In less than a month, Marvel will put one of its favorite heroes to sleep. Wolverine, the hairy, Canadian bundle of muscle with the claws, will die on October 8 (just in time for New York Comic-Con), when the comic book The Death of Wolverine wraps up.
There might be some questions as to why Marvel would want to kill one of its most popular characters and the face of the X-Men franchise. And there may be some queries as to how one kills someone who’s immortal.
I mean, why is Wolverine dying? I thought he can’t die?
Wolverine’s death may come as a shock to people who aren’t all that familiar with what’s going on in the Marvel comic universe. Most people know Wolverine to be the mutant with claws, but his real mutant ability, something that X-Men movies have made very clear, is that he has the ability to heal himself and is therefore immortal.
In Wolverine’s solo series, writer Paul Cornell has written an arc in which Wolverine gets infected with an alien virus and loses his healing factor as a result. The loss of his mutant ability has been woven into the character’s many comic book appearances. Here’s a panel from Storm #2, which explores Wolverine’s loss of his healing ability:
The Business Of Killing Your Darlings
“It’s [death] been done to death, no pun intended,” John Jackson Miller, a New York Times best-selling author and curator of Comicchron, a site that tabulates monthly comic book sales, told me. “It developed in the ’70s when comic companies began aggressively marketing the events of the lives of comic book characters to the people who were most interested in their adventures, the readers.”
Comic publishers want to sell issues, and, to sell issues, there needs to be “stuff” happening in them: fights, weddings, births, new characters, and, yes, deaths.
The impact of this only grows when these events involve beloved characters. Fights can get old, but fights between two iconic characters are better. Weddings are fine, but weddings between two well-loved superheroes are better. Births are okay, but the birth of Superman is better. And deaths can be page-turners, but not like the death of an iconic character.
“The seminal moment for character death came in November of 1992 — the death of Superman,” Miller said.
Comics readers knew that Superman, like most dead superheroes, would be coming back, but the mainstream press got hold of the story and hyped it up. This was also at a time when people were really into buying rare comic books in hopes that they could later sell them for sky-high prices. The hype and swirling media frenzy created a mainstream demand for the book and a record day in the comic industry.
“It’s what remains, to this day, the biggest sales day in the medium —$30 million of business was done on that day in 1992, and it was spread over 10,000 comic shops in North America,” Miller said.
R.I.P. (Not Really)
The only comic book character that has died and stayed dead has been Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben. Wolverine is no Uncle Ben. If Wolverine is really, truly going to die, then he will really, truly, come back to life in the future.
In fact, the X-Men have a knack for coming back to life. Jean Grey, a character who comes with a long-running footnote about her multiple deaths and future children, first died in 1980, only to be brought back over and over. Kitty Pryde “died” (she was trapped in a bullet in space) in 2008, and didn’t return to the comics until two years later. Nightcrawler died in X-Force #26 in 2008 while facing a villain named Bastion, but he returned in 2013. Other X-Men like Magik and Colossus have all died and come back at various points.
As Wolverine’s death draws near, Wolverine fans can take solace in the words of Len Wein, who created the character in 1974: “No one in comics is ever really dead, unless you can see the body. And usually not even then.”