Cue the groans from comic book movie fans everywhere: Acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) is no longer directing the Wolverine sequel, fittingly titled The Wolverine.

As much as I would like to tell you that this is simply a rumor, I’m afraid the news comes from Aronofsky himself, making it as official as official gets around these Interwebs.

This disappointing (for some fans crushing) news was announced today in a joint statement by Aronofsky and 20th Century Fox. Said Aronofsky:

“As I talked more about the film with my collaborators at Fox, it became clear that the production of ‘The Wolverine’ would keep me out of the country for almost a year. I was not comfortable being away from my family for that length of time. I am sad that I won’t be able to see the project through, as it is a terrific script and I was very much looking forward to working with my friend, Hugh Jackman, again.”

20th Century Fox is trying to cauterize this gaping wound (and any potential rabid speculation by fans) by re-stating a firm commitment to getting The Wolverine into production:

“While we are of course disappointed that Darren can’t do ‘The Wolverine,’ we also understand and respect his reasons. Having done both ‘The Wrestler’ and ‘Black Swan’ with Darren, we know he is an extraordinary talent and we look forward to working with him on other projects in the future. Hugh Jackman and Fox both remain fully committed to making ‘The Wolverine.’ We will regroup and move forward aggressively.”

Let’s not mince words here: this is a real shame. When it was announced that Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) was scripting Wolverine 2, fans were ecstatic: it seemed as though Fox had learned from the mistakes of X-Men Origins: Wolverine (of which there were MANY) and was committed to making a new film that truly explored the core themes of one of the most iconic and richly complex comic book characters of them all.

When it was announced that Aronofsky had signed on for The Wolverine, fan excitement went up to the roof (and nearly through it): it seemed as though comic book movie fans were going to see their beloved genre enter a new era – one in which Oscar-worthy visionaries would be handling the characters and stories that we love, hopefully yielding more sophisticated films in the vein of Chris Nolan’s Batman movies, which are equal parts art and entertainment.

Will David Slade ditch 'Daredevil' for 'The Wolverine'?

With this news that Aronofsky is no longer a part of the project, the studio and the fans will all be turning their attention toward the immediate future of The Wolverine – namely, which director will come in to replace Aronofsky. David Slade was up to direct Wolverine 2 at one point – ironically enough, Fox now wants him to helm a reboot of Daredevil. Will Slade ditch the devil to court The Wolverine? Maybe. Another knee-jerk choice fans will likely pitch is X-Men director Bryan Singer – unfortunately, Singer is currently busy making Jack the Giant Killer.

Along with director predictions, there will also be the usual conspiracy theories and rumors concerning Aronofsky’s departure. Don’t be surprised if you hear whispers that Aronofsky – an acclaimed arthouse auteur – couldn’t play nice with a controlling studio like Fox; in fact, don’t be surprised if you hear many different accusations about why Fox is at fault for this development…

Still, as bumming as this news is, The Wolverine still has a strong script, and a strong leading man (Hugh Jackman) carrying it forward. Heck, Jackman is so committed to making the film better than its predecessor that he’s even structuring his workout regiment around making the character’s build be more in line with the comic books. If you can’t believe in dedication like that, what can you believe in?

The Wolverine was slated to cut into theaters in the summer of 2012. No names of potential new directors has been floated yet, but expect that to change soon.

Source: 20th Century Fox