There are certain circumstances that bring out the best and worst of a character. It’s not unlike how certain athletes do better in the playoffs than they do in the regular season. Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw didn’t always put up impressive stats. But when those circumstances put them in the Super Bowl, they played their best and they have the championship rings to show for it. It’s what sets them apart from the Tim Tebows and Mark Sanchezes of the world. And with Secret Wars, Marvel is able to put characters in the best of circumstances. Like Montana in a two-minute drill, it helps bring out their strengths.
Since the death of Wolverine, it’s easy to forget about the circumstances that made him the best he is/was at what he does. More than any other character, Wolverine has been put in situations that have brought out many sides of his personality. Some of those sides, like his talent for connecting with rebellious teenage girls, are interesting and compelling. Others, like his tendency for hitting on married women, make him come off as a massive tool. The Brett Ratners of the world failed to put Wolverine in the right circumstances to make him as awesome as he deserves to be. Now Secret Wars is in a position to succeed where Ratner failed, as low a bar as that might be.
The world of Old Man Logan put Wolverine in a world where he had no choice but to be the tough, rugged, battle-hardened warrior that would inspire Akira Kurosawa himself. He’s in a set of circumstances where he’s not constantly butting heads with Cyclops, having a beer with Nightcrawler, or making Edward Cullen faces around Jean Grey. At his core, Wolverine is a man haunted by the monster he became. And there are no other worlds where that monster did more damage than the world of Old Man Logan. He’s a Wolverine that’s completely at rock bottom, which makes him a perfect participant in Secret Wars.
The narrative of Old Man Logan #1 is dark and gritty. It establishes that in a way that’s painfully obvious for the criminals that dare to operate in this world. The dark, noir-style artwork of Andrea Sorrentino adds a cherry and some frosting on top to give it impact. It’s a world where Wolverine doesn’t have to worry about being the headmaster of a school or annoying the Avengers. He can just be Wolverine. Like George Carlin uncensored, he can be everything that makes Wolverine awesome.
It makes for a refreshing, if not sobering story that demonstrates why Wolverine is truly the best at what he does. At his core, he is an anti-hero. He’s not the anti-Cyclops or the anti-Captain America. He’s Wolverine. He’s the kind of guy who shakes off a high body count the same way most people shake off a mild sunburn. He’ll see criminals and injustice in his world, but he won’t try to lecture them with lectures and after-school specials staring Mr. Rogers. He’ll gut them where they stand, take several dozen bullets in the process, and not even offer to help clean up the mess. It’s crude and downright mean at times, but Wolverine is still pretty damn good at it, even when he’s a cantankerous old man.
In many ways, the world of Old Man Logan provides the best version of Wolverine to become involved in the conflicts of Battleworld. This is a Wolverine who has nothing left to lose. He has no teammates to worry about. He has no family to worry about. He has no married red-heads or Japanese wives to go back to. This Wolverine has lost everything and he really has nothing left to lose. He’s probably more equipped than anyone in Battleworld to oppose an uber-powerful Dr. Doom. And powerful or not, Wolverine will find a way to annoy him. That’s why he’s the best.
The challenge is putting Wolverine in a position to actually want to do something about the situation in Battleworld. After establishing just how visceral and vicious this version of Wolverine is, this situation unfolds almost by accident. It feels random and a bit contrived, but it’s enough to get Wolverine’s attention. And in a world where he has so little to lose, it really doesn’t need to be much more than that. It just has to get him curious enough to believe that something or someone will need stabbing.
The situation also helps reveal some of Wolverine’s few remaining allies in this world. Granted, some of those allies do end up dead, but it does establish that Wolverine isn’t completely without allies. Part of being the best is not having everybody hate his guts. But for this story, he has just enough connections to point him in the right direction and that’s all he really needs. He just needs to know where the stabbing can begin and he takes it from there.
There’s something inherently refreshing about keeping the complexities of Wolverine’s narrative to the absolute minimum. As a character, he’s gained so much complexity over the years that he might as well have a personality disorder. Being a headmaster, a teammate, an Avenger, and a deadbeat father pull him in so many different directions. Old Man Logan #1 never attempts to create that kind of conflict. It’s less like a baby toy and more like an iPhone, keeping the complexity to one button or less to that everyone can enjoy it.
This is a version of Wolverine that has been missed since before he was killed off in the mainline comics. In many respects, Old Man Logan #1 establishes that Wolverine needs to be a little jaded and cantankerous to be the best he is at what he does. He doesn’t need Sabretooth tormenting him. He doesn’t need Cyclops busting his chops. He just needs to know that something isn’t right and while stabbing it might not solve the problem, it certainly makes for a fun, overtly visceral story.