We are less than a week away until Logan hits the silver screen and for many longtime fans of the X-Men films like myself, it’s a pretty big deal. The film is set to be the last time Hugh Jackman plays the role of Wolverine as well as Patrick Stewart as Professor X and in some ways feels like the final nail in the coffin that was the original X-Men film series. It’s also the end of the original one-two-three knockout hits that were the Blade, X-Men, and Spider-Man films that started the whole comic book film craze we are currently experiencing today. In fact, it may actually be the last real X-Men film we get for a while outside of Deadpool given X-Men: Apocalypse’s disappointing box-office numbers, Fox’s insistence on turning the franchise into a television series and no official release dates given on any follow-up to the disappointing Days of Future Past sequel. But in spite of all that foreboding news, Hugh Jackman’s final Wolverine film does look pretty good and if this is to be the end of the X-Men film franchise it could certainly go off on a worse note. And today we’re here on Comic Book Spotlight to talk about the book that inspired it; the 2008 story arc Old Man Logan.
Published in Wolverine Issues 66-72 and concluding in Wolverine Giant-Size Old Man Logan, Old Man Logan was written by Mark Millar with artwork by Steve McNiven who had previously collaborated for Civil War just a few years earlier. It takes place in an alternative future, fifty years after the villains of the Marvel Universe united and wiped out all of the superheroes except for Wolverine and a few others before carving up America amongst themselves and begun to rule it with an iron fist. For reasons that are not immediately explained, the day the heroes died broke Wolverine and he has not raised his hand in violence nor popped his claws in the fifty years since. Making his living as a farmer with a family, he lives under the rule of a now insane Bruce Banner and his clan of inbred, hillbilly Hulk children and grandchildren. After falling behind on his rent, Logan is forced to take a road trip across America with Hawkeye in order to deliver a special package to the east coast, (said to be drugs but implied to be something else), in order to obtain his rent money. In the process they must battle new hazards as well as old in this world run by the supervillains. While on this trip we discover just why it is Wolverine hasn’t popped his claws or raised his hand to anyone in fifty years as he slowly gains back what it was he lost the night the heroes died.
Now like previous articles this one will also be more of an analysis of the book as a whole and as such will contain significant spoilers. But like those articles I understand that some people are just here for a yay or nay opinion so here is my spoiler free opinion on it: It’s really, REALLY good and is in my opinion, the best Wolverine solo story arc Marvel has ever released. If you haven’t read it and you are a Wolverine fan you owe it to yourself to give it a read.
Anyway, the problem with analyzing this book is that, at least at first glance, it doesn’t contain the deepest story and one could almost describe it very workman like in its execution. It’s a comic made by a veteran creative team with years of experience under their belts that could probably turn out good storylines in their sleep by this point. It’s not a bad thing by any means and it does make for a good read. It’s just that it makes any kind of deep analysis of the material difficult. It doesn’t have the character redefining power The Killing Joke did for The Joker nor the novelty of seeing Watchmen’s beta form in Miracleman. It lacks the questionable execution of Civil War, the novelty of Kick-Ass and the head scratching mediocrity of the Star Wars Comics. It is, for the most part, a well-constructed story that is memorable and recommendable but not the kind of book that comic book historians will be pouring themselves over thirty years from now.
The world, for example, is more or less exactly what you would expect from one run by supervillains. It’s a place where the villains run around and do whatever they want and everyone fears them. The cities are, for the most part, in disrepair and always seem to be on the verge of falling apart. The landscapes are barren wastelands more often than not and feel more at home in a western or some kind of post-apocalyptic story as opposed to a regular Marvel book. But, when it comes right down to it, it’s that kind of familiarity that makes the world work so well. They don’t have to waste time overly explaining every area and why it is the way it is. They give the reader enough in the way of world-building exposition so you know what the current sociological situation of the area is but it’s never done in a way that makes you feel like you’re reading a Wikipedia description of the area.
