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Feb 22

Return of Wolverine

Posted on Friday, February 22, 2019 by Paul in x-axis

Return of Wolverine is a comic that exists to get a thing from A to B.  We all know that.  And everyone involved knows we all know that.  So what to do on the pages?

Charles Soule is a writer unusually willing to take on this sort of horrendous assignment – he was the one who killed off Wolverine in the first place, after all, not to mention the writer who tried his best to deliver on Marvel’s Inhumans fetish.  He can be very good when he’s writing something like Daredevil that doesn’t come with a ton of baggage attached.  On something like this, well, at least he tends to bring something wilfully eccentric to the exercise.

The obvious thing to do here, I guess, would be to try and lend it some weight by building around something or other from Wolverine’s past, and trying to make it part of a wider saga.  Instead, Soule goes in completely the opposite direction, giving us a completely new villain whose interest in Wolverine is almost incidental.  If you were wondering what those four lead-in miniseries had to do with any of this… well, they do introduce plot elements that crop up again here, but to be honest, they’re skippable as far as this story goes.

Wolverine wakes up as an amnesiac and finds a scientist who’s just been killed off by Soteira’s kill team.  Rather unclear about what’s actually going on, he sets off to stop Soteira and winds up tagging along with a woman whose son has been abducted by them.  What follows is vaguely surreal – the Soteira soldiers randomly include dead villains, there’s a running theme of Logan deciding which parts of his personality to release from their mental cages to re-form his mind, and there’s a whole eerily perfect Soteira town.  In amongst all this, the actual X-Men show up for an issue to try and retrieve Wolverine, only to be driven away when he doesn’t recognise them yet.

As it turns out, Soteira’s top baddie Persephone has the power to bring dead people back to pseudo-life, and pretty much everyone in the series other than the X-Men is actually a corpse under her control.  The city is her idea of perfection because it doesn’t have all the messiness of people trying to live individual lives.  Her grand plan is to kill everyone on Earth and then rebuild a more efficient society under the control of herself and a bunch of geniuses on an orbiting space platform.  So naturally Wolverine stops that.

And, er, that’s pretty much it.  The assigned task of bringing Wolverine back to life is already done before issue #1.  It carries itself through five issues not so much on the strength of content as on a general tone of off-kilter oddity.  The art was originally meant to be by Steve McNiven, who winds up only doing the first and last issues; in the event the middle three issues are done by Declan Shalvey, who’s perfectly fine but whose style doesn’t have quite the same precision, making for an obvious join.  (There’s also a glaring costume discontinuity between issues #4 and #5.)  Still, he brings something of the glassy-eyed stare to Soteira’s city.

But while it’s largely successful in terms of tone, Return of Wolverine is a mystifying comic in most other ways.  There’s the whole thing about Wolverine now having the power to heat up his claws, which doesn’t seem to connect to the rest of the story at all – I guess it’s just a Soteira’s upgrade, but why?  It’s trying too hard on something which ought to be simple.  I can’t help noticing that it hasn’t been mentioned in any other book where Wolverine has turned up since his return, so something tells me it might be quietly forgotten about.

There are some weird choices in terms of Soteira’s reanimated henchmen, who of course ought to be dead.  Daken makes sense, because he was killed in one of the lead-in minis, but Omega Red is a weird choice.  After all, Omega Red was a lead character in Weapon X at the same time as this series was coming out.  I don’t think it’s an outright error – I think he’s meant to be the doppelganger from the Omega Clan in Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, who was killed at the end of the story – but that’s pretty obscure, and surely more likely to confuse readers than anything else.

Most of all, though, this isn’t really a Wolverine story.  Yes, it explains his return, but on a fairly basic plot level: she tried bringing him back as a henchman and that apparently kickstarted his healing powers to bring him back for real.  It’s the sort of explanation that can be quietly shelved and never spoken of again.  I guess it plays into a theme of Logan against distant amoral science types, but Persephone’s a bit too weird for that.

When all is said and done, it mainly just feels like what it is: an exercise in getting from A to B while being mildly diverting in the process.  It’s quirky, but there’s not much to satisfy beneath the surface.

Bring on the comments

  1. Thom H. says:

    Weren’t Wolverine’s hot-claws supposed to have something to do with Phoenix Force? I think I skimmed that on a comics news site somewhere.

    Also: “It’s the sort of explanation [for Wolverine’s return] that can be quietly shelved and never spoken of again.” This was the main take away from Paul’s review of Cyclops’ return, too. Is this the best we can hope for anymore?

