Comic Picks By The Glick

Wolverine: Origin II

August 31, 2014

Back in that period of time we like to call the “early aughts,” Marvel put out a miniseries called “Wolverine:  Origin” that would explore Ol’ Canucklehead’s earliest days.  It wasn’t done out of a desire to answer the many longstanding questions regarding the character’s origin, but to beat Hollywood to the punch after the success of the first “X-Men” film signaled the start of a franchise based on Marvel’s Merry Mutants with Logan emerging, quite naturally thanks to Hugh Jackman’s performance, as its breakout character.  After going through a few writers, the company settled on Paul Jenkins (with plot contributions from Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada) to write the miniseres and Andy Kubert to illustrate it.  The final product sold really well, but didn’t please everyone.  I was one of the people who did like it, as it felt like an actual story and managed to work in its character-defining moments in a way that didn’t feel forced.

While follow-ups to this tale were promised -- the idea being that the “Origin” series would take the character all the way up to his Weapon X days -- further explorations of Wolverine’s past, it has taken us until now to get a proper follow-up courtesy of writer Kieron Gillen and artist Adam Kubert.  This is a team who, based on their previous works, I’d buy anything from.  The result of their collaboration here is a solidly good exploration of Wolverine’s character and his first encounter with the man who would go on to be his lifelong nemesis:  Victor Creed.

At the end of the previous “Origin” series, Logan had retreated into the wilds after he had accidentally killed the only woman who ever cared about him.  Without Rose around to keep him anchored to humanity, Logan has now spent the last several years living and hunting amongst the wolves of the wild.  However, the presence of a savage wolf-man living in the Canadian wilderness has not gone unnoticed by certain sinister parties.  One of them is the scientist Nathaniel Essex who thinks that the savage might be a mutant he can use to further his genetic experiments.  The other is a circus proprietor named Hugo who thinks that this is his new meal ticket, and he has the two people who can actually corral this character:  Clara, the scarred woman with an affinity for animals, and Creed, the best tracker around.

That Logan is eventually caught and eventually brought back to civilization, shouldn’t be a surprise to any reader.  Gillen is more interested in exploring the character’s nature as a lone wolf who doesn’t naturally belong in animal or human society.  As he’s too curious for the wild and too vicious for civilization, it’s easy to see where Wolverine’s mindset as a loner comes from.  Yet this story also sets up another trend that will define the character as well:  how people in power will exploit him for their own ends.  Here you have someone with these amazing gifts and isn’t attached to anyone who will miss him when he’s gone.  It’s along those lines that we have Mr. Sinister finding him to be an irresistible test subject, and sets up Logan’s eventual servitude as part of the Weapon X program.

Of course, the real conflict here is between Logan and Creed, and Gillen sets up some interesting battles in that regard.  The most obvious is how the two relate to Clara, as the implication is that she’s clearly very important to Creed and one of the few people who can keep his psychopathic nature in check.  Bringing Logan into their lives upsets that balance and leads to actions that will spawn a grudge that last decades.  There’s also the fact that Logan and Creed are shown to be very similar in their own ways, with their violent and vengeful natures and circumstances in the circus as well.  Even without Clara’s role in this, you’d get the feeling that they’d hate each other anyway because they’re so similar and can get under each other’s skin without even trying.

All of this is solidly executed through Gillen’s script, which reflects a more serious tone than we’ve seen in his Marvel work.  That’s understandable, given the nature of the story, and some dark wittiness does manifest itself in Mr. Sinister’s dialogue.  The character may have seemed like an unlikely one to have a role in Logan’s origin, but Gillen’s use of the character makes his presence here feel perfectly natural.

Clara, on the other hand, isn’t quite as distinctive a presence.  Not at first, anyway.  This woman mainly feels like she’s here to fill the role of the sympathetic female presence whose inner beauty can soothe the savage beast.  That’s the role Clara plays for the majority of the first four issues, until we find out that she’s got a few secrets of her own.  One of them is quite surprising and does add something to the story.  The other involves her relationship to Creed, which is meant to come as a surprise, but is somewhat hard to swallow given the fact that it asks the reader to assume that it hasn’t come up in all the months that Logan has been living with them.  She has her moments, but Clara ultimately feels more beholden to the plot than a character in her own right.

Not helping matters is the fact that Kubert seems to have difficulty keeping her facial scarring looking consistent from issue-to-issue and even panel-to-panel in some cases.  That’s too bad because the artist produces some very strong work otherwise.  The opening issue is entirely “silent” save for the narrative captions, but the clarity of his art strengthens the emotional impact of its most brutal scenes.  As for the rest of the series, Kubert does well with the sheer amount of talking heads he has to draw, and even more esoteric scenes such as the microscope-eye-view of Logan’s healing factor.  However, the artist has always excelled with action scenes, and the ones involving the title character taking on Mr. Sinister and his Marauders result in the volume’s most dynamic artistic moments.

Things do end on a bit of a rushed note with Clara and Creed’s new status quo having to be crammed into two pages.  You can see where Gillen is going, but the scene needed another page or two to achieve the impact he was going for.  It’s a slightly disappointing end for a miniseries that was quite enjoyable up to that point.  Even so, if you didn’t like the original “Origin” or the general idea of exploring Wolverine’s history in exhaustive detail, I doubt that this will change your mind.  If you’re like me and those things don’t bother you that much, then you’ll find this to be a quality reading experience.

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