WARNING: Spoilers abound!
Given everything that had been teased about X Lives and X Deaths of Wolverine, I expected the first issue to open with Logan traveling back in time to some relatively predictable venue—Canada, Madripoor, or Japan, as Mr. Percy directed us to look back to Logan’s opening narration at the start of his Wolverine #1. What a pleasant surprise, then, to find the best there is at what he does doing something wholly unexpected and very good, all things considered, for the fate of mutantkind: rescuing a newly born Charles Xavier and simultaneously slicing baby Chuck’s umbilical cord…! With a bone claw?! While the midwife is possessed by Omega Red and terrorizing the lucky new parents?!?
Well, this is Xavier Mansion in Westchester, and Logan in Wolverine #1 did mention New York as one of his main haunts—just not so far back in time.
Besides being a refreshingly unpredictable start to this Logan-centric event and to the post-Hickman era*, this issue also features rising star Joshua Cassara’s career-best artwork thus far. The pacing is terrific, and clearly, Percy and Cassara are still working with seamless synergy, as they have been since the opening issues of X-Force in 2019. Frank Martin’s colors are exquisite as well—almost painterly. This first chapter definitely exceeded my expectations. The team has presented Logan at his stoic, indefatigable best.
*The Destiny of X era does not officially begin until March 30th, with the release of the debut issues of Immortal X-Men and Marauders vol2 (even though Steve Orlando’s first Marauders issue is the annual coming out January 26).
It’s also clear that we won’t have to wait until X-Force #27 in April to see further development of the title’s long-simmering Mikhail Rasputin plot.
The Basics: Logan, Jean, Charles—A Strange Way to Travel the Timestream
There’s been some speculation about why X Lives of Wolverine #1 was released on Marvel Unlimited simultaneously with its print publication—perhaps due to lower than expected preorders? That might be cynical; Marvel maybe just wanted to hype the book more? It’s impossible to say. But what about the fact that it just made sense given the simultaneous release of the Life of Wolverine Infinity Comic #1 by Jim Zub, Ramon Bachs, and Java Tartaglia. This is Marvel’s solicit for the Infinity Comic:
“Jean Grey scans Wolverine’s mind, bring us along with her through the long life of the mutant known as Logan, James Howlett, Weapon X, Wolverine and more! For the first time ever, explore the history of Wolverine in chronological order!”
Indeed, this first brief issue ends with a young James Howlett discovering his bone claws for the first time—in bloody tragedy. While I’m mildly interested in seeing Logan’s timeline in linear fashion for once, we shouldn’t really expect any original material here. (Actually, after writing this article, I’ll be very interested to have a linear biography for this mind-numbingly over-complicated character!)
What the Jim Zub issue does provide, though, is some clarity on the logic of Logan’s time travel method, albeit all too briefly—which is good, because this adds to the mystery that I’m sure will be gradually clarified. And where X Lives starts out in nonlinear fashion, gloriously full speed ahead—with Logan narrating—Life will give us a linear biography framed by Jean’s narration. So it makes sense that the Infinity Comic will provide at least a few clear hints on the basics of story logic, allowing the event to get on with the action, barreling forward, backward, and sideways.
[Life of Wolverine Infinity Comic #1]
Hopefully, the event continues with nonstop momentum to the end, with the sort of kaleidoscopic pacing that wouldn’t really work for a monthly title. Indeed, there are many for whom the novelistic weave of Percy’s Wolverine and X-Force has been more frustrating than compelling. I for one am a fan because, really, do we need instant gratification on everything? A story that tells all too quickly is only appealing in the moment that it’s consumed and thereafter forgettable and disposable. Throughout the Krakoa era, Percy has been giving us something different, an epic double-run that will challenge and endure.
Now clearly, Logan, Jean, and Xavier’s time-travel method is intentionally akin to that of the alternate future Kate Pryde and Rachel Summers in Claremont and Byrne’s dystopian classic “Days of Future Past” (Uncanny X-Men #141-142, 1981). Rachel’s psionic powers allowed her to exchange Kate’s consciousness with that of her younger self—in order to prevent the present-day assassination of Senator Robert Kelly and its horrific consequences for mutantkind.