    At least someone like Jean has a reason/explanation for dying and coming back — Cyclops and Wolverine just get whatever nonsense explanations sidestep the most questions.

  2. Col_Fury says:

    Phoenix Wolverine (who first appeared in the Marvel Legacy one-shot, then made a bunch of “where’s Wolverine?” cameos in various books) is an alternate reality/future Wolverine, from the same timeline as the old Thor seen in Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder series and various other places. He’ll be appearing alongside Loki in the upcoming Wolverine: Infinity Watch mini.

    The #hotclaws have nothing to do with any of that. It may have been a fan theory before Avengers #700 came out, though.

  3. Col_Fury says:

    Re-reading my response, I have to wonder why did Marvel think it was a good idea to fake out Wolverine’s return before the actual return? I mean, I pay attention to this stuff and I’m confused. If you need a flowchart to understand something that’s (supposed to be) as basic as “Wolverine’s back,” something went wrong somewhere.

    To be fair, there was a change in Marvel’s editorial leadership shortly after the Marvel Legacy one-shot came out, so maybe there was another plan for Wolverine’s return, originally? Return of Wolverine #1 came out pretty much a year after Marvel Legacy #1 did. Hmn…

  4. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    I bet the Phoenix Wolverine ‘reveal’ wasn’t planned and is a last minute retcon cobbled together to make the protracted return of Logan make any kind of sense.

  5. Voord 99 says:

    That makes excellent sense. (Or doesn’t. But it makes excellent sense of why it doesn’t make sense.)

    Alternatively, faking the Logan return just before the Logan return is a commentary on how Old Man Logan was used to ensure that there could be no return, there being no absence. Logan was both absent and not; now he both returns and does not return. This destabilizes and interrogates our categories of “presence” and “absence.”

  6. Ben says:

    It was perfectly fine and forgettable.

    I still don’t understand the time frame though.

    Which Wolverine visited Jane Foster in the hospital?

    It’s odd they brought Wolvie and Cyk back only to immediately go into an arc without the X-Men or anyone who really cares they are back.

  7. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Basically, “Wolverine: Infinity Watch” posits that every single instance of a live Wolverine appearing between Death of Wolverine and Hunt for Wolverine/Return of Wolverine was Future Phoenix Wolverine masquerading as Present Vanilla Wolverine. “Marvel Legacy #1”? Phoenixverine. “Infinity Countdown”? Phoenixverine.

    Now, since “Return of Wolverine” states that a revived-but-not-himself Logan was around doing Soteira’s business, and he only became himself during “Return of Wolverine”, we must assume that Logan on the rooftop of Colossus&Kitty’s hotel on the day of their wedding and Logan who visited Jane Foster in her hospital were also instances of Phoenixverine. Why would he ever do that? Especially since being from the future, he would know that Kitty and Colossus wouldn’t get married? Who the heck knows.

    But it honestly gets stupider, because that means that the Wolverine who merged with Emma Frost in the Infinity Warps part od Infinity Wars was also Phoenixverine but somehow nobody noticed.

    All of which points to this being an obvious retcon and not a planned fake-out.

    Still, after all of that nonsense, his return is actually very straightforward – much more so than in Scott’s case. Persephone – who has resurrection powers – brought him back as an undead pawn, this kickstarted his healing factor, which after some time brought him all the way back. Honestly, in terms of plot mechanics this is one of the simplest resurrections in X-Men history. Compare this to Cyclops, Nightcrawler or Xavier and it is basically pedestrian.

  8. Ben says:

    You know I read Infinity Watch and didn’t even get that.

    All this Infinity Gem stuff has been proper nonsense.

    Yeah, it feels like they originally wanted Wolverine to be secretly alive but working from the shadows, but then changed course for some reason.

    Don’t even get me started on how much I hate the No More Mutants 2: Bad Writing Boogaloo stuff.

  9. Luis Dantas says:

    I never expected to be excited about Wolverine’s return. After all, I always found the character to be a waste of paper.

    All the same, I find a measure of fun in reading the commentary. Wolverine in Infinity Watch plotlines? “Phoenixverine”? A literal half dozen miniseries of prelude to the actual return miniseries?

    This all sounds like something MAD Magazine would declare to be happening.

