By Paul Montgomery
Before the Adamantium, a man with wicked claws ran with the wolves.
Raised as James Howlett in Canada at the wane of the 1800s, a young Wolverine came of age in ORIGIN. By its fiery conclusion, the troubled mutant lost everything, from his first love to his birthright and much of his memory. He took to the woods to live in solitude with his newfound pack.
This December, writer Kieron Gillen and artist Adam Kubert revisit Logan’s early days at the turn of the 20th Century with WOLVERINE: ORIGIN II. The sinister geneticist Nathaniel Essex takes note of the wild man the villagers call “the Wolverine,” eager to study his first “x-man.” Logan also meets his lifelong nemesis.
We spoke to Gillen about returning to Wolverine’s early years, the cruelty of Victorian science, and finding familial love in the wilderness.
Marvel.com: It’s hard to believe but ORIGIN was first published over a decade ago in 2001. What are some of the key concepts and themes that you latched onto as a reader? Why revisit this period in Wolverine’s life?
|Origin II #1 cover by Adam Kubert|
Kieron Gillen: As you said, it’s been over a decade, and this is one of the books that was right at the start of the Joe Quesada era of Marvel. It was one of those definitive projects and Marvel has always said they didn’t want to rush to do an ORIGIN II. “We’ll do it when we have a story to tell.” So it’s quite complimentary when they decide to do it now. I like the period piece of it. That’s what is most fun about it. It’s very clean, you know; there’s the kind of sense that it’s for people who could even just read it as a graphic novel. Obviously, it answers all these kind of questions about the core of Logan and his origins and those big shocks for the fans. But it’s still got the kind of period novel vibe to it. It’s got a really good sense of place and that’s kind of what I lean into, me and Adam [Kubert]. It’s like a period novel in the Marvel Universe with a minimum of moving parts; the idea that I don’t make it too fantastical. I make it just the correct level of fantastical, I’d hope. In addition, several questions remain from that first series.
When we leave Wolverine in ORIGIN, he’s running off to live with wolves. He’s not really much like Logan. This is where he came from but he has still clearly got some change in store between the guy we met then and the guy we now know. The next time we see Logan in the timeline is with Silver Fox, isn’t it? So what happens to basically turn him from that boy into the man we meet with Silver Fox? That’s kind of what this story’s about, in a way.
Marvel.com: So we pick up not too long after the conclusion of ORIGIN?
Kieron Gillen: Yeah, he’s been living with wolves for a few years. So it’s between 1905 and 1908, that kind of period; circa the futurists, circa quite a few interesting things. I think I said in the year the Schlieffen Plan was first finalized, which was the German’s plan to win World War I very quickly. It’s all kind of gone with the World War I approach, which is one of the themes. He’s been living with a family of wolves ever since, so he’s essentially rebuilt a family. And he’s found a safe way to be. The story is very Jack London; it’s sort of like “White Fang.” It’s Logan’s return to “civilization”—whatever that means—and the question of what civilizations means is one of the things hanging all over the story.
Marvel.com: Logan isn’t really Wolverine yet. Do you think of him as a separate character, or perhaps as a broken or alternate version of the Wolverine we know?
Kieron Gillen: It’s just people. People develop mental traits and ways to approach the world. It’s like, at the end of the story, the kind of fundamental lessons he has learned are very much shaping him into someone who’s very familiar. It’s all about healing. That’s sort of the subtext. It’s a book about the concept of healing and what wounds you can heal from and what wounds you can’t.
Marvel.com: Part of what made ORIGIN so compelling as a parable, was finding those analogous relationships: Rose and Smitty as stand-ins for Jean Grey and Scott Summers, Dog as a proto-Sabretooth. Do we meet anyone here with a dynamic that’s reminiscent of any of his present relationships?
|Origin II #1 preview art by Adam Kubert|
Kieron Gillen: There’s a little bit of that. I will say there’s a little bit of that. I would say the earlier drafts had a little bit more of that in some ways. Kind of almost a Magneto/Professor X sort of vibe in an earlier draft but I ended up narrowing it down as the elegance doesn’t really matter in this story. It’s a lot about those. There’s sort of a surrogate family; yeah, a little. Maybe there’s a proto-X-Men. I’m not saying, “Oh, it’s the X-Men of 1905,” or whatever. But there’s something resonant in that. The X-Men have always been about family.
