Marvel introduced Wolverine in 1974 without much of a back story. That mystique was part of his appeal. He was Canadian, his name was Logan, he could kick butt and, as he often reminded Cyclops, he didn’t “jump through hoops for nobody.”
Origin, a graphic novel, released in 2002, proved that even after airing Wolverine’s dirty laundry, people still wanted to read about him. Wolverine’s style had become tired in the past 20 years. In Origin he’s finally allowed to become more than the stogie smoking, tough acting Canucklehead we’d known for so long.
Origin begins over a hundred years ago and introduces James Howlett, the son of a millionaire who is frail, sickly and tender-hearted. The character known simply as Dog is James’ exact opposite and pretty young Rose is brought in to care for James. The three children grow up together and the story reveals that James will grow up to be Wolverine early on so readers aren’t kept in suspense.
When writing Origin the authors had to consider everything that had already been revealed about Wolverine in the comic books. Since Wolverine had no memories of his earliest years, there was some flexibility when inventing his childhood.
Rose’s character is clearly added to show why Wolverine always seems to fall for redheads (ahem Jean Grey). Unfortunately, as is often the case of female comic book characters, the only part of Rose that develops are her breasts.
Artist Andy Kubert creates expressions on his characters that don’t need dialogue or caption boxes. There’s a stolen look between Wolverine’s mother and her estate’s caretaker that raises a few questions. The shading around her eyes and tight lipped mouth give her a sad, almost alien look. The caretaker’s furrowed brow, thickly raised eyebrows and narrowed eyes make him appear to be questioning her with a twinge of hope. It’s the first time the reader begins to have doubts as to who Wolverine’s father really is. With one picture, the plot thickens.
The discovery that before his mutant healing factor manifested, Wolverine was weak and sickly might be a huge disappointment for fans that love his tough guy demeanor. Others might appreciate it’s perfect irony. We are witness to a vulnerability rarely shown in superheroes.
The ending to Origin is disappointingly predictable. As usual, a villain from the past shows up at the very end to seek his revenge. And Marvel’s plot device of killing off the person closest to the main character is also unchanged. Even people who don’t read Marvel can tell after 20 pages that Rose is a goner.
I’ve been a huge Wolverine fan for over thirty years and part of his allure has been his mystery. But comic book characters have to change in order for readers to believe in them. Knowing your
hero’s flaws makes it easier to love them.