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Oct 19

Death of Wolverine

Posted on Sunday, October 19, 2014 by Paul in x-axis

Death of Wolverine is an interesting comic, for a variety of reasons wholly external to the comic itself.  It’s also, to be fair, quite an interesting comic for a variety of reasons that are on the page too.  If nothing else, it’s a book that’s clearly taking its best shot at what many would surely consider a nightmare brief.

This is the first work that Charles Soule has done for the X-books.  He’ll be sticking around for a while, since he’s also writing the upcoming Wolverines weekly, in which a bunch of characters who are very like Wolverine but aren’t Wolverine must fill the void left by his absence.  So in reality, this marks the start of his run on Wolverine.

Soule is an interesting writer.  He’s had a prolific output for Marvel and DC over the last year or so, by his own account writing eight titles a month while maintaining a legal practice.  It’s a seemingly impossible workload and one that he’s said he intends to cut back on, now that he’s signed an exclusive deal with Marvel.  That output has been a fairly indiscriminate mix of editorially-dictated titles and more interesting creator-driven work like She-Hulk or Letter 44.  Not only is Soule the guy who took on Death of Wolverine, he’s the man who accepted the task of digging Inhuman out of a hole. Perhaps he has unusual tastes, maybe he relishes the challenge of an unpromising remit, or quite possibly he’s simply calculated that these are worthwhile relationship-builders with the major publishers.

And with this book he faces a difficult writing challenge on any view.  The problem isn’t that the title and the pre-release hype give away the ending, mind you.  Predictability is vastly overrated as a problem.  The vast majority of stories, or at least genre stories, are hugely predictable, at least on the broad level we’re talking about here.  Nobody watches Guardians of the Galaxy seriously thinking that the heroes might lose; nobody watches romantic comedies seriously contemplating that the couple won’t get together.  Any tension is about how you get there, not what the destination is.

Nor is it a problem that everyone knows Wolverine is bound to be back sooner or later.  We’ve been through this cycle many times before.  Kill the character off, have a temporary replacement for a while to build interest in the series, bring the character back triumphantly in a few years time.  It’s a tried and tested way of reigniting interest in a fading series.

The easiest way to write the death of Wolverine would be to acknowledge it for what it is – a plot twist setting up future storylines based on the lead character’s temporary absence – and just to play it accordingly.  To some extent Soule does that, since the series seems to be doing double duty reintroducing Lady Deathstrike to the cast and setting up material for the villains in Logan Legacy.  But the problem is that that option isn’t available, because Marvel is bound and determined to pretend that we can’t all see the resurrection coming.  And so this story has to be presented as a mock finale, in four issues which don’t really have anything much to do with the preceding story, except to the extent that they pick up on the “no healing factor” status quo.  And that’s where things get seriously challenging.

Endings have always been a problem for superhero comics, because they aren’t really designed to have them.  They’re designed as open-ended, and capable of continuing indefinitely.  And even the model of superhero continuity as a single unified myth has fallen away in recent years.  The ingredients haven’t been put in place to give Wolverine a clear ending, and to get to that point, you’d like rather more than four issues to set it up.

Ideally, for example, you’d do it as a long-running story following through from the loss of his healing factor.  But Paul Cornell already resolved his storylines before leaving the book, however hurriedly, so that’s out the window; the loss of his healing factor is now just a part of the regular set-up and the chance to do a direct plot flowing from that has been lost.  Where does that leave us?  There’s the tour of familiar locations – the Canadian wilderness, Madripoor, Japan.  There’s a selection of guests from Wolverine’s past, some of whom are really being reintroduced so that they can appear in upcoming issues.  But with the status quo Soule inherits, the story pretty much has to be about Wolverine bravely fighting on against a threat only he can deal with, despite the loss of his healing factor, and thus getting himself killed.

This makes the selection of the threat pretty critical to the success of the story, and that’s where we hit serious difficulties.  Wolverine’s rogue’s gallery has never been his strongest point, and Sabretooth was already the focus of the immediately preceding story.  In terms of arch-enemies, that only leaves Weapon X (or Romulus, but seriously now).  Unfortunately, the main bad guy at the Weapon X Project was the Professor, and he was already killed off back in the 90s.  That leaves us with second-fiddle villain Abraham Cornelius, who just isn’t quite up to this role.

