By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
Yes, I am kind of tired of talking about superheroes, but that’s primarily what the news is right now, and I don’t feel like talking about The Walking Dead. Anyway:
Pop culture at large found itself blindsided by the release of a trailer for “Logan,” what is set to be the last appearance of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in the X-Men film series. Set after the events of “Days of Future Past,” the happy ending brought on by time traveling has already been ruined, as an aged and battered Logan roams a post-apocalyptic world with Professor X and an unnamed young girl. While the last Wolverine film is generally remembered well, it was surprising to see the overwhelmingly positive reception to the trailer, a much needed jolt in the arm after the dead on arrival “X-Men: Apocalypse.”
If you’re curious as to why they would title the film Logan as oppose to something more obviously identifiable as an X-Men film, it seems to be an allusion to an specific comic title. In the pre-production promotion for the film, Hugh and the creative team were not subtle that their biggest influence for this film was the infamous “Old Man Logan.” Written by Mark Millar in 2008, the series has become one of the iconic titles of the character, a tale of a post-apocalyptic America where a retired Logan and blind Hawkeye make their way across an America taken over and carved up by supervillains.
Why would they just not use the full title? If I had to guess, they possibly couldn’t. Given that the story is built in the larger Marvel Universe, and Fox only has access to the X-Men and Fantastic Four in their films, they might not be legally cleared to use the title. But there might be a simpler reason, one I’ve wanted to talk about for a while: the idea of a direct comic line adaptation versus a more spiritual adaptation.
Logan is clearly not a direct adaptation of the Old Man Logan storyline. The main crux of the comic was Logan agrees to help Hawkeye to deliver a package of Captain America-esque Super Serum. Here, Logan’s quest seems to center around this mystery girl—presumably Wolverine Clone X-23 (as hinted in Apocalypse when Wolverine’s blood is taken). As opposed to Hawkeye, the current sidekick is Professor X. And instead of the inbred descendants of the Hulk pressuring Logan for rent (I’ll get to that), the villain’s appear to be The Reavers.
See, this is what I would call a spiritual adaptation: taking the broad strokes of a comic and using it as a springboard to a new story. This tends to be the basis for most superhero films, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s the best and most exciting form for films to take.
In fact, Marvel’s best work uses this as their template. Both Civil War and Winter Soldier, based off very famous Captain America comic lines, are streamlined and altered to fit better in the MCU. “Iron Man 3” takes bits from the Extremis and Demon in the Bottle storylines. Avengers simply takes the “Loki motivates Hulk to smash” plot from the original comic. And Ant-Man uses the basic idea of “To Steal an Ant-Man.”
The results are not only fresher stories, but ones that improve upon the source material. By turning the Super Human Registration Act into the Sakovia Accords, Marvel was able to avoid the character assassination Iron Man faced in the comic, and avoided the bigger problem of every hero acting out of character to make the warring happen. Winter Soldier spliced in the “Hydra infiltrated SHIELD” concept to make Bucky a more integral part of this massive global epic. And while Demon would have been two hours overly dour melodrama, Marvel took the basic idea of Tony’s obsessiveness and insecurity and made a excellent thriller based around his reliance on tech.
On the other hand, we don’t have too many examples of straight up adaptations. The best example is “The Watchmen,” which is a great example of why attempts at perfect adaptations never work. So much effort was made into making it look and sound exactly like the comic resulted in a film that was deadly serious with material that was meant to be taken satirically. That is one high profile dud, one that was more than enough to make me skeptical of the idea of exact adaptations. It doesn’t help that so many of the “definitive” comics people want adapted aren’t quite as good as we remember. I’ve already said my peace on Demon, and given that “Batman v. Superman” was as bad as it was, the only way the bar could be set lower would be adapting “Dark Knight Returns” and “The Death of Superman” on their own.
Perhaps that’s what excited me about “Logan” simply taking the highlights of “Old Man Logan”: the comic itself doesn’t hold up. I wasn’t joking about the incestuous Hulk Hillbilly Family, and that’s just one problem with the series. Like much of Millar’s work, it is uncomfortably mean spirited, self-loathing and falls apart after subsequent readings. But the core idea — a retired, slowly weakening Wolverine forced to become a hero again in a post-apocalypse — is great.
We call them adaptations for a reason. The job of a film is to take what makes a material special and find new ways to elevate that. “Old Man Logan” is a story with a lot of amazing ideas desperate to be liberated from its overbearing whole. And though it is the first trailer, it looks like “Logan” might provide that liberation.