X Deaths of Wolverine #1 Review: Fear the Reaper

X Deaths of Wolverine launches as the companion to X Lives of Wolverine, and the first installment puts heavy emphasis on the death and little on the Wolverine. The issue could practically be Inferno #5 as it picks up almost exactly where Jonathan Hickman's X-Men swan song left off, following Moira MacTaggert as she escapes from Mystique and Destiny and tries to figure out her next move. The question lingering overhead is whether she can escape her fate and chart a new course, or if Destiny's proclamation in House of X that Moira's 11th life would be her last will come true.

The issue includes a text page in which Destiny tells Mystique a parable about a man who, after spotting Death in New York, tries to escape to New Orleans, only to learn that New Orleans is where Death always planned to meet him. Thus, Mystique becomes the reaper chasing after Moira as she flees Krakoa for her old home in Scotland. Writer Benjamin Percy and artist Federico Vicentini attempt to turn this into a Hollywood thriller-style chase across continents. Cluttered artwork hampers that effort, making pages challenging to decipher. There are ambitious layouts hampered by poor execution and lack of depth, making everything appear on the same plane with no focus. A thrilling chase requires momentum, and that's constantly broken in X Deaths of Wolverine #1 by the need to double back and unpack these clumsy visuals.

But Moira's looming death seeps into the comic in other ways. One is as simple as inverting the usual black-and-white color scheme of Tom Muller's data pages, making deathly black the primary hue. Moira soon discovers that her end may be nigh regardless of whether Mystique catches up with her, foreshadowed by Cory Petit's black hacking cough sounds turning blood red. 

Moira's cancer forms a thematic bond with the society she helped found. Black Tom senses something in Krakoa and wanders outside, muttering dialog to no one that sounds like he's reading a missing narration caption. An egg-like tumor emerges, letting loose another reaper, a Wolverine apparently from the future.

This Wolverine's techno-organic infection brings forth technology as another underlying theme. Moira has also bonded to techno-organic matter thanks to the new arm Warlock gave her in Inferno. It's mostly a visual distraction, but a particular panel seems to foreshadow this story's direction. Moira contemplates her death while staring at the splatter of human blood she's coughed up onto her techno-organic hand. Immediately after, Moira embraces the "hot rage" within while staring into the sun, colored blazingly bright by Dijjo Lima with Frank Martin, as it finally pierces the gloomy Scotland rains. 

But it all still feels small despite the thematic groundwork lain here. Admittedly, this could be due to Marvel positioning it as the successor to House of X and Powers of X. However, nothing in Lives or Deaths' first issues suggests why this story shouldn't have been a minor crossover between Percy's ongoing Wolverine and X-Force series.

The issue also reaches outside the X-Men's sphere, which is rare in the Krakoan era. Jane Foster appears, and her presence makes thematic sense considering her history with cancer and her status as a Valkryie. Yet, that goes entirely unremarked. It's hard to imagine the splash page of Foster's sudden transformation into her Asgardian form (after Mystique bafflingly reveals herself before slaying her target) doing anything but confounding X-Men-focused readers who haven't kept up with the wider Marvel Universe. Often expository narration can drag down an otherwise stellar comic, but X Deaths of Wolverine #1 desperately needs more of it. 

The story is no less difficult to parse visually. Panels are often angled awkwardly or too close to the action to effectively ground the reader and let them take in the scene, obfuscating what's happening. Vicentini packs many panels onto pages crowded with irrelevant background objects that only confuse the eye. The result is a story that wants to move at a breakneck pace but stutter-steps over and over again. The final splash page, meant to be the exclamation point on the issue, only confounds readers further as they struggle to make sense of its awkward foreshortening and poor posing.

There's a sense that X Deaths of Wolverine #1 is attempting to punch above its weight class, taking something that feels like simply the next arc in an ongoing series and propping it up as a pivot point for an entire franchise. It's overly ambitious in its concept and underwhelming in its craft. There's something of interest hidden beneath in the mingling of mortality and technology, fate and the future, but it's all buried under strange storytelling choices and messy visuals. Perhaps future issues can build on the groundwork lain here and find the sense of scale it's reaching for by playing off of events in its companion series, but this debut issue is a frustrating start.

Published by Marvel Comics

On January 26, 2022

Written by Benjamin Percy

Art by Federico Vicentini

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Colors by Dijjo Lima with Frank Martin

Letters by Cory Petit

Cover by Adam Kubert