As it turned out, though (as revealed in Uncanny X-Men #184), there was no preventing the dire future of Earth-811 because Rachel had inadvertently sent Kate’s mind to the past of Earth-616 (the mainstream Marvel universe). We might wonder, then, if something similar might be in the offing in X Lives / X Deaths with Logan venturing “cross-time” rather than merely backward in his own timestream.
I hope not! Seriously, let’s see Brian and Sharon make Logan Chuck’s mysterious godfather 😉
Regardless, Rachel was Kate’s “mental anchor” during this psionic time-travel adventure, neatly echoing Jean’s role here in X Lives (and modestly bringing the non-daughter/mother pairing into closer alignment; Earth-616 Jean is not Rachel’s actual mother). (For those interested, this time-travel method was repeated with some variation in 1994’s Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix #1-4 by Scott Lobdell and Gene Ha.)
However far this neat homage goes, we still don’t understand what role the Cerebro helmet plays here, but I’m guessing that with its record of Logan’s memories (that most complex of memory palimpsests) it’s something of a navigation guide for Logan and Jean. We shall see; the mystery is intriguing.
Before going on, let’s get one more piece of not-insignificant fan skepticism out of the way: Before his jaunt gets underway, Logan looks to Jean and thinks, “Maybe nobody knows me better. Maybe nobody’s ever loved me better.” And while it’s true this doesn’t come across at all in Claremont’s early years—where Logan’s love goes unrequited (X-Men #101 and 110), he does later show interest in laying a foundation for potential romance in his Classic X-Men backups (from 1986 on). Furthermore, they much later share a kiss in the original “Inferno” event (Uncanny X-Men #242) and again in “X-Tinction Agenda” (X-Factor #61). Yes, I know! These are all too brief fits of passion, like in 2001 where it happened twice in one year! (First in Joe Casey’s Uncanny X-Men #394 and then in Grant Morrison’s New X-Men #117). But it was Morrison who wrote the pair as the closest of barely platonic friends, culminating in the climactic “Planet X” story arc, where, stuck inside Asteroid M as it hurtled implacably sunward, Logan killed Jean in an act of mercy—inadvertently awakening the Phoenix Force within her, which rescued them both (though “Magneto”/Xorn did then murder her). One of the main arguments of their New X-Men run was that Jean and Scott were doomed to live out a painfully awkward and ultimately exhausted teen romance with their early status as mutantkind’s power couple foisted upon them. Her relationship with Logan has always been more intense, the burning friction of two alphas in heat, alternately cold and hot.
Granted, now that they’re actually an item in their mature Krakoan years, these two alphas can afford to share a more relaxed affection—that’s still more than what Scott can bring! So I rest my case.
One last relevant note here is that Jean acted at least once before as Logan’s mental anchor in another way, after Magneto magnetically yanked his skeleton’s adamantium out through his frigging pores in X-Men #25. 1993’s execrable Fatal Attractions event continued in Wolverine #75, where Jean’s role was in keeping Logan from completely losing his mind in agony; it’s not well told, but they do end up saving one another. And hey, this also happens to be the issue that first visually confirmed his claws are bone, not just metal.
Another thing that rings true in X Lives’ chronologically inaugural scene is Logan’s feeling that Professor X is “as close as I got to a father.” I mean, it’s kind of hilarious that the century-plus Logan feels this way about a 70-year old, which is the last time we’re going to discuss relative ages here in comic-book land. But he knows Xavier the way a wayward son might: “Some people are older on the inside than on the outside. Like they chewed up clocks and swallowed down worlds.” (Percy continues to script the most memorable lines.)
Deciphering the Many Lives of the Wolverine
Hold on tight—let’s dive into Logan’s tentacle-tangled past lives. Now obviously, we’re not talking about Moira-style reincarnations, though the title is a clever play on the theme that kicked off this whole new era in the first place. It might just be thematic punning or there could possibly be a suggestion that whatever Logan is getting up to here will have a major, shaping effect on Krakoa’s next chapter this year. Regardless, here we’ll just be looking what these ten lives of Wolverine are; simply put, they’re each a different phase or era in this long-lived mutant’s complex life, most of them unknown to Logan himself until he regained all his memories at the end of 2005’s House of M event series.
