‘Wolverine: Origin II’ to offer classic Marvel characters in stripped down style

(CBR) — Even adjusting for the Marvel Universe’s sliding time scale, many of its heroes were born in the latter half of the 20th Century, but by the time Peter Parker, Tony Stark and Wade Wilson entered the world, Wolverine was already decades old. Thanks to his mutant healing factor, Logan is virtually immortal, and in 2002, writer Paul Jenkins and artist Andy Kubert explored Wolverine’s early years with the miniseries “Origin.” The series introduced readers to James Howlett, a sickly boy born on a Canadian plantation in the late 19th century, and by the time the series was over, readers saw how mutant powers and a number of tragedies turned Howlett into a savage man named Logan that ran with a pack of wolves.

Some of the secrets of Wolverine’s later years have since come to light, but there are still big, lingering questions regarding how Logan returned to society and what, if any, enemies he made during his lost years.

This November, writer Kieron Gillen and artist Adam Kubert begin to answer those questions when they kick off “Wolverine: Origin II.” Comic Book Resources spoke exclusively with Gillen about the project, which was announced today at the Marvel: Cup O’ Joe Panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego.

CBR News: What made you want to get involved with “Origin II?” What was your initial reaction when Marvel approached you about it?

Kieron Gillen: I had been out of the X-Office for a while. I found that most of the time I had been with Marvel, I was either working with the Thor office or the X-Office. I was missing working with Editor Nick Lowe, who oversees that office and I had never directly worked with Jeanine Schaefer who edits the Wolverine titles, so I thought, “Great — I can do some of this!”

The big appeal was that it almost kind of writes itself. This is an important book to the continuity, and it’s a blockbuster sort of mini, however, even though it impacts everything else, the fact that it happens in sort of an enclosed space allows me to really own it. It’s not like when I was writing “Uncanny X-Men” and I had to be concerned about thematic links to “Avengers Vs. X-Men” and things like that. This is a singular statement.

Plus, I haven’t really written Wolverine all that much. He’s a character who surprised me with how much I liked writing him when I have. I laugh at me and Paul Cornell writing Wolverine because it’s these very fey Englishmen writing comics’ toughest characters. [Laughs] “Origin II” is a project that’s both big in scope and concentrated, and that really appealed to me. Plus, the chance to work with Adam [Kubert] was very attractive. I love his work.

In terms of where I’m going with this, specifically, we had a few ideas on what were some of the important stories left in Wolverine’s past. We’ve seen a lot of stories about his past spread throughout the century, and we’ve seen some stuff with his deceased lover Silver Fox, but there’s some questions about what happened, chronologically. What’s the missing link in Wolverine’s origins? We kind of went back to this period in the early days of the 20th century, so it’s me doing a period piece, which gave me the chance to do a lot of interesting research. Basically, I’m doing a weird period novel set in the Marvel Universe, which has enormous importance for Wolverine, and it’s as fun as it sounds.

It’s been over 10 years since Paul Jenkins and Andy Kubert’s “Origin.” How much story time passes between the end of the original series and the first issue of “Origin II?”

Off the top of my head, I believe the first series ended in 1898. We’re picking things up a few years later, and Logan has been living in the woods all that time. When we last saw him in “Origin,” he had killed his first love and rejected humanity by deciding he would go run with the wolves for awhile.

So that’s where he’s been. It’s a beautiful, graphic image and a nice place to start our story. I used the word novel earlier, and that’s very much what this feels like. Yes, “Origin II” is a sequel, hence the roman numerals in the title, but I wanted this to be a real concentrated story about these classic Marvel characters done in a very stripped down style. People can pick this up by itself, read it, and get it. I’ve described the story as a period novel, which might turn some people off, but the plot is pretty much “White Fang.” Jack London is a big influence on this story. Our protagonist is a savage beast at the start, and it’s basically a return to civilization story — whatever that means. Because sometimes civilization comes off more than a bit animalistic.

The character of Mister Sinister is a great example of that. Readers of my “Uncanny X-Men” run saw how I wrote Nathaniel Essex and they know I have a pretty low view of the civilization and time period that he represents.

This story is set right before World War I. It takes place right around the time the German Schlieffen plan for winning that war was was made up. So we’re on the cusp of what will be frankly a horrific century and what will civilization mean, then? An earlier draft of the story featured characters like Sigmund Freud and the Futurist movement. That was my original focus. All that stuff is sort of gone, and now I’m really focusing on the characters and what’s important there, but in terms of themes, the idea of civilization and how violent it can be is a big part of this story. I used the words “stripped down” earlier because there’s very little super hero stuff in there. “Uncanny X-Men” readers have an idea of my Sinister. He’s a big ham. He’s quite glorious. The Nathaniel Essex in this story is quite different. He’s very cold. By the time you meet him in my “Uncanny X-Men” run, he had transformed himself so much, he might not as well be human. This is him right at the start of his career.

It fits into the chronology of the Marvel Universe because it does fit with how Essex became Mister Sinister, but we pretty much play him straight in this story. He’s a scientist with an interest in this emerging new species. One of the working sub titles I had for this series was “Origin of the Species.” This is basically the discovery of a strange new type of human living in the woods. Do you know the story behind the discovery of the X-Ray?

No, I don’t believe so.

