The Comic Cave – Old Man Logan

The Comic Cave is a fortnightly feature where we spin the Wheel of Comics and see what graphic novel story it brings up for us to deep dive into! This week we take a look at Old Man Logan, a Wolverine story that’s often held up as one of the character’s best. But is it actually any good?

It’s hard to think of the X-Men and not imagine them as one of Marvel Comics’ biggest properties. 1991’s X-Men #1 is the highest selling comic of all time, when Marvel was in danger of going bankrupt in the 90s the various X books kept them going, they’ve had successful television shows and films. They’re big money for Marvel. That’s why people are often surprised to learn that the X-Men were originally cancelled, and it wasn’t until they were given a second chance with Giant Sized X-Men under the creative leadership of Len Wein that the franchise really took off. Part of this was down to the new roster of mutants in flashy costumes unique to each of them. And one that stood out immediately was Wolverine.

Originally introduced in an Incredible Hulk story, Wolverine made the jump to the X-Men and got a lot of his details smoothed out and improved, and soon became one of the most popular characters in Marvel. Over the years the character has had multiple mini-series, his own title, and his mysterious hidden past has been explored and revealed in depth. He’s even been allowed to join the Avengers, which – considering he routinely horribly murders people with knives that come out of his hands – is a bit of a surprise for sure. But, when a character is that popular there’s pretty much nothing the Marvel will say no to them doing. And this might be a large part of why we got Old Man Logan, a story originally published in the third volume of the solo Wolverine title.

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Written by Mark Millar, with art by Steve McNiven, Old Man Logan transports readers 50 years into the future of the Marvel Universe, to a dark time where the heroes have fallen and the US is a wasteland of crime and corruption. We find Logan, older, with grey hair and a weathered face, living with his wife on a small pig farm in California, struggling to get by. They have got issues with sick pigs, and no one wants to buy from them, leading them to struggle to make their rent. His wife raises the idea of selling their kids’ toys to try and make some cash, which Logan instantly shoots down. Instead, he takes the beating given to him by his landlords, the Hulks.

Bruce Banner is the warlord who rules over California, and he does so thanks to his children, a group of inbred, disfigured rednecks that he created by raping his own cousin, and eventually then having sex with his own daughters. The result is a gang of cruel, even more monstrous Hulks who could easily fit into stories such as The Hills Have Eyes. Shortly after Logan takes his beating from the Hulks, an old friend arrives on his doorstep: the former Avenger Hawkeye. Hawkeye, now an old blind man, needs to transport a package across the US, and offers to pay Logan to help him get it there. Knowing that this is his best hope at raising money, and enough money to keep the Hulks happy for a long while, he agrees to go with Hawkeye. He has one condition, however: he will not fight.

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Thus begins a cross-country road trip as the two old heroes jump into the spider-buggy, and head for New Babylon, the new US Capital. This gives Millar an excuse to show off the state of the rest of the country, as we spend several issues watching the two leads go from place to place, getting into awful situations. We get small insights into what happened when the heroes fell, learning that the key villains divided the country between them, and see all kind of odd things such as Ghost Rider gangs, roving dinosaurs, giant dead bodies, and natural disasters.

Along the way Hawkeye learns that his daughter from his third wife (and Spider-Man‘s daughter) Ashley, has decided to become a hero, taking inspiration from her grandfather, wearing a Spider-Man inspired costume and taking up the name Spider-Bitch. Spider-Bitch and a couple of other new heroes go after Kingpin, but get captured. When Hawkeye learns of this he and Logan go to help her get free, but learn that she didn’t go to take on the Kingpin to free people from his rule, but to take over. With her now in control of his criminal empire the two men are forced to flee as Ashley tries to kill her own father.

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Later, Logan (who still hasn’t stepped into any of the fights) reveals why he’s a pacifist. It turns out that the big fall of the heroes happened because all of the villains banded together, swapped notes, switched up which heroes they fight, and all attacked at the same time. When the attack on the X-Mansion came, Logan was present as dozens of villains such as Omage-Red, Sabertooth, Bullseye, Mr Sinister, and Doctor Octopus broke in and tried to kill the children. Logan jumped into action and killed as many of them as he could, wondering desperately why he was the only X-Man protecting the school. After an hour of fighting he killed the last assailant, and it’s revealed that he was never fighting villains. Only one bad guy came to Xavier’s, Mysterio. Using his tech, he made the X-Men look and smell like the other villains, and tricked Logan into murdering all of his friends. This is why, 50 years later, Logan refuses to ever pop his claws again.

After several issues along the way, such as sink holes, and a Venom-infected T-Rex, the two make it to the capital, where it’s revealed to the reader that Red Skull rules over his territory from a swastika-emblazoned White House. Hawkeye reveals that he was transporting a case full of vials of super soldier serum for a fledgling resistance force hoping to create an army of Captain America-powered heroes, and take on the Red Skull. But it turns out the whole thing is a sting operation, and he and Logan are shot and murdered.

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Their bodies are brought before the Red Skull in his trophy room, a room filled with pieces of the heroes he helped to kill, such as Iron Man‘s armour, a piece of the Silver Surfer board, one of the Thing’s arms, and Doctor Strange‘s cloak. Logan bursts out of the body bag he’s in, and attacks the Red Skull, decapitating him with Captain America’s broken shield. Grabbing the case full of cash from the bogus deal, he puts on Iron Man’s armour, and flies out of the building, heading home to California. Unfortunately, when he arrives he learns that the Hulks came back a few days after he left, and his wife and children have been murdered.

