It’s always tempting, when a creator reveals themselves to be a bit of a shit, to look back on their past work and say “ah, I never liked ’em anyway”. This was certainly the case with comic book creator Frank Miller, whose politics took a hard right turn after 9/11 resulting in such works as Holy Terror, initially intended as a Batman story for DC before they dropped it like a hot, extremely Islamaphobic potato. This in turn led to many comics fans deciding that Miller had never been that good or important a comics creator to begin with. And, frankly, that’s not entirely unwarranted. Dodgy politics aside, a lot of Miller’s back catalogue simply hasn’t aged that well. There were always dodgy undercurrents of racism and misogyny in Miller’s work (he wrote origin stories for Batman and Daredevil that both had scenes of the protagonist fighting prostitutes), and knowing the path he went down makes those elements a lot harder to overlook now. Also, whereas Alan Moore (Miller’s contemporary and the creator he is probably most often compared to) brought a real intellectual and emotional richness to the comics genre, Miller’s most successful works were often empty showcases of style over substance. Sin City and 300 are visually striking as all hell. But ultimately, they’re hollow, emotionally stunted things. That said, there is at least one work that I will defend as still holding up (mostly).
The Dark Knight Returns depicts an aged and embittered Bruce Wayne, coming out of retirement to fight the sky-rocketing crime and urban malaise that was such a feature of Reagan’s America. As he becomes increasingly violent and unhinged in his methods, the US Government sends in the only man they think can stop him:
What gives the story its power is the incredible weight of the history of these characters and an overwhelming, almost crushing sense of despair. This, Miller, seems to be saying, is how your heroes will always end; either bitter fanatics who were unable to change, or corrupted, toothless stooges who sold out to a corrupt status quo. This is how the World’s Finest Team ends, two old men beating each other to death in an alley way. And it’s depressing, and it’s cruel but it also feels true. And the inescapable knowledge that all those decades upon decades of stories and triumphs and battles of these, THE two greatest superheroes, that it was all leading to this awful, final confrontation? That’s when the story stops being merely tragic and becomes proper, classical, Tragedy. It’s Twilight of the Gods. It’s Ragnarok. It’s epic as fuck.
And that’s why Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice is fucking terrible.
Sorry, that’s one of VERY MANY reasons why that movie is terrible but I will never, for the life of me, understand why no one twigged that a fight between Batman and Superman means nothing if they don’t even know each other. That’s what gave the final confrontation in DKR its power. The weight of history. The tragedy of watching two men who once loved each other as brothers reduced to this brutal slugfest. All that goes out the window if they’ve just fucking met.
I’m getting there. Okay, with DKR Frank Millar created (possibly?) and popularised (definitely) the stock superhero trope of the Last Story. The Last Story is a tale (almost always out of continuity), that shows you how a certain superhero ends. They are almost always set in a bleak future, and will usually depict the hero coming out of retirement for One Last Job. These stories often will try to serve as a capstone, and a summation of the meaning of that hero. When they work, they work because they are able to deliver the things that most superhero stories by their very nature can’t; climax. Conclusion. Finality. Stakes. Characters can finally die and be at peace without an inevitable resurrection on the horizon. Arcs can be concluded. The story can finally end (at least, in this one corner of continuity). Pretty much every major character you can think of by this point has had a Last Story; Superman, Spider-Man, Punisher and of course, Wolverine, who’s died more times than Kenny McCormack and so has had plenty of opportunity for “Last Stories”. One of these, Old Man Logan was a miniseries that released in 2009 and was written by Mark Millar.
This series sees an aged Wolverine having renounced violence and living in a dystopian future where the villains won and everything’s awful and the Hulk’s an incestous cannibal who fucked his own cousin and spawned a whole tribe of inbred hulk hillbillies and Jesus Christ we made Mark Millar one of the most successful comic writers of the aughts what the fuck were we thinking?
Anyway, apart from both featuring Old Men Named Logan there is actually very little connecting Old Man Logan and the movie that it nominally inspired (thank fuck). Logan arose out of a desire of Hugh Jackman and The Wolverine director James Mangold to do something radically different with the character and genre. That is, after all, the great strength of a Last Story. You get to take some risks.