The story does its best with the material available.  It wants to say something about Wolverine as a character, so it decides that Cornelius’ motivation has to be all about a misunderstanding of Wolverine.  So even as Wolverine dies, he achieves his ultimate victory by proving Cornelius wrong about who he is.  And so the story becomes a defining statement about the character, something that will stand even when the death itself is later reversed.  This is all pretty sound in theory.

So the idea is to have Cornelius, as the mad scientist, driven by a wildly out of date understanding of Wolverine.  Cornelius still sees Wolverine as a violent lunatic, and so he believes that his only legacy has been to make a murderer into a more powerful murderer.  In a hopelessly misconceived attempt to atone for this, he’s trying to re-make Wolverine “properly” by giving the same sort of upgrades to better people.  But without the benefit of Wolverine’s healing factor to withstand the adamantium, they all just die on him, so he wants to capture Wolverine and use his healing factor to help solve the problem and make a better Wolverine for the future.  Of course, Wolverine doesn’t actually have his healing factor any more, but Cornelius is too behind the times to know that.

Like I say, you can see the idea.  The modern version of Wolverine is confronted with an out-of-date stereotype of him as a one-dimensional killer, and he proves how he’s changed.  Thematically it ticks a lot of boxes.

But it’s an anticlimax.  Cornelius’ scheme is inherently incapable of being carried into effect, so Wolverine doesn’t really get the chance to thwart it.  And by extension, he doesn’t really get to prove anything about himself by doing so.  We’re left with Wolverine rescuing some anonymous victims from Cornelius’ automated surgery machines, and getting himself killed by drowning in molten adamantium when he resorts to puncturing the holding tanks because he can’t stop the process any other way.  It sees things coming full circle to some extent, but it doesn’t land thematically in the way it seems to hope for.

This is a shame, since the book bounces along quite nicely until it gets to the point.  Issue #1 is really very good, with Wolverine trying to hide out quietly in a cabin but being endlessly besieged by low-rent baddies (pursuing a contract offered by Cornelius), most of whom are effortlessly despatched off panel.  There’s a rare attempt to push the idea of Wolverine’s enhanced senses with out-of-context captions telling us what he’s picking up; while this doesn’t match the visual invention of some of what’s been done on Daredevil with similar material, it’s a genuinely nice touch.  Steve McNiven – frankly, a surprisingly high-profile artist to be working on a project like this – does some excellent work throughout the series, selling a sense of fatigue and inevitability about the whole thing.  Even where the overall plot leaves something to be desired, the story leaves McNiven plenty of details where he can do something more interesting, and he rises to that.

The middle two issues read rather better in the knowledge that they’re setting up characters for upcoming stories; without that information, in the context of something that’s supposed to be read as a finale, they seem a bit too much like flab.  The use of Sabretooth is particularly bemusing, since it’s wildly at odds with his depiction in the immediately preceding story (and more to the point, nobody reacts to the change accordingly).  Besides, if he’s not going to be the focus of your Last Wolverine Story, it’s maybe better just to avoid him entirely.

Then we have those last few pages.  Like I say, drowning Wolverine in molten adamantium makes a certain degree of sense as a way of finishing him off.  But having him carry on walking, covered in molten metal, for several pages after that… is a problem.  Yes, it lets him have one last confrontation with Cornelius.  Yes, it lets him finish the series watching the sunset.  Yes, by completely obscuring him at the end, it gives you one possible backdoor for when you revive him.  And yes, McNiven manages to make that final panel looks vaguely like a note of tragic dignity.

But it’s too much.  This is Wolverine without his healing factor.  He’s covered in molten metal.  Shouldn’t he just be instantly dead?  And if this stuff isn’t solid, why isn’t it just falling off onto the floor?  And more basically, how is he seeing out?  Even by the standards of comic book physics, it just begs too many questions of the “hold on, how the hell is that meant to work” variety that undercut the impact the scene is going for.  It’s a sign of how good McNiven is that he manages to haul it over the line into not being laughable – most artists, I suspect, would not have managed that.  But it doesn’t ultimately work.

Still, for the most part Death of Wolverine at least manages to get into the category of “interesting failure”.  It’s talented creators having a sincere stab at a very difficult remit, and some of it may read better depending on where Soule’s longer-term plans are heading.  It’s not iconic material, but did anyone really expect that?

