Growing up as a kid in the 80s my favorite comic book character was without a doubt Wolverine. Thinking back now it all began after a second grade elementary school friend loaned me the Chris Claremont and Frank Miller Wolverine mini-series to read, after which I was hooked. I remember being so enthralled by the artwork and storyline that I did not want to return the books, but thankfully my sense of morality kicked in getting the best of me.
I don't know what it was that made me gravitate toward this character maybe it was because he was a small guy who never backed down from a fight something that resonated with me being that I was short in stature compared to all my friends. Of course as Hugh Jackman became Wolverine its funny to me that his height requirement changed. Wolverine clearly gained some inches, but it can all be forgiven as Jackman breathed new life into the character. Maybe it was the anti-hero element that appealed to me and how Logan/Wolverine dealt out a harsh form of justice, but only reserved for equally harsh villains. Throughtout my elementary school years before there was any such thing as a Barnes and Noble chain I used to grab my 60 or so cent and go to the local 7-11 to buy my Uncanny X-Men comic book just to catch a glimpse of my favorite character Wolverine. During my teenage years as hormones and puberty kicked in my attention turned to other things, as comics were no longer a priority. It is ironic then now as an adult and a father of two sons, I have returned to my childhood love of comics as I pass this legacy of reading and developing an imagination for wonderment down to them.
In a new twist of fate comic book characters are now cool. When I was growing up reading comic books was a bit on the nerdish side, you never bragged or openly discussed the latest issue of Spiderman or The Avengers. Today all of a sudden comics are the new rage and even though the sales in print are declining crowds are spending millions at the movies. This all leads me to analyzing the latest stand alone Wolverine movie that is simply titled Logan. Logan could easily be considered a masterpiece and is Marvel's must intellectually challenging and politically provocative movie to date. Being that Wolverine or Logan is a subplot of the X-Men, a story that has always been a metaphor for the Civil Rights Movement and Jewish Holocaust; therefore, it is only right that Logan continues to follow the theme of being a symbol for victimized, marginalized, and discriminated groups. if that wasn't enough Logan also tackles the controversial subjects of science and genetics. of course when deciding to cover hot button issues like race, politics, and the future of science the writers of Logan have decided to utilize the tool of allegory allowing their message to be hidden under the surface but at the same time close enough to be detected as it appeals to your subconscious.
You can politically sense where the movie is going as it opens up with a "old man" Logan as a limousine driver on the border of Texas and Mexico, and almost immediately you see anti-immigrant protestors in cowboy hats shouting at immigrants to go home and bragging about those they have killed trying to cross the border. The movie is clearly not afraid to tackle the zeitgeist that catapulted Trump into office with his "build a wall "and "immigrants are criminals" rhetoric.
To counter the anti-immigrant message in the movies opening we are given our first unsung heroine who is a Hispanic woman by the name of Gabriela Lopez played by Elizabeth Rodriguez who acts as a nurse that rescues Logan's daughter Laura from the Transigen Corporation's Weapon 23 program, while at the same time trying to enlist a non respondent Logan for help. In fact Logan's genetic daughter Laura who is also a co-protagonist, fittingly speaks Spanish as another way of countering the anti-immigrant message at the beginning of the film. Of course the antagonist of the movie are a mad scientist by the name of Dr. Zander Rice who clones mutants and turns them into weapons, and his cybernetic mutant hunters known as the Reavers led by Donald Pierce. The Reavers then are symbolic of US Immigration and Custom Enforcement also known as ICE that are known to track down illegal immigrants and deport them.
In Logan much like the immigrants today the mutants are on the run, but this time it is Spanish speaking mutants aided by Spanish speaking nurses. What makes the movie even more brilliant is that it is an allegory doubly wrapped within another allegory. This is realized when an on the run Logan, Laura, and elder mutant Xavier are given a safe refuge by an African-American family known as the Munsons. William and Katheryn Munson are played by Eriq La Salle and Elise Neale. Eriq La Salle may look familiar because he was the jerry curl wearing actor in Eddie Murphy's classic Coming To America. Logan is clever enough to link todays immigration issues and anxieties with slavery and the Underground Railroad.
