Motion Comic Review: WOLVERINE ORIGIN

BC reviews the  new motion comic from Shout! Factory. 

I was on a break from comics when Wolverine Origin first hit the stands in 2001; the Spider-Man clone saga of the mid/late '90s had killed my interest in my favorite character, and since I was starting college and thus short on funds and reading time, I just sort of quit all comics cold turkey (I came back in 2002 after the first Spider-Man movie and haven't left since, proud to say). In fact, I didn't even know about the mini-series; when I got the DVD from Shout! Factory I thought it was a motion comic version of the Wolverine: Origins (plural!) series that ran from 2006-2010, which I did collect, originally thinking it was along the lines of what this limited series was.

So when I got a few minutes into the first episode (the six issues are broken up into installments that run about 11 minutes each) and realized that this wasn't the case, I did some digging and discovered that this was actually a huge deal when released - Marvel needed a "win" after going bankrupt, and the gamble paid off - it turned out to be their highest selling comic in five years at that point. As one of the bonus features explains in detail, there was a lot of hesitance to reveal Wolverine's true origins, fearing that it would ruin the mystique (pun sort of intended) of the character, whose mysterious past had been a source of much debate among fans, some of whom didn't want them to ever be officially revealed.

Personally, I don't see the fuss - if you don't want to know where he came from, then don't read the comic called WOLVERINE ORIGIN. I actually did want to know this stuff, and wish I knew it existed earlier - I would have bought a trade and read it properly. But I was quite pleased with this presentation; I've seen some really lazy motion comics where they just sort of slide the characters around their backgrounds and maybe throw in some particle effects every now and then, but the team that did this version really went all out. I'm no connoisseur, but it's the most elaborate I've seen since Watchmen's motion version, and it was a fine way to enjoy this story for the first time. The snowy Canadian landscapes are given treatment on par with some actual cartoons, and there's always something going on that brings it to life in a subtle way, like the hood on someone's jacket rustling slightly in the wind, or an anonymous character in the background taking a pull off his beer while the main characters in the foreground are fighting.

And even if they were phoning it in with the animation, it's still a damn fine story worth checking out in any form. Rather than showing how he got his adamantium skeleton or whatever, it goes back, WAY back, to when he was just a kid. In fact, you're not even sure which character will be our beloved antihero at first - there's actually a twist of sorts where we are supposed to think it's this one poor, dickish kid named Dog Logan (whose abusive father Thomas is a dead ringer for present day unmasked Wolverine), only to discover at the end of episode/issue 2 that it's James Howlett, the wealthy, not very intimidating son of the people that the real Logan works for. It's a bit of a cheat (I mean, it's not just a resemblance - at first I thought Thomas WAS Wolverine and that the actual origin would be presented as his flashback or something), but it's still a great moment when you realize you've had your eye on the wrong guy.

From then on it focuses on how James (who takes the name Logan for himself after a tragedy) changed from somewhat of a coward rich boy into the hardass we're familiar with, and thankfully stops long before he hooked up with anyone or anything that has an X in their name or title. It's also free of other Marvel characters; they seem to be suggesting that the other guy (named "Dog") is actually a young Sabretooth, but that's never been written in stone (according to the Wikipedia on the original comic, writer Paul Jenkins says that it was NOT his intent, though he wouldn't be opposed to another writer making it so). And that's the closest it gets to obnoxious prequel territory, where we always seem to find out how everyone ran in the same circles years before meeting (call it the "Darth Vader built Threepio" method of backwards storytelling). You don't have to know a single thing about Wolverine or even any comics in general to enjoy the story, though obviously it DOES help some since it compresses a lot of material into a short time, thus forcing some of the characters to be rather thinly developed (in particular Smitty, the man who takes Logan under his wing once he escapes into the wilderness). And the part where he earns the nickname of "Wolverine" seems tossed in at the last minute, rather than something that organically grew out of the story we see.

But Jenkins makes up for it with a pretty great way to explain Wolverine's amnesia (spoiler, I guess? I assume I'm the last person who'd be interested to actually hear about this) - his healing powers don't just work on physical wounds, and thus "heals" his mental anguish by erasing painful memories for him. So it's like watching Memento in chronological order; he keeps losing his memory whenever anything terrible happens to him, leaving us always ahead of him. His companion (and adopted cousin) Rose writes everything down in a diary for him, but we discover at the end why that was never able to help him down the road. I don't know about you, but I found this to be a much more interesting scenario than what I had previously assumed (that some nefarious villain had wiped his memory), and made it a much more compelling story than I originally expected. There isn't a lot of action (a few brief fights, basically), but the tragic tale definitely worked on me, and I ended up watching most of it in one sitting instead of breaking it up and watching 1-2 at a time (if you read my Hemlock Grove review, you might recall I'm not one for marathon viewing - even when they're only 11 minutes long).

Hell I even went back for more, opting to watch the two bonus features right after. And like the story itself, I found myself pleasantly surprised - rather than focus on how they went about animating a 12 year old comic book, the two pieces are all about the original graphic novel, without a single word about this incarnation. In the first, Marvel head honcho Joe Quesada, Jenkins, artist Andy Kubert, and others discuss how they first came up with the idea to finally tell Wolverine's Origin, with all the second guessing that went along with it and how it eventually paid off. In the other, the actual process of writing/drawing the book is covered, with Jenkins and Kubert discussing how they collaborated, how the covers were designed (Quesada explains he wanted something that looked more like a novel rather than "two superheroes fighting each other", i.e. the cover of just about every other comic on the shelf), etc. I actually wouldn't have minded a look into the animation process, since they did such a great job, but it's cool that they honor the source - even if you're opposed to these versions, you might enjoy the retrospective look at the original with input from pretty much the entire creative team.

All in all, a fine celebration of a comic longtime fans probably already hold in high regard, and a fun way to see it for the first time if you're a relative newb like me. Here's hoping Shout! continues revisiting landmark trades in this manner (how about a Spider-Man tale?).