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In the Beginning



Paul Jenkins (writer), Andy Kubert (pencils); Richard Isanove (digital painting); Jenkins, Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada (plot)

Marvel, 2002

Rating: 3.0



Posted: November 16, 2002

By The Gentleman (exclusive to Shaking Through)

Question: How do you tackle the thorny issue of telling the origin story of Wolverine, perhaps the single most popular character in the Marvel Comics pantheon? How to forge ahead with a project sure to attract media attention and elicit cries of "cool" from certain segments of comic fandom, and just as certain to annoy purists who believe part of Wolverine's appeal lies in his aura of mystery? How do you make everyone happy?

Answer: With an origin story that isn't really an origin story.

Yes, Origin does indeed lay to rest any questions as to the humble beginnings of the much-tinkered-with mainstay. After all, we do learn that he was born one James Howlett, a sickly and isolated lad living in financially luxurious but emotionally destitute solitude in a large manor with two detached parents. This, after a classic bit of misdirection in which we're led to believe that our future hero is actually a scrappy, Dickensian boy known only as Dog, son of a feisty hired hand named Logan (who sports a very familiar haircut). Spoiler Alert: Turns out James's mother took a bit too much of a liking to the hired help, raising serious doubts as to the boy's true paternity.

All of this we learn through the eyes of Rose, a prim and proper young girl who's given the opportunity to escape a dead-end existence in her village to become a sort of governess/companion to young James, whose mother is a distant, never-seen apparition since the years-ago death of her first child sent her to the madhouse for a brief stay. Rose naturally becomes the object of both Dog's and James's affections, escalating a slow, simmering conflict between the two boys.

After Dog crosses a line by killing James's pet puppy, he and his father are barred from the Howlett estate. Logan sneaks into the house to convince the Mrs. to come with them, precipitating a shocking and brutal standoff between Logan, Mr. Howlett, Dog and James -- a standoff in which James's mutation, in the form of bone-ish claws protruding from his hands, first manifests.

Soon, Rose and James are on the run, leaving Alberta for a mining camp in the farthest, northernmost reaches of Canada. It's here that James becomes a man, ultimately proving his adulthood via a noble sacrifice he undertakes, Casablanca style, to ensure that Rose, whom he loves, is able to run off and start a new life with Smitty, the camp foreman. But a reunion with a vengeful Dog, whose spurned affections for Rose and scarred face (from James's claws) have pushed him over the edge, ends in a tragic manner that leaves plenty of room for a sequel.

All of which is well and good, having provided a reasonably compelling coming-of-age story seemingly calculated to offend as few Wolverine fans as possible. But it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the Wolverine origin story for which fans have been clamoring. That story, the Wolverine tale begging to be told, the one that would really finally and for good strip the character of his unique air of mystery, has to do with how the James Howlett we leave at the end of Origin becomes the Wolverine we know today -- the battle-scarred vet of the clandestine Weapon X program -- and how he spent the decades between his turn-of-the-previous-century boyhood and today. By avoiding that tale, the committee that cooked up Origin -- writer Paul Jenkins, editor-in-chief Joe Quesada and Marvel President Bill Jemas -- has managed to answer fan demand for a yarn about Wolverine's beginnings without quite addressing the broader tale of how this young strapling becomes Wolverine.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: Breaks new ground
 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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