With the release of the first X-Men film in 2000, audiences not only witnessed the dawn of the modern day superhero film boom, but also the beginning of a complicated franchise that would span sixteen years and nine films. With X-Men: Apocalypse on the horizon, Kayleigh Hearn and a rotating cast of merry mutants are revisiting the X-Men films from the very beginning, and examining the comic book storylines that inspired them. What would you prefer, yellow spandex?
Origin #1-6 (2001-2002)
By Paul Jenkins, Joe Quesada, Bill Jemas and Andy Kubert
Kayleigh: Origin, the miniseries that definitively revealed Wolverine’s real name and earliest history! I had actually never read this series before choosing it for this feature, so I have no personal history with Origin other than that it was one of the few books my high school boyfriend would willingly read. I remember the book’s very existence being controversial at the time, because so much of Wolverine’s appeal had been that he was a mysterious lone wolf without a past. In his original Uncanny X-Men run, Chris Claremont dealt out information about Wolverine so sparingly that Wolverine’s healing factor wasn’t concretely established until seven years after his creation. Whatever people imagined Wolverine’s origin to be, I think few expected a 19th century Gothic romance.
Max: I sat down and read all of Origin yesterday basically only knowing the plot beats via osmosis, and hooooooly shit, this comic. I would give anything to be in the Marvel office when this book was pitched. This comic coming out was a HUGE deal, like the idea that we’d finally see Wolverine’s origin after all this time was almost unthinkable. And then you read this thing and it’s like…the comic book equivalent of Far and Away. As much as this book is often pretty bad, I love that Marvel put out a Wolverine comic in 2001 with like zero superhero shit in it. Thousands of comics nerds had to read this comic about sickly ass child Wolverine coughing at poor people in X-Men Origins: Wuthering Heights.
Kayleigh: The first issue of this miniseries must have been bewildering to hardcore X-Men fans who had expectations of what an Andy Kubert-drawn Wolverine book would be like. Origin is told from the point of view of Rose, a poor red-haired girl who is summoned to work for the wealthy Howlett family. We’re introduced to some stock Gothic romance characters like an unbalanced wife and a lusty caretaker, but the most important people Rose meets are “Dog” Logan, the caretaker’s wild, angry, abused son, and James Howlett, a boy so sickly and pampered he plays with hoops and says “pwease.” One of Origin’s biggest strengths is the surprise twist in the second issue that the boy who sprouts bone claws is not young Mr. Logan, but rather skinny little James.
Max: THE CANONICAL FIRST APPEARANCE OF WOLVERINE IS HIM PLAYING WITH A HOOP AND STICK! Like, that’s incredible. The bait and switch on James and not “Dog” Logan (whose dad is literally just a perpetually drunk version of Wolverine, hair and everything) being the boy who will one day be the X-Men’s Fonzie is pretty clever, although by the time Teen Dog starts skulking around and being sexually creepy to Totally Not Jean Grey you have to figure something’s up.
Jenkins was a weird pick to write this, but I dig all the way too obvious weird details he throws into this: the implication that James is Mr. Logan and Mrs. Howlett’s child from an affair, the idea that Wolverine has a dead brother who scratched up their mom as a baby, even Mr. Howlett vaguely resembling Charles Xavier (to explain why Wolverine joins the X-Men eventually? Whatever.). This comic is really dumb, but it’s like charmingly dumb for 80% of it. How does Wolverine get his nickname? Uh, a guy says he looks like one. How does Wolverine become wayyyy into samurai shtick? A guy gives him a book about it! I can’t be mad at all this!
Kayleigh: “I see what you did there” was frequently uttered while reading this comic. Wolverine being drawn to people like Xavier and Jean because they subconsciously remind him of his forgotten loved ones is an interesting idea, but the story gets blatantly lazy when it just recreates the Logan/Jean/Scott love triangle with James, Rose, and the guy Rose eventually falls for, Smitty. What’s frustrating about this book is that it’s Wolverine’s origin, his reason for being, and he’s an incredibly passive protagonist. He goes from a sick child, to an amnesiac adolescent, to an emotionally distant adult who’d rather run half-naked with a wolfpack than confront the fact that Rose is drifting away from him. It’s not a very compelling story arc.
