In 2014, Marvel did the unthinkable: It killed off Wolverine, a massively popular X-Man whose superhuman healing power should have, by all means, prevented him from dying. Wolverine’s death was a huge event, one of the rare moments where what happens in a comic book becomes mainstream pop culture news.
But now, three years later, the adamantium-enhanced mutant is back.
Marvel brought back Wolverine, a.k.a. Logan, in Marvel Legacy No. 1 this week, kicking off the next giant event in the comic book publisher’s schedule. In typical Wolverine fashion, the moment was brutal, violent, and commemorated with a murder. And in typical Marvel fashion, it wasn’t the issue’s only twist.
How Marvel killed Wolverine — and then brought him back from the dead
Because of how Wolverine has been showcased in movies (Hugh Jackman has made a nice career out of playing the character) and marketed as the face of the X-Men in comic books, video games, and the beloved ’90s animated TV series, the superhero has become a mainstream pop icon. He has a couple of signature features: his scruffy, shaggy hair; his adamantium claws and adamantium-laced skeleton; and his ability to heal, extremely rapidly, from just about anything. In regards to the latter, the X-Men movies have repeatedly used Wolverine’s healing power as both a gag and a storytelling device, like in X-Men: Days of Future Past when Wolverine was the member of the X-Men who was selected to go back to the past because the power would help him withstand the trauma of time travel.
So when Marvel announced that it was killing Wolverine in 2014, it set off comic book sirens. The company was killing a character who was previously thought to be unkillable, not to mention one of the most popular characters it had ever created.
The moment came to pass in the aptly named comic book miniseries The Death of Wolverine, which saw the title character’s healing ability go kaput, leaving him as vulnerable to death as the rest of the characters in the Marvel universe. It ended with the hero dying, encased in a shell of adamantium.
But in Marvel Legacy No. 1, which was released this week, Wolverine and his trademark “snikt” (the sound his claws make) crash into the story out of nowhere. He sideswipes a Frost Giant with a truck, appearing to murder said giant and collect an Infinity Stone:
The initial reveal is a shock, and it isn’t even confirmed until later in the issue that the shaggy, clawed figure is the real Wolverine and not some sort of impostor, clone, or lookalike.
We don’t know how Wolverine found the Frost Giant, who was sent by Loki, or what he intends with the Infinity Stone he now has. We also don’t really know which Infinity Stone it is (blue is traditionally the color of the “mind” stone, but the lore around the stones changed during last year’s Secret Wars crossover). It sets up a giant mystery, which no doubt will unfold little by little as Marvel’s Legacy event continues.
Wolverine’s death and his return are good stories. But they’re even better for comic sales.
The simple reason comic book characters die and are brought back to life is that comic book companies are in the business of selling comic books. Major plot events — wars, death, resurrections — drive sales.
When Wolverine met his demise, the first and second issues of The Death of Wolverine were the top-selling comic book issues of September 2014. And while we don’t have the exact sales figures from Marvel Legacy No. 1 yet, judging by hugely successful character resurrections like Peter Parker’s in 2012, it seems that Wolverine’s return and this kickoff issue for Legacy will be another top seller for Marvel.
Eliminating a beloved major character might seem like it would hurt a comic’s sales after the character’s death. The thought being that if you get rid of a fan favorite, people might stop reading ongoing stories that no longer feature the character. But Marvel has figured out a way around that dilemma.
While Wolverine has been presumed dead for the past three years, a couple different iterations of the character have lived on. One of those is Laura Kinney, a.k.a. X-23, a.k.a. the character portrayed as a Wolverine’s quasi-daughter/sidekick/clone in Fox’s critically acclaimed Wolverine movie Logan. Kinney has appeared in X-Men stories in Wolverine’s absence, as well as in her popular standalone comic All New Wolverine.
There’s also Old Man Logan, a version of Wolverine from an alternate future timeline who is, well, old. He carries with him the trauma of killing his team in that alternate future, but he’s part of the main Marvel X-Men timeline and has appeared in many different storylines. He’s currently a fixture in the X-Men: Gold comic.
By having these two characters function as Wolverine analogs and relying on their connections to the real, original Wolverine, Marvel almost cheated the character’s death a bit. While the actual Wolverine died, his spirit — the strange amalgam of vengeance, remorse, homicide, and humanity — was still around in the comics.
Now, with Legacy, Marvel will presumably bring Laura Kinney and Old Man Logan into the same story as the real Wolverine’s return. At this point, we only have the first issue to go on, so there aren’t a lot of details about how this might happen, but the story will reflect multiple generations of Marvel characters and has already promised the return of a few other familiar faces in addition to Wolverine — there’s another reveal at the end of the issue that I don’t want to spoil. (Additionally, Marvel has a Jean Grey resurrection comic in the works.)
But in order to keep up with the iconic character’s new adventures and find out whatever the hell he had to do to come back from the dead, fans will have to follow the Legacy event and buy the comics — music to Marvel’s ears.