Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Wolverine Savaged: Why Origin Is The Worst Wolverine Book Ever


Batman has an amazing origin story - the Mark of Zorro, the mugging in Crime Alley, the pearls falling onto the street, the young boy stood crushed between his two dead parents. Later as a young man the bat comes crashing through the window of Wayne Manor and he finds the symbol he must become. Spider-man has a great origin too with the death of Uncle Ben tying into the message of with great power comes great responsibility, a credo that is central to the character. Superman’s origin is so extraordinary and iconic it gets retold again and again - in the last decade alone there have been numerous retellings in Birthright, Secret Origin, Earth One.

Wolverine should have a great origin too, right, something suitably memorable and as powerful? He is among the greatest superheroes ever created and is extremely popular with readers, starring in at least 3 series being published at any one time, and he’s known beyond the comics from the many successful X-Men movies where he’s played by Hugh Jackman. The character should have an epic backstory to explain how he became who he is.

No. No, he doesn’t. At least not if this book - Origin - is anything to go by. Origin is a creative abortion.

The scene opens with a young redheaded girl sat next to an older man with mutton chops, the pair seated in a hansom cab being led by a pair of horses, their dress and vehicle of choice already dating this story beyond the 20th century, to the 19th. The girl is called Rose.

Rose is essentially the main character of this Wolverine origin story. Who is Rose, you ask? She’s a recently orphaned girl who’s been sent to the Howlett Estate to be a companion to young Master James (Wolverine). She’s our narrator and is basically a surrogate mother/big sister/best friend/love interest to James – no wonder he’s screwed up with that kind of confusing relationship being his most primary in his formative years! Plus as she’s a redhead it establishes Wolverine’s “type” as in later years he’ll fall for another redhead, Jean Grey. But if you’re wondering why we never hear from Rose beyond this book, it’s because she dies at the end in the most contrived, stupid way imaginable – but more on that later.

Continuing the trend of new terrible characters, we’re introduced to the groundskeeper of the Howlett Estate, Thomas Logan and his son who is referred to colloquially as “Dog” Logan. Thomas looks exactly like Wolverine does as an adult which immediately makes you wary of James’ real parentage – is it John Howlett or is it this surly beast? In Thomas’ introductory panel he’s also holding a pair of gardening shears, thus completing the Wolverine-esque imagery.

Thomas is a dick, plain and simple. Angry all the time, he’s always drunk, he beats his son, Dog, and has a massive chip on his shoulder in terms of class – he’s downtrodden poor (he does live in a shed with his son) while John and his family live in a mansion. Dog on the other hand looks and behaves identically to Huck Finn, wearing dungarees, a straw hat, with a piece of corn sticking out of his sly, grinning mug. Huck’s dad also beat him.

But maybe the worst character in the book – and this book has nothing but bad characters – is, ironically, Wolverine himself, or James Howlett as he called here. James is first introduced wearing a blouse with a bow tie and a big guile-less smile on his face as he chases after a hoop (the hottest 19th century toy) and then at bedtime he’s wearing onesie footed pyjamas (which I’m pretty sure weren’t around in the 19th century) surrounded by stuffed toys. As if to complete the humiliation, Wolverine as a sickly child (geddit – because later when his healing factor kicks in it makes him impervious to illness!) has a speech impediment: “Can I have my hoop back, pwease?” and “La la la, I love Wose!”. I’m not sure why we had to see all of this as it doesn’t help us understand the character anymore and doesn’t provide any insight, it seems to be there as a weak visual gag (“Can you believe Wolverine was such a wuss?! LOL”) – but this lack of insight into the character will be a running complaint with this origin book.

So the setup so far is: John Howlett is a rich industrialist with a crazy wife (driven mad with grief after losing James’ brother at an early age of an unknown malady) who probably had an affair with the groundskeeper (DH Lawrence style) Thomas Logan, and produced James Howlett, a sickly but cheerful kid with no friends because of his family’s enormous wealth and geographical location – their massive estate is built in the middle of nowhere, Alberta, Canada as the country is being settled. Rose is his slightly older companion, and their other friend is Dog Logan, an abused young boy who grows resentful of the differences he sees between his life and James’. Does anyone feel that this origin has become wildly convoluted at this point? Spiderman didn’t have to go through this much nonsense. But wait, it gets even more complicated!

