’t long after that he locked on a certain design that lasted for the next decade plus. Batman gaining a yellow oval for the bat emblem on his chest was a major change when it happened in 1964! That’s how rare it was for any big changes to occur to the most popular superheroes.
Therefore, it was a really big shock when John Byrne introduced a new costume for Wolverine in 1980’s X-Men #139, soon before Byrne stopped drawing the series.
[O]f course, unless they play football in Michigan, Wolverine’s are not blue and yellow….so I kept asking if I could come up with something more “wolverine-ish”.* Finally Shooter relented and said yes, and I sat down in the bullpen and doodled up what I had in mind. Then colorist Andy Yanchus had some copies made, and played around with different color combinations, the very first of which was… blue and yellow!
Then came the matter of introducing the new suit, and, in typical Wolverine fashion, I said he should just show up with it in the first logical issue, no comment. Which is pretty much what we did.It was gratifying, btw, that the readers (at least, those who wrote in) were almost universally positive. Comic fans tend to fear change, but this one they liked!
As Byrne notes, the costume change was a big hit, and Wolverine wore it for the next decade plus, before returning to the original look during JIm Lee’s stint on X-Men in 1991. Why did the change happen, and what was the explanation used to explain the change?
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Why did Jim Lee change Wolverine’s costume?
How did Jim Lee’s X-Men fandom tie into the change?
In 1991, Jim Lee was given full creative control of the X-Men, just in time for the series to launch a second title, with Lee plotting both X-Men and Uncanny X-Men (which he would co-plot with While Portacio, the artist on Uncanny X-Men). However, first, Chris Claremont and Lee wrote one final story together in X-Men #1-3, sending Claremont off with some heavy-duty royalties from the release of X-Men #1, the highest-selling comic book title of all-time…
(Amusingly, Jim Lee answered a funny question I asked about the cover a few years ago).
Presumably because he that first arc was about saying goodbye to Claremont, Lee kept Wolverine’s costume for that first arc, even though Lee introduced new costumes for a number of the X-Men in X-Men #1, and it was Lee’s costume designs that would be adopted by the X-Men: The Animated Series design team for that series when it launched the following year.
Way back in 1977, when Lee was a teenager, he did a drawing of Wolverine in his original All-New, All-Different costume (basically his original costume, just with the Gil Kane-added cowl tweak)…
So obviously, Wolverine in that costume meant a lot to Lee. Well, in X-Men #4, Lee had Wolverine go back to that costume…
And amusingly, Byrne had become the scripter on X-Men with X-Men #4, and Byrne recalled Lee talking to him about the costume change, “When I followed Chris as writer on UNCANNY, one of the first things Jim Lee so proudly announced to me was that he was putting Wolverine back in his “real” costume. Apparently he was unaware of who it was who had made the change in the first place. (Or perhaps he thought I’d been “forced” to change Logan’s suit. There is so much myth-making behind the scenes!)”
So that was the real reason the costume changed, but how did Larry Hama explain the change in Wolverine’s solo series?
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What was the explanation in the comics for Wolverine changing his costume?
In Wolverine #49 (by Larry Hama, Marc Silvestri, Dan Green and Hilary Barta), Wolverine was struggling with the memory implants that had been planted in his mind by Department H. Professor X and Jean Grey tried to help remove them, but they were so deeply woven into his brain that Xavier explained that if he were to remove them, Logan might become basically feral. Wolverine did not like to hear that, and tore off his brown costume, explaining that he is not an animal, he is an X-Man!
And then, in the next issue, Wolverine #50, he is wearing the classic costume again…
Wolverine #50 came out the same month as X-Men #4, so that was the explanation given to get Wolverine out of his brown costume, and into his classic costume, as that was the costume that he wore when he first joined the X-Men, and so it reminded him the most of being a man and not an animal (as again, Byrne even noted that the brown costume was meant to be more similar to what the actual animal, the wolverine, looked like).
It’s not the best of explanations, but it’s not better than nothing! Especially when you really don’t need a reason to change your costume, per se.
Okay, so that’s it for this installment of In the Spotlight So Clear! Feel free to suggest other examples to me at email@example.com!