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Supernatural Origins
Peter Johnson (Writer) and Matthew Dow Smith (Artist)
Wildstorm, 143 pages

A review by Sandy Auden

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Supernatural Origins John Winchester's wife has been murdered. She was pinned to the ceiling of her son's bedroom then she burst into flames. Nobody believes John when he tries to them how she died, they all believe the tragedy was caused by an electrical fire and that John is just under the emotional stress of grieving for his lost wife. Only one person has an inkling of what really happened and she tracks John down to a bar where he's hustling pool. Saving him from a bar fight, Missouri Mosley sets John on his first steps to finding his wife's killer, but the journey is going to change his life -- and the lives of his children -- because strange, unknown powers are watching John's actions with their own devious intentions in mindů

For people who have never seen the Supernatural TV series, this story isn't quite going to have the same kick as for the long-term fans. But that doesn't mean they're not going to enjoy it, quite the contrary.

Origins is a story that can hold its head high on its own. There's sufficient back story here to bring any new readers up to speed and everything that needs explaining is vocalised through the dialogue of the characters. None of it feels forced or clumsy and the pace of the story never gets stifled. In fact, the pace just doesn't let up from start to finish. There's so much going on that every few pages John is fighting demons, being chased or finding clues, carrying you with it effortlessly.

For the more visceral reader, there's a steadily increasing body count as John starts to hunt demons and supernatural beings; and the demons ratchet up their own score too as they hunt John's friends and family. For the more cerebrally inclined, there's a touching story of one man's realisation that the world is not what he thought it was; that he can't go back to where he was knowing what he does now; and for better or for worse, he has a path he must follow.

The ending is really just the beginning but the final twist in the closing pages means that a second, more informed reading of the story is in order and that sheds some light on the uncomfortable moments encountered on the first pass. It also leaves you with more outstanding questions than you started with, but at least there's plenty of further reading and viewing available to quench your curiosity.

For the hard core Supernatural fan, this story is a treat and its faithfulness to the source material, on the whole, is exemplary with the same blue-collar feel and depth of character we have come to expect from the Supernatural 'verse.

We finally see what it really took for John Winchester to become a demon hunter. It's a rocky road as he discovers what he's prepared to do, and not to do, to avenge Mary's death and it comes with a moral ambiguity where doing the right thing has a price tag. John is just a suburban dad -- leading normal life and bringing up his kids -- but now he knows what a difference he can make to the lives of innocent people. The cost is giving up a stable life for his children, exposing them to danger by taking them of the road with him. It's a decision that he makes gradually, throughout the length of the story and it changes your perception of the character that you've known through the TV series.

Other background landmarks are also illuminated. You get to see how John first meets the psychic, Missouri Mosley and his first visit to Harvelle's Roadhouse -- where he meets Ellen and baby Jo and Ellen's husband (whose death he is allegedly going to cause in the future). The origins of the journal are explained too: it's given to John by Fletcher Gable in Tempe, Arizona. Fletcher's a supernatural expert who gives John some clues about where to look for Mary's killer. And then there's the higher (as yet incomplete) story of how Mary Winchester's death dovetails into the demon's master plan for her youngest son Sam.

On top of all this, there are satisfying echoes in Origins that remind you of the mythology already set up in the TV series. Missouri may offer to help John to find his wife's murderer but the ritual will cost him a whole fingernail, which echoes Sam's loss of a finger nail in Season Three's "A Very Supernatural Christmas." John leaves Dean and Sam with Mary's best friend, Julie, who then gets killed two weeks later at exactly the same time as Mary (at 11:27pm). And John's closing words in Origins are "We've got work to do" which is what Sam says at the end of "The Woman in White" episode after his girlfriend's death.

This story also continues the use of contemporary cultural references. Several TV shows and movies get plundered throughout Origins including Alice In Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Blade Runner and Star Wars (Harvelle's Roadhouse -- "you'll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy").

However, there are drawbacks with this graphic novel. The characters don't actually look like their TV counterparts especially John and Ellen so there's no visual reminder of the characters; and the story is a little illogical in places -- it's strange that Uncle Jacob, who looked after Mary after her parents died, hasn't noticed that Mary's best friend Julie has gone missing (OK, it's probably not obvious that Julie got ripped to shreds by a savage animal since Missouri cleaned the mess up but Julie definitely wouldn't have been seen around town after that little event!).

There are also a few inconsistencies between the original mythology and the Origins story. In the version of John Winchester's Journal available on the Official Supernatural website run by Warner Brothers, John talks about burying his wife on November 6 1983, while Origins opens with John stating that he couldn't even give her a funeral; also in the Warner Bros. journal version, John leaves his children with Mike and Kate in the early days after Mary's death and it is Kate who suggests that he see a shrink. In Origins, it is Julie, Mary's best friend who looks after the kids and gives him advice.

Then there's John's psychological struggle when he's first killing demons which just doesn't ring true. With a background in the US Marines, you'd expect John to deal with combat scenarios relatively calmly, to be able to shoot accurately and to have dealt with any personal issues around killing already. It was a surprise to see him reacting as though this was the first time he'd been thrown into a 'kill or be killed' situation.

There is, however, one inconsistency that no longer exists within the graphic novel. In the individual comic issues, John Winchester was seen buying the 1967 Chevy Impala after Mary's death. This totally contradicts the pilot episode of the Supernatural TV series where John and the boys are seen huddled on the car's bonnet while their house burns, immediately after Mary's death. After a fan outcry, writer Peter Johnson updated the collected versions to bring it back in line. Nice move PJ.

So shrugging out of the Supernatural anorak mode, overall Origins is definitely a welcome addition to the Supernatural mythology and the graphic novel even comes with an extra short story and a mini-art gallery at the back. It's a satisfying bundle for the hard core fans and a fine place for the Supernatural virgins to start the journey. Enjoy!

Copyright © 2008 Sandy Auden

Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic interviewer/reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; and a diligent interviewer/reviewer for Interzone magazine and SF Site. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. For background information, visit www.sandyauden.co.uk.


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