It’s very hard not to feel cynical about the concept behind this miniseries. Even if the sales on his solo title(s) have leveled off over the past few years, Wolverine still remains an A-list character in comics and film. Not only is the third (and now possibly R-rated) “Wolverine” film in development, it has taken not one, but two characters -- his female clone and grizzled old alternate-universe counterpart -- to replace him in comics. Only temporarily, though. Because the Ol’ Canucklehead will be back after enough time has passed for everyone to really miss him and eat away at the multiple counts of filicide he’s committed over the years.
Before that, there’s the actual matter of killing him. Even with the temporary nature of superhero death in this day and age, I can’t imagine that there were a lot of writers who’d be interested in writing a story that was destined to be undone after several years. In fact, the whole nature of this setup comes off as most like a puzzle box that needs to be solved rather than an opportunity to show what they’re really capable of. Unless you’re Charles Soule. He’s made a habit over the past few years of crafting satisfying, straightforward superhero stories that entertain even if they don’t really inspire. I’d like to say that “Death of Wolverine” works as well as it does thanks to his approach, but that would be selling the stunning work of artist Steve McNiven short.
It all starts off in British Columbia where Logan has been trying, and failing, to lie low. You see, after losing his healing factor, he’s been to the greatest scientific minds of the Marvel Universe to find out what can be done to restore it. His last stop on that trip, Mister Fantastic, tells him basically what everyone else has: It’s possible that his healing factor could be restored, but Logan is going to have to stay out of trouble until a solution can be found.
The bodies strewn around Wolverine’s cabin in the opening pages let us know that he’s already failed at doing that. It isn’t until Nuke shows up that our hero finally gets a clue as to who has been sending all this trouble his way. The path Wolverine follows from here takes him to the clubs of Madripoor, the gardens of Japan, and finally Paradise Valley, Nevada. It’s there where Wolverine makes his final stand to see if he has finally become something more than just a ruthless killing machine after all these years.
What I liked most about this miniseries was that it didn’t try to go big. Logan’s death isn’t tied up in some fate-of-the-world plot and he doesn’t give his life so that millions more can live. Just three, actually. Soule keeps the story grounded and focused on the fact that it’s about the one time Wolverine went up against a bunch of bad guys and didn’t come back from the experience.
The writer also does a good job of making the story into a nice survey of the character’s history. Every character here is tied to a specific part of Wolverine’s life, so when they show up it’s more of a “Hey, remember that time when…” rather than “Oh, it’s this person again…” It’s a nice way to employ nostalgia, and the fake-out with Kitty in Japan was downright clever.
Still, there are some times when it feels like Soule is just checking off boxes as he goes through the cast and story. Lady Deathstrike shows up simply to be shuffled off the stage a few pages later. Sabretooth does as well, but I was at least able to amuse myself by trying to connect the dots as to how he wound up in the state he is here after his “savage businessman” role in Paul Cornell’s run. I’m still wondering what Nuke was doing here, though I think he may be a callback to Daniel Way’s much-maligned “Wolverine: Origins” series. At least Cyber’s cameo manages to afford the character all the respect he deserves.
Then there’s the regenerative serum which shows up to heal our hero from a critical injury. Not that he used it himself, it was injected into him while he was unconscious. The serum seems to exist as a MacGuffin to allow Wolverine to seem more heroic by refusing it when it’s offered to him as part of a deal by a bad guy. Also, would anyone here be surprised to know that the person behind the evil scheme out to get Logan has ties to Weapon X? Because there was no way that wasn’t getting a mention here. The story itself is competently put together from start to finish, with the writing only occasionally demonstrating more inventiveness than that.
What really keeps the story involving throughout is McNiven’s fantastic art. I keep hearing that eventually he’s going to leave Marvel and go make “Nemesis 2” with Mark Millar, which would be a shame. I mean, I’d still like to read good comics with his art. Though “Death of Wolverine” boasts McNiven’s customarily impressive attention to detail -- he’s a guy who knows how to make scenery look goooooooood -- it’s his character work that really stays with you here. The world-weariness and pain on Logan’s face in the opening pages. The “I’m so pimp” double-page spread of the character in the second issue. The tenderness between Logan and Kitty in the Japanese garden. He even gives minor characters like Nuke and Lady Deathstrike visions of crazed glee and sadness to make them stand out in their brief roles. It’s clear that Soule knows he’s working with a talented artist and uses the only dialogue boxes in the story to accent the emotions and provide the minimum necessary context for the scenes through Logan’s heightened senses.
There’s even a two-page spread of Wolverine and Sabretooth going at it just like the old days that could’ve come off as indulgent, but instead feels like a thrilling encapsulation of their relationship. Particularly when the moment is shattered on the following page. Yet the most striking artistic moment comes at the end of the story when Logan is confronted by the villain of the piece about what he accomplished besides killing a lot of people. The montage that follows is a fitting rebuke to that while finally delivering the character to his much-rest. Considering that this is happening while Wolverine is soldering on in spite of some frankly unbelievable circumstances (seriously, you’ll need to summon ALL your suspension of disbelief here) the fact that it works at all is quite remarkable.
That’s kind of true of the “Death of Wolverine” itself. A marketing move designed to start rebuilding a character while opening the door for more versions of himself to take the stage, it should have been something we endured in order to get to some better stories down the line. What we got was a beautiful look back on the character and his history that didn’t offer the most compelling story, but at least one that was quite readable. Though the collection features ads for two follow-on miniseries, “The Logan Legacy” and “The Weapon X Program,” I can’t say I’m really interested in picking them up based on what I’ve read here. I am, however, perfectly happy with the money I spent to add this story to my library.