Mark Millar’s conceit in “Old Man Logan,” of which this is the first of eight parts, draws upon multiple pop culture sources and mashes them all together. The gist here is that something bad went down fifty years ago, wiping out America’s superheroes. Wolverine has retired to a farm, where he struggles to raise a family on the barren frontier of Hulkland (seriously). Wolverine hasn’t unleashed his claws since the night all the superheroes died, and he’s become a shell of his former self, still stubborn, but passive, defeated, even weak. It’s “Unforgiven” meets “Dark Knight Returns” meets “The Road Warrior” in the future of the Marvel Universe. Not a bad concoction, in theory, but Millar hams it up so much that he turns it into a parody of itself.
The problems begin with the contrivances of the story. Even though we have seven installments remaining, we can see that Millar is setting up a downtrodden Logan who will regain his aggressive, heroic side by the end of the story. The character arc is as plain as day, especially if we’ve seen “Unforgiven” at any point in our lives. Logan-as-William-Munny will no doubt accept his inner killer and unleash on some bad guys before the story’s over. The contrivance is that Millar gives us a humble, defeated Logan at the beginning of the story for no logical reason other than to set him up for heroic moments later. He does nothing to establish how or why Logan ended up where he did — looking old, his healing factor slowed — in the wastes of Hulkland. Perhaps he’ll go back and explain everything in future installments, but I doubt it. Based on how Millar has set up this story, it’s a tale of redemption — a tale of a killer regaining his instincts.
The set-up is so artificial, though, that it’s more like a “What If?” story than a logical offshoot of the way Logan’s been portrayed in the past. “What if Wolverine were older, and more meek, and lived fifty years in the future when the bad guys ruled the country?” It’s kind of a stretch, is my point. A contrivance that’s as random a starting point as “What if Wolverine had six arms, and was an accountant, in Turkey?” Sure, Millar’s idea is will provide more opportunity for cool visuals, but it’s no less arbitrary.
Then there’s the faux-Western dialogue: “You know Jade didn’t mean no harm,” says Logan’s cliche of a frontier wife. “Only natural a child would be curious about what her father used to do.” And, later, Logan says to his son, “you stop that cussin’, you hear me.” Steve McNiven gives us some beautifully bleak landscapes, and a weary Logan. We get it. It’s being played as a Western. Millar doesn’t need to hit us over the head with the on-the-nose cowboy patois. But he does anyway.
And that’s all before the redneck Hulk Gang shows up, with their moustaches and deformed teeth.
Like Millar’s other recent Marvel work, “Wolverine” #66 certainly isn’t dull, but it’s so absurdly campy as to render itself meaningless. It’s an insubstantial daydream of a future world where cities of today have been replaced by “Paste Pot Creek” and “Pym Cross.” It wears its cinematic and comic book influences too openly, flaunting them at the expense of originality. This may be the most interesting comic of the week, but only because of the absurdity of its failures.