The actual plot treads in familiar territory in a similar way. When you look at this book you feel as if you’ve seen this kind of plot play out a dozen times before but it uses this kind of familiarity in order to tell its own story that manages a perfect balance between a wacky road trip adventure and serious journey of self-reflection and discovery. To that end the book contains a number of really big twists that mostly serve the story and characters in functional ways but save for one aren’t the kind of narrative redefining twists that make you look at the story in a completely different way. The best examples of this comes at the end of the storyline and it ends up going how you would more or less expect. As it turns out Hawkeye wasn’t transporting drugs but a batch of super soldier serum hoping to usher in a new age of heroes to battle the Red Skull! Only for it to turn out his allies were actually Red Skull agents and promptly gun him down. It’s a twist to be sure but it’s one that is not that hard to predict given the nature of the story. What one cannot deny, however, is that while it may not hit as hard as you might like it still hits hard all the same after spending so much time with this version of the character, thus making the twist more functional then actually mind-blowing
The thing that everyone remembers from this book, however, is the twist regarding Wolverine and is one of the few instances where the workman like, quality of the book actually slips into brilliance. Towards the end of the book it’s revealed that, under the influence of Mysterio, Wolverine had unknowingly killed all of the X-Men mistakenly thinking them to be the villains of the Marvel Universe. He then failed an attempted suicide and states that the events of that night broke him and has since been unwilling to commit any acts of violence. It’s a twist that, unlike the others, turns the entire narrative on its head and gives a whole new meaning to it. It’s a journey that becomes as much about Logan forgiving himself for what he has done as much as anything else. Thanks to the events of the story as well as Hawkeye’s support he is able to do this and by the end of the book he is able to set out to make the world right.
All in all, the book is a great example of a creative team doing their jobs and doing it well. Thanks to this we have a well-constructed story that manages to be a fulfilling narrative experience with a satisfying ending and is both a fun and serious story that is highly recommendable and normally this would be the end of the discussion. But, then you stop and think about what you have just read and what one may call the Mark Millarness sets in and infects every panel of the book.
On the whole, Mark Millar does not have a perfect track record when it comes to comics but, usually when the higherups in a comic company can keep him on a tight leash the man tends to do good work. Unfortunately, the man has admitted to having some…controversial views and has put some disconcerting content in his book. Whether it’s a blatant endorsement of government surveillance, homophobia, a general disdain towards fans in his writings, the blatant sexualizing of female characters or stating that rape is an acceptable tool for character development, the man has been known to be a bit of cringeworthy subject matter. As you can probably imagine from all of this, his work has a tendency to be very sexually charged. Sometimes it’s subtle and clever and other times its blatant and gratuitous. In the case of Old Man Logan, it’s both.
The one thing in this book that is legitimately cringeworthy is the Hulk clan and it’s just…well…icky. It’s a head-scratching decision that the creative team came up with and you can’t help but wonder what sick twisted mind came up with it. Why create something so gratuitous, ridiculous and possibly offensive as a clan of inbred hillbilly Hulks? The only explanation that I can think of is that it was either there for sheer shock value or because Millar really wanted Wolverine to fight the Hulk in order to mirror the character’s first appearance in Marvel Comics. There is support for the latter within the book itself but given Millar’s reputation regarding the sexuality in his books, it’s more than likely the former of the two. Regardless, it’s still one of those eyebrow raising, creative decisions that one can’t help but wonder just how it was it came into the writer’s head, much less get past all the editors and executives.
But then we have something in the comic that is not only a sexual metaphor but is a very blatant one. Principally it revolves around Wolverine’s story arc which, as it turns out, has all the appearances of being a metaphor for a middle-aged man’s erectile dysfunction and possible midlife crisis. And before you say I’m insane or perverted just think about it for a second. When the book begins, Wolverine is a middle aged looking farmer who can barely support his family; a position that is often associated with E.D. and midlife crisis’. He hasn’t popped his claws in over fifty years which, in the eyes of everyone around him, makes him look powerless or impotent in this world run by supervillains. Then an old friend comes along who is a mostly unattached guy still fighting the good fight to bring him on a road trip. During said road trip, he slowly regains his masculinity, in this case symbolized by his willingness to fight and kill. All of this eventually comes to a peak when he discovers that his family has been slaughtered by the Hulk Clan effectively making him a bachelor again. He then pops his claws for the first time in decades and proceeds to penetrate everything in sight that made him feel impotent in the first place. He then buries his family and now unattached intends to go out into the world to penetrate even more things. Thus, a midlife crisis/E.D. Metaphor. Feel free to laugh. I do too. Now obviously this whole interpretation is subjective. If all you see in this is Wolverine regaining his will to fight that is fine. But in this writer’s opinion, this is something that adds a whole layer of both depth and hilarity to the book that makes it all the more interesting as a result.
Despite this odd metaphor, it’s still just a really good book when all is said and done. Sure, the blatant sexual content and metaphors might raise some eyebrows but it doesn’t take away from what a good story it is. It’s a well-drawn comic with great subplots and is full of twists and turns and features a very satisfying character arc for Wolverine. It may not be as remembered in the long term as other X-Men centered stories but it remains a very entertaining one as is by far my favorite Wolverine story. Be sure to give it read if you already haven’t.
Trey Griffeth is the Head Writer of The Nerd Hub's Comic Book Spotlight section as well as a contributing writer to Video Game Spotlight. In addition to his work with The Nerd Hub, he is also a Staff Writer for Heroic Hollywood.