Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Word Balloon: Wolverine: Weapon X
For this months edition of the Word Balloon I purposely waited until near the end of the month to coincide with the release of the new X-Men Origins: Wolverine film. In keeping with the theme I am aiming for this year, I want to recommend work featuring the comics that are getting that big screen treatment that month.
With the Wolverine solo film just a few days away, I thought we should take a look a a really great Wolverine story. Now Wolverine is probably the most popular comic book character in comics today, appearing in Astonishing X-Men, New Avengers, X Force, the solo Wolverine, Wolverine: Origins, and the new Wolverine: Weapon X series. This doesn't even count the special appearances and cameos he makes throughout the month. With all these appearances, its hard to pick just one classic Wolverine story as he has had so many great ones, as well as a few stinkers over the years.
Seminal works by writer Chris Clairemont such as The Mutant Massacre, Days of Future Past, God Loves, Man Kills (which both the Wolverine film and X-Men 2 owe a lot too) as well as Wolverine's first solo series really helped to shape the character we know today. Clairemont nearly had exclusivity in creating Wolverine's back story for nearly 17 years and really helped established him as the predominate super hero of the 80's and 90's. The book we are going to look at today though is the first book to really shed some light on the history of Wolverine and who he was, tying up ends from Wolverine's first appearance way back in the Incredible Hulk 181 to the clues that Clairemont had peppered throughout his X-Men run. This story connected everything into such a story that it would have an impact on both the character today and lend a heavy basis into the cornerstone the X-Men and Wolverine film franchises, and that book is Barry Windsor-Smith's epic story Weapon X.
Barry Windsor-Smith had been illustrating and writing comics since the late 60's and in 1991, he told the tale that would show just how Wolverine got his unbreakable skeleton and why he lost the memories of his childhood leading up to his indoctrination. Originally presented as a serial in Marvel's anthology book, Marvel Comics Presents, running from issues #72 to 84, Smith crafted what at the time was the definitive tale of the origin of Wolverine.
Weapon X tells the story of an ex-CIA operative called Logan who is taken in and brainwashed by a secret Canadian government program called Weapon X, in which Canada was attempting to create its own super soldier program like Captain America. Logan, born a mutant with an incredible healing factor and animal like senses, was chosen as his body could best take the rigors of the bonding process they wanted. In a painful procedure that he survived only due to his healing factor, scientists injected unbreakable adamantium metal into his body so that it coated his skeleton, making Logan nearly impossible to kill. Adding blades that popped out like claws from his knuckles and were stored in his forearms, he was codenamed Weapon X. In order to create a more efficient killing machine his memories were also tampered with as well, by attempting to wipe out sentimentality and his attachment to the past in order amp up Logan's more feral side. They wanted to create the perfect killing machine.
When Logan awakens during the process however, he goes into a berserker rage, killing nearly everyone and escaping the facility, to wander the Canadian wilderness with no memory of who is is or was, and thus Wolverine is born. He carries with him the burden of balancing his wild and feral nature with the goodness that is inside him, his past a blur of false and fake memories.
The thing to remember is that while much of this story had been alluded to over the years, this was the first time the tale was told. Smith creates a compelling narrative and has a very visceral and real style that adds to the tonality of the book. This was one of the first time I remember buying a book simply for the cover art, it was powerful and bold. The story is such that even nearly 20 years later, writers and creators return to it as the root of Wolverine. Everything stems from this series in terms of how to write an origin tale and yet not give everything away.
Various writers over the years have added and subtracted from Windsor's tale using the plot device of implanted and fake memories, as well as expand on the Weapon X mythos, adding in Wolverine's arch nemesis Sabretooth to the program, as well as many other Marvel characters, like The Silver Fox, Maverick, Wraith, and Deadpool. Despite what these guys have added or changed, this still remains a core element of Wolverine's back story. Combined with the 2001 mini-series, Wolverine: Origins (a story that highlighted the origin of a young Wolverine and where he was from in the days before he joined the CIA and Weapon X) these two tales should make up the bulk of the plot for the new movie.
If you find that either love of hate the new film, the book will make it right for you. If the film is bad, this story still holds up today and lends itself to be a great story with spectacular art. If the film is great then you can look at this like back matter, a deeper dive if you will into the world of Wolverine and the tales the film is based on. Up above you will find the cover to the first issue of the mini-series, as well as the most recent collection of the Wolverine: Weapon X graphic novel. Enjoy the book and hopefully the film too!
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