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[Retrospective]Weapon X

Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
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I hated Origin. I'm just going to be upfront about that. Not because it was a terrible story (okay, maybe), but in part because a large part of the reason I liked Wolverine was the mystery surrounding his origins - not the convoluted thing where he was an actual hyperevolved furry little critter, but the one where he was waylaid one night coming out from a bar and...tried to turn a man into a weapon. What I like about Wolverine, basically, can be summed up in the "Weapon X" storyline that ran in Marvel Comics Presents 72-84, as drawn by the incomparable Barry Windsor Smith, when he hit that period where it looked like every single panel was lit like Blade Runner.

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It's a great story. It's a beautifully illustrated story. Wolverine has been in so many books, a part of so many teams, you often forget how beautiful and expressive the character design can be when left to a master. If you had to sum up Wolverine in three writers, it would be Chris Claremont, Frank Miller, and Barry Windsor-Smith - and if you had to sum up Wolverine in three artists, it would be John Byrne, Frank Miller, and Barry Windsor-Smith. There's something gloriously stark about Wolverine in the "Weapon X." Totally laid bare. He's not even approached as human, he has no quips or bon mots, he's primal. They tried to make a man into a weapon and oh shit, it worked.

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There are some great visual metaphors and plotting in this story. Wolverine in the tank is as much a womb-analogue as anyone would ever want. Wikipedia says that the story is scripted like a slasher film, as the nascent Weapon X stalks his way through the facility, one by one. And that's fine. But what you should never forget is the fantasy yet utterly simple supporting cast. As much as Wolverine is the subject of this story, he's not the one telling the tale. He's not the focus. The people doing the talking are the ones that did this to him. We come into this series already knowing Wolverine, but this is where we get a glimpse of the mythology behind him. It's like finding an ancient Greek scroll and reading about the titans and monsters who trained Zeus to war against his father Cronus.

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My favorite of these three has to be The Professor. Just think about that for a second. A bald, academic man-in-charge, who messes with his mind and his memories. The one who more than most is responsible for making Wolverine what he became. Now imagine, years later, he meets Professor X. There's a beautiful symmetry to the whole thing. It gives a reason, if any reason was needed, for Wolverine to be stand-offish to the X Men. The torture he endured, the reprogramming - and what is one of the most fundamental things about being an X-Man, besides being taught and trained? This story - which was remarkably concise, when you think about it, since it was only one of three stories in each issue - was visually and thematically rich. It explained, but it left things open that it did not explain, that did not need explanation.

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I've talked before how comic book characters are mythic, and this story itself is told like a myth, or a campfire legend. Great stories stick to characters, where lesser developments fade and are retconned and forgotten. In ten years, Wolverine may never have been James Howlett, or had a son, or dated Squirrel Girl, or boned Mystique, or been possessed by demons, or been covered in Adamantium and turned into a statue. But in ten years, Wolverine will have tusseled with ninja in Japan, he will have been subject to the Weapon X project, and he will have been found wandering, almost a wild animal, in the Canadian wilderness. That is how great writers leave their mark on a character, and that is one of the reasons I love this story - because it is a story that stands by itself, but is part of a richer whole. Who was the Professor talking to? How much of the events in the story are real, or just more memory implants? Where did they get the adamantium, and the procedure to bond it to Wolverine?

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And in a large way, Marvel has come back to this story any number of time. They've tweaked and revisited and expanded and revised the entire idea of the Weapon X project, who was involved, what the "X" stands for, everything. Wolverine has killed everyone involved in this story at least twice. When they finally made a Wolverine stand-alone movie, they stole from this movie to do it. They didn't do it well - I would castrate J. Michael Straczynski with my teeth if they'd filmed this as a straight slasher-film - but it was there! Because this story, of all the stories, is what really made Wolverine into Weapon X.

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  • ManetherenWolfManetherenWolf Registered User regular
    It really is a fantastic story. I read it for the first time fully when I got the Wolverine omnibus several years ago (1000 pages of classic Wolverine told chronologically starting with Weapon X (which was technically the newest printed work in there even though it was the oldest in the characters story).

    It really expanded on what Claremont did in truly establishing Logan as a character outside of just Wolverine with the early Wolverine miniseries, Kitty Pryde and Wolverine Mini, the first issues of MCP, and the beginning of the actual Wolverine ongoing in the 80s. In these he really got into what made Logan tick, and established his place in Madripoor and the whole Japan arc, including making Kitty Pryde a badass ninja (which NO ONE would have seen coming before that). It made a more dark and dirty tale for him, and BWS seemed to take it to a whole other level with Weapon X.

    Bobby Derie
  • Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
    Yeah, people that only know Wolverine as snikt*bub really don't know the character at all - but it realy is some of the best and most definitive storytelling.

    I think it's something people forget, that continuity is always balanced against the mythic element of characters. For example, I'm about 75% sure they never addressed who the man-behind-the-man was, the guy that The Professor was talking to and who drove the whole Weapon X experiment, and that's okay. Loose plot threads and floating episodes (like Wolverine's kid in the Savage Land) are perfectly acceptable for long-running series, to be picked up when needed and forgotten later. A lot of the incidental villains-of-the-week of the 90s appeared once or twice and were never seen again - and that's fine. What stays with readers are key storylines, with the definitive ones often being more important than the transformative ones - hence the reason why origin stories seem perpetually caught in the popular consciousness.

    I might draw a comparison with Warren Ellis' Nextwave, which despite being a one-off series was so gonzo and distinctive that it completely redefined the characters that took part in it - it was too fun to ignore.

    The Unpublishable - Original fiction blog, updates Fridays
    Sex & the Cthulhu Mythos
  • ManetherenWolfManetherenWolf Registered User regular
    Yeah there are quite a few recently that I would draw comparisons too, that really just redefined the character (many of which we saw in the voting threads previously) Brubaker's Captain America, Fraction's Iron Fist, Giffen/Abnett/Lanning on Cosmic Marvel in general.

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