With the release of the first X-Men film in 2000, audiences not only witnessed the dawn of the modern day superhero film boom, but also the beginning of a complicated franchise that would span seventeen years and ten films. With Logan now in theaters, Kayleigh Hearn is revisiting the X-Men films from the very beginning, and examining the comic book storylines that inspired them. What would you prefer, yellow spandex?
“Old Man Logan” (Wolverine #66-72, Wolverine: Giant-Size Old Man Logan #1)
By Mark Millar and Steve McNiven
Kayleigh: Back from the dead, it’s X-Education, my series contrasting the X-Men films with the comic book stories that inspired them. Though our series concluded last year, I would feel remiss if we didn’t cover Hugh Jackman’s swan song as Wolverine, the character he played for seventeen years, in Logan. One of that film’s major influences was the story “Old Man Logan” by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven (the creative team behind a little thing called Marvel’s Civil War.) This story envisions a graying Logan in a grim, mutant-less future, but the similarities stop there. This week I’m joined by Andrew Niemann. Andy, was this your first time reading “Old Man Logan”?
Andy: Nope! Wee baby nerd Andy’s first foray into comic books was reading Millar’s Ultimate X-Men run in high school, so of course I read pretty much scooped up everything related to Millar and Wolverine I could find for some years after. Since then, my opinion on Millar’s writing has changed…quite a bit. How about you?
Kayleigh: I’ve read Old Man Logan’s appearances in Extraordinary X-Men, but this was my first time reading the original story. I do not have a favorable opinion of Millar’s writing, so reading this was like biting the proverbial adamantium bullet. “Old Man Logan” imagines a future where supervillains have killed most of Earth’s superheroes and remade America in their own image. (This is also basically the premise of Millar’s Wanted, but whatever.) Millar and McNiven weren’t the first creators to drop a grizzled old Wolverine into a hellish future, but there’s such a mean-spiritedness to this world that makes me queasy, from Wolverine driving past Giant-Man’s Grand Canyon-sized skeleton to the Hulk’s inbred, cannibalistic grandchildren.
Andy: Yeah, Millar’s fascination with creating hell-worlds is kind of his one trick, but somehow he always seems to go way too far. I suppose that was the appeal when the story originally came out but that also seemed like a more blissful, hopeful time in the world (even if it truly wasn’t). Re-reading the story now really exposes the unnecessarily vile versions of these popular Marvel characters. (Hulk and She-Hulk had sex and gave birth to a bunch of large insane hillbilly sons, like seriously?) I thought it was kind of disarming seeing Red Skull as POTUS, which of course has a much more realistic connotation in this day and age. What’s interesting about “Old Man Logan” (and Logan for that matter) is how it seems to be set in the near-future of the Marvel universe and presumably our own. I think that’s a really interesting place to explore, even if Millar definitely takes it to the extreme. Do we want to get into how Wolverine is partially responsible for ending the X-Men?
Kayleigh: The big reveal of the White House covered in Nazi flags was really depressing, that’s for sure. But yeah, so Old Man Logan’s tragic backstory is that Mysterio tricked him into killing the X-Men in a rage, thus making Wolverine’s greatest fear a reality. Still, the flashback is pretty unsatisfying in that you’re supposed to believe that all of the X-Men would hold back and let him kill them all. Oh, and I’m going to go Full Comic Book Guy and refute the notion that a jobber like frickin’ Mysterio is the one who finally destroys the X-Men. Anyway, Wolverine’s sad backstory (and his return to berserker glory) rests on the backs of several murdered women, because that’s one of the few constants in the Multiverse.
Andy: Mysterio being the impetus for how things went badly is such a joke and I’m almost certain Millar did that intentionally. I don’t know, maybe I’m giving him too much credit. It’s a testament to how good Logan is that it pretty much takes this same backstory and tweaks it only slightly so it’s not incredibly dumb. Wolverine’s character is pretty much being a sad sack all the time and I don’t know if you needed to add another layer of “I killed all my friends because I was under a spell” to drive that home. The world in which “Old Man Logan” takes place is awful enough, and at the point in the story where this revelation takes place it comes across as incredibly hollow. I think the best moments of this story are when Logan is on a road trip with his old buddy
Charles Xavier Clint Barton. I don’t recall any comics where Wolverine and Hawkeye were super best friends forever but I guess maybe they bonded while in the Avengers? What do you make of this dynamic?
Kayleigh: The Wolverine/Hawkeye remake of Grumpy Old Men was new to me, though their banter in the Spider-Mobile was pretty decent. But what was the point of the Kingpin and Ashley Barton storyline? (Other than reminding us of Millar’s issues with black people.) I had completely forgotten about the “Spider-Bitch” controversy until that charming name was uttered. Even for a road trip story, “Old Man Logan” feels pretty aimless, and stretching it out over eight issues is exhausting because we know, right from their first appearance, that Wolverine’s adorable Little House on the Prairie family is going to get super-murdered.
Andy: “Spider-Bitch” is one of those things that makes you seriously consider giving up comics forever. It’s a total facepalm moment years later and definitely makes you not want to revisit old Millar comics (or even new ones for that matter). It’s incredibly frustrating too because as a concept I really like the idea of Clint having a biracial daughter who is basically the new Spider-Man but…yeah not with that moniker on top of an extremely sexualized look. The road trip concept is definitely there because Millar had about three issues worth of story and the rest had to be filled out with one-shot stories to make it a nice trade paperback collection.
Kayleigh: In the effort to try to say something nice about this comic…McNiven’s art is pretty good? He has that cinematic, “I want this to be a movie!” aesthetic Millar likes, but it also feels like a comic book comic book. He has an eye for drawing craggy vistas and an even craggier Wolverine that gives the story weight even when Millar’s plotting is at its most puerile. (Wolverine being eaten by the Hulk, and then clawing his way out, anyone?) Oh well. Drawing a Venom Symbiote Dinosaur must have been fun.
Andy: “Old Man Logan” is good for one thing: it’s incredible ultraviolence from a man with six blades on his hands. We got a pretty good film “adaptation” of it that morphed the story into an actual emotionally affecting story that wasn’t sexist and juvenile but still kept the gore. That’s so far the best thing it has contributed to the cultural lexicon.
Kayleigh: Join us next time, where we’ll say goodbye to Wolverine in Logan. Bring tissues.
Enjoy the entire library of X-Education with Professor K!