In just the last decade, the comic book character, Wolverine, has undergone a surge in popularity and renown. He has always struck a chord with readers as a prominent and important character; from his humble, slightly silly (and heavily retconned) beginning in the pages of The Incredible Hulk in 1974, to his re-introduction and subtle reimagining in the Marvel Universe-changing Giant Size X-Men #1, and then his foray into a self-titled comic line starting with the iconic Frank Miller/Chris Claremont mini-series and spanning into a monthly series for almost 25 unbroken years. Yet, recently, his saturation in the comics and movie universes has led to a mere shell of the man known as Logan, James Howlett, Patch, and The Wolverine. Now Marvel plans to kill him off in the comics, and this is seen as a poor move by some, a welcomed move by others, and has outraged die-hard fans and new believers all the same. I am penning this as a letter to address the points from both sides of the argument, and shed some light on the life, and inevitable demise, of this tragic super hero.
Wolverine burst out of the bushes, and into the imaginations of many young readers in the final panel of The Incredible Hulk 180. The Big Green was already deep in a fight with the mysterious Wendigo, a white-furred beast from the north. Then, with only the warning to “…try your luck against — The Wolverine!” , the being only referred to as Weapon X is revealed. He was described as a “raging powerhouse” that will be formidable for even The Incredible Hulk. Readers had to wait until the next month to see this new character in all his glory, whisker lines on his mask and everything, as he did (almost) give the Hulk a run for his money. Eventually they both teamed up to defeat the Wendigo, with Wolverine realizing he was outmatched and leaving the fray. This was just a taste of what creator Len Wein had in store for his new Canadian super hero, as his original plan involved this short (5’ 3”), stocky mutant with claws (that seemed to protrude from the back of his gloves) to be that of a second tier character. But he faded back into the wilderness in the first panel of #182, and wasn’t heard from again until the following year, 1975, in the iconic Giant Size X-Men #1.
Wolverine was originally drawn by Herb Trimpe, and at almost the same time, was drawn for the cover of Giant Size X-Men by Gil Kane. Gil drew his mask slightly different, more like the mask we know now with the large ‘ears’, and no more whiskers. Dave Cockrum, the artist on Giant Size X-Men and subsequently the X-Men issues that would feature the new character (starting with #94), liked the differences so much he kept them for his character designs. Then, as Wolverine went throughout the 70’s and 80’s, very little was found out about the mutant with the mysterious past, ultimately given his own miniseries in 1982.
The incomparable team of Frank Miller, Chris Claremont, Glynis Wein and Joe Rubinstein refined the look and coined the famous catch phrase, “I’m the best there is at what I do, and what I do isn’t very nice.” Thus ushered in the new obsession with Wolverine, which led to his ongoing series in 1988. But, all was not so great for the character who was quickly becoming the resident favorite of the X-Men, and in his own series. Dave Cockrum wanted to drop him completely from the X-Men teams, preferring other characters like Nightcrawler more, and believing that the team was too saturated, especially with the return of the original line-up as well. The sales for Wolverine’s solo line were O.K. when it started, but it never became a powerhouse for Marvel until the 90’s, and subsequently, Marvel went bankrupt at the same time. All of these trials and tribulations couldn’t keep the scrappy mutant down, and he was given his first ‘origin story’ look with his 50th issue extravaganza and a look into the Weapon X Project in the Marvel Comic Presents line.
Many writers and artists have worked on Wolverine, shaping and reshaping his character, his motivations and ultimately, his back story. With more recent books like House of M, which gave him all his lost memories back, and stellar series like Origin and Wolverine Origins, his past was shaped and remodeled to reflect the convoluted stories that surround the character. Some great, others not so much, they all added to the thick woven tapestry that was such a mystery for so long. Now, we as readers, suddenly had answers to questions we had been yearning for: Was he immortal? (No, he was born in Canada in the late 1880’s). What were his ties to Weapon X and Department H? (Too many to list, and each answer unlocks more secret societies and backroom government involvement). Why is he so drawn to redheads? (Rose, his first love, had fiery red hair before she was killed by a young James).
