I would bet that if you asked a random person off the street to name a member of the X-men, Wolverine would be the first on the list. He has always been the most popular of that superhero group because he fits that tough, Marlboro Man image that we all tend to love so much for our heroes. But I’m not so sure that he always deserves that popularity. I grew up watching the X-Men animated series and I have to say that Wolverine has always been the least interesting one of the bunch. At least everyone else has something besides the “I’m the loner with a past” shtick. Done poorly, he can be boring as hell. Luckily, Mark Millar and Steve McNiven have given us Old Man Logan, one of the best Wolverine stories out there and the topic of my review this week.
Old Man Logan crafts a dystopian future in which Wolverine is doing his best to survive and make a new life for himself after the heroes of the Marvel universe have fallen. If you’ve read Wanted, the basic premise here is similar: the bad guys have won. The villains of Marvel finally got their act together and, since they outnumber the heroes at least five to one, joined forces to take out all the heroes. Not only did they succeed, but they have changed the world in the decades since. The story begins with Wolverine having put aside his superhero past in order to provide for his family and settle a ranch in an area now known as Hulkland (formerly California). His actions during the rise of the villains have left deep scars on his psyche and he is a broken man. Logan not only has absolutely no interest in anything but the survival of himself and his family but also made a solemn vow to never “pop these claws” again. Unfortunately for him, the world has other plans and Logan will have to decide if he can really maintain his pacifist vows in the face of the brutality of this new world.
Old Man Logan is exactly what you’d expect from Millar. It’s brutal, dark and not just a little twisted. This dystopian take on the Marvel universe has a lot of dead heroes and feels very much like an old Clint Eastwood western both in atmosphere and the mold in which Millar has crafted Wolverine. This Logan is the same gruff, standoffish character with an even darker past than he’s ever had before. It was interesting to have a Wolverine story in which he has people that he clearly loves and whom he’ll do anything to protect. It seems like I’ve always seen him constantly pushing people away so it was a refreshing change. And his new pacifist stance puts Wolverine in the position of deciding between who he wants to be and who he is.
That said, the strongest part of this story isn’t Wolverine, it’s the setting. The world that Millar has created here is gory and violent and absolutely fascinating. The United States has been carved into zones which are fought over by some of the biggest villains in the Marvel universe and even the Presidency is under their control. Ordinary people have had no choice but to bow down to these new kingpins. The bloody remains of the Earth’s mightiest heroes have been publicly displayed in front of them for fifty years. Only the truly desperate still hold out hope for rescue and the few surviving heroes have no interest in bringing the wrath of the conquerors down on their own heads. It’s an ugly, hopeless future that makes Wolverine’s struggles even more compelling.
Unfortunately, this story does have a few weak points. I won’t spoil anything but Millar follows the tragic hero mold with Wolverine so predictably that about halfway through the story it’s almost impossible to miss what’s coming next. And I have to admit that his treatment of Bruce Banner made absolutely no sense to me. I liked the idea of a Hulk gang controlling vast swathes of the West but Bruce Banner is a genius and Millar writes him like a redneck moron. I don’t care if it’s been fifty years, there’s no way Banner’s going to forget basic facts. It just wasn’t believable for me. Neither of these issues are enough to derail the story but in a story that’s otherwise fantastic, they are definite weak spots.
Old Man Logan is a fantastic Wolverine story. The combination of its brutal, dystopian setting and a Wolverine who is desperately trying to turn his back on his violent past made for one hell of a page turner. Best of all, Millar and McNiven are one of the best writer/artist pairings I’ve seen. McNiven’s brutal, dark artwork pairs perfectly with Millar’s writing and immerses the reader in a very dark future. Despite some of the weaker points in the story, it’s definitely one I’d recommend if you’ve ever wondered what would happen if the villains won. Just be warned that it’s not for the squeamish.