Death of Wolverine #1
“Death of Wolverine, Part One”
Writer: Charles Soule
Pencils: Steve McNiven
Inks: Jay Leisten
Colors: Justin Ponsor
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover artists: Steve McNiven & Jay Leisten (regular)/Alex Ross, Pascual Ferry, Joe Quesada, Leinil Yu, Skottie Young & Steve McNiven (variants)
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $4.99 US
It was inevitable. They killed Captain America. They killed Spider-Man. They killed the Human Torch. But not really. It was just a matter of time before the comics division of Marvel Entertainment got around to “killing off” what is arguably its most popular and bankable character. Does it matter how he “dies?” No. Does it matter who’s responsible? God, no. We know going in Logan isn’t going to die. It’s one of the inherent flaws in intellectual properties and pop-culture icons — they always stay the same, except for those brief periods in which they don’t. But the notion of killing the unkillable character is also a guaranteed way of piquing curiosity. Reading Death of Wolverine is the equivalent of comics rubbernecking. You know there’s nothing for you in it, but you can’t look away. To be honest, from an administrative point of view, I was a bit curious about this limited series, if only about editorial choices, if anything else.
Logan, AKA the mutant hero and Avenger known as Wolverine, has lost his mutant healing factor, and it’s created not only a painful existence, but a lethal one. Wolverine faces a number of threats, many of them from within. His own body is toxic to him, and without his mutant regenerative power, he can’t fight off those effects. But even more deadly is information about his condition. No costumed hero has a greater number of enemies the world over, and once people find out, he’ll be a target. And without his healing factor, any fight is bound to be potentially deadly for him.
Steve McNiven was the perfect choice for this story — but not because his detailed style brings the brutal and intensity of such a story to life. Rather, a story about Wolverine’s looming death makes for an interesting bookend along with McNiven’s previous foray into Wolverine’s world — Old Man Logan, a story about an alternate future in which the tortured hero is forced to come out of retirement. McNiven’s participation in this story seems rather fitting as a result. He and inker Jay Leisten bring a hyper-detailed look to bear on this project, which makes the story seem all the more grave and, well, important. That they’re able to establish such an urgent tone is a testament to the art, I suppose, since the reader has to go in knowing this is ultimately a fleeting challenge for the titular hero.
There are a couple of aspects that are striking about McNiven’s work here. First of all there’s his take on the somewhat obscure villain Nuke, a character that the artist manages to depict as both powerfully intimidating and rather comically cartoonish at the same time. My first reaction to seeing Nuke going after Wolverine was to think, “Really? Nuke?” but by the end of the issue, I found that was rather the point. But perhaps McNiven’s most importantly contribution to the story was how he instills a look of melancholy on Logan’s face just about at every turn. It’s that sadness that manages to instill any kind of real drama in a story that has to be undone within a short timeframe so as to maintain a key asset for the publisher.
Probably the most interesting aspect about this comic book really has little to do with the storytelling. Charles Soule has been writing for Marvel and for DC for a short while now, and he’s proving himself to be something of a reliable workhorse in mainstream comics. But he’s still a relative newcomer, especially in the world of super-hero comics, so it was surprising to see Marvel tap him to tell this story. Given the nature of the event, this is likely a project that’s heavily directed by editorial, so while Soule is credited as the sole writer, I would imagine there are many editors and other publishing officials who’ve had their hand in this comic.
The most disconcerting aspect of this comic is Marvel’s rather obvious money grab. This is a $4.99 US comic — for 21 pages of story and art. Now, the publisher has padded out the issue with a good deal of pages offering a glimpse at the creative process. Included are cover roughs, script samples, uncolored and uninked pencil panels, etc., and to be honest, I enjoy getting a glimpse behind the curtain. But it doesn’t feel like there’s another dollar or two of value being added here.
Soule (and committee) has wisely chosen not to make this a team story. This isn’t an X-Men event or an Avengers event. While it doesn’t ignore Wolverine’s ties to the larger shared universe, the focus is squarely on him. It’s a solo story, with peripheral elements from Marvel continuity serving the roles of exposition (in the form of Reed Richards) and enemies (Nuke and other villains). Honestly, I think the script and art are quite good here, but no matter how good they get at times, they can’t overcome the greatest pitfall of the concept: no one dies in the Marvel Universe, least of all Wolverine. Back in 1992, everyone knew DC Comics wasn’t really going to kill Superman, not permanently, but the epic caught people’s imaginations with the level of the hero’s sacrifice, with the introduction of new characters, with an exploration of grief and with the effect of a void no one ever thought would exist. But the stunt’s been pulled so many times in the past couple of decades, by both Marvel and DC, it’s definitely grown stale. There was a time when readers could ignore an inherent lie such as the one in the title of this limited series, but that time is far behind us. 5/10
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