Countdown to X-Men Origins: Wolverine – JMT’s Take: The Antidote for Yet Another Disappointing Comic Movie

Since the release of Superman: The Motion Picture in 1978, when comic book properties have been turned into blockbuster films, they end up telling the same story. In order to present the central characters to a broad audience, one that might not be familiar with the source material, the films invariably focuses on the central characters’ discovery of their powers, the implications of having these powers, wrapping up with a confrontation with a similarly powerful villain. This framework is also useful as a basis for sequels, should the first movie generate enough revenue.

Where comic book titles diverge from each other with intricate detail and nuance to distinguish between them in a crowded market place, movies based on comic books obfuscate theses difference to provide audiences with an experience that will satisfy their expectations. There is no precise formula for ensuring a hundred million dollar opening weekend, but the studios have gotten closer to perfecting one. This pursuit of monster opening weekend returns puts a ceiling on the potential for films in this genre to tell interesting and compelling stories.

Watchmen is the exception for a comic property because it was released as with an ‘R’ and thus there was no expectation it would gross more than seventy million for its opening weekend. However, Allen Moore’s original series was never intended for a broad audience. Certainly it was not intended for children. Thus, the studio calculated that they could maximize their returns by creating a Watchmen movie that was as much in the spirit of the original comic as possible, and marketed accordingly.

Perhaps the owners of these properties, Marvel and DC, should bare some responsibility for these films telling origin stories over and over again. Both of these publishers print countless versions of origin stories for their popular characters. These stories have been told by so many different writers that there are no definitive stories for these characters, only recognizable touchstones forming a type of mythology. Despite Wolverine being one of my favorite characters in the Marvel universe, the last story I wanted to see brought to the big screen was a Wolverine origin story.

Fortunately for fanboys, even shitty comic book movies typically beget strong work in the related comic titles, as publishers try to capitalize on the increased attention generated by the advertising for the film. It was not a coincidence that Spider-Man switched to his black costume around the time Spider-Man 3 was hit theaters (what is synergy?).

These last few months, readers have seen some of the strongest work on a Wolverine title… ever. Mark Millar and Steven McNiven have surpassed their excellent work on Civil War with the Old Man Logan story (running in Wolverine from issue #66-73). Unlike Civil War, Old Man Logan takes place just outside the present Marvel universe continuity, allowing Millar to really flex his creative muscles.

Readers meet Logan in a future where villains have been in power for approximately fifty years. He is living under the rule of the Hulk Gang, composed of the Hulk’s offspring. They demand money he can’t pay, but since he’s taken a vow never to pop his claws again, he has to find a way to raise the necessary funds. As interesting as the quest Logan invariably takes to find the cash, the unknown reasons behind the complete change in his character make for a gripping mystery. The explanation is truly heartbreaking. It brought this stonehearted cynic to the verge of tears. I can’t recall any comic having that emotional impact on me.

While this work is truly amazing, it’s hard to imagine that Millar and McNiven could have created something this powerful, within the constraints of the present continuum. Re-read the last issue of Civil War, where they seem to pull their punches with Captain America’s lame and poorly reasoned surrender, possibly at the behest of Marvel to allow the resolution to develop more slowly in its regular monthly titles. {Editor’s note: I don’t know what JMT’s on – the ending to Civil War kicked ass!}

Marvel and DC have already milked their most recognizable properties for massive profits with ‘definitive’ versions that set the stage for even more lucrative sequels. But we’ve seen enough of them. Go see X-Men Origins: Wolverine if only because the studios might interpret a soft box office as a sign that the comic superhero fad has passed. Then they will resort to producing more shitty derivative movies that you, True Believers, will have less of an interest in seeing than I will have writing about. Should you leave the theater after seeing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, thoroughly unimpressed with the experience, I implore you to pick up this series at your local comic book shop. It will go a long way toward restoring your faith… in the medium, in story telling, in humanity.

Note 1: If you downloaded the X-Men Origins: Wolverine work print and decided you didn’t need to fork over ten dollars to see you it on the big screen, be sure you pick up this series on Saturday May 2, 2009. It’s free comic book day, and you’ll score some nifty free books, you cheap bastards.

Note 2: Don’t pass on this series just because you can only find versions that say 2nd or 3rd printing on the cover. If you actually cared about things like that, you would own a first printing already.

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