Review: Wolverine is reinvented as a troubled teen in the manga Prodigal Son

You probably think you know the superhero Wolverine: Angry loner. Indispensable member of the X-Men. A century old. Looks 40. Near-indestructible, with mutant powers and adamantium-laced skeleton and claws. The best there is at what he does. But you don't know the Wolverine of the original English-language (OEL) manga Wolverine: Prodigal Son: Volume 1 (Del Rey, $12.99).

This Wolverine looks about 14. He was abandoned, sans memory, on the doorstep of a Canadian martial-arts school. He has the claws (sans adamantium), superhuman abilities and temper. And he's the school's best fighter. But he fears he's the only person in the world with freakish powers. And, in New York City, he learns he's not the best there is at what he does.

Wolverine can't defeat Lady Silence, a mysterious telepath who says she'll explain his powers if he joins her. Instead, Wolverine returns to Quiet Earth in search of answers. But he finds the school destroyed. ...

With a Wolverine film imminent and manga outselling comics, a Wolverine manga may sound like a no-brainer. But it's a gamble on Del Rey's part. The manga has erased the Marvel Universe along with Wolverine's established origins and history. Also, generally speaking, American comics fans don't like translated Japanese manga; American manga fans don't like comics; and both look down on OEL manga. Wolverine: Prodigal Son: Volume 1 has many chasms to cross.

Author Antony Johnston keeps the pace quick and the characters and plot twists interesting. Artist Wilson Tortosa's black-and-white artwork skillfully combines elements of Japanese manga and Western comic art while avoiding their excesses (no enormous eyes or extreme angst here). Overall, it's solid work.

But is Wolverine: Prodigal Son: Volume 1 good enough to draw in the various conflicting fandoms? Unlike a great Western graphic novel like Watchmen, or a great Japanese manga like Crying Freeman, or the great OEL manga Dramacon, it's not strong enough to win over many of the readers who oppose it on principle.

It may not need to be. The movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, could attract hordes of readers who know nothing about warring fandoms. They will judge Wolverine: Prodigal Son: Volume 1 on its own merits. And a lot of them will like it.

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