Death of Wolverine #1 is the culmination of a storyline begun by Paul Cornell in which Wolverine lost his mutant healing factor, and the first issue of a four part weekly series which promises to kill off everyone’s favorite Canadian mutant with adamantium claws. Of course, only the most casual of comic book readers expect that death to stick: Wolverine is a cash cow character for Marvel Comics, star of several blockbuster films, and the company has gone down this road before, killing off such stalwart characters as Captain America and Human Torch only to see them returned to life (and the pages of comic books and screens of your local theater) in due time.
Of course, as in any story, the execution is as important as the destination. This is especially true in superhero comics where readers can reasonably expect that by the end of any given story, the hero will triumph over the villain and some semblance of a status quo will be maintained. The exciting part comes in how that story is told. This story, as of the first issue, is perfectly…fine. It suffers, as so many superhero stories these days do, from being 1/4 of a story rather than a full story in and of itself. In that quarter of a story, Wolverine’s healing factor-less condition is made clear as well as the fact that the greatest scientific minds of the Marvel Universe (including Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four) have been unable to restore it. This has triggered a cavalcade of villains to come after the now-vulnerable Wolverine, including one who has put a price on his head. This leads to a fight with Nuke (a failed super soldier notable for debuting at the end of Frank Miller’s seminal “Born Again” Daredevil story), a reasonably clever twist at the end, and a final reveal of the person who put out the bounty that is likely to elicit knowing head nods more so than gasps.
The real standout of the issue is the art. Steve McNiven turns in his usual strong work, which is crisp yet energetic and features enough detail to make the settings feel realistic without crowding out the figures. His Wolverine is appropriately weary, the fight scenes effectively brutal, selling the idea that a Wolverine who can no longer heal has to fight more savagely than ever before even while each blow causes immense pain that doesn’t go away quickly. Marvel, to their credit, provides some additional back matter to this $4.99 issue, most of which centers on McNiven’s art. There are sketches and page layouts annotated by the artist, as well as a “directors cut” of the first half dozen pages, each of which goes from pencil art to inks to finished product panel by panel, giving readers a look into the process behind creating the book. Nothing essential, but the added value is still appreciated and gives readers a better appreciation for the art (an interview with Wolverine co-creator Len Wein rounds out the back matter).
To be clear, nothing here is bad. It’s just all very routine, hitting the expected beats of this kind of story, and even then, only hitting a quarter of them. If not for the presence of Steve McNiven’s art, and the title of the series (with the implicit promise therefore to end in a fashion we haven’t quite seen before), this issue would simply be the beginning to yet another perfectly competent but ultimately forgettable Wolverine story. Whether the whole thing moves past that, and proves worthy of all the hullabaloo, will be left to later issues.