Of course, famously, neither Logan nor fans (nor Marvel itself) had any idea of who he had been prior to his 1974 debut in Incredible Hulk #180/181. Beginning with 1978’s X-Men #118, which introduced Mariko Yashida, Claremont began suggesting the surly Wolverine harbored depths hidden even to himself. Over the ensuing years, in fitful and nonlinear fashion, we got more of his pre-debut backstory, but it ultimately amounted to a rather confused and dissatisfying patchwork (don’t pardon the pun!). But I suppose if you read Wolverine vol 2 #50 at the age of ten, it’s more rad than bad.
So let’s run through Logan’s different phases following the visual layout of Adam Kubert’s X Lives cover, where I think there’s a perhaps intentional red herring:
1. Front and center we have present-day Wolverine (Life X),
and going back from left to right, there’s
2. Weapon X (as first seen in 1991’s Marvel Comics Presents #72 by Barry Windsor-Smith—beginning what’s one of the all-time greatest Marvel Comics stories; presumably, this will be revealed as Life VIII);
3. Wolverine as an agent of Canada’s Dept H, as he appeared in his 1974 debut (which may be Life IX—but then why are there are two more representations of the Wolverine???)
4. Logan in his Patch identity, reserved for his time in Madripoor (as first seen in the first year or so of Wolverine’s first ongoing solo series, Wolverine vol 2, from Chris Claremont, Peter David, and John Buscema; given Logan’s Madripoor activities during and before WWII, this could be Life V);
5. Logan as Canadian infantry in WWI (which was first seen, I believe, in Wolverine: Origins #12, where he signed up under the influence of Romulus—ugh! Life III? IV?);
6. Logan as a member of Team X sometime in the early ’60s and directly preceding his captivity in the Weapon X program (Team X’s debut was in a flashback in 1991’s Wolverine vol 2 #49 by Larry Hama and Marc Silvestri, but it didn’t have a name until its first appearance in the present, along with Maverick’s, in X-Men vol 2 #5* by John Byrne and Jim Lee, Feb 1992—presented here as Live VII; more on this very sketchy period in the next section);
7. a shirtless Logan in tattered pants, presumably as the wild “clawed man of the woods” (following the tragedies of the six-issue James Howlett/Logan origin story by Paul Jenkins and Andy Kubert—2001’s Wolverine: The Origin; Life I);
8. cowboy Logan, which is fitting, though I don’t recall seeing this outfit specifically (presumably, this would be from sometime around the turn of the 20th century, which he’ll certainly revisit; probably, this is sometime after Silver Fox’s tragic death [as seen in Wolverine vol 2 #10], when he drifted into all kinds of identities—soldier/mercenary, outlaw, spy, etc.—finding rootedness only in his training to become a samurai, courtesy of Lord Ogun, and not from his post-WWI wandering years, when, for instance, he first met Mystique, in Mexico—Wolverine vol 3 #62-65);
9. a harder-to-see Logan but clearly wearing the plaid shirt we see him in this issue, circa 1950, and very much in both his and Mr. Percy’s familiar rustic North style 😉 (Life VI);
10. and lastly, Logan in what looks like his brown-and-tan Wolverine costume first introduced by John Byrne in 1980’s X-Men #139—but I think this is just a stand-in for the Claremont era as a whole, probably going beyond that, up to House of M (but, wait, I already made my guess for Life IX; oops!)
Maybe this last is Life Omega—I’m making that up—and we’re not seeing every Life I-X?
It also seems like Percy is not going to touch on the Logan as devo manimal period (for all of 1996, following the events ofWolverine vol 2 #99)! There are other gaps, to be sure, but ten lives are certainly more than enough to keep track of.
