So, Wolverine's dead. That's a thing that happened.
It's very easy to be blasé about comic superhero death, so I'm going to try and avoid the dismissive gestures to this event and quit side-eyeing the next one, as Secret Wars looks to be the right environment to revive a character that makes Marvel a ton of cash. Emphasis on "try."
I can't say this death came out of nowhere, as he's been without his healing factor since Wolverine #7, a little more than a year ago. For the record, it was an intelligent virus from the Microverse, which is not only an awesome phrase to use in common conversation, but smart enough to suppress Logan's mutant healing factor, and you think that would have been a bigger deal to mutantkind. If it could suppress Wolverine's signature trait, who's to say the virus couldn't be used to eliminate all sorts of mutant powers (I'm probably thinking too far ahead on this)? This virus was simply a means to an end.
Wolverine's initial weakening and eventual demise was set apart from the rest of continuity, just a piece in a larger story that strangely didn't involve the rest of his friends and family. Sure, it was talked about in hushed tones in a few of the other books, but there was no race for the cure, no mutant apocalypse for him to sacrifice his life to prevent. This wasn't the result of the grand machinations of some long-established villain. It was a small and humble story of one man and what he though his own life was worth. It was a good story, and well told for the most part, but it still felt as if something was missing.
What comes next? Wolverine's death is merely the next cog in a larger story wheel. Even his Wikipedia entry has this ominous note: "The beginning of the end is now here, Logan has spent over a century being the best there is at what he does ... he has been a warrior, a hero, a renegade, a samurai, a teacher-and so much more. But having now become killable, the greatest X-Men hero will play a role he's never played before." It sounds like solicitation copy that 's fully acknowledging this death is only going to lead to a new role. While we wait for Logan's rebirth, what becomes of the rest of the Marvel Universe? Will there be a funny haircut-shaped hole in our hearts? Or was that hole filled a long time ago?
Wolverine has been many things to many people, making him difficult to pin down as a character. It's been said (thank you, Dear Reader) that his internal conflicts make him malleable to his own desires and what the story demands. He may not want to be a killer, but he has to kill. He may want to murder a guy, but Logan has to restrain himself. Whatever the story needs, whatever the action-hero template of the day is, we see Wolverine as the best there is at what he does. He's Byronic when drama calls, the invulnerable action hero when there's fighting to be done, a wise sage when teaching others, and the dreamiest bad boy when romance is in the air. He's so good at what he does and so versatile as a character, he actually starts to lose a little bit of what makes him unique as he falls into archetypal roles again and again.
One the one hand, that makes him super-cool; the best there is at what he does and what he can do is everything! The more facets a character has, the more readers he can attract, and the more interesting things you can do with him. On the other hand, you can certainly do too many things with one character and burn out readers. Let's face it, Wolverine was on a lot of teams. He was a killer in one book, standing next to Captain America on the Avengers, and then going to teach a class at the Jean Grey School. It not only makes him overused, but inconsistent, and kind of awkward. We love the guy, but could he take it down a notch or two?
He really didn't need to be everywhere anymore, considering he spawned a bunch of Wolverine-like characters to pick up the slack. X-23 takes over the conflicted-hero role as she was designed to kill but still wants to be her own person, leaning toward the good side in her own dangerous way. Daken covers the lone-wolf aspects with his cold-killer attitude. Heck, remember when we tried turning Sabretooth to the side of the angels? Even Scott Summers has become a dangerous hero, someone no one wants on their team anymore (yet they still keep working with him). Could we even just replace Wolverine himself and move on? And would we want to?
Marvel's most popular characters right now are the likes of Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Thor, heroes who have been called to a high purpose and wear a mantle of heroic responsibility. One of the things that drew us to Wolverine in the first place is that he really didn't have that same responsibility; his code of honor was his own and could change depending on what was going on. There was a time when his battles with Sabretooth came down to the fact that one of them embraced his feral, bestial nature and the other held himself to a higher standard. Then Wolverine created a team of killers in X-Force. Then he started a school to teach kids how to live Xavier's dream. There was no time when he was just Logan and put on an identity to be the Wolverine, as the two were one and the same. Heck, even being Logan was a false identity, as we learned about his origins as James Howlett.
To put it simply, there's never really been one Wolverine. He's an idea, and you can't kill ideas. Wolverine has always been what we needed him to be and, right now, I guess we need him dead.