Logan's Comic Book Scene is Only the Latest in a Long Line of Meta Moments

The final trailer for "Logan" leaves fans with much to discuss and consider, from the near-feral nature of young Laura Kinney (aka X-23) to the ultimate fates of Hugh Jackman's Wolverine and Patrick Stewart's Charles Xavier. However, none is as unabashedly meta as the revelation that X-Men comic books exist within Fox's X-Men movie universe.

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What's more, Dafne Keen's Laura is a fan of their uncanny adventures -- although it's probably safe to assume she doesn't like them well enough to actually pay for them. "We've got ourselves an 'X-Men' fans," Logan tells Prof. X in the trailer as he holds part of her stash. "Maybe a quarter of it happened, and not like this. [...] In the real world, people die."

On it's face, it's a somewhat-peculiar development, but it's nevertheless one with a lengthy Marvel Comics history.

As early as 1963, within two years of the birth of the Marvel Universe, it was revealed in "The Fantastic Four" #10 that Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Benjamin Grimm and Johnny Storm had licensed their adventures and likenesses for publication. That led to appearances in the issue by legendary creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who were menaced at the Marvel offices by Doctor Doom, who sought to lay a trap there for Richards. That was their first comic-book appearances, but it certainly wasn't their last, as the idea quickly took hold that the adventures of Marvel's superheroes take place both in the "real world" and in four-color form, which of course opened the door to cameos by Lee, Kirby, Steve Ditko and others, in "The Fantastic Four," "The Amazing Spider-Man," "Daredevil" and elsewhere.

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While it's easy to imagine why a cash-strapped Peter Parker might license Spider-Man for comic books, it's a little more difficult to understand why the Fantastic Four would do the same, considering Reed supposedly made most of his money from invention patents. However, over the years we've seen the in-world licensing move beyond comics, with superhero-branded Halloween costumes and lunchboxes becoming a fixture of the Marvel Universe. The former is even featured prominently in the first trailer for "Spider-Man: Homecoming," where Tom Holland's wall-crawler confronts robbers wearing plastic masks of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Incredible Hulk.

It makes a certain degree of sense, beyond providing an excuse for a creator to be inserted into a comic: In a world, and especially a New York City, crawling with costumed heroes, of course a cottage industry would spring up around them, like so many YouTube and Vine stars. However, in "Logan," the commentary goes deeper than the frequently used concept of superhero as celebrity. Director James Mangold is using the comics to say something about the film's world, and about its central character.

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“That the comic books exist is a kind of recreation of something that happened and something that Logan is trying to run from — meaning he’s tired of the legend," the filmmaker told Screen Rant last month following a screening of "Logan's" opening act. "He’s tired of the stories, he’s tired of the people recognizing him on the street, and he’s tired of someone holding out an action figure of him. All that merchandising exists in the movie, and I think it produces a very interesting effect, much more real world which was our goal. What is it like to be one of these characters who’s been sold, packaged, reported on, and a hero to kids — might have posters on some kid’s wall — yet you’re not fulfilling it anymore, you can’t keep up anymore? And that’s the interesting question the movie asks."

It's difficult to say from the trailer how well Mangold accomplishes that goal within the larger film, but the brief sequence instantly places distance between the world of "Logan," with its sun-drenched landscapes and weathered heroes -- or, rather, "heroes" -- and that of the rest of the "X-Men" franchise, with its costumed figures and CG battles. "In the real world, people die," Jackman's ailing character says, perhaps foreshadowing his own future while suggesting the events of films like "X-Men: Days of Future Past," with its alternate timelines and a "do-over" that brought fallen teammates back to life, may not be "real," or at least not part of his bleak world.

After all, his is a world where his healing factor is failing, an old friend is fading, mutants have all but disappeared, and his past still haunts him. Here, despite the hope for free Pringles and sunglasses, and the gentle assurance that "this is what life looks like," there is no sunny epilogue and likely no happily ever after.

Hugh Jackman’s ninth, and purportedly final, appearance as Wolverine, “Logan” is set in the near future, years after the epilogue of 2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” In it, a weary Logan, whose healing factor is failing, cares for an ailing Professor Xavier in a hideout on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, pursued by dark forces.

Opening March 3, “Logan” stars Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal and Elizabeth Rodriguez.

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