*Maverick’s debut came one issue after Omega Red’s in X-Men #4 also by Lee and Byrne. Percy is really mining the ’90s, taking undeveloped characters and working to shape them in his own way. Maybe Wolverine’s deep background cast will finally see some rounded development. Yeah, let’s hear it for Bloodscream, y’all! How about Ogun? I’m certainly looking forward to more Lady Deathstrike and Gorgon. Perhaps even Madame Hydra, to whom Logan once swore loyalty, when she was known only as Viper (pre-Hydra); see 1998’s Wolverine vol 2 #128 by Claremont and Yu—which also featured Yukio, Tyger Tiger, and the Black Widow, all excellent candidates for popping up in this Wolverine event!
Do note the neat little X’s Kubert makes of Omega Red’s tentacles! This certainly suggests that Red is worming his way into a more torturously intimate Wolverine nemesis! Who’d have thought! (More on him two sections down.)
Looking at the title and credits page, we find five sets of linked hexagons, each clearly representing a “life,” three of which we get in this issue: Life X, which may or may not start with the Krakoa era, and I’m guessing the missing roster image is Omega Red (but that could be wrong?); then we have Life VI labeled as such, and I’ll suppose the rest of the roster here includes the Xaviers (excepting the dead Cassandra) and, again, Omega Red; and lastly, we have Life VII with Team X (Sabretooth and Maverick). Presumably, though, Life VII’s narrative will continue in X Deaths #1, but who knows: This event promises to be a time-travel kaleidoscope—like Time itself.
As seen in the header image above, once Logan’s plugged in, we see an explosion of memories, refracted through the prism of the Cerebro helm: Logan battling against the Silver Samurai, Lady Deathstrike, Sabretooth, the Hulk, and Omega Red; discovering his mutancy; wailing as an infant; being held captive and experimented on as Weapon X; rolling Chuck somewhere; glowering with half his face blasted off; presumably preparing to wed Lady Mariko (only to have her call it off; Uncanny #172); kneeling in hellfire, the Muramasa blade nearby (X of Swords?); bleeding tears, looking broken inside; hanging from a crucifix shaped like an X (courtesy of the Reavers in Uncanny #251).
It’s fitting that Logan, who supposedly has all his memories back, does have a few blind spots, like this Team X mission the issue closes with; of course he wouldn’t recall this if his past consciousness was displaced and unaware in the present day while his future self filled in here with Sabretooth and Maverick.
The joint US-Canadian black ops Team X, which at other points also included a few other mutants, including Silver Fox—of which I’m not convinced; Creed killed her long before and any suggestion that she lived to join this team is a false memory! Indeed, this period is where not just Logan’s memories but that of all Team X members were irremediably scrambled. As seen in Wolverine vol 2 #50 by Hama and Silvestri, we see an abandoned Weapon X warehouse in Ontario that still houses a dust-covered stage sets—implying that faked scenarios were acted out and then implanted in the field agents; we’re talking real ’90s cheese, which was fun in its moment, to be sure. Happily, these superficial noir-action conceits aren’t taken seriously*. (Alternatively, there was a Silver-Fox lookalike among them, for no doubt ill-conceived reasons.)
[Wolverine vol 2 #50]
*It was Daniel Way in the post-House of M ongoing Wolverine: Origins who, disastrously, took all of this, way too seriously, trying to thread Logan’s fractured lives together as if his entire life had been orchestrated and puppeteered by a single figure, Romulus, whom Logan could then kill in righteous vengeance. But guess what?! Much of the point to the state-sanctioned abuse Logan has suffered is that there is no one who can be made to shoulder this crime against humanity on their own; it’s the banality of evil, baby: We share it among us—a bureaucracy, an organization, a society, each is collectively culpable, and thus ultimately, unpunishable, to any aggrieved individual or community’s satisfaction, at least.
Looping back to the start of the issue, Logan waxes philosophical on the conundrums of temporality. Recall the recent Wolverine #19 where he made the point that Krakoa’s gates undermine one’s sense of daily time when you can jaunt across time zones in an instant.
Somehow, we don’t know how yet, Omega Red’s consciousness is also slipping through time, but he’s jumping into various people’s bodies; we don’t see him physically in the past. Yet his hosts transform hideously and sprout his trademark carbonadium tentacles. I’m guessing Mikhail Rasputin behind this.
