“What do you think of the idea of a limited series telling Wolverine’s origin?” Question posed by Joe Quesada, artist extraordinaire, comic master and head of Marvel.
“Two words immediately popped into my head…bad idea.” Tom DeSanto, Executive Producer and Co-writer of X-men: The Movie.
DeSanto would later admit to being wrong about this, but his fears wear certainly well-founded. Part of what made Wolverine so damn awesome was that he had no origin. His past was lost to everyone and all anyone had to go on were tidbits of memory that faded in and out of his mind. Even Professor X couldn’t unravel the mess that was Wolverine’s psyche.
So this was certainly a dangerous and controversial move by Quesada and company. This could have had all the disaster written on it of new coke versus old coke. The thought that some of you may only get that reference from episodes on the history channel kind of pisses me off but I will go on. They were about to pull back the curtain and show us how the trick was done. Only they didn’t. What they did was give the comic book world a period piece that some would even call a romantic tragedy. Deep Shakespearian undertones throughout with enough early Americana to remind you on which side of the pond this story took place.
It begins in Alberta, Canada on the Howlett Estate.
“That there building is the Howlett Estate. They say it was built on a foundation of tears.”
So says the coachman who brings the young girl Rose onto the estate. She is brought up from the village to be a tutor and friend to the Howlett’s only remaining child, James. Rose is introduced to all the inhabits of the home and writes of them daily in her diary. Mrs. Hopkins the maid, Mistress Elizabeth who ignores her child James and is secluded since the death of her eldest son, Master John Howlett, the young boy James and the groundskeeper Logan.
Logan is a drunkard and lout, who curses and fights with everyone. He looks amazingly like a grown up Wolverine. Logan has a son who is called Dog. The boy is wild and too often up to no good. Dog gets into mischief constantly and is beaten by his father for it and for associating with young James and Rose. “Let that be a lesson to you , boy, if I told you once, I told you a thousand times…our kind and their kind don’t mix.” Logan says after one terrible beating that leaves Dog on the dirt floor bleeding and curled up.
The trio grow up together on the estate and for a time they almost seem happy. Dog avoids as many beatings as he can and Rose and James are oblivious to the cost of their friendship that he pays. But they mature and as their bodies change so do their desires. Until the day Dog realizes Rose is becoming a young woman and in his lust for her, almost forces himself upon Rose. He is stopped by James. Angered by James’ interceding Dog kills James’ pet. This leads to Dog and Logan being thrown off the property. Drunk, Logan, with a beaten Dog in tow, get shotguns and invade the Howlett estate. In a bloody confrontation Rose watches as secrets come to light. The relationship between Elizabeth Howlett and Logan. The possibility that Logan may be the natural father of James. And then the shotgun blast as James watches Logan murder John Howlett. In a fit of rage the gentle boy slaps at Dog and throws himself into Logan. Logan pushes him away only to realize that his torso has been torn open. As Logan falls to the ground, the young boy James cries out in a howl. Only then does he notice the bone claws protruding from his hands.
Up to this moment we have been led to believe that Dog would be Wolverine but instead it is James Howlett. As James seeks comfort from his mother Elizabeth she pushes him away and casts him out of the home. Rose follows James to care for him and together they leave the Howlett estate. As they leave the boy Dog raises his head, there are three deep gashes across his face. Madness finally takes hold of Elizabeth and she places the shotgun against her head and ends her life. The Howlett estate falls empty and silent.
Rose takes young James away into the mountains of British Columbia to a secluded mining town. Here she changes his name to Logan and they begin life anew as brother and sister. But James is growing older and he begins to fall in love with Rose. Rose though can only see him as they sweet young boy she saved. She rejects James’ love and falls for another. James seeks solace in the wild with wolves and there he is able to run free and allow the beast within to come out.
But the past catches up to them in the form of Dog, who has tracked them to the small mountain mining town. As James and Dog fight, Rose tries to intervene, as she did so many times before, but this time it ends with tragic results. Logan in his grief over killing Rose, disappears into the mountains, wild and full of pain. It is surmised that his healing factor kicks in and mentally blocks out the memory of Rose and her death to protect him from the pain. The last scene we have is of a thief in their cabin tossing away a book he cannot read. Rose’s diary that tells the story of James Howlett. The Wolverine.
As you can tell from my brief synopsis, the movie versions have borrowed heavily from this limited series. But there are some differences. It is never said that Dog is Sabretooth. In fact I reject this because the three gashes across Dog’s face never healed. Also there is little in the movie origin about Rose and that is a horrendous mistake. Rose is central to the origin of Wolverine. She is why he has fixated on Jean Grey all this time in the X-Men books. Rose actually makes a brief teaser appearance in Wolverine #176 before the Origin books came out. Wolverine’s inability to establish a love life that does not end in bloody death or rejection is his relationship with Rose playing over and over again. Rose is what makes James Howlett into Logan and from Logan it was just one bloody tragedy to Wolverine.
But what Quesada and company did so well and so ballsy is that they did not tell the story of Wolverine. They told the story of James Howlett. A gentle young boy who becomes a raging animal. James Howlett who was forgotten by all. Even himself. Until all that was left was the man Logan. And the beast Wolverine.
What Quesada and company did is something Marvel is just not known for. Not since the exit of Stan Lee. They wrote a really good story.