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But, readers were also given answers, and more questions, to many aspects of Wolverine, in the recent decade alone, that were not needed, or never asked. Like, how Wolverine fought in every war since the 1880’s. (Some reports of him fighting in the Civil War as well, which doesn’t really make sense considering the timeline, but I digress). Wolverine fathered a son,Dakken, and possible other offspring as well if the one off stories are to be believed. Logan has been all over the timeline, coming in contact with Marvel heroes and villains of yesteryear, and also interactions with relatives and ancestors of current heros, villians and institutions. (Did you know he saved Peter Parker’s mother and father once and “sniffed” that she was pregnant with Peter? Uncanny!)
As a self-proclaimed, die-hard fan of the character and his ever growing and twisting arc, I pride myself on being along for the ride, no matter what. The true cost of loving a specific character is that you take the good with the bad. When it’s good, you hope for more and you ingest every new panel with insatiable hunger. When it’s bad, you cling to your seat, hurriedly turning pages looking for a shred of something worthwhile, and praying to the Marvel overlords that it will get better around the corner, in the next issue. To be so bold to use a sports analogy in an article about a comic book character: If you follow a specific player, not a team, and that player is your favorite who plays that game, for many reasons, then the truest fan is the one who loyally sticks by, through the ups and downs no matter what, because he or she is your favorite. Their ‘stats’ (powered, loss of power, hyper powered up), their allegiances (‘good’ or ‘bad’ teams) doesn’t matter. The player, or the character, will shine through, as all of the previous groundwork of good times and bad has dictated.
Therefore, I am equally saddened, intrigued, and at most, receptive to the upcoming Marvel Comic’s event, “The Death of Wolverine”, and the subsequent vocalization of contempt and disdain at the choice to kill the character. I am only one fan, one lone soul who has traveled the same path, right along side Wolverine. I have observed, much like the mighty Watcher (Rest in Peace), the trials, successes, tribulations and digresses of a single literary figure, focused upon what is happening, what has happened, and what could possibly be coming. This death arc is not unlike anything that has befallen him yet, except for it is talked about in such a way that exudes finality. I firmly believe that killing this character, so integral in comics and multi-media today, (and my personal life-long favorite comic book character), is the right choice to make. So, thus begins my argument, to calm the ones who wish for his head, (and the writer’s heads), on a spike, and the ones who can’t understand why dying is the best, and oldest, form of rebirth.
First of all, the big elephant in the room, is ‘death’ and how it is handled in the comic book universe. Every lover of comics knows that death means something different than it does in the real world. With very few exceptions, most characters that “die” in the pages of a comic are resurrected through a myriad of means to facilitate the storyline, or the current writers passion for characters or plot twists. There has been a ton of speculation on how long Wolverine will be gone for. A recent interview with Alex Alonso, Marvel’s editor in chief, has revealed that “This is a long term plan. He’s dead. Our plans, well, let’s just say that if the fans don’t like a Wolverine-free Marvel Universe, we can’t fix that quickly.” Never take anything said by the people in charge for 100 percent face value, but it seems to ring true a little bit. After the “Death of Wolverine” mini series, there is a “Logan Legacy” seven part series planned that will follow the impact of his death on specific characters. The simple fact is, that no matter what the head offices say about Wolverine’s death and how long it will play out, he will return. Let that sink in: Wolverine will come back from the dead, of that we can all be certain. In recent years, we have seen the death of Captain America, The Wasp, The Human Torch and Spider-Man in other Marvel titles, and they have returned after about a year or two. In Wolverine’s own line we have witnessed the death of Sabertooth in the great volume 3 story arc written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by Simone Bianchi. But even he returned to the comics, and is at the heart of the events preceding up to the Death of Wolverine story arc. My prediction for Logan’s return: TWO full years out of the comics, and a triumphant return in 2017. I see it as a major comic event, mirroring the way Marvel handled the death of Captain America/Steve Rogers, with a retrospective mini-series called Fallen Son (which is what I imagine the Logan Legacy will be like), then a few years to really explore a lot of angles without Steve in them, then a big event in Captain America Reborn to usher him back into the world right in time for the Marvel event Siege. One can only hope Wolverine’s return will be handled as well as that, or better. (Steve was brought back through timey-wimey, fantastical means, which were kinda confusing, to say the least).
