Since its release, the film Logan has been widely considered among consideration for the best film in the X-Men franchise. The Mark Millar comic that it was based on, Old Man Logan, deserves similar consideration.
This review covers Wolverine (2003) #66-73, and contains major spoilers.
Aside from having the same basic tone and setting, it’s hard to believe that one was the basis for the other. Unlike the film, Old Man Logan does not feature Charles Xavier, Caliban, or even X-23. As a result, fatherhood is not a significant theme here. Old Man Logan is trading in ideas that are worthy of consideration, but they are very different ideas than those of the film Logan.
As the story begins, we see a Logan who has put Wolverine to death. Not only does he reject the helm of the superhero, but he’s adopted the role of a pacifist, and hasn’t popped his claws in twenty years. Instead of being an Avenger and the rabid, animalistic leader of the X-Force, Logan has a humble house out in the West. He has a wife and two kids, and he has trouble making rent. Rent that’s collected by the Hulk Gang, comprised of Bruce Banner’s malicious kids and grandkids. When his vicious landlords threaten his family because of his inability to pay rent, he travels with a now-blind Hawkeye cross-country for a job that, while it probably is not exactly legal, comes with the promise that he won’t be forced to fight again.
Because this is a superhero comic book, it’s fair to assume that the story is not going to come down on the side of pacifism. That’s just a given. With that said, the story does give Logan’s pacifism a fair shake. The character development that stems from that particular philosophy is impressive, and Millar, a seasoned and critically acclaimed comic writer (Civil War, Kingsman), has an expert hold on Logan’s character. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Millar’s interpretation of Logan is that, while he is no longer a superhero, his sense of old-fashioned heroism is stronger than ever. He tells a member of the Ghostrider gang “I will never hurt a human soul.” It even gets Hawkeye infuriated with him, and Logan has to admit, speaking of fifty years ago, “They broke me, bub.”
But later in the story, as is expected, Logan becomes unhinged. He doesn’t pop his claws – not at first. But he does beat the Red Skull to a pulp, and later, once he gets back home, he finds cause for revenge. And the revenge he takes is brutal and bloody, among the most so of any mainstream comics I’ve ever read. He is vicious with the Hulk Gang, and intent on sparing no one. Until, that is, the last member of the Hulk family surviving is a little baby, named Bruce Banner, Jr. And that baby, we found out at the very end of the series, Logan not only spares, but adopts as his own.
So what does this tell us about Logan’s character? Like many Wolverine story arcs, Old Man Logan functions far too readily as a revenge narrative. While a great deal of the story is set exploring Logan’s pacifism and the traumatic events that led there, Logan ultimately gives into his more animalistic side, ripping through bodies not as a hero, but as an avenger (in the more classic sense, that is). His crusade is vicious, bordering on cruel at moments, and his hate knows no bounds. This is hardly a Christian approach. Jesus’s words on the Sermon on the Mount come to mind, when he says “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). This is, incidentally, the same reason I don’t care for action films such as John Wick. Our culture is very supportive of those who deal out to others “what they have coming,” and views the meek Christian approach as weak. It’s somehow ironic that the film adaptation of this storyline includes multiple somber moments to impress upon us that “killing is a brand,” even when you kill the bad guys. Old Man Logan includes no such contemplations.
But what it does include is a final show of mercy, an act that while small, does distinguish Old Man Logan from other vengeful narratives. There is a small show of fatherhood there, and it may be an indication that Logan did learn something from his years of pacifism and raising a family. It also includes an affirmation of innocence, even with the family is guilty of horrible wrongdoings (an idea that can be applied to arguing against abortion in the cases of rape and incest). These are but small redemptive elements in the midst of a comic that has a very bloody third act. But they still are redemptive elements. That act, and the exploration of grief does give the story some positive moments. As a whole, however, those moments are hard to hear in the midst of a dark, gloomy, and blood-filled story.