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Fanboy of Fear Chris Gage Review by
Chris Gage
Writer: Paul Jenkins (from a plot by Jenkins, Joe Quesada, and Bill Jemas)
Pencils: Andy Kubert
Digital Painting: Richard Isanove
Marvel Comics
$3.50 each

First I review THE HULK, now the mini-series about Wolverine's origin "I thought this was a horror column, damn it!" Don't worry, I haven't taken up permanent residence in superhero land (though I dig the genre). HULK has a new writer who's adding horror overtones to the series' and, surprisingly enough, that's what's happening in ORIGIN, too.

Make no mistake, this IS the long-awaited origin of the X-Men's Wolverine, one of the more commercialized and overused characters in comics. But the story by Paul Jenkins (from a plot by Jenkins, Joe Quesada, and Bill Jemas) is not your typical super-hero mayhem. It takes place around the late 1800's, and feels more like a gothic horror / suspense tale, one that would appeal to fans of the old Hammer films, or the recent SHE CREATURE cable movie from Stan Winston's Creature Feature series.

The story is told from the point of view of Rose, a Canadian girl in her teens who, upon being orphaned, is brought in to work for the Howletts, a wealthy family who live on a vast estate. The Howletts are a strange bunch; the lord of the manor seems nice enough, but his wife remains in seclusion due to some undisclosed ailment (entering her room while she's dressing one day, Rose is startled to see jagged, claw-like scars on her torso). Their son, James, is a sickly, sensitive boy. None of them seems to have recovered from the mysterious death of James' older brother a few years before. The grandfather, the patriarch of the family, is a mean old s.o.b. who constantly berates his son and grandson for being too soft. Tossed into the mix are Mr. Logan, an alcoholic groundskeeper who resents the family (and, it's hinted, has had an affair with Mrs. Howlett), and his son, called Dog, who gets a steady diet of beatings from his Dad that poison his friendship with Rose and James. Mystery, class struggles, women in peril: all the makings of a great gothic tale.

For me, writer Paul Jenkins' previous work has either hit right on the mark or left me cold: when he's good, he's great (as on THE INHUMANS); when he's not, it's not bad per se, but kind of ho-hum (THE SENTRY). Here, he's firing on all cylinders. The characters have depth, the world he's created is fully realized, and the atmosphere is moody and gothic. But best of all is the plot. The character of Wolverine has been around for a quarter of a century, and with the many hints and bits of information about his origin that have been revealed over the years, readers will think they know what's going on. Wrong. Jenkins plays on your preconceived expectations, leading you down paths that you think are familiar, only to shock you with an unexpected twist. I won't reveal too much of the plot so as not to spoil the surprises, and because the series is still in progress (as of this writing, three of six issues have been released: the first issue is fetching outrageous prices on ebay, but as good as it is, take my advice and wait for the trade paperback). Suffice it to say that Jenkins and his co-plotters deserve kudos for not taking the easy road: even a half-assed story would have sold big because, hey, it's Wolverine's origin, but the creators have pushed themselves to go all out, and the results are well worth the jacked-up $3.50 cover price.

The art complements the story perfectly. Andy Kubert's work still has echoes of his father Joe's (SGT. ROCK), especially in the expressive faces, but the artist became his own man long ago, and is at his best here, with distinctive and often highly detailed pencils. Richard Isanove's computer painting effects (I confess I don't fully understand the process) enhance the art; I was concerned it was just a high-tech gimmick, but it really works.

As with THE HULK, horror fans may have shied away from this one because of the strong superhero connection. And if A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is your bag, you probably won't dig ORIGIN too much. But if you like a good gothic mystery with some genuinely horrifying moments, give this one a try. Four rabid fanboys!

Review copyright 2001 by E.C.McMullen Jr.

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