    If I had to guess, I would venture to say Wolverine is truly returning in Uncanny X-Men while other X-Men besides Cyke are not around because the current editorial wants to gauge the reaction to his return with the most possible time to adjust going forward. Reader feedback will tell them, for instance, how much of a willingness there is to revisit the old retcon that Jean is somehow attracted to Wolverine.

    Come to think of it, Wolverine being around is probably a main reason why Jean remained dead for so long while the average X-Man dies and returns about four times as often.

    In any case, I did not miss Wolverine any, and I definitely do not miss him now either.

  10. Jason says:

    Krzysiek Ceran- he’s also friends with Rogue and Gambit.

  11. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Wait, what? Was he at their housewarming party?

  12. Jpw says:

    Will the other characters even notice he was gone? Why will they believe this is the real one, resurrected, and not some alternate version. Does it even make a difference?

  13. TipsyBot says:

    “Phoenixverine”? My personal vote is for “WolverPhoen”! 🙂

  14. Alex Hill says:

    I’d have thought that bringing Wolverine back from the dead would be a perfect change to shed any baggage and get back to the basics of the character. It amazes me how complicated they’ve managed to make this. It’s Wolverine! He stabs bad people, says ‘bub’ and occasionally feels a bit conflicted. He doesn’t need to be secretly from the future and going off to space to track down the infinity gems. He certainly doesn’t need the ability to make his claws red hot, which just complicates him unnecessarily. Which is a shame, as I liked the idea of him using the fact that people think he’s dead to do something behind the scenes and instead it’s… wait, what was the purpose behind Phoenixverine showing up at the end of random comics? Like, in-universe what was he trying to achieve?

  15. Moo says:

    “He doesn’t need to be secretly from the future and going off to space to track down the infinity gems. He certainly doesn’t need the ability to make his claws red hot, which just complicates him unnecessarily.”

    ^Wow, this sounds like Paul’s review of Jeph Loeb’s horrendous “Evolution” storyline from twelve years ago…

    “He does not need to be descended from wolves. He most certainly does not need to be tied to the immortal wolf-man who founded Rome.”

  16. Alex Hill says:

    Wow. I’ll admit to rereading that review occasionally at work when I’m bored, but it’s obviously seeped into my consciousness more than I thought.

  17. Thom H. says:

    So, let me get this straight: During the time that Wolverine was “dead,” there was a future version of Wolverine who basically took his place (Old Man Logan), a future version of Wolverine imbued with the Phoenix Force skulking around at various special events (WolverPhoen), and our own current-time undead version of Wolverine doing dirty work for a villain. All running around at the same time. Is that right? Because that’s the opposite of dead.

  18. Ben says:

    I gotta admit, I was hard set against “WolverPhoen” at first.

    But it’s growing on me.

  19. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    @Thom H.

    Well, it seems that current-time Wolverine spent some time in the ground before becoming a zombie henchman. So he was dead for a little while.

    Also, you forgot Legacy Wolverine With The Trademark (Laura), Former-Bitter-Rival Replacement Wolverine (Sabretooth), Mostly Evil Wolverine Jr (Daken), Mostly Forgettable Alternate Universe Wolverine Jr (Jimmy Hudson) and Former-Bitter-Rival Replacement Wolverine-But-Without-Even-The-Axis-Explanation Wolverine (Lady Deathstrike).

    This whole thing really was a historic mess.

    (Apart from Laura. Laura was awesome. She should’ve been the only replacement).

  20. Moo says:

    Wolverine comes in more flavours than Doritos. It’s beyond ridiculous.

  21. Alex Hill says:

    Remember that issue of Exiles where they had a team made up of different versions of Wolverine? That suddenly seems quite sensible.

  22. Voord 99 says:

    Apart from Laura. Laura was awesome. She should’ve been the only replacement

    Seconded. I think Logan has great potential as a *dead* character to support Laura’s story, and having all these other Logans around just gets in the way of what might be the only good use left for Logan as a character.

    (I’ll give Daken a pass, as you can see how the alternate Wolverine successor who’s a terrible person is a natural fit for Laura’s story.)

    Alex Hill makes a sound point about the desirability of bringing Logan back to basics. But I think that also shows the limits of the character: Logan hasn’t really been Basic Logan since the other X-Men were surprised that he knew Japanese and hunted deer without killing them.

