Last year, one of Marvel’s flagship characters joined his fellow Avengers — Spider-Man, Captain America and Thor — in the “died but gets better club.” in the four part limited series The Death of Wolverine, by writer Charles Soule (She-Hulk, Superman/Wonder Woman) and Civil War artist Steve McNiven (OK, Wolverine hasn’t gotten better yet, but c’mon now. You know he’s gonna.) All four issues are now collected in hardcover format, with supplemental materials and every variant cover from each of the four issues included within.
It’s a fine package all together, complete with extras like a multi-page interview with Wolverine’s creator Len Wein in which he discusses the origins and popularity of certain myths surrounding his creation. But packaging and supplements aside, just how’s the actual story? All things considered, reading it was an enjoyable way to pass the time, even if you’re like me and incredibly cynical when it comes to stories involving “killing off” major characters who are among the most iconic ever.
When the story opens, Wolverine’s healing factor has been missing for a while (although, for the life of me, I don’t remember why or how he lost it). He’s still got his indestructible adamantium claws and skeleton, a bit of enhanced strength, and tracking abilities, but that oh-so-important healing factor is totally gone. Wolverine visits Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four as a last ditch effort to get one of the Marvel Universe’s biggest brains to fix his problem. Unfortunately, Reed doesn’t hold out a lot of hope for Logan. He reminds him that, sooner or later, he’ll die from natural causes, especially due to the the fact Wolverine is still going out and insisting on being a superhero, healing factor be damned. And over the century and a half that Logan’s been active, he’s accumulated quite the list of enemies. Now that he’s at his weakest, he realizes that one by one, they are going to come looking for him now.
And come for him they do. The first chapter is easily the best of the bunch, with Wolverine taking out all the super powered thugs and minions who are looking to take advantage of Logan’s lost powers and take him out once and for all. But Wolverine is a bad ass, healing factor or not, and he makes mincemeat out of everyone who even tries to eff with him. At the end of chapter one, Logan gets a sense of who is sending all this cannon fodder after him, but this knowledge just ends up leading him on wild goose chase through a laundry list of his biggest enemies.
It’s in the following chapters that things start to get a little more tedious. I get that this is the story of Wolverine’s death, so his life is figuratively flashing before his eyes, so to speak, but it gets pretty on-the-nose as the book becomes a bit like “Wolverine’s Greatest Hits.” We get to see Viper (his ex wife), Lord Ogun, Mystique, Lady Deathstrike, and of course his arch-nemesis Sabretooth. Logan also gets a little help from Kitty Pryde, who was once a kind of Robin to his Batman (oddly enough, his “replacement Kitty”, Jubilee, was nowhere to be found in this story). We also visit favorite Wolverine locales like the island of Madripoor and Japan. As Logan travels all over the world to find out just who is after him, he begins to realize that the bounty put on him had nothing to do with the loss of his healing factor or any old vendettas, but for another reason entirely.
The ultimate culprit behind Logan’s troubles is a character that hasn’t been seen in a long time, and I won’t spoil it, (although longtime fans should be able to guess who it is) but it is a character who makes sense as his “ultimate foe” that will help bring about his downfall. Of course, it’s no great spoiler that Logan’s death in this book is so easily reversible at the conclusion of this series that whatever writer is ultimately tasked with the job of bringing him back to life; Marvel left it pretty easy to do so when the time comes. He’s pretty much as “dead” as Han Solo was at the end of The Empire Stikes Back, which is to say really not very dead at all.
Writer Charles Soule does a decent job with this series, although everything in it happens very quickly. This is one mini-series that really could have used an extra chapter just to flesh things out a bit more. By the end of the book, you could just feel Soule losing interest and getting tired as he seemed much more concerned about pulling off the whole set-up of the story and less with the payoff. Soule is one of my favorite writers in comics at the moment, especially his work on She-Hulk and Superman/Wonder Woman, but it just felt like his heart wasn’t in this one. One thing that doesn’t get tired is McNiven’s artwork, which is beautiful from start to finish. McNiven is one of those pencilers that when he shines, he really shines. Likewise, when he phones it in, it’s not always pretty. Luckily, McNiven brought his A-game, and the artwork in this series is pretty superb, which lifts the whole thing up whenever it starts to sag.
How much mileage you get out of this book depends on just how much you love Wolverine as a character and how much you have been invested in his adventures over the years. Are there better Wolverine collections out there? I can think of a handful right off the top of my head. But, all in all, reading The Death of Wolverine is also not a terrible way to spend an afternoon.
Rating: 3 out of 5 burritos