Wolverine pops his claws, and sets out for revenge. Over the final issue of the story Wolverine methodically makes his way through the Hulk clan, killing each and every one that he can find. Eventually he comes face to face with Bruce Banner, who’s become a tiny and pathetic man. Banner transforms into a giant, monstrous version of the Hulk, and eats Wolverine. Believing that Wolverine is dead, the Hulk relaxes, but is ripped apart from the inside as Wolverine claws his way out. Looking at the murdered and mutilated remains of the Hulk clan, Logan finds a tiny Hulk baby in the ruins, and takes it with him. The book ends with Logan burying his family, and setting out to try and make the world a better place whilst raising his new son.

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Old Man Logan, as you’ve probably realised from the description, is not a nice book. It is filled with violence, gore, and general nastiness that feels very much at home in Mark Millar’s writing. Millar is perhaps one of my least liked writers in comics, and there are very few of his books that I find actually enjoyable. Civil War is perhaps the best of his work even if it runs out of steam at the end, ends horribly, and turns a number of heroes into horrible people. But crafting horrible people is a key feature in Millar’s work, and Old Man Logan exemplifies a lot of that in a number of ways.

The entire premise of the book hinges on something that feels slightly ridiculous: the idea that all it takes to destroy the world is for the villains to have a meeting and decide to work together. The book doesn’t reveal an amazing scheme, a piece of tech or magic that swung the war in their favour, instead it makes the heroes look ineffectual and weak by just having the villains all jump them at the same time. And this kind of sums up a lot of the book; stuff just happens with little to no explanation, purely because Millar thought it would be cool.

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Things such as dinosaurs roaming through the US gets a hand-wave explanation. Venom goes on a T-Rex because it would look cool. Emma Frost and Black Bolt have a super special safe haven carved out for them and the last few mutants. Why? Millar doesn’t appear to care, and doesn’t fill us in on it. How does a biker gang have Ghost Rider bikes, when you have to be a Ghost Rider to have one, and they’re just regular people? Don’t worry about it, just look at the flaming motorcycles. It’s all spectacle and flash with nothing to it, that could be removed from the book and you’d lose nothing from it.

And it wouldn’t be a Millar book if rape wasn’t included somewhere in the story, this time with the Hulk raping his own cousin and his daughters. Rape is a subject that seems to pop up whenever Millar is able to get it into a book. In Nemesis, the story’s lead character kidnaps a girl, impregnates her with her own brother’s baby, and sets up her womb to collapse if she tries to have an abortion, rendering her infertile if she doesn’t have an incest baby. In Kick-Ass 2 the hero’s girlfriend is gang raped by the villains to get at him. In Wanted, the protagonist commits rape multiple times. In The Authority, a villain travels back in time and molests one of the heroes to mess with them in the future, a hospital victim gets raped, villains are punished with rape, and one of the series’ prominent gay heroes is raped by a villain. And, in the 90s, when DC killed Superman and broke Batman‘s back, Mark Millar pitched a similar story for Wonder Woman, ‘The Rape of Wonder Woman‘ which reportedly would have been a full issue sexual assault scene that ended with Wonder Woman raped in public.

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When coupled with stories of his that have included depictions of domestic violence, racism, brutal violence, excessive swearing, and other ‘edgy’ content it’s hard for me to see Millar as anything but a writer pandering to the teen boy demographic, or those readers who delight in the awful, who hate superhero comics as they normally exist, and who don’t see harm in the depictions of sexual violence against women. It’s made even worse that Millar has seemingly shown no care in how this constant depiction of rape has been used. In an interview with The New Republic, when asked about it, he said: “I don’t really think it matters. It’s the same as, like, a decapitation. It’s just a horrible act to show that somebody’s a bad guy.” With that kind of attitude it’s hard to really get on board with Millar.

The awful writing aside, the art in Old Man Logan is, at least, good art. The times where McNiven isn’t having to draw incest hillbillies or gruesome murders make for some decent parts of the book. The desolate landscapes looks eerily beautiful, the characters all have a sense of realism to them that you don’t always get, and some of the designs for the locations and characters the heroes meet along their journey are very interesting. It’s a shame that so much time is given over to the violence and gore, and we couldn’t have spent more time seeing more of this dark future, as McNiven seems to be doing his best to make the world work, and it would have been good to see more of that.

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Old Man Logan took place within the pages of Wolverine, in the middle of another writer’s run on the character. This, along with the future setting, makes the story feel very out of place, and it’s odd that the series wasn’t released as a stand alone mini-series, as it had no effect on the main title. However, this wouldn’t be the last time this character and setting would be used. A younger looking version of this Logan, along with his now adult Hulk son, Bruce Jr, would appear in Fantastic Force, as part of a new superhero team setting the future world right. Old Man Logan would return years later as part of the Secret Wars crossover event, which would see the older version of Logan come into the main Marvel 616 universe, where he headed up his own 50-issue series, as well as appearing in other books.

Old Man Logan is a book that often gets brought up in discussions about great Marvel stories, and stand out Wolverine books. But with the story being both an alternate future and a different universe it bears little to no impact upon the Wolverine we know, or the main universe. As a standalone story it will either deeply appeal or deeply disgust. Millar is a divisive writer, and how you feel about him and the things that he puts into his stories will affect how you enjoy this book. If you have no issue with that, and love Old Man Logan, then it’s a great book, and if not, then perhaps it’s hard not to agree with Grant Morrison’s feelings on the man.

Old Man Logan was originally published in Wolverine from June 2008 to September 2009 by Marvel Comics .

Next time on The Comic Cave – Green Arrow Year One by Andy Diggle and Jock.

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