    I.e., Logan might work best when he’s Basic Logan with the addition that, actually, there’s more to him than Basic Logan but we’re not going to be clear about what that is. On the one hand, Basic Logan is limited and useful primarily as a foil to other characters; on the other hand, Not-Basic Logan dilutes the character. So one ends up with a character who works best as a kind of uneasy balance between “Simple and Stabby!” and “Mr. Complicated!”

    That’s a hard balance to maintain indefinitely, and I am increasingly inclined to wonder if Logan had basically worn out his usefulness as a member of the X-Men relatively early on, perhaps as early as when Kitty left the team. I’ve never really taken to his solo stories, with the exception of Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X, but I can see that he might have had more mileage there for people who like that sort of thing.

    But like a lot of iconic characters, he’s just fabulous if he’s no longer around, and other, more interesting, characters have to grapple with his memory.

  23. Mo Walker says:

    The non-event that was The Return of Wolverine will probably lead scholars to write think pieces about diluting death in Marvel Comics. Especially when you have multiple alternate future versions of said character, your clone daughter and an alternate version of your son taking up the mantle.

  24. Moo says:

    He’d be fine if they could just use him sparingly for a change. If the X-Men were a dish, and each character were an ingredient in that dish, Wolverine would be the habanero pepper. He gives the dish its oomph. But Marvel just uses too damned much of him.

    As for Laura, not a fan. Whatever her merits as a character, at the end of the day she’s still a knockoff and I’m not a fan of taking a popular character and building a family of knockoffs around him/her. It’s too Mort Weisinger-esque for me.

  25. Chris V says:

    Yeah, I don’t think Marvel is ever going to learn that lesson.
    The existence of Savage Avengers, so that Wolverine can be both a member of the X-Men and Avengers again, says that Marvel will never change.

    I love the fact that we had, what, about 34 issues taking up about a year worth of publication for the “huge” return of Wolverine.
    Then, it would have just been as simple to have Wolverine show up at the mansion one day and say, “Hey, guess what? I’m not dead, bub.”
    Same result.

  26. Voord 99 says:

    r. It’s too Mort Weisinger-esque for me.

    I *also* prefer Supergirl to Superman, and would be all in favor of killing him off, too.

  27. Luis Dantas says:

    I rather like knock-off characters, and as it turns out Superman is a veritable goldmine for that purpose.

    I just don’t think Wolverine had much gas on him the first time around, let alone the twelveth. Even Laura is IMO a far stronger character when she distances herself from Logan.

  28. Thom H. says:

    @Voord 99: 100% to everything you wrote. There’s no mystery to a character whose main storylines are all about exploring his mysteries. We’re drowning in information about this character — can we please stop pretending that there’s some new angle on him to reveal? Foucault could write a book about it (rest his soul).

    Honestly, I think the only way to restore some usefulness to Wolverine is to semi-retire him. If he showed up only to scare students occasionally (a la Morrison) and consult on select cases, then we might start wondering what he’s been up to since we last saw him.

    Instead, of course, he’s a member of 2 or 3 teams of X-Men and Avengers at all times, so I guess that’s not happening soon.

    Also: LOL at “This destabilizes and interrogates our categories of ‘presence and ‘absence.'” Way to approach this problem with a positive attitude! 🙂

  29. Karl_H says:

    “The non-event that was The Return of Wolverine will probably lead scholars to write think pieces about diluting death in Marvel Comics.”

    Not to mention in-universe logic. The lack of powerful organizations in the MU investigating every resurrection in hopes of unlocking a reliable cure for death is insane. It’s like, the #1 biological drive.

  30. DP says:

    I think Marvel would be improved immensely if management instituted an iron-clad editorial rule:

    No significant characters should die unless you mean to never, ever bring them back.

    Instead of pointless and revoked deaths that cheapen the concept, just let characters that are being overused go off the grid, retire for a while, check into rehab, go on space missions, be trapped in other dimensions, temporarily lose their powers, get sick or injured and require lengthy recuperation, be jailed, or just take long vacations, or, simplest of all, move somewhere other than New York and be assumed to be having adventures that no one is paying attention to.

  31. Moo says:

    “No significant characters should die unless you mean to never, ever bring them back.”

    No point really because it wouldn’t work long-term. Management/editorial policies are only as permanent as those jobs are. The next guys in charge might have different ideas. Case in point: they already had a “dead is dead” rule in place at one time, and it was discarded once Bill Jemas was out the door.

  32. Chris V says:

    Plus, it seems that Marvel relies on shock deaths to make their constant “big event” books seem to mean something.
    There’s only so many times you can kill off someone like Black Goliath in a mega cross-over event, and have the fans care.
    You need to include some major character’s death.

