Review: Supernatural: Origins

by Paula R. Stiles

9781401217013Johnson, Peter. Supernatural: Origins. Artist: Matthew Dow Smith. Colorist: JD Mettler. Letterer: Greg Thompson. La Jolla (CA): Wildstorm Productions, 2008. [Short story: Johns, Geoff. Speak No Evil. Artist: Phil Hester. Colorist: JD Mettler. Letterer: Greg Thompson] 144pp. US $14.99/CAN $16.99 CAN. ISBN: 978-1-4012-4701-3.

Supernatural: Origins is rather difficult to review. It’s come under a lot of fan criticism, largely due to some continuity problems relative the show. I understand that the original six-issue run of comics was even worse on that score (I’m reviewing the graphic novel version here). As it is, though, even the revised version of Origins has a lot of problems.

This might not have been such a big deal had the writer (Peter Johnson) not been a co-executive producer of Supernatural and had not the comics apparently been intended as a way of filling in blanks that the show would never be able to fill. I’ve certainly seen far worse when it comes to comics tie-in continuity. As a straight-up horror comic, Origins is pretty good. It starts with the night of Mary Winchester’s fiery death and shows us the evolution of her husband, John, into a canny, determined hunter, set on the road to avenge his wife’s murder. There is plenty of gore, some chills, lots of death. I liked that the characters were drawn like real people and not the sluts and studs you usually get in comics (the art in the sequel, Rising Son, unfortunately goes right back to sluts and studs). The Doc Benton incident is pretty good and Missouri Moseley is more sympathetic and filled out as a young woman in the comic than she was on the show. They also came up with some decent covers (albeit ones with rather large continuity errors, like the two-door Impala one, or the one of a young Sam on the hunt with his family in Rising Son).

However, the art, overall, has problems. It’s very vaguely and abstractly drawn in some ways, so that you can’t always tell what’s going on. Most human figures look the same in group scenes showing them from a distance, especially John and the hunter he follows around like a dog for half the book. This isn’t helped by the fact that nobody from the show (aside from the covers) looks remotely like the way they do on screen. John’s hair colour isn’t even right. And the ending is unsatisfying. There’s this big build-up to John’s discovering who killed Mary…and in the end, he doesn’t find out and it appears that he was led on a wild goose chase all along. Maybe. Well, if you’re going to give me almost 150 pages of prequel, you could at least give me an answer at the end of it.

Still, even if there were some real answers in this, they wouldn’t be canon. Apparently, the original comic version had continuity problems connected to the Harvelles. Well, the Harvelles are barely in the graphic novel version, so aside from the ludicrous idea floated that Jo is older than Sam and nearly Dean’s age (something I already discussed in my review of John Winchester’s Journal), the continuity isn’t too bad. But there are the character problems. John is presented through most of the comic as a bit of a wuss who is afraid to kill. Now, yes, most people who’ve served in the military aren’t cold, hard killers, but the whole point of making John an ex-Marine and Vietnam vet in Supernatural was to demonstrate that he reacted to Mary’s death with skills that saved both his and his children’s lives. So, where are those skills in this comic?

Then there is an interlude flashforward in which a 12-year-old Dean is running away from home. But the season one episode, “Something Wicked”, categorically shows that Dean, from age nine onward, would never have abandoned Sam. A great deal of adult Dean’s character hinges on this personality trait.

And there is the death of John’s brother-in-law, Jacob. Season three did show that Mary’s family and friends were systematically killed off after her death. However, the reason for this was revealed in season four’s “In the Beginning” to be that Mary was the hunter of the family, who came from a family of hunters, and John only became aware of this world after her death. Jacob, her brother, should not have been the meddling busybody portrayed in Origins. He would have been a hunter from a hunter family, too. The gruesome death of the brothers’ babysitter in Lawrence is also something that you would have thought would have come up when Sam and Dean returned to their hometown in season one’s “Home”. It never does.

The MOTW issues also create problems. A hellhound recurs throughout the comic as a very corporeal creature. In the show, hellhounds have been portrayed from season two’s “Crossroad Blues” onward as invisible and possibly not corporeal in any real way (more like the demonic Acheri or Daevas than a physical monster). Certainly, it would be unlikely that anyone could find a hellhound tooth, from what we have (not) seen of them in the show. One major character in the comic also turns out to be an apparent freelance demon, but the show states outright that the main demonic villain for the first two seasons, Azazel, dominated all the others. So, what is this other demon’s agenda? Or is this some other creature, like a Trickster? But if it is a Trickster, why would he/she need to possess a human?

The continuity problems seem to come from two sources whose intersection confirms that the comic is no longer intended to be part of the show’s canon, if it ever was. First, the comic contradicted things already established in the show when Origins first came out (John and Dean’s personalities, especially). Second, the show appears to have completely ignored Origins‘ continuity after the comic came out (Mary’s family being hunters, for example), except where it could pick up neat ideas, like Doc Benton and John’s carving out his heart. But even when it took ideas from the comic, the show usually did something different with them. For example, Doc Benton on the show is not the mindless, magical zombie of the comic and would be completely unaffected by someone burning the remains of his victims, as in the comic.

So, it’s probably best to take this as a story set in the Supernatural universe but not one that is exactly as the timeline that appears (or will appear) on the show. Think of it as a bit like reading a Star Trek novel: it’s set in the same universe and roughly corresponds to what you see on the show, but nothing in there is actual canon unless it appears on the show.

A final note: Supernatural: Origins has a Canadian as well as an American price, but honestly, I never saw it sold in Canada. Ever. And I looked hard. If you want to buy it from Canada or any place else outside of the U.S., try an online source.

Interested in purchasing this book? Buy Supernatural: Origins from Amazon.com or purchase it from your local bookstore (if you’re in the U.S).

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