Marvel.com: So that sense of community predates Charles Xavier and his monogram? It’s bigger than that?
Kieron Gillen: This is really kind of sub textual. You know why x-rays are called x-rays? Basically, when the x-ray was discovered, which was only a few years before this, they didn’t know whether they were known rays. Hence, the x-ray.
Marvel.com: Or Planet X?
Kieron Gillen: Exactly. If you discover an unknown form of man, let’s say a man was discovered in the woods [that] was an unknown form of life before anyone knew anything about mutants; they perhaps call them an X-Man. You know? One of my sort of working titles was, “Origin of the Species.” This is about the first brush with mutant life in the Marvel Universe, or at least the first public brush with mutant life in the Marvel Universe. I said I really want to keep it pared down, so if you really don’t know the Marvel Universe, you can read it as a story of a man with claws who lives in the woods and this is what happens when he’s brought to civilization. It’s almost “King Kong,” in that sort of way. I’m convinced if you actually do know the Marvel Universe, everything does fit in, and when we get to the end we get to the core of the animosity between him and his greatest enemy. Basically, when I was thinking about the story, ORIGIN has to explain stuff we don’t know. It can’t just be a five issue Wolverine [series]. It has to be something bigger than that. This is a big sort of statement.
Marvel.com: So during his youth, James’ healing factor manifests itself sort of adversely at first, as a block on painful memories, which is why he doesn’t recall all of these events as an adult. Can you speak on the challenge of writing about amnesia and memory?
Kieron Gillen: I write stuff as realistically as I can and if I can’t do it realistically, I do it credibly. That’s generally my watch-word. And there’s also the separate kind of issue where I want to treat the story clean. This is a big Marvel event, I want people to be able to pick up the book and be able to just read it without having picked up ORIGIN. As such, there [are] enormously important issues which I have to work out a way how to reintroduce in our story as part of his messed up history. In some ways, it’s quite helpful, as that’s sort of a core part of Logan as a character. As in, the awkward past and how that hangs over him or it doesn’t. That’s a core part of the archetypal Logan story. And of course, an origin story for Logan has to be in some ways archetypal. It also has to be surprising. The credibility matters. Writing the first issue, Logan living with wolves, is almost silent. It’s all based around our better understanding of wolf packs. As opposed to when Jack London wrote it, “White Fang,” I think is a bit more credible than “Call of the Wild,” but even so, it’s obviously quite fantastical. Understanding how a wolf pack works now is very different to how a wolf pack worked then. Essentially, a wolf pack is a family unit. A lot of the ideas of how a wolf pack works, the alpha male stuff, is all based around studying wolves that were in a zoo. And that’s like trying to draw a general [grasp] of human existence from studying a prison. This is an extreme condition and people act in really [expletive] ways. If you study how humanity acts in its natural habitat, which is kind of a degree of freedom, that changes things entirely. There’s stuff bubbling around underneath it. The idea of Logan finding a family with wolves, I kind of like that. There’s something quite fun there.
|Origin II #1 preview art by Adam Kubert|
Marvel.com: Is he truly feral or does he simply prefer that sense of purer, bestial community to humanity?
Kieron Gillen: The question of how feral he is is important to the story. The characters you meet, that’s a thing they discuss, how Logan doesn’t speak much, especially early on. The first issue is silent. There’s no spoken dialogue, except maybe howls. [Laughs]. Where ORIGIN left off, Logan has rejected everything. He’s gone off because he prefers it. Despite the enormous distress, he rejected it, in some way because he prefers it. And that’s one of the things we explore.
Marvel.com: You said the first issue is largely silent?
