Claremont & Byrne, Uncanny X-Men, 1979

Claremont & Byrne, Uncanny X-Men, 1979

The film Logan moved me emotionally, because everything about it was wrong. I don’t mean contrary to canon; I don’t mean, “He would never do that; how dare they.” Everything in Logan was wrong in that everything happening was something that, should he do it, would make him unhappy. This is the darkest timeline–everything was “wrong” in how miserable it told me he was, must be, would have to be to exist as both the Logan I know and the Logan I was viewing.

I say “the Logan I know.” I have read a lot of X-Men and spent formative six-year-old Saturdays watching the X-Men and, whilst I consider “the X-Men” of my personal definition to comprise the comic books published between 1964 and 1994 and the animated series which ran from 1992 to 1996, which is not the entirety of the published canon; I have read more than that, and even if I hadn’t, the point is that experiencing the stories about this character has built for me a very comprehensible construct, a scaffold of behaviour and values that both makes sense to me as in “seems coherent” and implies a humane persona, which provides personal comfort, allegory, and example.

“Logan, the mutant known as Wolverine” has been well enough made that I know the maths of his emotional stance. Logan, the film, was well enough made that the things which were “wrong” (violence, abandonment, abuse, betrayal) were taken seriously by its narrative, validated as “real happenings,” which were subject to my own moral appraisal rather than simply the furniture of entertainment. My dual perspectives as a knower of Logan and a viewer of Logan were able to coexist, combine, and cause the sum of these parts to be a multiplication: something has gone wrong, so wrong, and Logan is living against his own heart.

The strength of this character as he has been cartooned in comic books and animated in cartoons lies in the fact that living against his own heart is something he has been proven to do. Which makes one thing very obvious: his heart is present, and it’s visible. Wolverine is a character defined by strength, yes, but the strength that makes him valuable to a reader and to a teammate is not the strength of lifting or hitting, but the strength it takes to live with oneself, to live by principle.

Logan is able to hold himself to standards that don’t agree with his entire nature and to integrate his mistakes into his present life in honour of those he wronged or in honour of the existence of wrongness (which by its nature amplifies the existence of rightness), and to keep living the best possible life he can achieve within his best possible community. Logan habitually makes the best of things; he practices self care and self reflection as an individual and as a part of his local (physically local or intimately local; he may be away from someone, but their proximity to his heart impacts his decision-making and his accounting of consequences) social ecosystem. He sees himself as a mediating force, a cushion for or a guide through the uglier facts of life. If Logan hurts somebody, it’s in defence of an innocent, whether that innocent would have been cut or been forced to do the cutting should he have been elsewhere. If he lets you do the cutting it’s to keep you strong in a way that running from the edge would have stolen from you.

Logan wants to help you be strong and true; if he cannot save you before your trauma happens, he will stick around and teach you to save yourself afterwards. He is not a religious character, but the violent and the hurtful things he has done and is prepared to do in necessity lie upon him like sins lie upon the pious, and he carries them like the humble, like the saintly. He knows they are there, but to continue with their presence is his duty. Logan’s strength is visible in the visibility of his vulnerability, in how his emotional story is told in response to decisions he makes according to codes he submits to, in how he perceives the deadness of death and the stopping of bucks. He is a very, very sensitive man, and from his first appearance in 1975 to his first mentorship in 1980, to his second in 1989, to the death of his fiancé in 1992, and to his abandonment of the Mansion and the team in 1994 after the removal of his adamantium, the revelation of this sensitivity is the quality of the character, the selling point, the germ at the centre of the marketability of this knife-handed hardman wearing yellow tights and a five inch wide red belt.

I see Logan cutting up men who shot him for his car tires, and I know he wouldn’t give himself a pass. I see the sickness and the shock from waking and the affront at being (attempted) murdered, I empathise with a volatile response to these things, and I know he would not class those as mitigating. He would know why he did it, why he cut them all up, but he would rue that he did it. He would rue that men shot him for tyres. He would rue the way of the world. It’s true that I had already finished my cinema wine, but the wrong ways in which Logan was living by the first scene of Logan…that was when I started to cry. This isn’t what he wanted. This is a version of himself he feared.

