Wastelanders is a tough sell. It’s a collection of one-shots based off of a podcast, which is based off multiple spin-off maxi-series, which are spun from a spin-off series that is a quasi-continuation of a 14-year old seven issue story arc. Only in comic books can such a complicated ideation process exist — and work. Wastelanders is a lovely collection of fast and fun stories that add extra flair to the Old Man universe without getting lost trying to be more epic or self-aggrandizing than necessary.
Each story — following post-apocalyptic versions of Wolverine, Hawkeye, Star Lord, Doom, and Black Widow — takes place in varying points within the “Old Man” timeline. Each story serves as either an epilogue or a prologue to each character’s respective appearances in other series, so your enjoyment of these series will likely depend on how much you liked the preceding stories. As someone who has enjoyed the “Old Man” stories I’ve read, I was surprisingly happy with each little anecdote these one-shots provided. Let’s break them down one-by-one:
Written by Steven S. DeKnight
Drawn by Ibrahim Moustafa
Colored by Neeraj Menon
Kicking things off with the “Old Man” character that started it all, DeKnight and Moustafa’s Wolverine tale feels most like an epilogue to Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s beloved Old Man Logan arc from 2009. Logan has defeated Bruce Banner’s cannibalistic Hulk clan and now wanders the wastelands with a newfound sense of purpose — fathering the last remaining Banner baby. Though this might sound like the premise to a slow paced, contemplative story, this is actually an action-packed 22 pages that lets Wolverine do what he does best.
Moustafa does a great job illustrating Wolverine’s signature carnage, with limbs lopped off and blood spurting across panels. The action is simple yet frenetic, easy to follow and just plain fun. The action sequences are interspersed with moments of calm that see Logan pondering his new role — and whether he was even right to let this last Banner live. These moments add a little seriousness to an otherwise action-packed story, but never feel self-serving or distracting. Really, my only complaint with this story is that the big final fight revives Bruce Banner, which feels like it dilutes parts of Millar and McNiven’s story. Otherwise, it’s a satisfying and somewhat emotional epilogue to the 2009 epic.
Written by Ethan Sacks
Drawn by Ibraim Roberson
Colored by Dijjo Lima
Sacks returns to Old Man Hawkeye after his wonderful 2018 maxi-series, telling a tale with Roberson that explores the time between the 2018 series and 2009’s Old Man Logan. So, it is both an epilogue and prologue — fitting for this universe. Like the Wolverine story before it, this one-shot focuses on more style than substance with more action than anything else. When the action is as well paced and illustrated as it is here, though, that is absolutely welcome.
One thing this story brings that Wolverine’s is absolutely missing is a sense of humor. We all know Clint Barton is a bit of a jokester, and that doesn’t change even after the villains win and Clint loses his sight. The humor never dilutes the action nor comes off heavy-handed; instead, it offers levity to an otherwise dark and dreary world. Even the overall plot, which sees Clint infiltrate a Hand stronghold to deliver a surprise anniversary gift to Elektra on behalf of Daredevil (now going by Stick), is a funny bait-and-switch that works despite how dark these stories tend to be. Really, no complaints on this one.
Written by Richard Douek
Drawn by Brent Peeples
Colored by Cris Peter
This one is for all you Star-Lord/Kitty Pryde stans out there — all 17 of us. Douek and Peeples tell an epilogue story that finds Peter Quill making a pilgrimage to the ruins of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters so he might say a final goodbye to his ex-girlfriend. I loved the Peter/Kitty dynamic, so this was a real treat for me. But, if you’re one of the many people who is indifferent towards their short-lived tryst, you might not be affected by this story at all.
Unlike the first two stories in this trade, there is little to no action in Star-Lord’s tale. Instead, it’s a contemplative journey that allows Peter to reckon with the death of so many of his friends and, ultimately, try to further mend his broken psyche. Unfortunately, the reveal that closes out this story — that Peter isn’t suffering from another psychotic breakdown, but being toyed with by the Shadow King — does undercut the reflection that precedes it. Rather than show Peter truly grieving and healing, the story dissolves into a more typical comic book story with a psychic master messing with the hero. It’s a trope that is well executed in this story, but a trope nonetheless.
Written by Torunn Gronbekk
Drawn by Julius Ohta
Colored by Bryan Valenza
This story gets off to a rocky start with some clunky dialogue that feels just a bit like it’s trying too hard to be edgy and a pretty forgettable action scene that feels like a poor Mad Max ripoff. However, Gronbekk and Ohta quickly introduce the reader to an intriguing oasis in the wasteland where things are shockingly serene. So serene, that even the mighty Dr. Doom is unsettled.
The story has a general horror feel to it, but seems to hold back from going into a full horror story. Though what ends up being given is still somewhat entertaining thanks to the overall mystery surrounding this hidden paradise and the light Twin Peaks vibes, it feels like Gronbekk and Ohta are needlessly holding back from what could’ve been a fun horror story that takes the indomitable Doom though his most cherished memories and strips him of them. Instead, Doom prevails, is typically condescending, and the story ends. Easily the weak link of these stories, but still not bad.
Wastelanders: Black Widow
Written by Steven S. DeKnight
Drawn by Well-Bee
Colored by Mattia Iacono
Closing things out is another story from DeKnight, this time with Well-Bee on art and Black Widow taking center stage. Well-Bee’s art is perfect for this story, a darker tale that helps showcase how much the apocalypse has transformed Yelena Belova into a new, more ruthless Black Widow. Intercutting moments of a jailbreak in the present with reflections on transformative moments that changed Yelena, DeKnight and Well-Bee do a tremendous job showing how much Yelena has changed in just 22 pages.
Like the first two stories, there’s a lot of action here that moves the issue along nicely. What is particularly fun, though, is how the action sometimes abruptly interrupts Yelena’s memories. Typically that might feel jarring to the reader, but in this case these interruptions actually help immerse the reader more in the story. This is a surprisingly dour story that will have you questioning the morality of Yelena Belova’s Black Widow, but it’s an engaging, fun, and fast read nonetheless.
None of the stories will upset the status quo of the “Old Man” universe — and that is absolutely okay. Instead, almost every story serves as a fast but enjoyable epilogue or prologue that further fleshes out this popular little pocket universe. I’m not sure if we need any more full series set in the villain-ruled apocalypse, but I’d be happy to dive into more one-shot stories like these.
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