Presumably, he’s not simply gunning for Xavier since Logan’s next stop is a Team X mission in Colombia (where, incidentally, Sabretooth saves his life, first thing—after a split-second suggestion that he’s attacking, Percy and Cassara cleverly playing on our expectations; however, this rescue is in character for this period when all the Team Xers were undergoing regular identity edits.)
[X-Men vol 2 #5]
What’s This Guy’s Deal?
On the recent Omega Red episode of the excellent Cerebro podcast, host Connor Goldsmith noted that Logan and Red (Arkady Rossovich) are each “a weapon of state power”; guest Ben Percy, of course, elaborated further on their dark parallels. Of Arkady, he said, “You’ve got this devilish background and yet he himself has been victimized by the Russian state—and he’s sort of gone through different moments of rebirth himself, so that you’re not quite sure how much remains of that person who used to exist.”
Granted, otherwise, Omega Red is entirely a cipher, a goofy ’90s one at that. Is all this Omega Red business just a distraction from the fact that Percy can’t yet use Logan’s real archnemesis, Sabretooth? No—because as he said earlier in the Cerebro episode: “To put him in right away is like sending the Hobbits to Mordor by the end of chapter one of Fellowship.” Lol. But this is so true!
The vast majority of comics writers are not novelists like Mr. Percy is, and refreshingly, he’s simply constructing his runs as long-form, novelistic narratives. So until Sabretooth’s inevitable return—which is “simmering in the background.” Apparently, Hickman hadn’t even written Sabretooth into the Hole until after he’d recruited all the Dawn of X writers and had them brainstorming and “horse-trading” characters. In other words, trust that this is all going somewhere, and in the meantime, again in Percy’s words, “be interested in the possibility of juncture, of pivoting out of what one was and into something new”—just like we’ve seen with so many mutants now in the Krakoa era.
Still, “moral confusion,” Mr. Percy says, is the “algorithm” of his tenure on X-Force—and on Wolverine too, possibly. It was there, in issues Wolverine #1 and 4 that he was introduced in the Krakoa era to examine through the “prism” of vampires the ways in which he and Logan each share different qualities with the undead, even while the antagonistic pair overlap in other areas, as mentioned above. Logan is undying; Red is vampiric. Both have been puppets of shadowy forces. And now Red is a victim of Krakoa, and Logan, the “fist” of X-Force, must defend the victimizer, even as his fury with the Beast Hank McCoy is bound to gain steam, on a “cataclysmic” collision course with X-Force’s “head.”
Maybe Omega Red will emerge out of this as someone not only of genuine interest but as a character whom you’ve never even met. Perhaps.
And who is the Omega Red, the despicable and vacuous ’90s bad boy, we’ve already met?
Again mirroring Logan’s fate, Arkady was a guinea pig in a Soviet super-soldier program, but his bones are laced with carbonadium, just as fictional as adamantium but unlike that supreme metal, it’s radioactive. Furthermore, in a bit of barely veiled Cold War era nationalism, Byrne and Lee decided that this element was a fabrication of the Soviets based on their incomplete understanding of adamantium, to which they didn’t have access; it’s a poor-man’s knockoff. But while its malleability makes it weaker than adamantium, it does allow Red to have some gnarly wormy tentacles (stored inside him where, exactly?).
These tentacles allow him to vampirically drain others’ lifeforce, the sustenance necessary for his survival as an eternally tortured state puppet. Remember, he’s constantly being eaten away by radioactivity! And there’s never been any sense as to how he tolerates his own existence; he’s just portrayed as evil. But carbonadium does slow down superhuman healing factors, and he did battle Team X, on their last mission long ago. So even though this seems like a lame way to make a super-soldier, I suppose it had its uses, albeit very limited. (It doesn’t seem like any serious metahuman foe ever died from this radiation, but it wouldn’t be surprising if a number of Red’s handlers died horrifically. Cold War comic book logic: Soviet citizens were simply expected to sacrifice themselves on the brutal whim of the state.)