The other factor to consider in talking of Wolverine’s demise is the abundance of evidence that he will return. The amount of stories concerning Wolverine in the distant future are staggering. The character we all know and love resides in the Marvel Universe, designated 616. There are, of course, multiple stories concerning his future in an infinite number of parallel universes. But there are also many stories concerning the 616 universe. The most famous as of late might be the incredible Old Man Logan run from Mark Millar. Originally printed in Wolverine vol 4, it chronicles an adventure 50 plus years in the future. Millar, famous for bringing his singular stories into a much large “Millarworld” idea, does so with this as well. We are given proof that this story happens in the 616 universe because of the repercussions being explored later in Fantastic Four ( issues 554-569 ). Also, in the recent Age of Ultron comic event, Wolverine was shown to exist in every parallel universe, even in the five-part What If series of the same name. So these, along with other examples, put a firm belief behind the idea that he will return, or all these stories will be false. That isn’t necessarily unheard of in comics, especially when writers retroactively change a character’s past, but I have a real strong feeling that Marvel will not leave Wolverine ‘pushing up daisies’ forever, or they will have to rewrite much of what they have already layered into the greater chronology.
The second point to talk about when considering the death of Wolverine is the real reason for it. Neither you, valued reader, or myself really know what is behind the ideas of Axel Alonso or the other writers involved. But it is in my honest opinion that this is the right choice, the best choice, and, dare I say, the ONLY choice to be made with Wolverine, in the current state he is in. Wolverine over the years has went from an obscure character, to one that gained traction in fandom thanks, in part, to the interest in X-Men, making him an integral part of the Marvel Universe. It seems now though that nothing goes on without Wolverine being a part of it, or at least being present. Wolverine will never be the face of Marvel, that distinction will always be held by Spider-Man, just like Superman is always attached to the DC moniker. Yes, arguments can be made for other heroes such as Captain America or Batman, but at each company’s core for merchandising, book sales, logos, and product placement, those two are the big guns. Wolverine has gained a lot of traction, visually speaking, in recent years alone, and has been the “go to character” to place on a cover, or as a cameo in a book, to help boost sales. I call this the “Mickey Mouse factor”. When in doubt, Disney always seems to attach Mickey, or at least his iconic ears, to any and every product, or adaptation they can. This helps brand their product as well as hammering home the idea of the mouse being attached to everything, regardless of if he is actually involved or not. (See the recent influx of Mickey/Jedi Merchandise flooding Disney).
The same is happening to Wolverine. Marvel has gotten into the rut of putting him on every team, making him cameo in almost every comic, and even going as far as having him be the headmaster of The Jean Grey School for Mutants. Wolverine the teacher. What? The character that started out as a contract killer, a murderer and black-ops special forces commando is now in charge of a school of children. The best there is at what he does, and apparently that is being everywhere and doing everything now. In all honesty, it has gotten quite ridiculous as of late with Marvel’s affinity to plaster Wolverine on everything. This was even addressed in a very meta way in Brian Michael Bendis’ New Avengers #1 from 2010. Luke Cage is running the New Avengers, of which Wolverine had been a part of since their inception in 2004. He is trying to recruit The Thing for this iteration of the team, and Ms. Marvel states he is already on the Fantastic Four. Wolverine replies, “Hey I’m an X-Man and on TWO Avengers teams. Multitasking. It’s my mutant power. Don’t tell anybody.” This exchange was 4 years ago, and yet Marvel has shown no signs of slowing down the Wolverine train. He now is part of THREE Avengers teams, the X-Men, and other X-teams and Avengers teams, not to mention his own adventures in his self titled comic line.
