With Logan opening in cinemas and Hugh Jackman leaving the role that put him on the map of stardom, all eyes are on the clawed wonder and how the film will revolutionise how people think about superhero movies.
While everyone else will likely be talking up “Old Man Logan”, I want to go back and explore another story that defined the lone wanderer nature of the character with even more depth.
Written by Greg Rucka
Illustrated by Darick Robertson
The world’s deadliest mutant Wolverine embarks on a dangerous mission of revenge, seeking justice for a young neighbor who was murdered in her sleep. Logan must use all of his lethal skills to take on a mysterious organization hell-bent on keeping its dark secrets hidden from the world.
What makes a man a man? What makes a man a beast? When a man embodies the beast, when a man names himself after the ferocity of nature, can he help but become an animal? Beginning their acclaimed run on “Wolverine”, ‘Brotherhood’ operates almost as Greg Rucka and Darick Robertson’s thesis statement on the character of Logan himself. The story covers the first six issues of the 2003 to 2009 volume of “Wolverine” with Rucka and Robertson sending Logan on a journey that may begin with outside examination of who he is and what he does, but circles ever closer to an examination of the balance between man and beast.
In its first issue, Logan is something of an enigma to the reader. Seen through the eyes of a waitress and neighbour to the X-Man, Logan’s life is one of quiet, somber solitude and mystery. A man with no name, no past and no connections beyond the books he reads each day. Rucka and Robertson purposefully introduce Logan in this manner, free of his connections to the X-Men as an organisation and even to the Marvel Universe itself. This could easily have been some form of Elseworlds story if it weren’t for the emphasis that this is how Logan spends his time away from the superhero world. This external examination, shown through the narration of the waitress by way of her journal writing sets the scene as Logan is drawn into a surprisingly personal journey of vengeance.
One of the things that marked Garth Ennis’ run writing The Punisher, especially in the MAX series, was how he used the character as a means to explore (and punish) real world wrongdoings. It was something that made the character feel culturally relevant and something similar happens in ‘Brotherhood’. The grand reveal in the story doesn’t come about through a figure from Logan’s past coming back to haunt him or the next big mutant threat. Hell, Logan never even suits up throughout the story. The focus is on a man seeking vengeance and tearing his way through illegal arms dealers, white supremacist cults and abusers of young women in a way that only Logan could.
It’s here that Darick Robertson becomes the natural fit for such a story. His art is not the glamorous and clean superhero style, but a much darker and dingier style of storytelling. Even his depiction of Logan himself shows, right off the bat, that this isn’t your average Wolverine story. Robertson’s Logan is marked change from the practice of the time to make the character look more like tall, dark and handsome Hugh Jackman’s take on the character. Robertson reminds readers that Logan is a runt of a man, standing more than a full head shorter than most characters in the story. He’s a man of barely contained rage and as the series progresses, Robertson leans into the ferocity and animalistic qualities of the character through his facial expressions.
‘Brotherhood’ is not a superhero story in the classic sense. It is almost a murder mystery and a revenge story wrapped in one and so Darick Robertson’s storytelling on the page needs to fit the slower pace of the script. This is perfect for Robertson who is able to craft fully actualised characters with genuine emotions in his artwork. It’s remarkable what a drastic change in style this story is to the character’s other appearances at the time and has become almost the lost and forgotten ur-example of a dark and violent character examination that would go on to define Wolverine even up to his latest appearance in LoganContinued below
The sixth issue serves almost as an epilogue to the series’ first arc and a bridge into Rucka and Robertson’s ongoing story beyond it. Finding Logan in a bar after having murdered and brutalised across the country to avenge someone he barely knew, he attempts to find comfort and absolution in the embrace of drink and an old friend. It’s here, in the calm between violence, that we finally get a glimpse of the man behind the name and at the raging storm within him. While his violence might be a necessary evil, it is still an evil he has to live with. For as cool as it may be to watch Logan eviscerate men who do truly evil things, Rucka and Robertson are quick to remind the reader the toll that takes on a man’s soul.
What Rucka and Robertson leave us on is the poignant note of the necessity of violence unto evil and the cost that takes on good men. In the beginning, Logan is known to the waitress only as “Mean Man” and it’s a descriptor that fits perfectly as Rucka and Robertson detail just how mean he can be to the ones who deserve it. It’s a harrowing story and one that kicked off a character deconstructing and defining run that may be on the level of something like “The Dark Knight Returns”. This is all very high praise, I know, but with the release of Logan there’s going to be a lot of talk about the character’s defining stories and moments and, trust me, any list that does not mention this story or anything from Greg Ruck and Darick Robertson’s 14 issue run is missing a huge chunk of Wolverine’s history.