There seems to be something in the air today. Something that reeks of desert pavement, motor oil and regret. Did they crank out another Mad Max movie? No?
Ah well, nevertheless, welcome to a brand new, recurring column on AiPT! called “Revisiting for the First Time,” in which we take a look at a classic comic, film or whatever that we somehow never experienced when it was first released, and examine it with fresh eyes. Does it hold up? What made it so popular? Would it succeed today?
In this inaugural edition, FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER, I’ve chosen to finally read that Mark Millar-penned, out-of-nowhere bombshell that turned out to be Old Man Logan — and you’re coming with me! I’ll drive, you just nudge my arm if you spot any pot holes.
Although I’m not as far behind as I’d thought. The bizarre, alternate future storyline that paired a pacifist Wolverine (but don’t call him that!) with a blind Hawkeye on an outrageous road trip that would make Furiosa proud was published less than a decade ago, in 2008. Still, people of all stripes (including the creators of a certain movie film debuting this weekend) speak of Old Man Logan in hushed tones normally reserved for X-tales like the Dark Phoenix Saga or Days of Future Past. How come?
Perhaps because, like those two works, Old Man Logan was a decidedly darker X-Men story. Blood gushes from the pencil of superstar artist Steve McNiven, and the emotional injury might be even more gruesome, considering what caused Wolverine’s self-imposed stoicism and what finally snapped him out of it. But we’d already had God Loves, Man Kills, and it’s not like the Ultimate Universe and the MAX line weren’t pushing the envelope of four-color violence.
Maybe that’s it — Old Man Logan took place “somewhere else,” in a What If? kind of world where all of the heroes could be slaughtered and Marvel would still have a publishing schedule the next month. Those kinds of books are usually poor sellers, though, as readers think anything that “doesn’t count” in continuity is skippable. And many of the moments in Old Man Logan might as well be fan fiction pin-ups — “Okay, and there’s a TYRANNOSAURUS with the VENOM SYMBIOTE! And Hank Pym is, like, all giant and dead in Connecticut.”
Of course there is a real, reasonably well-told story in there, too, along with a boatload of repetition that you probably wouldn’t see in Millar’s creator-owned work. Yes, Logan, we know you won’t fight. Hawkeye’s just the opposite–an old dude raring to go, with a faint glimmer of being a hero again. That’s a nice juxtaposition. And the big reveal of what made Wolverine permanently retract his claws is still brutal, especially the double-page spread of beheadings and chopped torsos. I can’t even imagine what regular Wolverine readers at the time must have thought.
While Old Man Logan on its own is not bad by any stretch, I think this is what really made it hit as hard as it did. It wasn’t a What If? or a MAX title, it wasn’t an OGN or presented as a standalone, creator passion project. It was just another seven issues of Wolverine (plus a giant-sized special). Regular readers went straight from the somewhat dour but completely comic booky Messiah Complex to something gritty, grotesque and absolutely off-the-wall, with no warning. It might not have “counted,” but man, it counted.
That kind of thing doesn’t happen much anymore, something many market-watchers lament. Pulling a high-profile, self-contained story out of the main book and running it at the same time is surely a short-term gain for the publisher and for retailers — more Wolverine on the shelf this month means more money — but it may be at the expense of the core title’s stability. If all the special stuff gets exported, what need is there to pick up the “normal” issues? Suddenly the book you ship 18 times a year becomes the skippable one, and the damn thing has to relaunch to stave off attrition.
So as good as Old Man Logan was, we might not have the reverence for it we do today had it been published differently. Maybe that’s something Marvel and other companies should consider when prioritizing a story’s placement. Keeping a blockbuster within that character’s main title may immediately thin the market share a bit, but current readers might stick around longer, and hey, maybe one of them will be struck by it enough they’ll base a movie on it someday.