Wolverine Origin is a six-issue comic book limited series published by Marvel and released between November 2001 and July 2002. It was jointly written by Bill Jemas, Joe Quesada and Paul Jenkins, and illustrated by Andy Kubert (pencils) and Richard Isanove (colour).
Origin is the first Wolverine story to reveal his childhood and early background in any real detail. The six issue series has been collected in trade paper back as well as hardcover form. Origin reveals a lot of new information about Wolverine, as well as raising a few new questions.
** Be warned: The following section contains spoilers. **
Wolverine was born James Howlett in Canada in the late 19th century. In his early childhood he is depicted as a sickly child, who suffers from a number of allergies and illnesses. His father, John Howlett, Jr., is a rich plantation owner, ‘adopts’ an orphaned girl named Rose so that James has a companion. Both James and Rose grow up on the plantation along with another child called Dog Logan, who is the son of the Howlett’s groundskeeper, Thomas Logan. Thomas Logan is no Groundskeeper Willy. He is a cruel and abusive drunk that often takes out his rage on his son. As the children grown older, Dog becomes increasingly like his father, and tension between Dog and James builds, mirroring the friction between the boys’ fathers, as a triangle between the two men and James’ mother Elizabeth begins to emerge.
It is revealed that Elizabeth is no longer playing with a full deck, having apparently gone mad following the death of her first son, John Howlett III, in mysterious circumstances a few years prior to the beginning of the story. The story also alludes to the fact that John Howlett III may have displayed some mutant abilities, similar to those that Wolverine would develop, and that scars on Elizabeth’s chest may have been caused by John Howlett III’s claws.
Entering their early teenage years, Dog has become more like his father, displaying violent tendencies, with this ultimately ending in both Dog and his father Thomas being expelled from the plantation. Thomas and Dog return to the Howlett estate soon after, with the intention of robbing the place, and with Thomas intending to convince Elizabeth to leave with him. It is implied that Thomas and Elizabeth have had an ongoing affair and that Thomas may be the biological father of both of Elizabeth’s sons. John Howlett Jr. enters Elizabeth’s room to find Thomas, Dog, James and Rose there as well. In front of the three children and Elizabeth, Thomas kills John Howlett Jr. The shock of this event causes James’ powers to come to the surface, with bone claws shooting from his hands (see image to the left). Using his claws, James kills Thomas and wounds Dog before collapsing in shock. Elizabeth is grief stricken, but seems more upset at the death of Thomas Logan than she does her husband. She picks up the shotgun and shoots herself.
After being rejected by various relatives, Rose and James flee to British Columbia where they go into hiding, working at a stone quarry and pretending to be cousins so as not to arouse suspicion. Rose calls James, Logan, in order to conceal his identity, though why she chose the name of the man that destroyed James’ family is a bit of a mystery. Meanwhile, Dog, being the only person remaining alive at the scene of the crime, convinces police that Rose was responsible for the murders.
In British Columbia, James/Logan begins to grow physically stronger, showing no signs of the allergies or illnesses that had previously plagued him. Curiously, James/Logan has no memory of this life prior to British Columbia. From his point of view he is ‘Logan’. He spends a lot of time hunting in the woods among a pack of wolves, using only his claws. While Rose repeatedly offers to fill in the gaps in Logan’s memory, he consistently declines, preferring not to know what came before. Just in case he changes his mind, Rose keeps a detailed diary of events.
Life in the quarry seems to be going along alright. Logan befriends the foreman, Smitty, who goes on to develop an attachment toward Rose. Smitty and Rose go through a ‘courting’ process, with Smitty giving her a number of books, including some on the history of the Samurai. Logan becomes withdrawn, as he too is in love with Rose, but unable to show it publically due to their ‘cousin’ cover story. Logan works out his frustrations in local cage fights, with him quickly earning a fierce reputation as well as the nickname, Wolverine.
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Meanwhile, back at the plantation, James Howlett Sr. is on his deathbed. He summons Dog, and asks him to track down James/Logan, who’ll be heir to the Howlett fortune, and bring him back to the plantation. Dog agrees, however he has no intention of returning James/Logan to the plantation alive.
Just as Smitty and Rose are about to marry, Dog arrives at the quarry. Dog attacks Logan and in the battle that follows Rose is accidentally impaled on Logan’s claws. As Rose dies, Logan goes crazy and runs into the woods, where he disappears to live with the wolves.
The series finishes with one of the quarry employees scrounging through Rose’s belongings, and throwing Rose’s diary, that contains the truth of James’/Logan’s childhood, into the fire.
Many people have a love/hate relationship with Wolverine Origin. The mystery surrounding Wolverine’s origin is a large part of what makes the character popular, in removing that mystery Marvel also risked damaging much of Wolverine’s appeal. On the other hand, I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that were more than a little curious to see where the character came from. Besides that, I have read somewhere that part of the reason that Marvel decided to tell the story of Wolverine’s origins in comics was that with the popularity of the X-Men film franchise there was a fear that if they didn’t get in first, the characters origins would be establish in film rather than in comics.
Wolverine Origin provides quite a few glimpses at what makes Wolverine tick. For example, his fixation with Jean Grey could be traced back to his love for Rose, who with her red hair, bares more than a passing resemblance to Jean.
Wolverine’s link to Japan and the Samurai is touched upon, with the books passed on by Smitty.
It is implied, however never confirmed, that Thomas Logan is the biological father of Wolverine. Thomas Logan looks very much like an adult Wolverine, right down to the hair. If Thomas is Wolverines father, that would go a long way to explaining Wolverine’s feral fits of rage and love of alcohol, both traits that Thomas Logan had also exhibited. The case for Thomas Logan being Wolverine’s biological father is a strong one. There are the obvious physical similarities, as well as the heavily hinted at affair between Thomas and Elizabeth.
Upon first reading I actually assumed that Dog Logan would turn out to be Wolverine, and it wasn’t until James Howlett sprouted the bone claws that I realised that I’d been wrong. However, by the end of the series I began to wonder whether or not Dog would grow up to become Sabretooth. Whether the story was intentionally written that way or not, I’m not too sure.
For me the biggest revelation in Wolverine Origin was the potential explanation of why Wolverine’s memories are so fractured. The way I interpreted the story was that Wolverine’s healing factor not only repaired his body, but also his mind. In other words it worked to remove painful memories from his mind, he carries no physical scars so why would he carry mental scars? My reading was that his memory of the night in which his mother and father died was not lost due to ‘shock’ but erased by his recently manifested healing factor. When you think of it that way, it could explain a lot of why his memories have been hazy at best.
What did I learn?
If your groundskeeper is looking after more than your lawn, it’s time to find a new groundskeeper… and a new wife. Don’t trust anyone whose name is ‘Dog’. If you suddenly sprout bone claws, be careful swinging them around or else someone might get hurt.
I thoroughly enjoyed Wolverine Origin, and it’s a must read Wolverine book if you’re in the least bit interested in the character. Based on the screen captures from the X-Men Origins: Wolverine trailer, the film appears to borrow some aspects of this particular comic, in particular the young James/Logan bone claw sprouting. If you’re planning on seeing the movie, I’d read this first.
Geez I’ve written a lot about this one, in short, pick this book up, it’s a cracking good read.