WARNING: SPOILERS FOR LOGAN AHEAD.
In an era of bombastic superhero team-ups and larger-than-life stakes, director James Mangold took a risk with Logan by making it up close and personal. There are no aliens, no spandex costumes, no third-act portal to close and save the world. There aren’t even any cameos (unless future viewings reveal the parentage of some of the other children in the X-23 project within the files). But despite all that, Mangold managed to hide so much lore about the 2029 state of affairs in regards to mutant-kind in plain sight. It’s just that Logan (Hugh Jackman) had enough going on. He didn’t care about the rest of the mutants in the world, so the movie didn’t either.
But someone out there in a world controlled by gene therapy in food and militarized mutant children does care about the remnants of humanity’s next evolutionary leap. The clues are practically written out in a neon trail of breadcrumbs, all of which could point towards the future of the X-Men franchise. Even if Charles (Patrick Stewart) accidentally killed some of the X-Men, there were surely some who survived if only by virtue or not being in the vicinity. And now it looks like they’ve set up an underground railroad criss-crossing North America. Only instead of helping slaves reach freedom in Canada, the conductors now shepherd mutants.
When Logan first meets Laura (Dafne Keen) she is in the care of her nurse/surrogate mother Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez). It’s through Gabriela that Logan and the audience learn how Laura and the rest of her peers came to exist. It is Gabriela’s bravery that records the inhuman experiments done in the name “intellectual property” and the tenacity of her and the other nurses that frees the children before they can be disposed of for being found defective. But Gabriela and her co-workers did not free the children in a vacuum. Somewhere, mysterious benefactors promised the children safety if only they could reach the designated location in time. A location hidden within the confines of an old X-Men comic book.
What was the purpose of such a meta-commentary as having Logan exist within a world where X-Men comics are bestsellers? On the surface, it was a way of engaging with the audience. Yes, Fox knows their continuity looks like a toddler threw spaghetti on the floor. But as Logan says while rifling through the pages of Laura’s comic, “Maybe a quarter of it happened, and not like this.” Logan imagines that Eden is merely a place Gabriela concocted to give Laura — and the other children — hope, simply a place torn from the pages of a fictional story. But once Logan and Laura arrive at the coordinates, it turns out Eden does exist. Just “not like that” as Wolverine so eloquently put it earlier. Eden isn’t a shining beacon of glass and chrome safety but a handful of shacks and a two-way radio to communicate with whoever is helping these mutants get safely across the Canadian border. But to people who have been on the run? Those shacks must look like the best, shiniest thing in the world.
So here we have an underground railroad advertised in plain sight with X-Men comics, but to what purpose? After all, Logan explains mutants no longer exist. The genetic marker has been silence through the introduction of gene therapy to the food people eat and the things they drink. Yet throughout the film, both Logan and Laura consume these products with no ill effect. It stands to reason then that, should a mutant be born, it’s too late for the government to “turn them off.” And while it’s a great one-liner for the villainous Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant) to sprout, there are surely pockets of civilization left in America and across the world that do not consume genetically modified food. Even if there aren’t life finds a way. And when a child wakes up one day with the ability to shape metal, or read thoughts, or with scales, what would they do? Turn to X-Men comics for answers about their new condition, comics that are laced with secret codes about how to reach safety before the government takes them away and/or kills them.