Wolverine can heal pretty much any physical wound he suffers. But the emotional ones? Not so much. The Wolverine that most comic book fans grew up reading has been dead for more than a year. Laura Kinney — his female clone previously known as X-23 — has adopted the mantle of Wolverine, trying to deliver justice in a less lethal way. There's still a Logan prowling the streets of New York City and popping his claws at bad guys. But his travels are a lot more uncomfortable to watch.
The title character in Old Man Logan #1 — written by Jeff Lemire with art by Andrea Sorrentino, Marcelo Maiolo and Cory Petit — comes from an alternate reality. He finds himself on the main Marvel Earth after the events of the publisher's Secret Wars cosmic crossover event. This Logan is more unhinged than his dead counterpart but for damn good reasons. Granted, no matter where he hails from, the man born as James Howlett has never been the Marvel Universe's shining pillar of emotional rectitude. In the mainline universe, Wolverine's mutant powers let him an extraordinarily long life and made him the epicentre of a whole lot of tragedy.
The whitehaired Logan in this comic saw even more trauma, surviving a reality where the bad guys teamed up, manipulated him into killing his X-Men teammates and took over the world. He left costumed adventuring behind him and became a farmer and father. That, too, was taken from him when his family was killed by the gamma-irradiated punks of the Hulk Gang.
When the older Logan wakes up in the new Marvel Universe, his sad life story comes back in a flash and he decides to take steps to stop that horrible future from coming to pass. Pretty standard as far as superhero motivations go. But Old Logan takes things too far.
The bulk of this issue's plot has Logan adjusting to the new timeline that he's in. Once he does that, he goes after a younger version of the Black Butcher. That C-list villain ruled a small chunk of territory where Logan lived and was part of the power structure responsible for killing the retired Wolverine's family. In this reality, he hasn't done anything quite so abominable yet. That doesn't matter. Logan's out for blood. And he gets it.
This first issue's interpretation of Wolverine goes back to the transgressive allure that made the character so darkly fascinating when he first appeared years ago. Killing is verboten in standard superheroics and Wolverine was a guy who killed a lot, often without remorse. He largely tended to have palatable justifications for doing so and his don't-give-a-damn attitude was an intriguing counterpoint to less-violent characters like Cyclops and Captain America. But that edgier affect dulled as Wolverine moved in from the fringes and became more ubiquitous and popular. He was still more ornery than average but seemingly less feral. The now-dead Wolverine appeared to have figured out when to let his killer instincts loose.
In Old Man Logan, we have a variant of the same character. This one once gave up fighting and killing, only now to find bloodlust percolating in his veins again. And, tantalisingly, it seems like he may have lost the control that he used to have over being a living weapon of mass destruction. Logan used to embody the big forbidden extrapolation in mainstream superhero morality: a character who used his special abilities to kill. Now, after killing a villain long before he'd committed his worse crime, this Old Logan sidles right back up to a new plateau of taboo. Let's see how long he stays there.