That is the best word to describe Charles Soule and Steve McNiven’s The Death of Wolverine, the final (for now) story of Marvel’s premier mutant. I got it from CBR’s The Buy Pile and I find the word “tepid” to be so perfect. Never has a blaze of glory felt so stale.
This week, The Death of Wolverine concluded with issue 4. Written by Soule (who just became exclusive to Marvel) and art by McNiven, the mini-series showed the world what it would take to kill the unkillable mutant.
Apparently, it doesn’t take much.
Now, Logan has lost his healing factor after contracting an “Intelligent Virus from the Microverse” (direct quote from Hank McCoy) last summer and death has been a looming shadow over the character ever since, both in-story and in the news. It’s no longer a surprise when character dies because there is a press release a few months prior. And he doesn’t have to go out in some huge spectacle, but Wolverine does deserve to die in a much more meaningful way for the character.
Instead, it just sort of…happens. After a fight with a random nobody villain, in an attempt to stop the same process that gave James Howlett his adamantium skeleton, Wolverine ends up covered in molten metal, which slowly hardens around him as he collapses into a pile. That is how Wolverine dies. Like I said, it just sort of…happens. I guess that is true in any war-time situation. Things can change in an instant. The chaos of battle tends to leads to brash decisions that can cost lives.
Wolverine should have been given a death like Captain Marvel, who died of cancer in Jim Starlin’s classic Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel. He should have been given the chance to be the hero one last time, a chance to have closure, and a chance at an honorable, but personal, death. The ending of Transmetropolitan comes to mind as well. The hero is victorious in the penultimate issue, but given a quiet place to die in peace within the final issue. Wolverine doesn’t need to die in battle; he probably should’ve died as a result of all the horrible things Reed Richards addresses about his body in issue 1.
Death doesn’t always have meaning in real life; in fact, it’s more common for it not to have meaning. But in a story, in a fictional version of our world, it’s just lazy writing to not give proper meaning to a death. And in the end, Charles Soule presented a Wolverine who was only useful because he had metal claws. That is all the Dr. Cornelius says matters about Logan and Soule doesn’t do much to refute that in the story or Logan’s dialogue. The final image of Wolverine dead, encased in adamantium, only seems to drive that point home further.
The biggest theme of Wolverine, which has always been at the center of every story, is whether or not James “Logan” Howlett is a man or an animal. Hell, even his real-world comic creation story has that as one of Wolverine’s original origins had him as a wolverine cub turned into a man by Marvel’s villainous animal geneticist, the High Evolutionary. And in the end, Soule basically sides with the animal argument.
The physical death of Wolverine offers no defense towards his claim to his humanity. That has been Logan’s quest since the beginning: to simply be a man. He is immortal and been turned into a feral beast, as well as a weapon; Wolverine dies without any physical dignity, falling to his knees, exhausted and encased in molten adamantium, which cools around him to be his coffin. Wolverine has always been defined by the indestructible metal and in the end, he was killed by it.
The story is dull, saved by beautiful artwork from Steve McNiven. His work remains high quality throughout the mini-series and seems to have a stronger polish than some of his recent, looser work. His work is welcome, but it is curious to see McNiven on the project, considering he kind of already did a better version of the last days of Wolverine with Mark Millar.
Wolverine is ultimately the one who is responsible for his own death, trying to save helpless people from being turned into him. That says a lot about the character. Yes, he was a noble, self-sacrificing character, but at the end of the day, Wolverine was his own worst enemy. In a way, Wolverine is the adult version of Spider-Man.
Chris Sims at Comics Alliance once wrote a fantastic article comparing the similarities of Spider-Man and Batman while discussing why Spider-Man is the better character (in fact, he says Spider-Man is the best comic book character). But the main root is that while they both come from a similar place (the desire to prevent the tragedy that happened to them), Batman is a child’s idea, while Spider-Man is a teenager’s idea. Wolverine is the adult version, having lived a life of tragedies before he even became the Wolverine. He wants to prevent the world from turning another poor soul into what he has become.
That is what this four-issue mini-series should have been about. Who has James Howlett become since the first time he popped those claws? We don’t get a sense of the anguish and relief Wolverine must feel through his final adventure. Since the destination is the end of the line, the story doesn’t give Wolverine the chance for some final growth.
A samurai, a soldier, a weapon, a hero; in the end, Wolverine is all of these things and none of these things. Short of Spider-Man, he is Marvel’s most recognizable hero, and he deserved a better death than this, even though we all know he will be back in a few years tops. But for now, he rests. To the man known as The Wolverine, above all else, he does deserve to rest.