This is a prime reason why “The Death of Wolverine” is not only the right choice, but a needed one to make. When a character like this has become a caricature of himself, and has been molded, reshaped, and ret-conned to no end, there needs to be a rebirth. A weaker writer could go ahead and throw a curveball at the readers, and make Wolverine lose all his memories (again), or go feral (again), bodyswap or mindswap him (again), or forsake his humanity (again). But those are just band-aids on a wound that has been festering for years. Truly, the best way to rectify all that is different, and mostly wrong, with this character is to kill him off, in a very final and matter of fact way. No rumours on exactly how Steve McNiven and Charles Soule will be achieving this, but one thing is definitely certain: Wolverine will die, be out of the comics for some time, and his return should be a large event in the Marvel Universe. This will also be a huge to boost comic sales across the board for those months leading up to his return to life within the pages of tie-in comics. It will be a highly collectible event that should usher in a new beginning for Logan and the franchise that has been built behind his character.
In closing, I want to address the Marvel writing community, present and future, as a whole, with one simple plea from all readers of Wolverine: Do not screw this up. You are giving yourself prime real estate to build whatever you want for this character, and the story of Wolverine. I am sure the landscape of Marvel comics will feel the void left by this titular character. I can’t wait to see characters deal with situations that Wolverine would have been a big help for. I can’t wait to see match ups between heroes and villains that might not have happened if Wolverine was still around. But that is what makes people keep coming back for more, and keep buying the comics the love. Shaking things up and never allowing stories to get stale, which Wolverine has been getting dangerously close to. Death will bring a much needed rest to this thinly spread out character, and only time will tell if it will be worth it or not. As a super fan though, I relish the fact that the opportunities are endless, and the comic landscape will be so different when his The Wolverine will eventually return from the dead.
The Human Porch says
Using the sports analogy, I’ve seen articles written by sports writers about their beloved teams and players that pale in comparison to this. Truly a labor of love about a character that is now a caricature. We all know that death in comics is impermanent and there are endless time travel/healing factor/cloning/Skrulling possibilities that can restore Logan to greatness.
This is a very well written and thorough article that may have turned me around a little bit on the upcoming “death.”
My cynical mind typically looks at the death of a comic book character as cheap gimmick that we’ve seen time after time. Of course, we know that these companies won’t permanently kill intellectual properties that can make money; that’s just bad business. But, it doesn’t make it an easy pill to swallow when you’ve seen it over and over again.
However, you make a sound argument that death can be used to reboot the ubiquitous character. Wolverine is everywhere, and now every writer has a perfectly logical explanation to expel Wolverine from the book(s). It may not be the most original choice (and it could be considered the laziest), but it gets the job done.
Thomas Bacon says
OK, I am seriously impressed. I love the depth and detail of your article; there are only two things I’d add to it.
The first is that, oddly enough, this whole thing reminds me of how Claremont intended to kill Logan off for a year, then have the Hand resurrect him as a bad guy. Very reminiscent, and makes me wonder; of course, the Hand plotline was eventually done in Enemy of the State, but still…
The second is the caution: in the X-Men universe, at least, death is more uncertain. For all the inevitability of her resurrection, Marvel have kept Jean Grey dead for a decade. So be wary; it could yet be a longer ‘death’…
As much as I enjoy Wolverine, I think I’d prefer the Jean Grey approach. It seems like there’s absolutely no way Marvel does it, which would make it so impressive if they actually kept Wolverine’s death in tact for a longer period of time.
Then again, the breather and rebirth makes a lot of sense. It will be interesting to see how they pull it off. I’m just hoping for an appropriately epic story. Even if the Human Torch’s death in Hickman’s “Three” was short-lived, that story gets me every time, with the Thing trapped outside the negative zone as Johnny saves the day.
Most importantly – great article 🙂 Really enjoyed this one.
Very nice write-up and I really have nothing to disagree with.
It’s the danger of a character that got too popular. Every title he appears in probably gets a noticable sales boost, but the downside is that the character gets stretched thinner and thinner to fit into every story, every writing style, every team. Eventually there is nothing left of what made the character the big draw to begin with.
A time-out can only help.