Bring on the comments

  1. Jeff says:

    Is there an explanation to how Cornelius is back? You run into the same problem with him as you do the Professor: He was shot in the head on-panel in his last appearance back in X-Men #7. Maybe they chose him because he’s somewhat better known?

  2. Cory says:

    There are some pretty outlandish and random things in this story for it to take itself so seriously. I wonder if Jason Aaron could have pulled it off a little better? Just imagine Nick Bradshaw drawing some of this. It seems to work a bit more in that realm, I think. Without that sort of cartoonish momentum and melodrama in this type of plot, I feel like I’m too far removed from the story when questionable things happen (Sabretooth’s off panel fall from grace, Shadowcat’s evil impersonated kiss, Cornelius being behind the times, etc).

    My general sense is that this wasn’t Marvel’s original plan for Wolverine’s death but when they hit some bumps in the road and/or when the mandate changed they did their best to give it everything they could. Good on them for at least giving it a shot.

  3. James says:

    Will you be covering Wolverines or is a weekly going to be just too much even arc by arc?

  4. Paul says:

    I’m planning to cover it. It’s the continuation of Wolverine.

  5. Mo Walker says:

    Charles Soule has made a career out of trying to sell editorially driven storylines. Like Superman/Wonder Woman, Soule remembers that Logan is a person. Soule makes sure to touch upon many of Wolverine’s most important relationships. I will be curious to see if Jubilee and Kitty Pryde play roles in Wolverines. Paul is right, Death of Wolverine reads well and is beautiful to look at. However the death was not epic enough.

  6. Jim M says:

    If Kitty was still Shadowcat I could see her trying to take Logan’s place with Jubilee coming along debating which one was the ‘sidekick’. 🙂
    The death method described sounds more like a way to kill Logan if he still had his healing factor. Wasn’t that how Deathstrike was killed in the second X-movie?

  7. Ozwell says:

    I enjoyed your overview, Paul.
    With these stories it’s always down to a matter of how the demise of the lead happens, as if the death itself is the sole purpose of the story.
    I prefer Grant Morrison’s approach to Batman’s death in “RIP” which had more of a WTF factor. Wolervine’s death was very prosaic, down to him becoming his own monument.
    I hope that the HtA pod will be back before W’s return.

  8. Mr_Man says:

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only one questioning how he was walking around while covered in molten metal and able to see where he was going, despite having his eyes covered. It was just weird.

  9. Frodo-X says:

    Jim M – “The death method described sounds more like a way to kill Logan if he still had his healing factor. Wasn’t that how Deathstrike was killed in the second X-movie?”

    Kind of similar, but not quite. In the movie she was injected with massive quantities of molten adamantium, not covered with it.

  10. errant says:

    Wasn’t Claremont’s original gameplan for Wolverine to die, have his healing factor kick in, expel the adamantium out of his skin and having him walk around all shiny for awhile? All the other pieces of his Wolverine plan have been cherry-picked over the years. Guessing this one is the next.

  11. Nu-D. says:


    I have read a lot of behind the scenes material on Claremont’s plans and ideas, and I have never run across that one. Sounds pretty unlikely to me, but I could be wrong.

  12. Dreadpirate46 says:

    I found the mini-series terribly underwhelming, especially since there were a ton of more clever ways of “killing” Wolverine while leaving for the obvious return down the road.
    I will say though that I love Logan’s attempt at looking like “the world’s most interesting man” in issue #2. I assume since he lost the healing factor, his hair is now able to grow out or has that always been the case? I seem to remember him getting a buzzcut a while back and it growing back into his trademark hair midway (?) through the story. Does his healing factor make his follicle growth static? Anyone?

  13. I always imagined that his H-factor was responsible for his mutton chops – if he goes from bab-chin to beard monster between brekky and brunch, he’d probably get bored with shaving the whole thing off all the time. Hence, snikt. Inverse goatee.

    Of course, I always thought that he would be sterile for broadly related reasons. But that’s a discussion for Never O’Clock.


  14. Paul says:

    @errant: That was a story Claremont pitched and had rejected towards the end of his original X-Men run. The idea involved him being brought back from the dead by the Hand supercharging his healing factor with magic, IIRC.

  15. errant says:

    Yes, but there was a specific element of him walking around with his adamantium on the outside.

  16. Neil Kapit says:

    Honestly, Wolverine walking through molten metal didn’t bother me. Given how it was his final moment (for now), I can accept that he was able to last a little bit longer through sheer manliness. It’s a story beat for which I’ll gladly suspend my disbelief.