I cried because I was sad for him, and I cried in recognition of the gift that has been given to me, this gruff and tender structure of values and behaviour. I cried because I knew him, and I cried because I knew him. In the dark and in the plush cinema chair I understood how precious it is to have non-religious scripture in a format very similar to Socratic dialogues (character, character allows your imagination, as well as components of the actual text to interact and interrogate), to have ethical practice and philosophical challenge delivered in the form of adventure and costume and big hair and romance, and fate-of-the-world fun. I understood that I am lucky, to have found such a vibrant interface so young, and for my good use of it to have lasted so long.

Wolverine comforts Jubilee after the death of a child, her friend, in 1993

More: When Logan walked away from a woman who wanted help and she cried PLEASE! When he didn’t stop and return. Why are you hurting yourself this way Logan? What has happened to your life? I wasn’t watching this film externally, to see if it was a good whole. I was watching it emotionally, cathartically. It was that rare adaptation that allows one’s entire history with the product to become the keys of a piano and personal experience of the film to be a song. Narrative, but not narrative. Symbolic, allegorical, aromatic, figurative, I think, might be the word. And that’s good, because there were surely some problems with the literal product. Why introduce a nice black family only to kill them? Why use that weird blue liquid for a last hurrah instead of magneto, who can then expire along with his era? Why should Logan die instead of take care of his daughter and mentor this new generation through their trauma? Why this, why that, etc.?

The why that was stimulating my emotional response, “Why is Logan making all these hateful choices,” is answered in the only way it should be. Logan is true to Logan: he did it all because of love. The second, entirely controlled Logan, “Dark Logan” if you like, negaLogan with his short hair, black vest and CM Punk frown–him, I did not mind, because his likeness to the protagonist cancelled out his presence. He really was a “nega” Logan, although negated rather than negative. He was there because that’s what happens at that point in films, and by recasting Hugh Jackman in the secondary role this “character” was allowed to become Lorem Ipsum, effectively functioning entirely as a placeholder, an obligatory structural matter which allows the gist of the composition to register for the onlooker without distraction or over-development.

The L1000 was there to be A Threat and A Disruption and it was there to reveal the bond between Xavier and Logan, which was love. Pure, absolute, idealised love, the embodiment of Xavier’s dream and the nature of the Wolverine. When Xavier is stabbed by the lookalike and Laura is taken, Logan goes to Xavier instead of going to Laura. Now, Wolverine mentors girls; that’s what he does. This was quite rightfully the final wrongness before the reason for that wrong came as revelation. Because what he does is mentor girls, but what he is is a man who sacrifices pride for best expression of love.

Claremont’s Wolverine spent the 1980s staying away from his true love Mariko because he accepted the social boundaries first he and then she needed to diplomatically traverse before their love could bloom in best faith. Xavier, wounded, lies in bed maybe dying. Logan goes to him: it wasn’t me. It wasn’t me. And it isn’t excuse, but absolution. Logan’s absolute priority is to tell this man whom he loves that he would never do that to him. He would never betray or punish him. He didn’t do it, because he wouldn’t do it, because he doesn’t blame him. Logan didn’t do it because Charles Xavier didn’t do it.

What we know about “what happened” is that Charles Xavier’s mutant brain became ill and, in its telepathic power, became dangerous. His powerful illness killed the X-Men. Logan dedicated his entire, finite-after-all life to the active forgiveness and protection of the man who killed all of his other friends and loved ones. Because it wasn’t his fault! He didn’t do it. Mutants aren’t to blame for the negative symptoms of mutancy. Xavier was a cantankerous old weapon, in the colloquial sense. “Dear Chuck, Lighten up. Yer ol’ pal, Logan.” But treat him like a weapon for his tragedy? That’s too cruel. Logan will look after him. Logan will keep him safe. Logan will love him enough to hate himself for the way he has to live to do so.

Love. Who needs it?

Me. Logan. You.

Wolverine lives and dies (he wishes) by love, and Logan allowed it to be so. On that front, I am satisfied. I have seen the darkest timeline, and it was worth it. Heroes die. Love doesn’t.