By Don Alsafi. In 2013, Marvel launched a new Wolverine ongoing, written by acclaimed sci-fi/fantasy author Paul Cornell, which over the next eighteen months barreled toward a climax touted as “The Death of Wolverine”. Many a fan rolled their eyes, of course, at the clear hyperbole. What, like Marvel would really kill off one of their most popular and well-known characters, star of comics and cartoons and movies alike? But a year and a half later, they did exactly that, in a self-contained four issue miniseries (though written not by Cornell, but by relatively new comics writer Charles Soule). And, most shocking of all, the character remained dead for the next three years.
But enough is enough: Death in comics has always been a revolving door, and any expiring high-profile character is almost guaranteed to come back from the moment they’re put to pasture. (See: Captain America, Cyclops, Hal Jordan, Johnny Storm, etc.) The first glimpse of a newly returned Wolverine was spotted in an effective twist in last September’s Marvel Legacy one shot, though the brief appearance was wholly devoid of any details – which is what you might expect from the character’s initial surprise outing. Since then, his fans have been wondering: How did he come back? Where’s he been? And what lies ahead for this complex man with a storied past?
For what we hope might be Marveldom’s first answers to these varied questions, we turn to this week’s over-sized one-shot. Spoilers ahead, bub!
Written by Charles Soule.
Art by David Marquez, Paulo Siquiera, and Walden Wong.
Colors by Rachelle Rosenberg and Ruth Redmond.
Letters by VC’s Joe Sabino.
An empty shell. The 30-page lead story, written by former Wolverine-killer Charles Soule and with art by David Marquez and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, opens with the arrival of the Reavers, self-augmenting cyborgs whom the X-Men first met during their time living in Australia. The Reavers – many of whom have long harbored a particular grudge against the dead mutant – have somehow tracked down the adamantium shell which covered and fused to Logan’s body in his final moments. The adamantium itself is valuable, of course – but nothing compared to the fortune that the secrets in his genetic code could fetch, given the right buyer.
All does not go according to plan, however, and before they can make a clean getaway a contingent of X-Men arrive on the scene to stop their unusual heist. In short order, the Reavers are almost entirely put down and captured, but not before they break open the metal shell to reveal… nothing. It’s empty. Flashbacks then make plain that in the immediate aftermath of Logan’s demise, the X-Men decided that it didn’t feel right to leave him in such a state – so they used Kitty Pryde’s phasing ability to separate the man from his encompassing shell, and subsequently gave him a proper burial in parts undisclosed. So where, now, is Wolverine…?
Soule doesn’t bog us down with unnecessary details on what killed Wolverine in the first place, and Marquez (fresh off a stint illustrating Bendis’s Defenders) is quickly becoming one of Marvel’s most notable artists. But the problem with the story… is that there isn’t much story there. For as highly touted as this event has been, this opening one-shot frustrates in just how little new information readers have gained by its end. If you’re searching for answers on how Logan came back and where he’s been, you’re going to have to buy some more comics. In fact, as it turns out, a lot more comics.
An exercise in excess. By the early 1980s, Wolverine had been a member of the All-New, All-Different X-Men for about seven years, and was clearly on his way to becoming Marvel’s latest breakout star. Uncanny X-Men writer Chris Claremont was protective of his characters, though, and was wary of reckless overexposure losing what made Wolverine special – so much so, in fact, that when he and Frank Miller collaborated on a four-issue Wolverine miniseries taking the surly mutant to Japan, Claremont reflected that in the pages of Uncanny by having Logan leave the book for a corresponding amount of time.
Unfortunately, the current state of superhero publishing is far removed from that careful and measured approach. Yes, Marvel’s decision to take one of their most popular and enduring cash cows off the table for nearly four years was certainly mystifying. But their positioning of his return seems to have been made with the assumption that fans have been going stir-crazy in his absence, and Marvel can thus string out his return for as long as possible. And hoo boy, are they!
The 10-page backup tale (by Soule, artists Paulo Siquiera and Walden Wong, and colorist Ruth Redmond) shows Kitty Pryde hitting up Iron Man, Daredevil and her fellow X-Men to investigate various leads around the globe in hopes of finding out Where Went Wolvie. (A single page shows some of Wolverine’s bad guys getting into the Easter Egg hunt too.) This second story thus ends up feeling even more pointless and inconsequential than the first – because all it’s doing is setting up four simultaneous four-issue miniseries, starting next month: Hunt for Wolverine: Weapon Lost, H4W: Adamantium Agenda, H4W: Claws of a Killer, and H4W: Mystery in Madripoor.
Let the creators create! Paul Cornell has openly discussed in interviews how his “Death of Wolverine” story was never supposed to end with Logan’s actual demise. But presumably Marvel saw the sales possibilities in such a high-profile character death, asked Cornell to kill the character anyway, and gave the job to someone else when Cornell declined. (Which is why Charles Soule, and not Cornell, wrote the 6Death of Wolverine miniseries back in 2014.)
Sadly, that top-down approach seems to continue to this day, where event stories give every sign of having been handed down from editorial, rather than being birthed from the minds of writers and artists. (Or, as with Cornell’s story, having the original concept derailed.) Marketing would like to believe that a starved fanbase will eagerly jump at the chance to read an extended and long-running Wolverine saga before Logan is even back in the thick of things… but for every die-hard Wolverine fan, there are just as many (if not more) who had increasingly tired of his ubiquity over the last two decades. The last few years might have given those readers the breathing space needed to reconsider the X-Men’s short, hairy brawler – but launching immediately into a sprawling mess of too many titles, all at once, is sure to make those potential new readers run for the hills.
And in case it isn’t clear: Those four miniseries which launch next month do not star Wolverine, just as this week’s one-shot didn’t. These 17 issues, lasting over the course of the next four months (at least), are nothing more than an extended preamble. After his surprise appearance in September’s Marvel Legacy, holding an Infinity Stone, Logan next showed up in the pages of February’s Infinity Countdown: Prime, the prelude one-shot to the Infinity Countdown miniseries leading to the upcoming Infinity Wars mega-crossover event. So if you really, really want to read about Wolverine’s return, Marvel will be getting even more of your dollars…!
On the other hand, faced with that prospect? Maybe you don’t.
Too much, or too little? Surprsingly, both. As we recently discussed, Wolverine’s best writers have always understood that the greater appeal of the character comes from knowing the horrifying violence of which he is capable, yet witnessing him constantly struggle to keep that feral nature under wraps – until that power and ferocity is truly needed. In the realm of fiction, violence for violence’ sake is juvenile and pointless and just plain… boring! Conversely, Wolverine, at his most illuminating, embodies the theme that power is often best used when it’s not used at all. When it’s held in check, with wisdom, deliberation, and restraint.
Hunt for Wolverine, and all the messy miniseries and crossovers and guest-appearances that are sure to come, knows no such restraint – at least not when it comes to the wallets of Marvel’s readers. Oversaturation of the market has already been eroding Marvel’s sales for the past decade or more, whether from too many crossovers, too many variant covers, or too many titles from this or that franchise. With a cautiously measured approach, Marvel could have brought Wolverine back to his former heights, and let readers gradually remember why they liked the cantankerous mutant in the first place.
Instead, they’re immediately launched into a regiment of excess. All Wolverine books, all the time.
Even, so it would seem, when Wolverine’s not even in them.
6.5 out of 10