It wasn't long after Deadpool proved itself a box-office smash last year that studios began falling over themselves trying to be the first to let audiences know that they were putting the next great R-rated superhero movie into production. All of a sudden Batman v. Superman was getting an even longer R-rated cut and Fox itself was quick to announce that the next Wolverine movie would also be grimmer and grittier than ever.
Personally, I'm not sure that the rating had anything to do with Deadpool's anomalous levels of success — heck, I'm still not convinced it needed to be R-rated — but I will say that if any of the heroes in Fox's stable can make an R-rated film work, it's Wolverine. While it's easy to avoid directly showing the consequences of Logan's clawed violence through static, stylized artwork, it can come across as lazy or dishonest in live action. A big part of Wolverine's character is realizing the consequences of his violent actions and struggling to be better than them, so having a rating that allows filmmakers to show that violence in all of its intensity and horror seems appropriate.
And Wolverine stories aimed at mature audiences are certainly not unprecedented. While comics lack the clear rating system that movies use, there have been plenty of Wolverine stories over the years that were definitely intended for readers who could vote — or at least drive. So with Fox's Logan ready to pop its claws on March 3, it's the perfect time to tear into the longboxes and find some of the least nice examples of Wolverine doing what he does best.
OLD MAN LOGAN
(Written by Mark Millar, art by Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines and Morry Hollowell)
"Wow, no way, this book is on this list, I never would've seen that com—" Okay, smart guy, so this one is a bit obvious. But that's why it's first. And it's worth pointing out that despite the repeated insistence by the studio that they're using Old Man Logan for inspiration, Logan looks almost nothing like it.
Sure, it's a post-apocalyptic road trip with Wolverine, but that's where the similarities end. None of the same characters, different villain, different setting. The comic book version takes place in an America that's been divvied up between some of the most notorious supervillains in the Marvel Universe, which Wolverine and a blind Hawkeye traverse in order to exact revenge upon a clan of inbred Hulks.
Obviously Fox couldn't do a lot of that, but they could use the set-up. The reason the Old Man Logan universe is the way it is, and why Wolverine hasn't popped his claws in decades? He was tricked by a villain's illusions into killing all of the other X-Men. That would be a ballsy element to keep for the film, and certainly would be something you may not want to let the kiddies see.
(Written by Jason Starr, art by Roland Boschi and various. Cover art by Jock)
Marvel's MAX imprint was the place for mature readers to go if they wanted no-holds-barred violence and dark, unfiltered stories. Writer Garth Ennis spearheaded the line with MAXed-out takes on The Punisher and Nick Fury, and in 2012 they decided to add a third grizzled old soldier to the mix.
Wolverine MAX took the amnesiac and long-living aspects of the character and ran with them, having Logan be the sole survivor of a mysterious plane crash, of which he remembers nothing, not even his own name. His search for answers takes him from Japan to Los Angeles to Las Vegas, where he slowly uncovers the truth of his past and his many troublesome aliases. He also runs afoul of the Yakuza, treacherous pornographers, seductive hypnotists, the F.B.I., and of course, Victor Creed.
In Wolverine MAX, crime novelist Jason Starr takes Wolverine on a harrowing journey of self-discovery that pulls no punches, forcing Logan to confront the blood on his hands in frequently brutal ways.
WOLVERINE: THE END
(Written by Paul Jenkins, art by Claudio Castellini)
Marvel released a number of series in their The End line designed to tell the 'final' stories of their most iconic characters. And who better to tell the last Wolverine story than the guy who'd helped reveal his beginnings in Origin?
Paul Jenkins' story in Wolverine: The End isn't a mature readers book because of its language, inappropriate content or violence — though there’s plenty of that. No, if that's all you’re concerned about, you could probably let a kid read it, though I wouldn't. Because this book is unrelentingly depressing.
We meet a slowly deteriorating 210-year-old Wolverine in the Canadian wilderness, where he's been living as a fur trapper for fifty-or-so years. He's clearly going — or gone — insane, talking out loud to voices in his head, when he receives an invitation to Sabretooth's funeral. He finds a series of 'clues' that he blames on Weapon X in his sad paranoid ramblings, but ultimately he's proven wrong and runs into a strange man atop a snowy Japanese mountain who claims to be his older brother. It's all rather bizarre and, as I said, incredibly depressing. Grim alternate futures are never kind to Wolverine, but this one has nothing to offer him — or his readers — but hopelessness.
