Wednesday, May 06, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

"Birth of a Weapon"
Writer: Chris Yost
Artist: Mark Texeira
Colourist: John Rauch
Letterer: Todd Klein
Editor: Nick Lowe

No, not the movie, but the obligatory one-shot that came out in the same week. This is the latest in a series of X-Men Origins one-shots, which either recap the origins of X-Men characters, or just give them one to fill in the blanks. And just in case you're wondering, despite being released to coincide with the movie, this is set in regular continuity.

Time was, Wolverine's origin story consisted of some shadowy material about nasty people experimenting on him, and not a great deal else. But the last twenty years have left him originned to hell and back. One of the biggest challenges facing Chris Yost here is to cram it all into 30 pages of story. On top of that, he's got to structure it into some kind of vaguely satisfying story arc. And ideally, he's got to find a fresh angle to entertain readers who already know it all.

I don't envy him. It's a tough assignment.

Yost's approach is to go non-linear. There's a loose story with Wolverine at the tail end of his career in Canada with Department H, just before he hooked up with the X-Men. In amongst that, we get a bunch of scattered flashback scenes to the important stuff from Wolverine's history. The basic idea is that Wolverine's been destroyed as a person, and Xavier's going to come and help him rebuild himself as a member of the X-Men. Fair enough; it's the closest thing to a narrative arc that the material provides. Yost also throws in some original material near the end where Wolverine gets to fight off Department H in order to provide a suitable dramatic turning point.

Of course, there's a problem here, which is that the flashbacks feature material that Wolverine's not supposed to remember at this point in continuity. Yost gets around that by suggesting that Xavier is probing Wolverine's subconscious in preparation for recruiting him - which rather begs the question of how much he's supposed to know in this version of continuity. (For that matter, is Xavier meant to know about the Weapon X Project at this point? I have a strong suspicion he isn't.) Still, at least the story tries to pick its way through this minefield; I've got to credit it for trying.

It looks rather good. Mark Texeira, who had a run on Wolverine back in the nineties, is brought on to do the art, and he still does a good job of balancing over-the-top violence with the quieter bits. It's a shame we don't see him around more often. Okay, yes, his Wolverine's a bit top-heavy, and something of a giant... he's never quite got to grips with the scrappy underdog look. But he's good with catching the spirit of the character, regardless.

On the down side, the story is unavoidably rather choppy: it has to plough its way through bits of Origin, bits of Barry Windsor-Smith's "Weapon X" story, bits of Logan meeting Alpha Flight... there's a lot to cover, and seeing Origin in this context only flags up how absurdly disconnected it is from everything else. I know it crops up in the film, but they'd have been better off ignoring it; it only distracts from the arc that Yost's trying to impose on the material. The starting point should be Logan's pre-Weapon X military career, not the peripheral Pride and Prejudice and Mutants.

Marvel Kremlinologists will find plenty to ponder over here. Origin makes it in, but Daniel Way's Romulus storyline - despite being the focus of an entire ongoing storyline - seems to have gone missing somewhere. For that matter, nobody seems to have paid much attention to the recent flashbacks in X-Men: Legacy which also deal with Xavier's early contact with Wolverine. There's an issue here, because as I've pointed out before, there's no point doing the Wolverine: Origins story if it's not going to be received wholeheartedly into continuity. You either embrace it fully or you don't bother doing it. Its total omission from this story, which otherwise tries its best to squeeze in all major aspects of continuity, is curious.

All told, the book does the best it can with a very difficult remit - but Wolverine's history is now so fractured and messy that it just doesn't compress into a satisfying story.

Labels: ,