Home Video Hovel- Wolverine Origin, by Tyler Smith
Just in time for the theatrical release of James Mangold’s The Wolverine, Marvel Knights Animation has released a motion comic about the origins of the character. Since his first appearance, Wolverine has been a superhero whose past is shrouded in mystery. He doesn’t know where he came from, but he knows it isn’t good. This frustration and nagging anger has taken the character into some very dark places over the years, while he struggles to maintain a sense of honor. This seeming contradiction is what has led many to identify with Wolverine and has caused him to be the true breakout character of the X-Men.
So, when Marvel decided to finally reveal his backstory- reaching all the way to childhood- they had to have known that there would be a lot of expectation. It is perhaps this weight that the writers felt that led them to rely a bit too much on cleverness. They use what we know now of the character to regularly trick us, always keeping us guessing about which of these new characters will turn out to be Wolverine.
It seems strange to treat an origin story as a sort of whodunit, but that is what they do. They use red herrings, from names to temperaments to character design, to constantly keep us guessing. At first this seemed novel, but eventually became taxing. It all starts to become playful. And if there is one thing that the origin story of Wolverine should not be, it’s playful.
I’m fine with using what we know about the character’s present to give insight into the character’s past- and, in doing so, using the past to shed light on the present- but it starts to seem more like a gimmick than anything else. The writers seem to feel like they should explain everything, even going so far as to explain the origin of Wolverine’s fondness for the word “Bub”. Meanwhile, as they’re taking the time to do that, they’re breezing over major character development- as when young Logan is adopted by a pack of wolves and learns to give in to his animal instinct to hunt and kill- as if it is the most natural thing in the world and requires no further exploration.
I guess that is the major flaw with the telling of this story. The writers seem to lack a proper sense of proportion. Rather than explain a few key elements about what made Wolverine the man he is, they choose to try to cover everything, not recognizing that some things are just more important than others. And, in doing so, the story becomes flat and largely uninteresting.
There is one notable instance in which the writers and artists capitalize on our knowledge of the character to good effect. The story is told primarily through the letters and journal entries of a young girl named Rose, who befriends Logan- whose real name is James Howlett- as a child. The two grow up together and it’s clear that Logan has feelings for Rose, though she seems mostly unaware of this. As the two grow older, the character design starts to take shape and Rose begins to look awfully familiar. She grows up to be quite beautiful with long red hair. Combine that with the story of unrequited love and we start to hear echoes of Wolverine’s future complicated relationship with Jean Grey of the X-Men.
This was a nice touch and a prime example of what this story could have been, if the writers had stayed focused. Instead, we get a story that feels less like the last pieces of a complicated puzzle finally falling into place and more like bad fan fiction, with the writers trying to one-up each other with one inane reveal after another. Add to that a tone- both musically and visually- that could be described as operatic and we are left with a story that takes itself very, very seriously, even as it fails to realize that nobody else does.
The visuals of the motion comic are at times quite striking. The artists and animators create a strong sense of place and time, with some nice, brooding atmosphere. There are moments when the animation seems a little clunky and becomes unintentionally funny. This often happens at moments that are meant to be very dramatic and it robs those moments of their weight. On the whole, though, it remains interesting. It’s not quite as fluid or detailed as the Iron Man: Extremis motion comic, but maintains a consistency in its visuals that helps to put us into this vaguely fable-like world.
I wasn’t expecting much from Wolverine Origin, but I hoped at the very least to be mildly engaged. As somebody that read X-Men comic books as a kid and loved the character, there was a part of me that assumed I’d find the film interesting. After all, I would be discovering more about a character that I grew up idolizing; even after all these years, that’s got to mean something, right? Unfortunately, much of the story itself and the handling of it felt arbitrary. To the point that it hardly felt like canon to me. Instead, it feels like Wolverine’s past is still a mystery waiting to be revealed.