In that crucial batle against Team X, the latter made off with Red’s carbonadium synthesizer, a device whose logic is nonexistent but whose function for Red is to stave off the worst of the radiation poisoning. Lacking this MacGuffin, he must then rely on his death-factor spores to drain others’ lifeforce. But sometime after the fall of the USSR, he was bought and sold while kept in animated suspension; the Hand took possession of his pod, awoke him, and sicked him on their common enemy, Wolverine.
[X-Men vol 2 #4]
Despite Red’s evil nature, he resents his vampiric life without the synthesizer, perhaps in a way not unlike Logan’s self-loathing, which arises in part out of his alienated nature as unkillable being.
Don’t feel too sympathetic for Red, though, for both before and during his days as a military experiment, he was a serial killer of little girls (though not, apparently, a sexual predator). This bit of awfulness has only ever been mentioned once, in Larry Hama’s 1996 Maverick one-shot. Just—why go there at all? Bad move, Larry, but the mid-’90s were programmed from on high to be so bad it’s rad, I guess. Still, from a young age he’d enjoyed murdering whoever he could get his hands on, which most writers of the characters have touched on, just to remind us that he’s a vacuous sack of evil.
His execution for these crimes failed, as Arkady’s mutant healing powers manifested then, and the KGB was intrigued: It was time to make their own Captain America.
What makes zero sense in the Lee and Byrne X-Men issues is that first Team X in the past and then Logan and Maverick, even the X-Men themselves, want to keep the synthesizer out of Red’s hands. Again, what is the logic here? He won’t die without it—he’ll just keep killing others to live!
It was the ’90s; the synthesizer was merely a nonsensical plot device to make a comic that looked rad-bad. See how much I’ve soured on Jim Lee (one of my childhood faves for all his glossy, chunky tech designs)?
Now, in the Krakoa era, as seen in the pages of X-Force (esp. #15) and recapped here in a data page, Beast killed Red and resurrected him with a new synthesizer created by Forge, with a surveillance device added—against the wishes of the Five, which we see McCoy curtly dismissing. (The mutant resurrectionists have since proven less amenable to following orders, as seen in New Mutants and The Trial of Magneto.)
Presumably, he discovered or realized something after hacking into the Hatchery’s files that led him in turn to Moscow and Mikhail. The mystery is part of the suspense, and it sure feels very effectively ominous.
Also, Cassara and Martin’s portrait of the master matter manipulator here is magisterial.
The Mikhail Chronicles
I’m guessing the imagery here is twofold: Mikhail is literally whisking Omega Red away by teleportation, one of Mikhail’s powers; he’s not actually tessellating the Kremlin out of existence! However, metaphorically, Russia’s new head of state(!) really has disintegrated the foundation of the Kremlin’s power.
The information on the ensuing data page is, indeed, startling. Presumably, Mikhail’s prisoner, the mutant Chronicler has helped him to create Russia’s “new constitution” by tampering with Vladimir Putin’s mind. (So far, this writerly mutant has been seen only in X-Force #23-24.)
That is a superpower I very much wish to have!
We shall see what the big bad of Percy’s X-Force run does with his newfound state power.
As mentioned at the top, he’s likely the maestro behind Omega Red’s time-travel murder-quest.
Xavier Mansion, circa 1950
And that brings us to a moment we’ve sure never seen before—the birth of baby Xavier! Granted, he’s been depicted battling his evil twin Cassandra Nova in the womb, the reason she’s portrayed here as stillborn. (See that absolute classic by Morrison and Quitely, New X-Men #121, the “silent issue.” However, it is worth noting that what we see of the Xavier couple and their home there looks very midcentury suburban, not somber old-money grandeur.)
Incidentally, the Cassandra cameo also sets us up for her return in the pages of Steve Orlando’s Marauders!
As to what Omega (and perhaps Mikhail) sought to accomplish here, couldn’t he just keep returning earlier or later, or even simultaneously, for repeat assassination attempts until he gets it right? Ah, well, time travel! Maybe it’ll make sense in-universe, but probably not. Let’s just enjoy the wild ride while it lasts.