Quick, describe Wolverine to me as a character. He’s short, he’s angry, he has an enhanced healing factor, six retractable adamantium claws, and what you could call a selective memory. And that’s about it, really.
There are relatively few stories out there that seek to do something interesting with Wolverine in the present day. It’s telling that the first Wolverine spinoff film was titled Origins: it was as if the writer’s couldn’t think of anything interesting to do with the character in the present day. Even its sequel, The Wolverine – chronologically the last X-Men film to date – had him haunted by his past. The thing is, Wolverine as a standalone character isn’t that interesting: his immortality/invulnerability mean that you either have to take those things away from him or look somewhere else for the sense of jeopardy.
As such, what Mark Millar‘s Old Man Logan immediately gets right is in posing the question, “What if Logan was a pacifist?” This 180° in Wolverine’s essential m.o. forces you think about the other traits that make up his character, few as they are. After all, not only does Logan have berserker fury on his side but an extraordinary resilience that goes beyond simple resistance to pain. The question then becomes, “What happened to make him this way?”, which takes place within the broader world of Old Man Logan, a world created in answer to the question, “What would happen if the bad guy’s won?”
Old Man Logan takes place fifty years in the future, fifty years after the villains of the Marvel Universe rose up and massacred almost every hero in existence. Logan, one of the few survivors, has settled down to raise a family on an arid plot of land near Sacramento. The whole West Coast of the United States is known as Hulkland and is ruled over by the former Bruce Banner and his incestuous brood. Owing them rent and unwilling to resort to violence to defend his homestead, Logan is forced to go on a road trip with the now blind Hawkeye in order to raise the money he needs to ensure their continued existence.
What sets Old Man Logan apart from so much of the Marvel canon is its willingness to be brutal with beloved characters. Marvel Zombies at least gave readers the opportunity to see the likes of Spider-Man and Captain America as the living dead; here they’re just dead, long dead. We see very little of what went before – the only notable scene takes place with Red Skull standing over the ruins of a smouldering Washington DC. The US has been sliced up into territories held by the worst villains, Kingpin and Doctor Doom amongst them, and no one is seeking to bring them to justice.
If Old Man Logan sounds immeasurably bleak, the sheer imagination on display more than makes up for it. Millar is one of those writers who excels in finding ways to do new things with characters and concepts that have been around for over half a century. Logan himself is uniquely portrayed as akin to Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven: he just wants to look after his family and forget about the life he used to live. If you hit him, he’ll take it without complaint. He won’t even respond to his former moniker anymore. The fractured landscape over which he and Hawkeye pass represents his own tortured psyche.
Though its not officially one of the series, Old Man Logan stands with the best of Marvel’s What If in that it executes its vision of post-apocalyptic America confidently and with great aplomb. The route along which Logan and Hawkeye pass en route to New Babylon – formerly New York – is populated with fan-bait, from Hammer Falls to Dwight’s Toll. This is a world where Moloids rise from beneath the earth, a host-less Venom symbiote lingers in the hills of South Dakota, and the Kingpin has taken over the American Midwest and converted a stadium into a arena where he feeds would-be insurgents to dinosaurs.
At the heart of the story, however, lies one of the key components that makes Wolverine tick, an unacknowledged fear, that of losing control. In a heart-rending reveal, Old Man Logan shows us exactly why its title character says he’d rather die than pop his claws again, though we inevitably know he must. Never has a single word splashed across two pages carried quite so much weight. If Logan starts the story as one Eastwood character, he ends it as another, specifically The Man with No Name from Sergio Leone‘s Dollars Trilogy, and so Old Man Logan ends with a sense of hope, however faint.
The world Millar has created in Old Man Logan is so rich and detailed, it’s hard to believe there won’t be more stories set here before too long, and if he’s looking for inspiration, there’s plenty of it out there. Marvel’s Magnificent Seven, anyone?
But what do you think? Does a Wolverine like Caine in Kung Fu appeal, wandering purposefully through the American West, or do you prefer your Logan a touch less self-righteous? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!