Wolverine: Old Man Logan by Mark Millar (writer) & Steve McNiven (illustrator)
Logan, a grizzled west coast farmer whose only joy is his wife and two children, knows that the rent is due. He doesn’t have the dough, and when the cannibalistic Hulk Gang arrives, he will suffer a beating – if he’s lucky.
What if… all of the villains teamed up to defeat the heroes and then took over the country? Written in 2009, Mark Millar’s Old Man Logan was not released as a “What If…?” adventure, but it might as well have been. The heroes were wiped out long ago, and Logan, who has sworn to never do violence again, takes his beating to protect his family.
Hawkeye, now equal parts blind samurai and archer, hopes there might still be a bit of Wolverine left in the old farmer. He offers to pay Logan to drive with him in the Spider-Buggy across America to deliver a package. The rent is past due. Logan has no choice but to go along if he wants to save his family.
Many come to a Wolverine story because it promises action centered on a tough-and weathered-but-good-deep-down-lone-wolf – the story of a righteous ronin. When this story begins, artist Steve McNiven already includes samurai-like flourishes in his representation of Logan, but our hero is otherwise a pacifist. Though he has promised never to “pop his claws” again, the suspense of the story is just as much driven by when Logan will snap as it is by the transport of Hawkeye’s package through hostile territory.
Readers are right to come to Old Man Logan knowing that it packs more than its share of POW!-BOOM!-SNIKT! Because he is operating within an alternate universe, Millar can forego the notion that superheroes never kill the villains they defeat, demoralize, and temporarily detain. And because these villains are also unshackled, readers get to see it all – even Moloids devouring humans. There are undeniable advantages in this premise. Although I’m not generally a fan of the sort of gratuitous violence this comic offers, it is refreshing to see that a hero whose superpowers include fists sprouting razor sharp knives is represented as a killer rather than a glorified bouncer. And it’s also remarkably gratifying to read about these characters without the burden of decades of backstory and continuity. Even background details, like which villains teamed up to defeat which heroes, intrigue.
Having said that, there are moments in this plot that I found even more unlikely than the redneck Hulk Gang. For one thing, America is divided into four sections from west to east between the Hulk (who defeated the Abomination), the new Kingpin (who supplanted Magneto), Dr. Doom, and “the President.” There’s something odd here – one of the villains remarks that Magneto wanted Las Vegas “for some reason.” For some reason, indeed! Magneto lives on an asteroid utopia but he wants to trade it in for Oklahoma (which I’ve read is beautiful, of course). And isn’t the greatest of these villains Dr. Doom? It seems to me that if he wanted to take over a grain-producing region, he would conquer Ukraine from Latveria. I can understand why he would conquer, say, Ohio, but I don’t understand why he’d move there. Wouldn’t Dr. Doom at least conquer, say, Toronto, and wouldn’t he go on to defeat the other villains once the heroes were removed from the board? Give me a break.
Worse, although the action sequences that outline the fall of the X-Men are compelling in their unrestrained action, the villain that orchestrates their defeat is a letdown to say the least. There’s a spoiler in the following quote, so highlight it only if you want to see it:
Frankly, I do not accept that Mysterio could defeat the X-Men. This is a group that contains, what, dozens of telepaths and geniuses? Beyond that, while I suppose he would outlive them, I’m not sure Wolverine alone could defeat the X-Men. They’re too uncanny and astonishing for such an ignominious end.
Although Millar’s “what if” premise allows him narrative freedom, the shortcuts it necessitates can be difficult to ignore.
There’s an enthusiastic “won’t this be cool?” at the heart of Old Man Logan, and it may well be that this attitude explains the story’s popularity. Wouldn’t it be cool if the Venom symbiote bonded with a Savage Land dinosaur? Yes, that would be cool. Wouldn’t it be cool if Wolverine and Hawkeye drove across America in a Spider-Buggy? Surprisingly, yes, even without Matt Fraction writing. Wouldn’t it be cool if the worst things that could happen actually did happen for once? Sure, but let’s not make a habit of it. For some comic readers, Millar’s focus on “cool sh*t going down” will be more than enough reason to put this book at the top of their to-read list. But a story also needs heart and substance so that readers will finish it thinking they’d like to return someday. To be honest, by the time I finished the final chapter, I knew I would never re-read Old Man Logan.