    Of course that major character can’t stay dead.
    Once the big event has been forgotten, it’s time for the huge story-arc that brings the character back from the dead.

    Wash, rinse, repeat. Ad nauseam.

  33. Taibak says:

    Actually, with death being what it is in the Marvel universe, I’m surprised nobody’s ever done a story with how frequent resurrections would warp their characters’ religious beliefs. Figure there must be a story in there for someone like Nightcrawler.

  34. mark coale says:

    To go along with that, you’ve had people meeting “actual gods” (depending on how people like Thor and Hercules are classified these days) and just about everyone has met or been on a team with a demon or “the Devil” (Mephisto or otherwise).

  35. Taibak says:

    So this may be a really unpopular opinion, but Joe Quesada once had a really interesting take on the whole “dead means dead” thing. Frankly, it was an obvious attempt to backtrack his no-resurrections policy, but I think he accidentally hit on something.

    When a hero dies, it should be permanent. Otherwise, there are no stakes. However, when the villain dies and there’s no body, the genre implicitly sets up a mystery: Is this really the last we’ve seen of him?

    I’m not going to claim that every hero’s death was meaningful, but think about characters like Mar-Vell, Barry Allen, Jason Todd, or even Thunderbird. Their deaths were allowed to stick for a long time and began to mean something. How many villains can we say that for? Kraven? Maybe the Jackal? Norman Osborne before Bendis decided he was Teh Greatest Villain in TEH WORLD?

    And, yes, there are exceptions. There are probably more story possibilities for a dead Magneto than a living one and by this point the inevitablility of being reborn is already priced into Jean Grey – and as Jim Shooter once pointed, she is supposed to be the embodiment of a phoenix (okay, there’s also Mr. Immortal, but that’s another story).

    Of course, this also points to the need for major deaths to be few and far between and I don’t expect Marvel to ever get this right, but at this point it seems like it’s worth thinking about anything that might improve the quality of the stories and move the industry onto a more sustainable sales model that doesn’t rely on stunt plots.

  36. Moo says:


    Norman Osborn’s original death in 1973 stood for nearly a quarter century before Marvel brought him back in 1996. Bendis had nothing to do with that. He wasn’t even working at Marvel then.

  37. Voord 99 says:

    No need to be so cynical, people. After all, Marvel has never resurrected Charcoal. 🙂

    More seriously, I think that these things are relative, and while I don’t think a “no resurrections” policy will ever stick over the long term, Marvel could use a Jemas-era style swing of the pendulum in the other direction for a few years. Not because I think it would have a significant impact on the health of the genre in comics in sales terms — there are large structural factors there that have little to do with the content of the stories — but because I think it would simply produce better stories for a while. (I admit to being a big fan of the Jemas era, for all its embarrassments.)

    These things are relative: I think the question should be framed less as one of “Is the cycle of killing-off and resurrection allowed?” than as “How great should the resistance to that be? How high a bar does such a story have to clear before one thinks, ‘That’s a good idea!’”

    And especially, how interesting are your plans for the resurrected character? I notice that no-one’s complaining about the Hulk.

  38. Dave says:

    Man, modern Marvel can’t even remember that Wolverine who’s thought dead but is secretly working in the shadows is supposed to make himself completely unrecognisable with an eye patch.

  39. LiamKav says:

    “I’m not a fan of taking a popular character and building a family of knockoffs around him/her. It’s too Mort Weisinger-esque for me.”

    It’s been going on almost as long as the genre has existed though. And Dick Grayson is pretty awesome.

  40. Moo says:

    “It’s been going on almost as long as the genre has existed though.”


  41. Voord 99 says:

    Longer than that, even. Moo was in the audience in ancient Greece complaining grumpily about this “Antigone” woman, and why does Oedipus need to have a daughter, anyway. And don’t get Late Medieval Moo started on Sir Galahad.

    But even Moo cannot object to Son of Godzilla.

  42. Moo says:

    Ok, just to be clear, I said that I’m personally not a fan of knock-off characters.

    I did not say: “Knock-off characters shouldn’t be allowed and if you actually like knock-off characters, then you’re an idiot with no taste.”

  43. Moo says:

    Will also add that if you were to tell a person who doesn’t care for broccoli that broccoli has been around for as long as vegetables have been around, this isn’t likely to make them start liking broccoli.

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