Saturday, September 17, 2011


Wolverine: Old Man Logan by Mark Millar, Steve McNiven, et al.

I’ve read a lot about Mark Millar, but not much by the man. I decided to rectify that and read his 12-part story with JRJr, Wolverine: Enemy of the State. And I hated it. I’ve written about why I loathe that story already here at Warrior27, but basically, I found the characterization to be bland, the main conceit of the plot to be boring, and I felt that Millar – by trying to “push the envelope” and having Wolverine and Elektra pile up the dead bodies without any repercussions because they had been brainwashed – completely sapped the narrative of dramatic tension. There were some bright spots – very few – but, overall, it felt lifeless and ineffective, despite the stellar art from John Romita, jr.

So, my expectations were not high for this third Millar Wolverine book. And, I have to say, I was incredibly surprised. I thoroughly enjoyed Old Man Logan – could not put it down. This is what I want from my comics (and from my fiction, in general). I want it to engage me and keep me turning pages. I need to care about the characters and feel like there is a very real conflict at hand, despite the fantastical trappings to which I am typically drawn, as a reader. And that’s exactly what this book gave me.

It is some years in the future. All the heroes have died out or gone underground, and America is now ruled by the villains – the country dissected into various fiefdoms: Hulkland, The Kingdom of the Kingpin, Doom’s Lair, and the President’s Quarters. Wolverine is living in California, now Hulkland, with his family. They pay rent to the Hulk, who sends his gamma-irradiated offspring to collect. But this month, Logan (as he answers to now) is short. So the Hulk children beat Logan, taunting him to pull his claws (which he has vowed never to do again). They leave, warning Logan to have double the rent next month, or they will kill his family.

Hawkeye, now blind and a known drug-runner, shows up to recruit Wolverine for a cross-country trip that will pay well. Logan corrects Hawkeye on his name and agrees, realizing the money earned can save his family, but tells Hawkeye he won’t be fighting. Through the course of the story, we learn about this new world – a world where the skeleton of Hank Pym (in his Goliath form) stretches across the landscape now known as Pym Falls – and we discover what happened to the heroes, and what happened to turn Logan into a pacifist. And finally, we reach New Babylon, the capital of this burnt-out world, where Hawkeye was contracted to bring his contraband. It is for the President, who does reside in the White House, and who is better known as the Red Skull. He lords over his trophies in one of the many rooms of the White House, trophies like Iron Man’s armor, Cyclops’s & Thor’s helmets, pieces of the Visions, Dr. Strange’s cloak, and bits of the Silver Surfer’s board, among many other relics of the fallen heroes’ memories. And then, the real action begins.

Millar deftly handles the few narrative threads of this story quite well, teasing things out nicely to keep readers interested without revealing too much all at once. The inventiveness of the futuristic characters he introduces, along with the novel manner in which he explains Wolverine’s descent into self-loathing pacifism (which sounds like a terrible oxymoron), is all well done. Millar smartly pulls back the throttle for this tale, providing some “eyes-wide” gore when the story warrants, but offering a lot of quiet moments that allow the action to stand out, something sorely lacking in Millar’s “Enemy of the State.”

Millar also made me care about this incarnation of Wolverine. He is a very different character – beaten-down and defeated and unwilling to fight. Now a pacifist who only wishes to take care of his wife and children, this is the Wolverine I appreciated in the original Miller/Claremont mini-series – a person of honor working to keep his animalistic rage in check, who had to work to be a hero. That characterization has been completely lost in the last twenty years, in my opnion, but Millar manages to bring that back with this futuristic version of Wolverine. We see his berserker side in a daydream that opens the book, where he imagines ripping into the young Hulks, before the narrative brings us back to “reality.” Logan does not let loose on them, allowing these three behemoths to pummel him into the dust, and it sets the tone for the rest of the story. I was engaged with this character, which made me care about his road trip with Hawkeye. And when it all finally goes to hell, I’m completely in Logan’s corner.

Setting this story in a dystopian future was a smart move and added a lot to the narrative. This is a future where most of the heroes are dead, and those still around are either in hiding, retired, or about to face extermination. Anything can happen because Old Man Logan falls outside the regular Marvel continuity. And that means characters can, and will, die. This simple aspect of the setting imbues the narrative with a dramatic tension that is missing in most mainstream comics today. And Millar takes full advantage of this while also circumventing reader expectations of what is required of a Wolverine story. With every obstacle he and Hawkeye encounter, one expects the claws to come out, but they don’t. Not until Logan is pushed too far. And, at that point, all that anticipation can be released by the audience with a collective exhale.

I should say something about the art. Steve McNiven is a good artist. I can see that. But his photorealistic style is just something that does not appeal to me. That said, I found McNiven’s art in this book to be less “photoshopped” than I see from many of his contemporaries, and I thought, despite some over-rendering, that his storytelling was clear and appealing. He managed to pump up the action when it called for it, but he also set the stage nicely in the quiet scenes. So, overall, I’d say McNiven did a good job, and, more importantly, I think his art fit this story almost perfectly.

Overall, I was really impressed with Wolverine: Old Man Logan, and am very glad I read it. Will I read it again? Probably not. There are too many other good stories out there I haven’t gotten to yet, and this book, though enjoyable, is not one that I can see rewarding multiple reads. But at least I found a Mark Millar book I really enjoyed.

So, time to move on to something else. What that is, I don’t know yet? But I’ll write about it here when I do find out.


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