If you ask people who killed Wolverine in Death of Wolverine, you’re bound to get several answers – and they’re all correct. You could say it was Dr. Cornelius of the Weapon X Program, whom Wolverine faced last. You could also say Wolverine killed himself, as it was him who sacrificed himself to the flood of the adamantium alloy which covered his body and slowly hardened and cooked him to a crisp. Another killer of Wolverine could be a New York lawyer with a passion for music and a skyrocketing career as a comics writer: Charles Soule.
When Charles Soule took on writing Death of Wolverine, he stepped into a precarious position – to plot and carry out the death of one of comics’ – and now movies’ – most popular heroes. Unlike most other superhero deaths where it’s the culmination of years of storytelling by the same writer, Soule came to Wolverine just in time to kill him --- but he plans to be around long after to carry on his memory. Newsarama talked with Soule by phone about the events which led to Wolverine’s death in Death of Wolverine, as well as the path that brought Soule to that place and the odd invitation for lunch that started it all.
Newsarama: Charles – the Death of Wolverine is complete and out. How does it feel?
Charles Soule: Fantastic. Whenever you work on something this big, with enormous ramifications across the line, and it being so important to the publisher, when it's complete, out and well-received it’s a big weight off your shoulders.
That’s the practical standpoint… but there’s almost a sadness as well. I loved working with the team on Death of Wolverine, and this really isn't the sort of project that comes around every day.
Nrama: How did this journey begin for you – what was the initial conversation like between you and Marvel when they first mentioned this project? Did they play coy with the project at first, or just say “let’s kill Wolverine!” or something?
Soule: More of the latter: “Do you want to kill Wolverine?” [laughs]
It all started with an invitation for lunch with some of Marvel’s editors. As a general rule, whenever people want to see you in person it’s good. If you’re kicked off a book or something, it happens over the phone.
Soule: So at this lunch, it came pretty much right off the bat. They told me, generally, “We’re thinking about killing off Wolverine, and we might have Steve McNiven draw it. And we think we’d like you to write it.”
Wow. I wasn’t expecting that last part. I’d done some high profile stuff here and there such as Superman/Wonder Woman at DC, and I knew Marvel enjoyed my work …. But this was an entirely different level. We kicked it around at lunch, talking about tone and what kind of characterization they might want for Wolverine. When I got back to my office, I immediately started to think about how I could approach the project. That began with a review of Steve's work, from Civil War to “Old Man Logan,” - I re-read a lot of his work from the past decade.
Nrama: Did you have any apprehension about coming into the Wolverine character just in time to write his death? Generally, these “Death of a superhero” stories are done by writers who had already spent a long time on a character: Ed Brubaker with Captain America, Jim Starlin with Captain Marvel, Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson and others on Superman.
Soule:Of course there was apprehension… but at the same time I felt like it was a major break in my writing career. This book will be tied to my name for a long time, with all the potential upside if I got it right, and all the endless downside if I got it wrong. So yes, there was apprehension – but I knew I had a story to tell, and I knew Wolverine very well (or, at any rate I knew "my" Wolverine, which is all any writer really needs when they're writing a character - a take they believe in.) That was the key in being able to say yes. I wanted to give it my all – do my best. It was scary, but I also felt capable of it.
Nrama: Is the ending we saw in Death of Wolverine #4 always the planned ending, or did you have a different idea at some point?
Soule: I came up with what readers see now pretty early on, but it wasn’t the very first. I had another idea, but it developed into the final version while I was hashing out the story. From the beginning, I knew I didn’t want the ending to be, like, Logan being blown up while riding an atom bomb. [laughs]
I didn’t want it to be a big supervillain fight either, with Wolverine beating down a thousand people and finally dying by succumbing to his wounds while standing over a mountain of corpses. We’ve seen vanquishing through violence a million times, and I didn’t think it was apt for the sort of story I wanted to tell. My conception of this story and this ending was based somewhat around a situation where Logan (if he were, er, real) could say, “Yeah, that’s an okay way to go.”
We’ve seen Logan in those brutal final battle situations, and I’d like to think it’s not something he likes or enjoys. Having that be his last stand wouldn’t be true to what the character strived to be. He’s always attempting to get away from violence, and while a part of him knows that might be futile, he hopes it doesn’t always have to be that way.
My feeling about the end of Death of Wolverine is that Logan dies while saving people from having to experience something similar to his own life. It's pretty clear that the people in Cornelius' lab didn't have a choice about being there, just like Logan wasn't given a choice in that original Weapon X story. Further, Cornelius states that he intends to put these living weapons he's making all over the world - he wants a world of Wolverines, basically. Of course, chances are it would be more like a world of Sabretooths. So, you can say Logan saved the world, or you can say he saved three people, or you can just interpret the ending however you like.