James gets a puppy for Christmas and Rose mentions in her diary (the clunky narrative device used throughout) that she doesn’t know what James would do if the puppy was hurt – he’d probably lose his sanity, he loves the darn cute little thing so much. Which is as big a signpost as you can get to say the puppy is dead meat - which of course happens! This book is ridiculously predictable. Dog Logan and James get into a fight, over the dreary but pretty Rose, the puppy tries to help James by biting Dog and Dog gets his knife out and slits the puppy’s throat. This is the last straw in a series of alarming incidents from Dog and John fires Thomas Logan and Dog, telling them to leave his property forever.

This is the impetus to move the story away from this boring estate and out into the Canadian wilderness. Thomas and Dog take up arms and manage to break into the mansion to steal as much cash as they can before escaping forever. The plan isn’t really a plan but then we’re not dealing with a couple of brainboxes so whatever. Somehow their non-plan goes wrong! John shows up, yelling for Thomas to leave, Thomas shoots him in the face just as James sleepily wanders in. The trauma is the trigger for his mutation and he rushes at Thomas in a fury seemingly punching him in the gut, only for the pull out to reveal James’ bone claws have popped and stabbed Thomas to death. Dog is scarred across the face by James and James’ mother screeches at James to leave as he’s a “beast”. Though why she’s angry is unknown – didn’t he just avenge her husband/his father’s death? But again its implied that she truly loved Thomas and that Thomas was really James’ dad. Either way, it’s a really confusing scene that’s got no emotional weight to it, despite the finale being James making the funniest sound I’ve read in comics ever: “NNAHHHHWWW!” as he kneels, bone claws protruding from his hands. And then James’ crazy mother kills herself.

I will give the book this one thing: James’ crazy mother’s suicide is a truly chilling panel. She has this blank eyed-stare looking straight at the reader with a faint smile about her lips as she holds the shotgun up to her head, murmuring “it’s not going to hurt”. Damn! That is a haunting look – well done, Andy Kubert.

From there, Rose rushes out after James and the two hide out in a barn where he’s developed short-term amnesia, forgetting what just happened and beginning a tradition of this character forgetting who he is and the events in his life. Meanwhile the dumbest police in the world show up and here’s what they see: John Howlett, a wealthy industrialist, his dead wife, a dead groundskeeper obviously poor, holding a gun, his scruffy and violent son also holding a gun and clutching his mauled face. Also, earlier that day when Thomas Logan had been fired, he’d shouted, in front of several witnesses, “I’ll get you, hear me? The whole lot o’ you! I’ll make you pay!”. So what would your conclusion be? Dog tells the policemen that it was Rose – a young teen girl with no experience of or access to firearms and no motivation for senseless killing, who was responsible for all of this mess. Rose. AND THEY BELIEVE HER!!!

This means Rose and James (who’s changing by the page – his healing factor has kicked in now and he’s somehow lost his speech impediment) are now wanted fugitives. But I don’t know why they’re worried: if the police are stupid enough to believe Dog’s insanely improbable story that Rose somehow caused the multiple homicides and abducted young James, I doubt they’d possess the mental capacity required to organise a hunt for a wanted person. But on the run they go, just because that’s what the plot requires - not because it makes sense - from Alberta to even more isolated and rural British Columbia.

Here is where James Howlett completes his transformation into the Logan/Wolverine we know, in the most idiotic, contrived sequence ever written. Rose and James wind up in a camp where they decide to hole up. The camp leader – Smitty – challenges them, demanding to know their names. And this is where James Howlett becomes Logan – because Rose simply states to Smitty that James is called Logan. That’s it. The “great mystery” over his name, revealed! Bear in mind that if she had simply told him James, that it would’ve been accepted without question as well. But James is on the run, you say – well, kind of, yes, but James is a pretty common name, no? It’s not like Smitty was asking for a surname as well, so why wouldn’t Rose go with simply James? Plus there’s no evidence of any police presence or a manhunt so why feel the need to change his name? Most likely these bumpkins have never heard of the Howlett murders. Also, Logan is a much less common first name, so would’ve actually worked against them, especially as that’s the name of the murdered man back in Alberta the police are currently investigating! Does she have no imagination – were the choices just James or Logan? Plus, giving James the name of his father’s murderer? What a slap in the face to James! And why didn’t he simply reject it after he left the camp instead of keep it?

Next, for whatever reason, the newly christened Logan becomes a hunter – he just develops that skill – and learns to drink and smoke cigars like the other frontiersmen that live in the camp. He also learns to fight when the camp cook – imaginatively named Cookie – decides to pick on Logan, just because Cookie’s a dick. The other men of the camp also use words like “knucklehead” and “bub” which Logan adopts, so that’s why he talks like that!

