With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artist: Steve McNiven
Issues: Wolverine (2003) #66-72, Wolverine: Old Man Logan Giant-Size
“What If” stories have been a mainstay in Marvel comics for decades. Sometimes they’re as simple as a single panel stories or one-shot issues. Occasionally they may be used for entire mini-series – with the best example being the first big event that kicked off the modern Marvel age of events, House of M.
Toward the end of its six year run, Wolverine‘s 2003-09 solo series was randomly converted into a grand post-apocalyptic road trip adventure starring an older, grizzled Logan. Most of the world’s super heroes have been killed and villains have carved up the USA. Amazing art from Civil War‘s Steve McNiven remains the gorgeous (and extremely bloody and violent) focus, though the story loses itself somewhat in trying to create this fascinatingly bleak future world.
A big problem with consuming media years after the fact lies in hype, popularity, and expectations. I’d heard really great things about “Old Man Logan,” and the post-apocalyptic concept is way up my alley. I love me some Wolverine and putting him in a Mad Max style world of anarchy seems like a perfect fit. There was never a question of if I would read Wolverine: Old Man Logan, only when.
Oddly enough, Wolverine: Old Man Logan isn’t a stand alone series. Set fifty years in the future, it’s obviously not tied to any ongoing continuity. In fact, they make a point to show a few flashbacks involving the X-Men, and it’s clearly a much earlier version of the team – like from the 80s with Jubilee and pre-Phoenix Jean Grey. This further puts “Old Man Logan’s” story far out of then-current Marvel events. For once, a mini-series completely exists on its own.
Fifty Years ago all the super villains organized and defeated much of the world’s super heroes. The details are kept purposefully vague, and for much of the seven issues we’re only given teases specifically tied to what happened to Wolverine and the X-Men.
The long-lived Logan is finally showing signs of age, and he’s settled down into the life of a farmer, promising to never pop his claws again (I think Cable went through a similar, and similarly brief lifestyle in his solo series).
The veteran of major wars and tool of assassination has become a shockingly broken man. He’s still brooding and gruff, but now he’d rather accept a violent beating from the landlord, in-bred Hulk gang than dare fight back. Something happened to change him, and it’s a major story beat that’s finally revealed near the end (and one that I found very predictable).
Logan’s only friend, and one of the few surviving original heroes, is old man Hawkeye. White-bearded, pony-tail sporting, blind Clint Barton is an amazing character. He’s like the aging hippie that could never quite settle down. When Hawkeye offers Logan a cross-country escort mission, they enter into a post-apocalyptic road trip in which the unique setting and world quickly becomes the main, and most well-realized, character.
For 90% of the comic, the plot is simply Bring McGuffin Here (the McGuffin being a mysterious case that Hawkeye is transporting). Since Logan has sworn off violence he acts as the driver. Thankfully for both of them old, blind Hawkeye can still kick all kinds of ass with arrows and sword as they come up against Ghost Rider gangs, flesh-eating mole people, and the new Kingpin’s goonies.
Logan’s never really traveled outside the little farmland he’s carved for him and his family, and we see much of the world through his eyes. Most major cities have been sunk beneath the ground. A terrifying ghoulish race called moloids having eaten most of the populace. The Baxter Building has collapsed, falling on top of the giant corpse of Loki. That’s not even the only giant corpse in the world – Pym Cross is aptly named for the fallen Hank Pym, having died while in giant form (someone should really clean these up).
Red Skull’s terrifying visage is carved into Mt. Rushmore. Dinosaurs from the Savage Land roam the Midwest (leading to a brief but exciting chase sequence when the host-less Venom symbiote bonds with a T-Rex and chases our heroes). The new Kingpin rules his land through fear, setting up brutal gladiatorial arenas in old stadiums. The Red Skull rules in the White House wearing Captain America’s outfit in a macabre sense of wearing the skin of one’s enemies.
It’s a dark, fascinating world that comes alive thanks to Steve McNiven’s incredible artwork. The story and characters honestly take a backseat to the many set pieces and moments. I never particularly enjoyed Civil War’s art, but here McNiven relishes in the much darker, moodier tone.
And the blood – holy crap! This is by far the bloodiest, most violent Marvel comic I’ve ever read (and I read X-Force). I’m actually shocked they push it as far as they do. Men get brutally decapitated and shot in the head. If you’ve ever watched Wolverine fight and wonder why he never gets to draw much blood even though he basically has knives for hands – be careful what you wish for. The violence meshes well with the dystopian setting of the story and world, but it’s certainly not for the faint of heart.
Unfortunately the story can’t quite keep up with the lovely giant panel artwork or interesting future world. There’s a few twists and turns along the way but they mostly come off as trite and cliché, including a rather eye-rolling moment in which Logan returns home, finds his family murdered, and pops his claws for the first time in decades. Then he goes on to murder – all – of the redneck Hulks that rule over the territory, culminating in a brief and incredibly violent against an older, insane Bruce Banner.
The simplistic story is riddled with clichés and dumb twists, from the murdered family as revenge story (which is Wolverine’s calling card now I guess) to Wolverine’s past being marred by tragedy by his own hands. It’s not necessarily offensive or silly, just unfortunate that Millar went with so much low-hanging fruit when it comes to drama. The few other characters that show up are mostly adversaries for our pair of old ass-kickers to fight. This is a purely action-driven story.
Wolverine: Old Man Logan is definitely worth the read for the art alone. If you like your comics dark and bloody, it could rank as one of your favorites. I found it really interesting but somewhat disappointing. The dark future world it depicts is unlike anything I’d seen previously in Marvel (way darker than “Days of Future Past”) and Logan and Hawkeye’s old war buddy relationship is pretty great. But the actual story is overly simplistic, and filled with the same tropes that plague too many comic stories.