  17. JG says:

    Maybe molten adamantium is just not that hot compared to say molten iron? It’s a magic metal after all.

  18. The original Matt says:

    I could live with the ending in the “sheer toughness” way. The wind was taken out of my sails when I found out there would 50 wolverine books spinning OUT of his death. Isn’t the point to let interest in the character revive? If his name is still in the title of 50 comics a month, how the hell does anyone get a chance to miss him?

  19. Alex H says:

    For some reason I’m way more bothered by how Cornelius survived being shot in the head by Maverick in early X-Men (as Jeff says in the first comment) than I am by Wolverine walking around covered in adamantium. Was this actually his first appearance since then?

  20. jpw says:

    A good ending would have been getting ripped in half by the Incredible Ultimate Hulk

  21. m4 says:

    Just once, I’d like to see someone talk about The Death of Wolverine without going on about how he’ll be back in two years. We all know that — we’re comic book fans.

  22. Dazzler says:

    To Cory, regarding Marvel’s original plans:

    Marvel initially hyped up the 12th issue of his latest ongoing, saying that it was going to be huge and take everyone by surprise and they’d wish they ordered more, etc. Then that issue came and nothing really happened. Safe to bet Marvel had Wolverine dying in the 12th issue of his series, but changed their minds.

    On one hand, doing it the other way would have taken people by surprise, especially if he’s going to be gone for a very long time, and it probably would have been a more natural, organic ending (likely involving Sabretooth), but of course it wouldn’t have made them nearly as much money as this whole production.

    Plus, in fairness to Marvel, I think announcing his death months in advance would actually make people take it more seriously than if he just “dies” unannounced at the end of a comic, like he did as a Skrull 15 years ago. And it saves them having to explain why they stopped soliciting Wolverine comics.

  23. Billy says:


    The version that Claremont told at a signing for an Aliens series (or whatever) didn’t involve Wolverine getting an adamantium coating.

    It was just that the adamantium would be purged entirely from Wolverine’s body. He’d actually end up a lot like Sabretooth, losing his claws but instead gaining long fingernails. (Since his fingernails would have continued to grow while he was ‘dead’.) He wouldn’t have unbreakable bones, but they would still be denser than normal.

    To be fair, Claremont may have told slightly different versions of the story over the years. But Wolverine coated with adamantium would be a pretty major difference, compared to something like Claremont giving different choices for who would kill Wolverine.

  24. wwk5d says:

    For anyone interested, here is blog from a few years ago detailing some of the ideas CC had in mind before he left the title (take it with a grain of salt, as always), but it does make for an interesting read.

    And it is rather comprehensive, since it talks about many other plot lines besides just his plans for Wolverine.

  25. jason says:

    Errant is proven correct, and everyone else falls silent. Nice!

  26. Jamie says:

    “I found out there would 50 wolverine books spinning OUT of his death. Isn’t the point to let interest in the character revive?”

    Silly boy. The point is the same as it’s always been: to make money.

  27. halapeno says:

    I miss Bill Jemas.

  28. Billy says:


    Ah, yes. That mentions a period where Wolverine would be coated in adamantium as his body purged it. (“Wolverine would look like the Silver Surfer with hair”)

    But that adamantium would indeed eventually be purged. (“Ultimately, the adamantium would just be part of his hair”) One would guess that the silver hair would itself be temporary, as new hair replaced old.

    Then again, it goes on to describe a Colossus/Wolverine fight where Wolverine still had claws, and that later when the power of the goodness of Wolverine’s soul overcame what the Hand had made him, “adamantium would flake off and eventually he would stand himself, reborn as a totally natural being”. Which implies Claremont meant to have Wolverine running around adamantium-coated during his villain period.

  29. errant says:

    Yeah. Isn’t that what I said?

  30. joseph says:

    I don’t understand how Cornelius was unaware that Logan had lost his healing factor. Isn’t that why so many had been after him? Didn’t Viper, Ogun etc know he lost it?

    And what’s the deal with Deathstrike. Last we saw her was her consciousness in the body of an 18 year old Colombiana, but it seems she just right back to her old self now.

  31. Szpirs says:

    @wwk5d Thanks for the Claremont link. Really fascinating insights into what might have been.

  32. Nu-D. says:

    Well there you have it. I’ve read that column before, and had forgotten that portion.

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