The Musons and their home act as an underground railroad safe house but instead of rescuing slaves they are providing shelter for Spanish speaking runaway mutants. In fact it has been reported upon the election of Donald Trump and his much stauncher ICE and deportation policy, the Underground Railroad has now returned in the form of groups of pastors like Ada Valiente and the Rapid Response Team also known as RRT. Just like the Underground Railroad of old many members of the RRT have refurbished their homes to provide safety for Illegal Immigrants. In 2017 the RRT has truly become the new Underground Railroad.
At some point naturally the more skeptical folks might say "I got none of that from the movie" my response would be go watch it again. Skepticism may turn into belief once one analyzes William Munson's name. It is my belief that the name William Munson is a combination of the names of two abolitionist William Still and Comegy Munson. William Still is given the nickname "Father of the Underground Railroad" because of the many runaway slaves who he housed in his Philadelphia safe house. Comegy Munson is just as important but much lesser known, as he was a black freemason who worked as a conductor for the Underground Railroad leading runaways to the safety provided at Still's safe house. Movies are known to turn names into metaphors so I'm not surprised that the writers of Logan applied this tool.
Indeed Laura wants to unite with other young mutants from the X-23 program and find safety in a place called Eden. They push their way toward North Dakota before eventually finding sanctuary in Canada. I find it interesting that during the period of slavery in the United States runaways also ran to Canada to find safety from slave catchers(Reavers). Canada became known as a "Promised Land" for freedom. A promotional image for the Logan movie that I used in the title of this article shows a Logan escaping with his daughter Laura in in his arms. The image seems to have been borrowed from an old Uncle Tom's Cabin promotional flyer showing the now famous image of the mulatto slave Eliza escaping across the ice covered Ohio River toward freedom with her child in her arms.
A supposed story about mutants borrowing images from Uncle Tom's Cabin an anti-slavery novel and play written by abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe in order to give the allegory another slavery reference is ingenious. If drawing parallels between runaway mutants, immigrants, and slaves wasn't enough they took on the added challenge of gene manipulation. X-23 is not only the name assigned to Logan's daughter Laura it also is the code name given to the clone program that the scientist at Transigen could not control, so now they want to capture, study, and eliminate their test subjects. X-24 is Transigen's newer and improved clone that is replacing the X-23s. On the face of it X-24 resembles a younger stronger Logan being that it was cloned from Logan's DNA, but the reality is the X-24 is far from perfected and seemingly quite impaired. The X-24 has a rage that can't be controlled as Dr. Rice soon finds out when X-24 murders both targets as well as bystanders alike. It just so happens that William Munson and his family are small independent farmers being pushed off their land by a huge corporation that is planting acres of genetically modified food otherwise known as GMOs. The similarity between the untested X-24 and untested GMOs must not be lost on the audience. Organic food versus genetically modified food is a debate raging on college campuses as well as the internet. The topic was made famous by authors like Michael Pollan and documentaries like Food Inc. that brought attention to companies like Monsanto and products like Roundup Ready. The fear is that just like X-24 was untested and harmful to humans, so too are GMOs. It is argued that GMOs may even cause possible sicknesses in humans, and are even harmful to our fragile ecosystem. For many, genetic engineering may or may not always mean better.
Hats off to writers James Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green who have created a masterpiece, and once again proving to the world that comic book movies and block busters don't always have to be filled with mind numbing Michael Bay like explosions. Comic book movies have the ability to make powerful political statements in a more overt way like for instance Wonder Woman has done and I anticipate the upcoming Black Panther movie will do, or more covertly in the style the X-Men have chosen to use.
They can also be both thoughtful and entertaining at the same time proving they can appeal to a broad range of audiences. Allegory is not to be found in most films to be sure, but its good to see it show up in the X-Men films who always were political since their inception. In the future I hope the X-Men films continue to represent and identify with vulnerable marginalized groups as this was their original intent.
Sean Howe. Marvel Comics The Untold Story. 2012. Harper Perennial.
William Still. The Underground Railroad. 1872.
Steven M. Druker. Alter Genes, Twisted Truth: How The Venture To Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, And Systematically Deceived The Public. 2015. Clear River Press.
Joanna Derby. Everyday Illegal. 2015. University of California Press.