With X-Men Origins: Wolverine almost ready to hit screens (and making waves today because of a leaked workprint version that’s hit the torrent sites) I took the opportunity to finally buy my own copy of “Origin”. Originally a miniseries by Paul Jenkins and Andy Kubert, published in 2001, the book has been retitled “Wolverine: Origin” to tie in with the film. That’s not all that’s changed though – it’s been 8 years since the button was pushed. Is it still relevant?
In 2001, the idea of telling Wolverine’s definitive origin was considered almost sacrilege by most. And yet, in choosing to tell the story, Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas actually managed to predict the way the wind was blowing. The reasoning, laid down in one of several text pieces the TPB contains, was that Marvel wanted to tell the origin before the movies made it up for them. The story went through many revisions, and if you read some of the proposals that didn’t get made (again, included in the TPB) it’s almost worrying how close they came to screwing it up. Wolverine born in Detroit to a poor working class family? Er, no. Just no.
The story they did tell, however, managed to hit all the right notes. The best evidence that they got it right at all is that 8 years on, the origin has been accepted as part the character’s backstory, without anyone trying to undo or revise it – “Spider-Man: Chapter One”, which merely revised an existing origin, barely lasted 12 months. The success of Wolverine’s origin is that, at its core, it’s is a period-drama love story set in Canada in the 1800s. Stand-alone enough to be iconic, but informing the character just enough to be relevant to his future – even if he doesn’t remember it (which, sometimes, he doesn’t.)
Wolverine, as a character, is far greater than his role in the X-Men, so it’s fitting he has an origin that outstrips the simple “he’s a mutant” beginning that many X-characters can get away with. If there’s any problem with the story, it’s that it’s almost TOO specific. You find out who Wolverine really is, and where he came from – that’s fair enough. You also find out why he says “bub”, why he likes cigars, why he’s into redheads, and all that stuff that, really, didn’t necessarily need to be explained. The story downplays these elements enough to get away with it.
The writing is fairly straightforward, concentrating on telling a good, emotionally engaging story without getting too fancy, and it stands the test of time because of it. Likewise, the art is fantastic – Kubert is arguably one of Wolverine’s defining artists, and it takes someone who can do subtle storytelling to make a series like this work. It’s as close to perfect as a Wolverine origin ever could be, and although Wolverine is almost literally becoming synonymous with “overexposed” right now, if you find yourself wanting to read a classic, individual Wolverine story that stands out from the crowd, there’s no better place to look than here.
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