REVIEW: Wolverine: Origin
In 2000, Bill Jemas arrived at Marvel and began a long process of pulling the company out of bankruptcy. He tapped Joe Quesada to give up running the Marvel Knights imprint and take over Marvel Comics as its Editor-in-Chief. It was a fresh beginning and break from some truly bleak creative years. There was a new atmosphere that said anything was possible which was made manifest with the launch of the Ultimate line of comics.
Sometime that year, Jemas and Quesada held a creative summit and the topic of Wolverine’s origin came up. Shrouded in mystery and misdirection, it was a tale no one dared to tell, which was catnip to Jemas, who was more interested in stirring the pot as creatively and as commercially as possible.
Although discussed with writer Paul Jenkins that year, nothing much was done about it, percolating in the background. In the spring of 2001, when I arrived, Bill and I were informed there was a projected budget shortfall and something had to be added to the schedule to fill the large gap. At that moment, necessity sparked invention and the project was jumpstarted.
Origin, launched in the fall, delivered on its promise. Top talent told a story that fans had been waiting to learn and it was poignant, moving, and exciting. It was not at all what fans expected, which was good. The miniseries sold a ton of copies, made up the budget gap and then some, establishing new lore in the Marvel Universe.
A powerful story, it was a logical step for it to be added to Marvel Knights’ Motion Comics, and released on disc today from Shout! Factory.
Jenkins pulled elements from his childhood to tell the story of poor James Howlett, a sickly child living in19th Century Canada. To keep him company, his father, John Howlett, Sr., brings the redheaded orphan, Rose, to the plantation and they become best friends. Their play dates were extended to Dog, the battered son of the groundskeeper, Thomas Logan. All seemed idyllic but it was far from it, with Thomas’ cruelty, the near madness of James’ mother Elizabeth, who never quite recovered from her eldest son John’s death. As time passes, tensions mount until Thomas comes to rob the mansion and take Elizabeth, with whom he may have had an affair, away with him. When John intervenes, he is shot to death before all three children. The traumatic incident ignites James’ latent mutant powers and the claws pop for the first time, forever changing his life.
It’s a powerful story, honed to near perfection by Jenkins with enough input from Quesada and Jemas to earn them shared story credit. What helped make the miniseries ever better was the artwork from Any Kubert. He leapt at the assignment and then labored over it all summer and that fall, crafting his pencils to such richness that they need not be inked. That gave the story a unique look which was then layered with the watercolor art of Richard Isanove. The Photoshopped color was subtle and meticulous, making him a true collaborator with Kubert. Coupled with the symbolic covers by Quesada and Isanove, it was truly special event.
Unfortunately, Kubert’s lifelike artwork is marred when figures are asked to go from static to kinetic, making this one of the weaker motion comics efforts. The painterly imagery was never intended to move like this and it shows, with awkwardly positioned heads or arms. Thankfully, the vocal cast, usually a weak point on these discs, is above average. The 66 minute, six chapter, story actually would have benefitted more from a proper score than limited motion.
The Blu-ray disc comes complete with two nice extras, the first is a 12:48 look back by Jemas, Quesada, and Jenkins that goes back to the creator summit and how the story came together. The second piece continues the story and over the 14:50, those three are joined by Kubert and Isanove, discussing their visual approach to Jenkins’ story and how each learned to enhance their storytelling. Both pieces make for a good look at the creative process at a key moment in the modern Marvel era.