Max: There are so many odd storytelling decisions in this. Why does James/Wolverine get amnesia when he pops his claws for the first time? Why is James’ transformation into a great hunter literally overnight? The James/Rose/Dog/Smitty love square-angle is needlessly complex and there’s like nothing between James and Rose? Rose is our viewpoint character but we have no idea what her point of view is? She exists to carry baby Wolverine around, cry, and get accidentally stabbed during a very fateful climax fight between Dog and James. Wolverine’s like the Mr. Magoo of murdering women.
Kayleigh: Goody gumdrops, another scene where Wolverine kills a woman he loves! Rose is a cipher who exists only to be a prototype of Jean Grey—but she’s no Phoenix, baby. I’m not surprised that X-Men Origins: Wolverine cut her from his life story. Though really, how awesome would it have been if people walked in the the theater expecting a Wolverine movie, and got thirty minutes of Emily Bronte’s The Secret Garden instead?
Max: I guess let’s talk about Dog? X-Men Origins colon Wolverine made it so Dog and Sabretooth are the same person, but here he’s a fully separate character. Origin gets really caught up in a weird haves/have-nots dispute, except really the lesson is that poor people are basically evil. Dog starts out as a mischievous moppet who turns into a murdering would-be rapist because his dad socks him John Bender-style every night while complaining about the nice rich guy who employs him. Dog’s also a pretty hollow character, but at the very least he got used well down the line when Jason Aaron drafted him to be the evil gym teacher for the Hellfire Academy seen in Wolverine and the X-Men a little while back.
Kayleigh: One of the few things X-Men Origins did well was streamline three characters from Wolverine’s complicated history (Wolverine’s mysteriously dead older brother with claws, Dog Logan, and Sabretooth, who was often rumored to be related to Wolverine) into one person, Schreibertooth. Jenkins never digs deep enough into the class issues to say anything substantial about, say, poor little rich boy James “stealing” the name of his illegitimate, working class relations. Still, there’s something tragic in Wolverine carrying the name “Logan” for years without remembering it belonged to the man who destroyed his family.
Max: Wolverine’s name being the result of some Armin Tanzarian business is a cool idea that never goes anywhere, yeah. Origin is a comic full of curious details that are ultimately kind of pointless. Rose’s diary—containing all the narration we’ve just read—getting thrown into a fire by Not-The Blob is like the best example of this.
We should probably talk about Andy Kubert’s art here, huh? Aside from some kind of iffy faces here and there, this is a very pretty book. Richard Isanove’s muted color pallette here is gorgeous. You can tell Kubert’s having a ball drawing all these crazy period piece locations like the Howlett Mansion. But don’t worry, we get a handful of amazingly gratuitous titty shots because this is, after all, a Big Two comic from 2001.
Kayleigh: At first I found Kubert’s artwork jarring because I still associate his style with his run on Mark Millar’s Ultimate X-Men, which was like the caffeinated, soul-patched, X-TREEEEEME stepbrother to a book like Origin. I think some of his early scenes look a bit awkward, but once James is an adult who looks like the Wolverine we all recognize, Kubert’s artwork snaps into place.
Max: If nothing else, Wolverine’s trademark “the boys are back in town…with a wolf pack” scenes have never looked better!
Max: I struggle to call Origin a “good” comic, but I’ll say this: It’s way more interesting than it had any right to be.
Kayleigh: Origin is most interesting when it breaks from traditional superhero action But once those surprises are spent, it never quite knows what to do with Wolverine as the hero of his own story. Ultimately, Wolverine’s Origin is humble indeed.
Next Week: First Class!