In comic books, as a rule, superheroes are more or less immortal. They can be killed theoretically, but everyone knows they won’t be, and, in fact, they remain agelessly at their physical peak for decades. Occasionally, as with Superman or Wonder Woman or Thor, agelessness is an actual in-story part of their powers, but in practice it’s just as true of heroes with no powers at all, like Iron Man or Batman, and even of non-supers like Lois Lane, who hasn’t developed a wrinkle since 1938.
A groundbreaking exception to this rule was Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, which stepped out of normal comic-book stretchy time to give us an aging, white-haired Bruce Wayne in a dystopian future coming out of retirement for one last hurrah before going to his grave (in a manner of speaking). In his introduction to The Dark Knight Returns, Alan Moore explains the importance of this move:
The legend of Robin Hood would not be complete without the final blind arrow shot to determine the site of his grave. The Norse Legends would lose much of their power were it not for the knowledge of an eventual Ragnarok, as would the story of Davy Crockett without the existence of an Alamo. In comic books, however, given the commercial fact that a given character will still have to sell to a given audience in ten years’ time, these elements are missing. The characters remain in the perpetual limbo of their mid-to-late twenties, and the presence of death in their world is at best a temporary and reversible phenomenon.
Because actors age much like everyone else, de facto immortal characters like James Bond are often recast after a decade or so, and an actor seldom has the chance to reprise a role more than five or so times. Sometimes, though, a character is so identified with the actor who plays him that recasting is hard to imagine, except with a reboot.
Wolverine — or Logan, or James Howlett — is one of the characters whose immortality has an in-story explanation: Born in the 19th century, his mutant healing power has kept him perpetually at his physical peak. Hugh Jackman, now 48, has played Wolverine for 17 years in nine films (counting cameos), beginning with X-Men in 2000, a film that effectively kicked off the modern era of comic-book films. Patrick Stewart, 76, has played Charles Xavier for the same length of time.
Both actors are still in amazing shape and have defied the years as well as anyone could. (Stewart, bald from his teenaged years, always seemed older than he was, until he really was that old.)
Until now, the X-Men movies have more or less ignored the actors’ aging, but, at last, with Logan, the filmmakers have elected to go The Dark Knight Returns route. So the year is 2029, and time has finally caught up with Logan.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.