What you need to know: Marvel's "House of M" series was about Scarlet Witch using her powers to grant the wish of everyone. Wolverine's wish was to regain his memories (among other things - including his secret desire to BE Nick Fury!). After the "House of M", many things were returned back to normal but some things were changed (see "Decimation" books for more details). However, for long-term Marvel fans, one of the most important change was that Wolverine now has all his memories. And having lived for a century or more, the memories/information he had to sift through is really quite enormous. This story is the beginning of Wolverine's quest to piece all the jumbled mess of a century's worth of memory/information together again.
Wolverine's character had been defined for years as the man that we really know nothing about. But that's ok for fans since we get to know the man intimately in his tales of triumphs and tragedies. Over the years, we cheered when he proposed to Mariko, we wept when he was rejected, we were shocked when his adamantium was forcefully yanked out of him, we smiled at his beer-drinking with Nightcrawler, we cringed when he went berserk during the "Weapon-X" experiment, etc. He becomes more than a comic character. He becomes an inspiration, a friend. And like our friends, we don't have to know everything about them to know them well. At the same time, because we know and cherish Wolverine, it piques our curiosity to discover more about him. Writers from Chris Claremont to Barry Windsor-Smith and Larry Hama have teased us with bits of information over the years - yet always making us hunger for more. Earlier in this decade, Marvel decided to spill the beans on Wolverine's early life in the Paul Jenkins penned series called "Origin". But that series, while adorned with pretty art by Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove showing us Wolverine as a kid named James Howlett, really doesn't even begin to scratch the itch that bugs us about his past. We want to know Wolverine as a spy, as a failed samurai, his connections to government cover-ups, his Madripoor ties, etc. In short, everything that makes this cigar-chomping hairy mutant with a short fuse cool - and WHY these things were so.
Enter Daniel Way with this book, "Origins & Endings" and the follow-up series "Wolverine: Origins". This is the Wolverine that we want to read about discovering, in truth, his own coolness. I approached this series with some hesitation, being forewarned by many that this series represents the extreme of Marvel's "decompressed" storytelling style and how it was deliberately stretched out/padded to fill hardcover/paperback collections. Honestly, it's "decompressed" all right but I don't mind. The last thing I want is for Wolvie's origin to be told in several panels (ala' Silver Age comics). Friends, this is something that we've been waiting for since we were around 9 years old in Primary School (my eldest kid is 9 years old now)! Do you want all the chips laid out quickly? Personally, I wish this can go on forever! In this first volume, we see Wolvie confronting the Silver Samurai and the Winter Soldier (the former Bucky, Captain America's partner from WWII). We see his Japanese roots finally established as well as his ties to government agencies. Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira handles the art and you can see how they interpret the details in Daniel Way's scripts. Way is not a wordy/expository writer like Claremont or a talky writer like Bendis. His strength lies in setting up and presenting a scene - and in that he's nigh unbeatable. Many of these scenes are wordless - he allows the art to breathe, to tell the story on its own. Take for example, Dum Dum Dugan's silent fear of Wolvie when he uncontrollably started pointing a gun in every direction, almost expecting Wolvie (who was actually a continent away) to pounce at him from any direction. Another example, we see how Wolvie slowly slips into a mindless berserker rage, seeing his eyes turn red slowly, then seeing the world through those eyes (everything looks garish and red) and how his dialogue becomes animalistic growls. We also see how competent a fighter Winter Soldier is - and how he subdued berserker-Wolvie with only a dagger and handcuffs. The big revelation here about the connection between these two mind-wiped ex-government agents are very intriguing and I for one am looking forward to their next meeting.
Finally, the book closes with Wolverine inheriting the Muramasa blade. This is another point that received tons of criticism from fans who claimed that a man with adamantium claws doesn't need a samurai sword. I find these comments very amusing. My advice to these people - please learn to read a book! The samurai sword is still the most dangerous weapon in the world (have you seen "Kill Bill"?). There is nothing like it - not even adamantium claws. But it is dangerous only if wielded well. And wielding it well takes more than brute strength or berserker rages. It takes discipline. It takes focus and restraint. Read the original Claremont-Miller "Wolverine" mini-series. See how Shingen was able to defeat the animalistic Wolverine initially because Wolvie lacked that samurai spirit/discipline. Of course, we see Wolvie's eventual mastery over his bestial nature and was able to defeat Shingen in the end. Nowhere is Wolvie's struggle between his man-beast natures more focused than when he wields the weapon of the disciplined warrior. Also, the samurai sword is really the extension of the man. The man is the weapon and the sword provides the reach. Therefore, if Wolvie is to once again discover himself, to be again "the best there is at what he does", then the reach of a samurai sword far exceeds that of his claws.
The version of Wolverine presented here by Daniel Way and company makes people uncomfortable. He's a survivor who'd eat his own arm to stay alive or cut off someone else's (Silver Samurai) as an act of mercy (to retain the Samurai's honour). He's grittier than ever without needing the aid of exaggerated mangaesque art with exposed fangs and no nose (see mid-90s comics to see what I mean). This is Wolverine fully conscious and being himself (especially now that he finally knows everything about himself). And we'll discover that the conscious Wolverine is an even more dangerous man than the brain-washed "Enemy of the State" as previously depicted by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. He's on a quest of self-discovery and to pay back all who had done him wrong in the past. We're just glad to be along for this grindingly slow but satisfying ride. This is the best that Wolverine has been in years.