Kieron Gillen: No dialogue. It’s comics; I can always change my mind. There [are] captions. It’s got a narrator, but it’s a very clip narrator and it shuts up when we don’t need it. When you’re working with a guy like Adam Kubert, you don’t need to over-worry about storytelling. This is kind of a real showcase to what he can do with the page. I’ve joked quite regularly that I could write complete crap and people would love this because Adam has made it look so astounding. It’s just incredibly romantic and raw and exciting and beautiful comic storytelling. It’s a good way of making a book, it feels very different. The five issues feel like a real single unit. I don’t often like using the world “filmic” as a comparison but Adam makes it feel filmic as well. It’s a story that lets the atmosphere breathe.
Marvel.com: Of course, Logan won’t spend the entire time dancing with wolves. Someone takes an interest in this filthy man carrying on in the wilderness. Let’s talk about your friend Nathaniel Essex.
Kieron Gillen: Mr. Sinister is referred to as Nathaniel Essex all the way through the book. He’s very clearly in disguise. So people who know the Marvel Universe know it’s Mr. Sinister and know he’s in disguise; but in the book itself, or at least as far as I’m telling you, there’s no obvious sense that he’s anything more than a frankly, ludicrously dark and talented scientist. He’s a big archetype for that, everything that was wrong about science at the period. When I was writing Mr. Sinister before, one of the things that really appealed to me is he’s a guy who knew Darwin. He’s a guy, if you want to talk about the science, that’s always kind of interesting. The idea of him discovering or his first brush with a contemporary mutant species, is the way I would phrase.
Marvel.com: Is he a man ahead of his time or is he a scientist very much of his time?
Kieron Gillen: He’s pretty much of his time, and pretty much the worst of his time. I’m interested in the stories like the dinosaur hunters and the “Bone Wars” between Marsh and Cope, each blowing up fossils so the other couldn’t get at them. That kind of influences it very much. We have two scientists, one who is a bit more positive, and the other one who is Mr. Sinister. That idea of dueling scientists is definitely in there. He’s very much of his time. And if you know the continuity, Mr. Sinister has kind of expected a species like this to arrive. And when [he] discovers Logan and sees him, it’s like, “My God, we’re finally here. We’re finally going to get a species to look at. I finally discovered something.”
|Origin II #2 cover by Adam Kubert|
Marvel.com: Even at this stage, would Sinister prove an apt name, or does that come later?
Kieron Gillen: Trust me, people might call him Mr. Sinister because he’s a scary [expletive]. People have seen me write Mr. Sinister before and this is over a hundred years later and he’s transformed himself in both a literal, very “Frankenstein” way. He’s become something else of his own creation and right here he’s cold. If anyone knows Mr. Sinister’s origin, it’s kind of one of the reasons why it’s right at the core of it, he emotionally purged himself. That story is mostly set in Canada in the icy wasteland and he’s by far the coldest thing in it. So “sinister” is a good way of describing him but it’s not really a super hero name at this point. Or it’s not a public super hero name at this point. It’s the idea of Nathaniel Essex in the mold of the scientist creature. Obviously, this is one that I’ve really had to work on and I’ve gone through different drafts and different approaches. I really wanted to speak to the period it’s in. This is the period where the futurists happen. That’s the bit with the Schlieffen Plan. I think it was an earlier draft where I had bit part by Sigmund Freud in it. [Laughs]. It’s completely digging into the mood and Sinister embodies a lot of that.
Marvel.com: Wolverine has been experimented on several times in his long, miserable life. Do you think it’s merely a case of wrong place/wrong time, or is there something about his temperament?
Kieron Gillen: He’s a good one. He’s a difficult one to break which I think makes him appealing to many people. That was one of the reasons I wanted to put Sinister and Logan together. They happen at the same time, they’re around at the same time, it’s possible that they would meet. And Nathaniel would have a very serious interest in Logan at the time.
Marvel.com: What’s most important to Wolverine in this story? What does he care about?
Kieron Gillen: The question about whether or not Logan feels capable of caring about anything ever again or whether caring is even worth bothering with. That’s right in the heart of the story.
ORIGIN II slashes its way on sale December 24