I am not generally a fan of OEL manga, but have been a fan of X-Men for longer than I am willing to admit. This is probably the opposite of the audience Del Rey and Marvel had in mind for this retelling this origin story of the X-Men’s certainly most well-known and crotchety member. The blurb on the Del Rel homepage was not encouraging:
“The gripping, all-new adventure of the x-men’s greatest icon, comletely reimagined in the Manga style
This is not the Wolverine you know.”
Despite the lack of a proofreader (like I am any position to cast stones), what worried me here was the term “Manga style” (capitalized, when “x-men” is in lower case). As we discussed in the last Manga Village round table, the question becomes, “who are Del Rey and Marvel trying to sell this to?”. Are they trying pull X-Men readers to manga? Manga readers to X-Men? Probably not the latter, as this is released just weeks before the Wolverine Origins movie hits theaters. But also, probably not the former, as this book tries so hard to be a Japanese manga, the fact that Wolverine is an already-established character seems to matter very little.
In the introduction before the story this retelling is called “ALL-NEW, ALL-DIFFERENT”. It “uses the conventions of manga to tell an entirely different tale” of “Wolverine as a completely different person…”
Although the point of this wasn’t immediately clear, I cracked open Wolverine and was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t completely turned off by what I found. What we have here is an independent retelling of the Wolverine origin story. Just as in the original, in this version Wolverine is unsure of his past. As a child he was found in the forest by the master of a remote Canadian dojo named Mr. Elliott. A wolverine was watching over the young boy, hence the nickname. As the story begins, Logan is a teenager and is as angsty as a fan would expect Logan as a teenager to be. The dojo is full of students his age, but unlike Dr. X’s academy, Mr. Elliott’s dojo has no mutants besides Logan. In his younger days Logan was a more dedicated student, but where this story begins he depends on his special abilities more, much to the chagrin of his fellow students and the frustration of his sensei.
“And what makes it manga is that both Wilson and myself know the territory well enough to be authentic,” says writer Antony Johnston. A part of me felt like they might know the material TOO well. Some of this title felt like a cookie-cutter introduction to shonen manga. We have a mysterious teenager with special abilities. He is being taught by a bushy-whiskered sensei in the fighting arts. He has a special connection with the master’s daughter, who is also a student his age. He is forced to take an impossible test (I’ll let you guess if he passes). Some of the opening chapters felt like Manga 101.
But I didn’t hate it. Tortosa’s artwork is alive. He loves speed lines at the sacrifice of backgrounds, but the many fight scenes are well-framed and get more violent as the story gets deeper. He is attentive to detail and I am thankful Johnston kept this first tale action-packed.
My biggest complaint would be the almost laughable openness of one of Logan’s enemies in revealing the master-plan against him. It would make sense (in an Austin Powers sort of way) if Logan were tied to a tree, but these two combatants are in the middle of hand-to-hand battle. Logan’s attacker’s revelations are completely for the reader’s benefit, and it seems even more silly considering Logan doesn’t even appear in the epilogue. If this was information we needed, why not reveal it like this?
Where Wolverine: Prodigal Son wins is when it is in battle, which thankfully happens often. Despite the overall shonen feel, the fights are halfway seinen, and Logan finishes off one enemy in a surprisingly tortuous, but very Wolverine way. It is clear that a lot of thought went into making this as much a Wolverine story as it was in making it a manga, but because of that it sometimes feels a little forced. The story is more fun because it is Wolverine, but I can’t help but wonder how much I would care if it wasn’t.