Nrama: That being said, how’d you settle on the broad strokes of the ending and the entire series, especially with the idea of him being visited by his top enemies and some of his top allies?
Soule: First of all, Wolverine has a great rogue’s gallery. It’s also very deep, with lots of hidden corners, including characters like Ogun, who despite his unbelievable coolness hasn’t been seen for a while in comics.
I wanted to find a story that would offer the opportunity to include a number of signature villains in a somewhat organic way. It was complex. For example, I wanted to include Sabretooth somehow, but he also casts a long shadow. This series could’ve easily become a Sabretooth story, but I feel those stories have been told before in the past.
There were additional characters I could have used both as friend and foe, but part of the reason I didn’t is because I only had four issues to tell the story. So, the way I used the larger cast (good guys and bad) was as signifiers to other amazing stories from Logan's past. When Kitty Pryde shows up, for instance, she’s the prototype originator of the idea of Wolverine as a mentor. I also used her to get into Logan as the kind of guy who’s had great loves in his life, and while Kitty isn’t one of them she was a stand-in for some of that.
Similarly, Nuke in Issue #1 was a way to touch on Logan as an “old soldier,” so to speak. A lot of the choices in regards to villains and cameos were there to get readers thinking about classic stories. I didn't want to repeat those stories (which was why Sabretooth's appearance here worked the way it did), but I did want to evoke the ideas conveyed in those stories.
Nrama: The major villain in the finale of Death of Wolverine ended up being Dr. Cornelius from the Weapon X Program. How’d you come to settle on him as the guy who would be there for Logan’s last stand?
Soule: I re-read a lot of my favorite Wolverine stories in preparation for this project, and the Weapon X project increasingly stood out as a phenomenal lynchpin for everything. It’s where a lot of the Wolverine tropes we know today really emerged… especially the savage, psychological stuff. Dr. Cornelius was there at the beginning for Logan, so it made a lot of sense for him to be here at the end. It’s been a long time since Wolverine went through the Weapon X program, so Cornelius was aged up a bit; he was middle-aged in that story, and he’s older now - at the end of his life, and thinking about his legacy and the kind of world he'll leave behind.
Just to go back to Sabretooth, if I'd opted for him as the main villain, it would’ve been a very different story; since he’s essentially immortal. It would have created a much different dynamic, and it wasn't the story I wanted to tell. I wanted readers reflecting right alongside Logan about who the Wolverine was, why he mattered, and so on. Cornelius as his final foil offered that.
Nrama: That final image of Wolverine, covered by adamantium that’s slowly hardening – that’s a powerful image. How’d that come to you, and what were your thoughts in having Logan’s final moments be inside that?
Soule: I think the art team pulled it off incredibly well. As far as discussing it in detail, I do a lot of music stuff as well as writing, and I felt like it’s one of those moments in music where it’s about the notes you don’t play as much as the ones you do play.
Nrama: Peaking a bit ahead into the future, in his final moments we were introduced to a henchman of Dr. Cornelius named Major Sharp. Cornelius seems dead now, but could we perhaps see more of Major Sharp or Cornelius’s other test subjects in the future?
Soule: Yes, absolutely. Sharp and the other test subjects Cornelius was... altering... will be playing a big role in future stories. Creating superhumans was Cornelius' life's work, and a number of his experiments will be spilling out into the Marvel U; in particular, you’ll see that in the Death of Wolverine: The Weapon X Program series I’m doing with Salvador Larroca. That story picks up literally two seconds after the end of Death of Wolverine, and you’ll see what happens to the Wolverine statue, how Sharp starts to become more of a factor in the Marvel U, and other things spilling out of Paradise, the lab we saw at the end of Death of Wolverine.
I'm very proud of that series – one of the things we wanted to do with Death of Wolverine is set things up for a long set of new stories coming out of it, with characters and ideas both old and new. That’s what Death of Wolverine: The Weapon X Program is about: experimental lab rats who were never meant to survive but are set free by Logan’s actions at the end of Death of Wolverine. The set out on a cross-country scramble to survive, and they’re chased by the people who funded Cornelius. It’s Runaways meets Frankenstein.
Nrama: Last question, to sum it all up: how does it feel to be the man who killed Wolverine?
Soule: Would it seem like I was dancing on the poor guy's grave if I said it felt pretty great? I'm damn proud of this book and the work that we all did to put it together, and at the end of a huge project like this, it's wonderful to be able to say that.