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A key moment from the new Logan trailer isn’t as surprising as viewers might think.
For many, the sight of the former Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) picking up an X-Men comic book and dismissing it by saying, “Maybe a quarter of it happened, and not like this,” was a highlight of the new trailer … but the idea of superheroes reading comics about themselves (and not being impressed by the results) has been a strange and wonderful part of Marvel’s comic book universe for more than 50 years.
The concept of comic books about Marvel’s superheroes existing in the same universe as the superheroes themselves was first floated as early as 1963’s Fantastic Four No. 10. In that issue, “The Return of Doctor Doom!,” Stan Lee and Jack Kirby make an appearance — although their faces are continually obscured — only to be confronted by Doctor Doom himself. Neither Doom nor the Fantastic Four appear to be fans of their creators, however; indeed, the Thing calls them goons and complains about the way he comes across in the comics.
The following issue would show that Lee and Kirby’s work was well-received; “A Visit With the Fantastic Four” opens up with crowds lining up at newsstands to buy copies, with even the actual FF left bereft. “Hmmm, looks as though we’ll have to wait out turn to get the latest issue!” Mr. Fantastic comments.
Despite initially appearing as a gimmick, the idea of in-universe comics proved to have legs. Various Marvel writers and artists would pop up again in the pages of their work — including Lee and Kirby being denied admission to Mr. Fantastic’s marriage to the Invisible Girl in 1965’s Fantastic Four Annual No. 3, and then being beaten up by supervillains angry about their treatment in 1967’s Fantastic Four Annual No. 5 and, in 1976’s Fantastic Four No. 176, it was decided that the comic book creators of the Marvel universe weren’t just making up their stories, but reporting them, with occasional input from the superheroes themselves.
Later that same year, Nova No. 5 expanded on that idea, showing the new superhero meeting with the Marvel team to try out for his own comic book. “I’d like to know one thing before I go through with this,” he asks at one point. “If they make a comic book out of me, do I have to conform to the Comics Code? I mean, do they allow dating and necking and such?” (The response, courtesy of artist Sal Buscema: “Don’t worry, Nova. I’ll leave out the you-know-whats, and throw in another fight or two.”)
The self-referentiality would reach new heights in the 1980s, when writer/artist John Byrne would write himself into the protagonist role of Fantastic Four No. 262 (1984), quickly followed a year later by Captain America — in his civilian guise as Steve Rogers, of course — working for Marvel Comics as the artist on his own comic book. He was hired in 1985’s Captain America No. 311, and the job lasted a surprisingly long time. Well, perhaps it wasn’t that surprising — after all, what could feed comic creators’ egos more than seeing themselves as superheroes?
Not every superhero would get this kind of access to the Marvel offices, however. In 2000, the real-life Marvel published a line of comics under the banner Marvels Comic Group. These titles, which were intended to be the comic books as published in the Marvel universe itself, reimagined characters such as Daredevil, Spider-Man and the X-Men as they might be by writers and artists unaware of the private lives of such celebrities. The result was a mix of what “really” happened and what was invented to fill in the blanks, and strayed far from the canon faithful readers were familiar with.
In recent years, this kind of in-universe comic cameoing has dropped off considerably — in the comic books themselves, at least. However, the Logan scene isn’t the first time a character has interacted with his own comic book self on the big screen: 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger featured a scene of excited kids reading Cap’s comic book as part of the propaganda push centered on the hero. No matter what the medium, it seems that comics and superheroes are destined to stay together, even if they aren’t able to tell the full story of what “really” happened.
Here’s the trailer. Watch it in a new light:
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