WOLVERINE/BLACK CAT: CLAWS
(Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, art by Joe Linsner and Jason Keith)
Bored and annoyed with one Marvel icon, Felicia Hardy, aka the Black Cat, trades in thwip for snikt in this delightfully kooky miniseries. It starts when Black Cat and Wolverine are gassed and both wake up on a tropical island in cages, about to be used as bait for a 'most dangerous game' hunt for some sadistic sportsmen led by a man claiming to be Kraven the Hunter. But all is not as it seems, and before they're able to escape, the duo will have to evade an erupting volcano, giant robots and a sea-monster, among other things.
This is a really funny and salacious story, with two of Marvel's biggest sex symbols alternating between wanting to kill each other and flirting, and often both at the same time. There's innuendo and double entendre throughout, which is unsurprising, considering it came from one of the writers of DC's current hit Harley Quinn series, where Palmiotti has continued to hone the same style of humor. The first Claws series was something of a cult favorite, and the creative team returned for Claws II five years later in 2011, which saw the pair sent to a War of the Worlds-style alien-ravaged future to team up with Killraven.
(Written and drawn by Tsutomu Nihei)
In the introduction I mentioned how comic books can get away with portrayals of violence by stylizing them in ways that would definitely require an R-rating in live action. That's something that American comics certainly utilize, but nowhere near as much as Japanese manga. So, in 2003, when renowned mangaka Tsutomu Nihei — best known for his work on series like Knights of Sidonia — got his claws on Marvel's least-merry mutant, he used this technique and cranked it up to eleven.
Wolverine: Snikt! was a five-issue miniseries that saw Logan suddenly and unwillingly transported to the year 2058 by a young mutant named Fusa. There he is immediately confronted by the huge, terrifying and seemingly unkillable techno-organic monstrosities that have overrun this future world. He soon joins up with the resistance that Fusa recruited him for and they fill him in on the history of the monsters, which is a mutant disease known as the Mandate, and hatch a plan to take the fight to the queen of their colony, called the Progenitor. The enemies are increasingly titanic and terrible as the story goes on and the intensity of the action gets more and more over-the-top, which is an absolute must-read for any manga and X-Men fan.
(Written by Stuart Moore, art by C.P. Smith and Rain Beredo)
Just about everyone got the noir treatment from Marvel in 2009 and 2010 with miniseries for Iron Man, Luke Cage, Daredevil, Spider-Man and more, but none were bloodier than Wolverine Noir.
Set in New York City in 1937, this version of Logan is no mutant. He's a detective, along with his dimwitted brother Dog, for his own P.I. agency, Logan & Logan. Thanks to their childhood gardener, Logan was trained as an expert knife fighter at a young age, a skill which would prove useful and tragic in equal measure. When a dame named Mariko walks in his door, Logan is immediately intrigued and tries to help her with her case, but things quickly spiral out of his control when his brother goes missing, he's beaten senseless by a gym owner named Creed and the ghosts of his past come back to haunt him.
This series doesn't shy away from showing the bloody results of Logan's many bouts with gorgeously moody artwork that's drenched in shadows, grime and gore.
(Written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Eduardo Risso and Dean White)
The writer of Saga and the artist of 100 Bullets should tell you right away that this story is going to be a punch in the gut. But don't worry, it'll grow back.
Logan doesn't have anything to do with the upcoming film aside from its title, but it's certainly worth your valuable reading time nonetheless. Part of the Marvel Knights imprint, this story was about the inability to forget, the echoes that never die and the horrors of war. Logan returns to Hiroshima, Japan in the modern day, where he encounters a fiery phantom that ignites his memory of the time he spent there years before. He flashes back to his escape from a Japanese prison camp in World War II and to the woman who bravely helped him hide from his captors ... and who he fell in love with. As so many Wolverine stories do, it ends in tragedy and loss, but in the modern day, Logan is given a chance to confront his demons and put them to rest. A short but beautifully somber tale from two modern comic book masters.
Did we miss your favorite mature-reader stories about everyone's favorite hairy Canadian? How do you feel about R-rated superhero films? Take a stab at us in the comments below!