If the puppy’s death earlier in the book was predictable as hell, Cookie beating up Logan repeatedly is an easily predicted resolution – d’you think Logan beats up Cookie by the end of the book? He sure does. Yawn. Where’s the imagination, eh?

The nonsense starts coming thick and fast at this point – Logan runs off upset into the woods after being saved from another beating by Cookie, and runs into some wolves. They stare at one another and more wolves show up, surrounding Logan. Logan passes out for some reason and the wolves gather around him, not trying to eat him, but accepting him as his own. For no reason! Then in the next scene Logan is literally running with wolves, hunting with them! …

And then the dumb naming conventions thing comes up again. We found out how James came to be known as Logan in a pitiful scene, but now we find out how he came to be known as Wolverine: one of the camp’s men says about Logan “He’s a digger, all right. He’s like … you ever seen one of them wolverines goin’ after a root? They never give up till they got it. That’s what that kid is... he’s a wolverine.” I knew I didn’t like the book by this point but I really wanted to throw this out the window after I read that panel. “Monumentally shit” doesn’t quite cover describing that panel.

One final thing needs to be established before the book closes out – we know Wolverine has a thing for Japan, but how did it start? Did he travel there himself and just fall in love with the culture? That would make sense, right? Nope, not according to this book! Smitty, the camp leader and now Rose’s paramour, is a worldly man who has travelled and he gives Logan a book he picked up in Nagasaki about samurais. So that’s why Logan becomes interested in Japan – he was handed a book about it by a random person he once knew. Rubbish.

And then we get to the moronic ending. Logan is fighting Dog Logan who’s hunting Logan down for killing his dad. They fight, Logan pops his claws and Rose, who’s rushing towards them from the crowd to stop him from killing Dog Logan, somehow manages to run right into Logan’s claws, stabbing herself through the shoulder and arm. This then kills Rose. Whaaaaaaaaat?! That’s the best Jenkins and co. could come up with. So a terribly dull character dies and Logan runs off to live in the forest with his wild animals – the end.

That’s Wolverine: Origin – the most overcomplicated, idiotic, and unimaginative origin story ever. It is such a grim, joyless book featuring child abuse and animal cruelty, and yet maybe the worst thing about it is how boring and forgettable it is. There’s nothing truly interesting about Wolverine’s origin despite being one of the most interesting characters in the Marvel Universe. After reading this we’re no closer to understanding why Wolverine decides to become a superhero, using his powers for good, to save lives, etc. With Spiderman’s origin, we understand why Peter Parker chooses to use his powers for good – because his Uncle Ben, an innocent and beloved father figure – died when he didn’t use them when he could have. With Batman’s origin, we understand his motivations for pursuing a life of justice against crime because of his parents’ untimely deaths, and how he came to adopt the symbol of the Bat. With Wolverine: Origin, things just happen to him and inexplicably become bound into his character for no reason, with no meaning beyond the most superficial. He just happens to be called Logan because Rose says so. He’s called Wolverine because some random guy remarks that he’s kinda like a wolverine. His entire time in British Columbia is contrived because of an incident that any person with half a brain could see had nothing to do with Rose and that James acted in self-defence – they could have stayed in Alberta, thus negating everything else that happens after. His powers develop because he’s a mutant and his mutant gene kicks in.

Based on the events of this book, it would make more sense if Wolverine never again popped his claws and refused to live among humans for the rest of his life, spending his days in the forests until his final breath.

All we know is how he came to adopt certain character traits – smoking cigars, saying “bub”, growing sideburns – while the important stuff such as becoming a hunter and becoming animalistic, aren’t dealt with at all. There’s absolutely no insight into the character. It doesn’t even really feel like a Wolverine story – it’s more like a crappy Jack London wannabe tale filled with badly written period drama scenes.

Origin is to Wolverine fans as The Phantom Menace is to Star Wars fans - just a massive fuck you to the fans of the character. It’s a godawful prequel that should never have been made because of how poorly conceived it was. Wolverine is a character whose mysterious past should’ve stayed mysterious, in order to remain enigmatic and interesting. Explaining it in the most convoluted way just how he came by his many names and so forth is a mistake, pure and simple. Maybe the character could have a great origin story but the creative team here simply weren’t up to it and completely dropped the ball, instead creating a forgettable, confusing, laughably stupid and pathetic origin story for one of Marvel’s biggest characters. As for me, I’m just going to retcon this stupid book from my memory - Origin never happened, Wolverine’s past remains a mystery, this book is just some weird parallel-universe crap.

There’s really only one sound that truly expresses the frustration I had reading this book:

“NNAHHHHWWW!”

Wolverine: Origin

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