This has spoilers.
I read to the comic Old Man Logan after seeing the movie adaptation. Though not a bad movie, I had heard whispers that comic was like, “a LOT different” and wanted to see if the note of disappointment was justified. Looking at the cover I was hesitant to read because I expected it to be dark, grim, and edgy. Old Man Logan the comic is colorful and dark, ebullient and grim, and edgy. It does not dangle its toes off the edge; it dives off it, ironically reflecting on the inherent exploitation.
What exactly is exploited? The reader’s deep desire to see destruction. Of America, with its purple skies, cities of shambles, Midwestern earthquakes, mean and depraved citizens. Of political stability, all states divvied up now as territories between six super villains — at least a panel for each Divided State of Evil. Of humanity, as good deeds become indiscernible from foolishness. It is a negative inversion of Marvel, and joyfully revels in the curiosity to see villains victorious, and heroes destroyed. Preferably by cowards, in bloody splatters, ways poetically irrelevant to their tales, and by the easiest of tactics.
The only thing left intact are husks. Barely the psyches of a few potential heroes stand, and even those are questioned as sheer egotism, tragically prompting the downfall of some. Logan, now a farmer with a wife and child, has not pulled out his claws in some 50 years. He lives in the desert of California, trying to pay back his evil landlord, Bruce Banner, and his hedonistic redneck family. At one point, Logan pisses them off too much and has to pay an unfair sum or else his family will bite it for good. Hawkeye, a blast from the past, shows up to make a deal with Logan, to deliver a sketchy box to New York via the Spider Mobile, the compensation more than enough to save his family.
The comic appears to argue between violence and nonviolence, but there’s not really an argument. Wolverine’s adamant refusal to use his claws never advocates for a higher cause. His response to Hawkeye cajoling him is basically a moody “I just don’t do it anymore.” Could it be that the pacifism is just feigned to hide the real blood lust underneath its sheen? The plot is more interested in testing the limits of Logan’s stubbornness.
One major difference between comic and movie is pacing. The comic, a road trip story in the Spider Mobile, travels states as fast as it does panels. Sometimes faster. This makes the meaningful moments go by too quickly, as when Wolverine finally defeats a villain and travels to California in minutes (real life time) later. But it also cuts the bleak twists, transmuting them to a dark comedy. At one point, the story flashes back as young Wolverine slaughters all the old villains in a surprise night attack. Wrong, it was a Mysterio mind trick, and Logan was actually dicing up the X-Men. It is shocking, but shouldn’t be, because it’s thematically unified in that it’s crude and extreme, and quickly strips plot armor. Later, Hawkeye, is deceived, idiotically, like Wily Coyote, by Kingpin. He didn’t actually get anything in return for delivering the vials and dies a humiliating death.
The comic is less interesting on face value than it is as an exploration, a dark reflection of “wholesome”comics. Always hinted at, and no longer on the tip of our tongues. So what happens when the heroes lose? What’s the future look like? Is it worth being good if always thwarted? Are the heroes really this fragile, only protected by plot armor? If so, are we babies? Is stability taken for granted, in comics as in real life? How mad do you have to make Wolverine to corrupt him? Do we enjoy this world?
Certainly we enjoy it. You think it wasn’t fun to write? Look at the pictures of Wolverine spitting blood. His every sinew coming apart next to his hair. Jubilee’s eyes rolling in the back of her head. The giant skeleton of Hank Pym. Every single bullet riddled into the flesh. The blood flinging on every other page. It is a pornographic comic, made self-conscious in Red Skull, who wears Captain America’s outfit because it feels good. “The ancients wore the skins of their fallen foes,” he rationalizes to his henchman. “Why shouldn’t I be allowed my eccentricities?
In the end, Bruce Banner denies Logan his payment by killing his family anyway. The next thee panels are an unnerving silence of Logan, with big speechless, wet eyes. Still, Logan’s indignation is not emotional in the same way the book acts like it should be, mostly because the next page.“SNIKT!,” the monotone letters, the true climax of the book, takes up two pages alone. Logan finally bares his claws and engages in a satisfying orgy of slayed Hulklings.
The question remains, why did Banner kill Wolverine’s family, knowing it would push him over the edge? “I got bored of being a landlord. Bored of being a super villain. I needed someone cool to make me feel alive again.” Was it even a question?
They fight and an extra hulking Hulk eats Logan — the bite’s sanguinary ejaculation deafening the inner eardrum. After a few beats, Wolverine claws out of his stomach and claims victory. In the afterglow of pink sky, he forgives himself for killing a bunch of heroes 50 years ago, and rides off into the sunset, infinite rage harnessed towards the greater good. Why shouldn’t we be allowed our eccentricities?