In 2001 I was working as the manager of a comic book store in Eureka, California. One of the biggest events of the year was the release of Origin, a six-issue limited series written by Paul Jenkins, Joe Quesada, and Bill Jemas; and with art by Andy Kubert. It was an event simply because the series was going to tell the story of how one of the most popular comic book characters, Wolverine, came to be. To say most of the customers were talking about it is an understatement.
There had been hints of Wolverine’s past in previous stories. Often times these were red herrings or contradicted one another. Each dropped clue kept the mystery and speculation alive, however, and they kept fans talking and guessing. With that in mind, I wondered why Marvel, the publisher of this series, was even bothering to tell the story, as it was a tale that didn’t really need to be told.
Wolverine sold titles. His solo title sold, and any book he was in sold. Wolverine fans would buy his books no matter what, so to do a series that would put an end to some of the mystery seemed almost counterproductive. In that sense, like the Star Wars prequels, it could only fail in its attempts.
My first reading of the series left me disappointed. It had gothic sensibilities and horrific moments, sometimes actually feeling like a Hammer horror film back in the 1960s and 1970s. Far from the anti-hero of Chris Claremont’s heyday on the Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine, the boy, was a pathetic, tragic figure who slowly transformed into the hybrid beast of a man readers knew and loved. It made dramatic sense, however, and it also made his rise to the samurai-inspired, bloodthirsty savage even more poignant, but something about the story felt decidedly lackluster. As it transpired in those six issues, Wolverine’s rise to power was more situational than anything else. He was an accidental hero, though those heroics were barely seen in the series.
Then a funny thing happened. I decided to revisit the story recently, and was actually most pleased by what I read.
When Origin is left to simmer away from the hype of telling the Wolverine origin story, it actually gains strength. It is no longer the let-down it had originally been simply because it is removed from anticipation. Many die-hard Wolverine fans complained to me that the character didn’t start out kicking butt, but instead was sickly and quick to cry. It was a blasphemy, and it didn’t jibe with what they knew. That wasn’t the problem I had reading the series for the first time, however. Instead, I found the story to be far too boring. Sometimes it took too long to make its point, and at other times it was too heavy-handed. Time changed that, though. Removing the story from the constant hype and checkout counter criticism has shown that despite its flaws (those very obvious references to the character’s future that have all the subtlety of being hit in the face with a mallet), it was a rather well-crafted bit of characterization that worked. What seemed lackluster on the first reading, now feels like a masterful stroke of storytelling.
There are some outstanding Wolverine stories out there. Comic book legends like Frank Miller (Sin City) and Mark Millar (Kick-Ass) have contributed tales that are above and beyond Jenkins and company’s work, but that doesn’t mean Origin should be dismissed for what it attempted. To answer my earlier question of why it was even written in the first place, the tale was created because Marvel feared that if it didn’t tell the story of how Wolverine came to be, Hollywood would do so, and once that cat was out of the bag Marvel would have a hard time reclaiming the character if purely on an ideological level. No amount of great talent could save that story if Hollywood, with all its entertainment-by-demographics, got its hands on it first. The creators Marvel assigned to do it had to know they were playing with fire, and were going to most likely disappoint people artistically, all while realizing sales would be through the roof regardless. It was, by and large, a bold move of them to create the story they did, and they did it far better than Hollywood would have done if given the chance. Marvel set the standard, and then Hollywood tried to tell its own version in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which borrowed from the comic series and added its own bit of misery to it. Marvel, which has only been helped by the silver screen as of late, beat the beast at its own game.
Ironically, Marvel, in a fairly standard Hollywood-like move, has its own sequel to the comic due out soon. Will lightning strike twice? I seriously doubt it, but I’d love to be surprised … again.
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