Wolverine first appeared in 1974 in issue 180 of The Incredible Hulk. His introduction as a one-off villain quickly snowballed into that of a beloved antihero, and since the late ‘80s he has starred in his own solo comic. The ‘90s saw Wolverine’s popularity peak, as the generation of angst favored characters with a more violent twist. Wolverine satiated fantasies of the no-nonsense hard boiled cop dramas by giving Marvel fans a hero who wasn’t afraid to get his hands bloody to get his way. His popularity lasted well into the 2000s until September 2014 when the “Death of Wolverine” story was published, bringing the character as we know him to an end.
That isn’t to say he was gone for good, mind you. The standard Wolverine is no more. He was a character well suited to the brutality of the 90s, but that popularity ended over time once tastes began to change. People no longer flock to stories of hypermasculine 30-something hair men dispensing his own form of murderous justice. Unlike Die Hard, the Wolverine comics knew when to quit. In response to the waning success of Wolverine due to a shift away from action towards more narrative driven content, Marvel commissioned Mark Millar to create the short spinoff story Old Man Logan.
It is set in a world where all the supervillains got their acts together and united to take out the superheroes, essentially by trading jobs instead of fighting their own heroes. A Spider-Man villain tricks Wolverine into killing the X-men, and Wolverine commits suicide. Metaphorical suicide anyway. He let’s a train run over his neck and once he regenerates he considers the old part of his life dead. He stops going by Wolverine and swears to never pop his claws and kill again. Meanwhile, the Hulk goes bananas (the radiation finally getting to his brain) and he kills a bunch of people and essentially conquers the entire west coast. He retires and turns stud, fathering a menagerie of violent green hillbilly children (think The Hills Have Eyes.) Jump a few decades into the future, and the villains have turned America into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Old Man Logan owns a farm in the Hulk family territory, where he raises a small family. One day he can’t pay the Hulks the rent he owes them for the farm, they give him a month to come up with the money before they kill him, and Logan sets out on a cross-country trip with Hawkeye to earn the money to save his farm. Hawkeye being old and blind, as well as the majority of their trip being taken in the Spidermobile (yes Spider-man has a car, yes it does everything a spider can,) makes for a fun little road trip adventure with some elderly superheroes.
It’s basically a love letter to the history of Marvel, packed to the brim with easter eggs and nods to other Marvel comics. It’s also a fascinating look at an alternate Marvel universe that functions almost like a museum of oddities. Like the gigantic skeleton of Ant-Man in the desert, or the T-rex infected with the venom symbiote (you can’t make up that level of crazy.) The journey culminates in a battle with the Red Skull in his trophy room of conquered hero paraphernalia. After a duel between the Red Skull wielding the ebony blade of the Black Knight (google it) and Logan using Captain America’s shield, Logan takes all his money, puts on Iron Man’s suit, and flies back home.
Aside from being over the top and absurd in its content, Old Man Logan is a revival of what makes Marvel comics so cool in the first place. It’s a celebration of history in a way that excited comic fans again. So much so that, after the massive “All New All Different” Marvel reboot, Old Man Logan made his way into the mainstream
Marvel universe in January 2016, replacing the currently dead Wolverine.
Where the original Wolverine lost favor for being too action oriented and kitschy, the newer Old Man Logan is celebrated for being grounded and reserved. The traditional action-hero meathead is replaced with a sobered up old man, tired from a lifetime of violence and seeking new meaning in his life. For the first time, Logan is given a compelling narrative driven story with less emphasis on the high
octane action. The first few issues of the 2016 Old Man Logan in the modern universe, where the apocalypse never happens, shows him trying to make sense of everything. He tries to stop his terrible future from happening, but after finding the corpse of the original Wolverine, he realized that he wasn’t in his own past. He’s an outsider, a loner, a broken old drifter just trying to find meaning in a meaningless existence. That’s the kind of story that resonates with modern audiences, and it’s the kind of story that is going to save Wolverine from fading into the background. It’s incredible to watch Marvel completely reboot an older hero from a different generation with an entirely new form of appeal, only to see that reboot be met with unprecedented success and admiration. It even inspired the new film “Logan,” which will be Hugh Jackman’s final performance as Wolverine. Even as this era of Wolverine ends, a new one is on the horizon. It’s safe to assume that, despite Jackman ending his association with the character, we aren’t even close to seeing the end of Wolverine.