Certain people can never be replaced. There can be no Beatles without John Lennon. There can be no Nirvana without Kurt Cobain. There can be no Saved By the Bell without Screech. That doesn’t stop some from trying, but those attempts can never live up to the original. Like Steve Young trying to replace Joe Montana or Arron Rogers trying to replace Brett Favre, fans will always come up with new shortcomings. And if they can’t, they’ll imagine a few because it’s often a coping mechanism.
The death of Wolverine is not quite the same as the death of Kurt Cobain or Brett Favre’s retirement, but he’s a character that casts the biggest shadow in all of X-men. There’s no denying his history and his legacy. No other character has had quite the impact. No other character can say they made Hugh Jackman a household name. And no other character can say they survived two terrible solo movies and still found a way to stay awesome. So how does a legacy like that continue?
In a ways, the X-men are already at an advantage. They have already shown that they can still function without Wolverine. Even Wolverine himself is at an advantage because he had so many supporting characters, ranging from friends like Jubilee to enemies who wanted to bathe in his blood like Lady Deathstrike. There is sufficient manpower to fill that void, but, his legacy still leaves a big void that has to be filled at some point. Wolverines #1 is the first concerted effort at this feat. It’s every bit as daunting as the challenges Steve Young and Aaron Rogers faced, but the results are promising in some unexpected ways.
Wolverine’s story did not end with his death. In fact, his death served as a catalyst for a larger story involving characters affected by Weapon X. Some of these characters are intimately familiar with Wolverine, in some cases literally. Others are brand new characters who constitute a devil’s reject type cast of Weapon X characters. And all these characters have to come together in this story. On paper, it sounds chaotic and messy. But when put into practice, it works with surprising efficiency.
The ability of these characters and this story to fill the void left by Wolverine doesn’t necessarily come from their history or the scope of the conflicts they face. It comes from the extent to which these characters display a unique level of depth. They’ve all been affected by Wolverine’s death. Some have been affected by other events, such as Avengers and X-men: AXIS. These collective effects are what brought them into this conflict. Now, they have to work together to resolve it.
And they’re not exactly doing this in the spirit of honoring Wolverine’s memory either. The new Weapon X characters that were introduced in wake of Wolverine’s death each have knowledge of special words that can kill Sabretooth, Lady Deathstrike, Daken, Mystique, and X-23 in a single breath. It’s the ultimate leverage that doesn’t involve being friends with Tony Soprano. It’s also fitting in that it’s the exact kind of conflict Wolverine often got caught up in time and again. It really does feel like they’re trying to fill his shoes, albeit under the threat of sudden death.
The conflict itself is also fitting in that it brings all these characters back to where Wolverine’s life ended. It feels like a direct continuation of the story that led to his death, not missing a beat even as a whole host of new and unknown characters enter the picture. It feels like these characters are just one bad joke away from maiming each other, but for the moment they’re a team with a common goal. They even have a common enemy in Sinister, who has also hired the Wrecking Crew to help provide the standard Wolverine-level violence. It essentially forces them to stop being so vindictive and bitter so they can function. It has the feel of an overly violent reality show that isn’t staged and doesn’t cause significant brain damage.
Even though violence is as part of any conflict involving Wolverine, this is secondary for much of the story. There’s much more effort put into establishing who these characters are and how they carry themselves in a world where Wolverine is dead. It sounds like one of those fruitless endeavors, like trying to make Adam Sandler’s last three movies watchable. But somehow, it works. Characters like Lady Deathstrike and Daken are in an unfamiliar position, living in a world where they’re not defined by their hatred of Wolverine. It helps give them some new dynamics as characters. These dynamics aren’t fully explored, but the door has been opened.
That’s not to say there still isn’t room for the gratuitous violence that accompanies many Wolverine stories. Blood is still shed. Limbs are still ripped off. Eyes are still gouged out. And this is just some of the stuff Mr. Sinister does without breaking a sweat. It’s the kind of violence that would be inappropriate in an Archie comic, but it works perfectly in a Wolverine comic. Even though he’s dead, this still feels like a real Wolverine comic. He may be dead, or at least as dead as the nature of comics will allow him, but his story is still unfolding.
This is the biggest accomplishment of Wolverines #1. It continues Wolverine’s story and his legacy in a way that’s compelling and meaningful. It does get a little crowded with so many characters and the pacing does feel somewhat choppy since it builds on stories that came from other comics. But it’s a story that has the right setting, the right cast of characters, the right circumstances, and the right amount of violence. If it were a cup of coffee, Starbucks would grossly overcharge for and it would still be worth it. In many ways, that is the best way to honor Wolverine’s memory.