Stay on target
Throughout Logan, Laura Kinney–the young mutant who ends up following after Logan over the course of the film–seems fixated on comic books. When the titular mutant meets her for the first time and finds a few older issues, he exclaims “looks like we’ve got ourselves an X-Men fan.” She doesn’t respond but remains aloof and hostile. This despite how she’s looking at the Wolverine, who is featured prominently on the cover of one of the comics.
Many of us in the theater are in a similar position. I can attest that I’m at least fixated on comic books, especially X-Men comics. Before I knew there was a larger Marvel universe to explore, or that there were decades of dense, absurd storylines to go through, I discovered the X-Men. I followed the stories of Wolverine, Professor X, Jean Grey, Cyclops, or whoever else was leading a story at the moment, and watched them as they grew, got hurt, got intimate, or punched robots in the face.
I followed the characters when they came to life in theaters, whether they were depicted in a great film, a mediocre one, or in Wolverine’s case, a tragic one. No matter how many times 20th Century Fox decided to retcon films, or unretcon them, I was watching.
While it’s possible to watch Logan without having seen any of the previous X-Men films, doing so would be a disservice to what it’s trying to do. It’s created a world where, as Moviebob pointed out in his review, that’s “disappointing,” dark, and grim by comparison to what was built up before. However, it’s also a world where the power of comic books and fiction is evident but subtle. Like us, Laura is hoping for more from this story because comics have told her there is hope. In that way, Logan makes the greatest case for comic books of any comic book film to date.
Logan follows the Wolverine in one of his darkest hours. He’s old and sick. Most of the other X-Men are gone. Charles Xavier, who has served as a begrudging mentor for decades, is battling a degenerative neurological disease and can no longer control his powers. Mutants, for the most part, are an endangered species. When Logan meets Laura, who is not only a mutant but a mutant just like him, you would think he’d begin to question what he has accepted as the new normal. But he doesn’t. He accepts Laura as a person that exists, but his outlook on the world doesn’t change. He’s still dying, his family is mostly wiped out, and there’s a group of cybernetic men after him. All he wants to do is buy a boat. He doesn’t want to fight anymore.
The problem of course is that because this is an action film, Logan can’t get that idyllic life. He has to fight, which involves getting Laura to the Canadian border where she can remain safe. She is headed to a place called “Eden,” which we discover she read about in a comic book. At the very least, the nurses and other staff who were tasked with helping the kids escape Transgien read about it in a comic and noted the coordinates. This upsets Logan since it feels like this entire mess–which has put him and the Professor at risk–may have been make believe.
But Laura constantly keeps bringing them out and throwing them in front of Logan. When she finally speaks, she keeps pointing at a photo of her friends and at the comic pages. When he skims through them and finds coordinates to a location that may or may not exist, it’s less about the movie pointing directly at a comic that’s in a comic book movie and laughing a bit. It holds emotional resonance.
The comic books we see in the trailers for Logan, and which are featured more prominently throughout the film, are more than just a cute Easter Egg, or a fun jab at the world of comics itself. They can pose theoretical problems about the X-Men cinematic universe (so does that mean some of the previous X-Men movies only existed in the comic book world of the movies?), but they’re mostly there to create distance between old and new, or between Logan and Laura.
Logan, who has been played by Hugh Jackman for 17 years now, represents the old guard. He’s visibly buff; he’s white, he’s based on a traditional comic book character. For most of his life, Wolverine has been a prototype for the gruff, begrudging superhero. He constantly has to deal with his past both physically and psychologically, often abandons his team when things get too personal, and doesn’t follow the rules. He’s a maverick, but the X-Men always welcome him into their ranks. This characterization has changed over the years. Logan sometimes leads the X-Men, for instance, or acts as a father figure to some of the younger members.
Courtesy Logan Facebook
In Logan however, there isn’t any room for that. That is until he meets Laura, who represents this new brand of superhero. X-23 is a relatively new character, created by the show X-Men: Evolution in the early 2000s. She’s Wolverine’s clone but is different than her father. She’s female, most importantly. In Logan, like most of the other clones, she’s a person of color and speaks Spanish. The comic iteration was created to appeal to younger readers, and to replace Logan as the Wolverine in due time, so her existence is already tied to this transition. She is literally a Wolverine replacement as Marvel begins substituting in new versions of beloved characters, such as the Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye, Iron Man, and others. Most of these have been from groups not typically seen as heroes in comics: women and people of color.
This is reflected in the film, which sees Logan having to help Laura cross the border and get out of the United States. In the final battle, Logan works to protect the kids from the Transgien goons, and at first, he is succeeding. However, his age and illness is no match for X-24, who is a younger, more angry Hugh Jackman clone. It’s not him who saves the kids but rather, the kids who save him. The mutants collectively use their budding powers and help to turn the tide.
If you’ve seen the film, you know that this is where Logan meets his end. His fight with X-24 proved to be too much, and in his final moments, he reaches out to Laura for the first time.
But it’s that moment at the end, when you see one of the kids holding a Wolverine doll over Logan’s grave, or when Laura takes the cross and turns it on its side, transforming it from a cross into an “X,” that you realize that Logan isn’t exactly gone. The X-Men that have come and gone from the big screen are still there, even if we as a culture are done with them. Comics and comic book films were escapism at their most minimal but provided hope at their greatest impact. This is upped in Logan, where comics act as a symbol of hope, and motivation for these lost mutant kids to keep going.
Granted this is probably because they’re stories that feature idyllic versions of them, but the message is still there. While Logan is a depressing film that shows the downfall of a beloved hero, there is still hope for the future. It might not be with the X-Men that we are familiar with, but it’s with this new generation.
So when people say that Logan is the death of the modern superhero movie, they’re partially right. But they’re also missing how it works as a transition point to the next generation. Superhero movies are only just getting started.
You can start the Old Man Logan series with Comixology now and read it digitally here.