Wolverine—James Howlett to his family, Logan to his friends, Wolverine to his teammates, Patch to his enemies, Weapon X to his other enemies, Death to his other other enemies—died last month, in the aptly titled Death of Wolverine #4. He’s survived by Daken (his wicked son), X-23 (his superheroine clone), and Sabretooth (his son, his brother, or his father, maybe?), as well as the ongoing comic-book series that will continue even after his death. May the man who always let ‘em rip rest in peace. He never got much rest from Marvel.
Created as a Canadian government super-agent in 1974 by writer Len Wein and artist John Romita, Sr., his very first battle ended in a tie with the Incredible Hulk. (A tie with the Hulk. Spider-Man would call escaping the Hulk with even some of his limbs intact a hard-earned win.) After he was drafted for the 1975 relaunch of the X-Men, Wolverine became the face of that team over the course of the 1980s, thanks to the exceptional gifts of writers and artists Chris Claremont, Frank Miller, Dave Cockrum, and John Byrne, among others.
In their hands, Wolverine emerged as a creature and a criticism of Vietnam: A restless nomad with no memory for the forces that had forged him, a reluctant but perfect weapon listing always toward a relapse into a savage berserker state. He was walking PTSD. At his most noble, Wolverine was Marvel’s failed samurai, a loner doomed to wander the earth in search of some saving grace. Logan was forever denied Captain America’s domestic morality, Iron Man’s technocratic utopianism, Thor’s assured superiority: And that’s why Kamala Khan draws Wolverine on her notebooks.
Regarding his actual death, well, Wolverine has survived worse. So much worse. That adamantium skeleton was gifted to him through a secret Canadian biotech weapons program. (That’s right, a maple-leaf military-industrial complex: Comic books sometimes require the suspension of disbelief.) Yet the adamantium X-factor wasn’t worth much to him when the god-like Avengers villain Thanos turned it into sponge during one memorable cosmic melee—one that will soon enough be a feature film—and much less when the mutant master Magneto leached the adamantium right out of his body through his pores in 1993 (a comic book I waited in line to buy). This time around, a virus sapped him of his healing factor, or something, meaning last call for Logan when his rogues’ gallery found out. In the end, the system that made him was his undoing.
The very best Wolverine story ever told—Marvel Comics Presents #72-84, drawn and written by the incomparable Barry Windsor-Smith in 1991—also concerned this Weapon X program. This arc details how Logan goes from man to beast mode in beautiful books, frequently wordless, almost unparalleled in the medium. More recent series by the up-and-comer Jason Aaron, who’s done the most to define the character over the last decade, have pushed Wolverine’s healing factor to absurd and unsustainable limits. Under Aaron’s tenure, Wolverine led a squad of mutant assassins, the ones who do the work that family-friendly X-Men can’t or won’t do, only to eventually walk away from that life into a different sort of cage: academia. (Long-time fans dissatisfied with Wolverine’s end owe it to themselves to read Mark Millar’s alt-future limited series Old Man Logan.)