In Death of Wolverine, Charles Soule, Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten, and Justin Ponsor had the tough job of killing off one Marvel’s most popular characters in a way consistent with his legacy of his character. Death of Wolverine #4 contains the actual “death”, and Soule, McNiven, and company stick the landing. Except for Doctor Cornelius’ supervillainous monologues, Soule’s script is terse and minimalist. Wolverine doesn’t say much, but he does a lot in keeping with his early characterization in Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s Uncanny X-Men where he would be the one still scrapping and fighting even after the Hellfire Club had taken out the other X-Men. In this last story, Soule examines all the different sides of Wolverine from lab experiment and animal to soldier, superhero, and samurai. And Steve McNiven’s art continues to be a treat from his landscape portraits of the Nevada desert to Wolverine’s last, visceral hand to hand battles. Inker Jay Leisten tightens his lines and elucidates the details of Cornelius’ lab as well as the lines on Wolverine’s determined faces. Colorist Justin Ponsor continues to be one of my personal favorites as he sets a different mood for each scene from a washed out brown for one final flashback of Weapon X to the sterile environment of Cornelius’ lab and one last walk in the sunlight.
Charles Soule uses the character of Dr. Cornelius to get at the core of Wolverine, and how he has changed since adamantium was bonded to his skeleton and even since he entered the Marvel Universe back in 1974. Cornelius’s speech is long winded, flowery, and full of technobabble in keeping with the character of the maddest of scientists. But beneath the monologuing, he uncovers a lot of truths about Wolverine. For example, the scientific name for a wolverine is “Gulo gulo”, which is Latin for “glutton”. Wolverine did use to love to kill and back when he had his healing factor, he wasn’t afraid of getting his entire body blown off in a fight because it would grow back eventually. And in Death of Wolverine #4, Wolverine truly is a glutton for death. He knows that he has to age and die like a normal person so he decides to go after the man who turned him into an animal. However, Cornelius gets many things wrong about Wolverine. He isn’t a mindless, brute animal. Because he doesn’t have a healing factor, Wolverine uses his mind to dispatch his enemies in this comic. McNiven and the artists help with this characterization by capturing his desperate rage through his facial expressions and his actions in the fight scenes. Only a man with a real death wish would do the things Wolverine does in Death of Wolverine #4. Ponsor shows this desire for death (as well as his last berserker rage) dark red colors over the line art.
The characters and themes of Death of Wolverine #4, but the plot has a couple problems. First of all, (from the previous two volumes of Wolverine) isn’t it pretty common knowledge that Wolverine has lost his healing factor? Why wouldn’t Dr. Cornelius, who has put a hit on Wolverine, know this before going after him for his healing powers? But despite this possible continuity error, it is really poetic of Soule to have Wolverine have his last adventure in the place that physically transformed him into “the Wolverine”. Also, some fans not might like who he fights in this issue. McNiven lays out in slanted panels with close-up shots, and it is both brutal and symbolic. However, the ending is a little abrupt. Some extra story pages would add tension to the battle. However, these storytelling hiccups are more than redeemed by Soule’s ability to channel the essence of Wolverine’s character as well as more excellent artwork from McNiven and company. They give the story its tone from its wide-shot Unforgiven style intro to McNiven’s grimy homage to Barry Windsor Smith’s “Weapon X” storyline and little touches, like Wolverine looking slightly disappointed in a panel that shows his face in the reflection of Cornelius’ glasses while he calls him a failure. And the last pages mix horror, nostalgia, and emotions in a way that won’t be spoiled here. Death of Wolverine #4 gives Wolverine the heroic death and possibly the peace he deserves after years of fighting for his humanity in a world that hates and fears him. So light up a cigar, open a cold brew, or just enjoy the last story featuring this iconic hero for a while.
I’ll miss you, Logan.