The X-Ray was originally called that because they had no idea what it was. An “Unknown” or X-Ray was pretty much the short hand for that, and this story is only a few years after that. So it makes sense that if they found a new form of human living in the woods, they’d call him an X-Man. That’s all kind of built into the period detail. Ideas like Eugenics were prevalent around this time in this world that was on the brink of war.

This is a story about Wolverine’s early days that deals with a core question about his character. It’s a story about him learning to heal. It’s a story about family and loss. He’s a man with a healing factor, and this is about him coming to terms with the wounds his mutant ability cannot heal. That’s the emotional heart to the story.

He’s stopped living with humans at the start of this story. This is him learning to care again and discovering what that costs.

How much time unfolds in this series? Does it take place over a few days, months or years?

I’m still finishing up the series, so I can’t give a definite answer, but I would be surprised if it was longer than a year. It might be a little longer, but it unfolds over a brief period. For those of you that are really up on your Wolverine continuity, this takes place a few years before Silver Fox.

There’s some other fun stuff, too. At the end, there will be a big revelation and people who really know the material will get the implications. I never refer to Nathaniel Essex as Mister Sinister, but Marvel fans know the truth. And people coming to it as a novel will take him as this familiar archetype, the scientist who’s somewhat unethical.

Our first episode is pretty much Logan, in the woods, living with wolves and a big fight happens. [Laughs] Logan doesn’t speak at any point, but there are some very terse captions. It’s basically a tour de force for Adam, and it’s kind like an overture for the whole series.

We’re writing this as a mini and as a novel, and hopefully it will have a real sense of richness that will surprise everyone. It’s very stripped down, very pure and very emotional. There’s been so much done with Logan’s origins that you have to do something meaningful. In this case it’s Logan learning what it means to be a man and what it means to be an animal and the differences between them. It’s about him figuring out who he is, what he wants to be, and the creation of his greatest enemy. People can work out what that all means. [Laughs]

I don’t mean that in a “Logan is his greatest enemy” way, though there’s certainly some subtext. I mean it in a much more literal sense. The back story was very important to me, and so was the emergence of Nathaniel Essex’s interest in mutants; specifically that moment of discovery.

So the plot of “Wolverine: Origin II” gets rolling when someone drags him back to civilization? He doesn’t make the choice to go back?

Yes. An easy reference would be “King Kong,” and there’s a lot involving a circus, period “freak shows” and sort of prototypical X-Men. There’s a lot about how people looked at genetic mutants in those days.

You talked a little bit about this earlier, but it sounds like you’ll be exploring the idea of the corruptive power of “civilization.”

There’s a bit of that in there. We walk a more awkward line, though. It’s more what civilization does to people, both for better and worse. There are characters that try to separate the good of civilization from the evils of the wild when they ask the question, what is good and what is not? There’s overlap, though.

It’s one of those basic observations that man as a species does things of such brutality, which would not appear in nature. Those questions really bubble through it, and Logan really is not willing to be part of civilization at this point. He didn’t have good initial experiences with humans, and he’s not going to have good second experiences with the humans. [Laughs] He’s silent for a lot of the book because he’s got nothing to say to people. He wants to be free, and that, of course, goes awry.

Earlier, you mentioned this story would involve his “greatest enemy.” I don’t know how much more you’re able to say about that. As a Wolverine fan I assume that’s Sabretooth — have you written him before?

I’ve written Sabretooth before. That was one of my first X-Men stories. I did a brief origin about what we know about him, so there’s a little bit of past history there for me, and I really like the character.

I can only talk hypothetically about him though in terms of this story, though, so — speaking hypothetically — the emotional origins of the conflict between Sabretooth and Logan is one of those big, untold stories. That would be a good thing to include in a story set in this time period. What’s the reason Sabretooth turned up that fateful day Silver Fox was murdered? Why did he do what he did? Was it random chance? Fate? Or was something else going on? So those would be interesting elements to explore — if our story did in fact feature Sabretooth. [Laughs]

Are there any other important supporting players you want to mention?

I treat all the characters I introduce as very clean. Readers may know Nathaniel Essex becomes Mister Sinister, but in “Origin II,” he’s a guy we introduce and the reader need not know anything else. Logan is a mysterious guy in the woods at the very beginning. He’s a guy, clearly removed from civilization, and with a dark past. If you’ve never read a Wolverine comic, you’ll get that.

A lot of the supporting cast members that are new revolve around the circus I mentioned. They are kind of the emotional heart of the book. They’re a group of people that hurt Logan the most and a group that he eventually attaches to. It’s probably a bit early to talk about them in detail. That’s kind of the grist of it.

Your artist on “Wolverine: Origin II” is Adam Kubert, the brother of original “Origin” artist, Andy Kubert. What do you feel Adam brings to this story as an artist?

He’s great. Since I know Adam can handle it, I was really playing with the concept of doing the whole first issue silent. I didn’t in the end because I’m doing the wolf pack stuff a little bit more realistic than most people. It’s based around pretty current research into how wolf packs work.

I said Jack London was an influence, but his science in “Call of the Wild” was a bit iffy. In “White Fang” it was a little bit better, for the period, but still we know now that’s not how wolves operate. Wolves, fundamentally, are family animals. A lot of our understanding about dominance comes from wolves in captivity, which is like trying to uncover how human society works by looking at prisons. That’s not natural for wolves. If you look how they naturally work, they’re an extended family. They don’t normally accept wolves from outside the family unless they’re not breeders — which is, of course, why Logan is there. Because Logan by definition is not a breeder. [Laughs]

When I told Adam how big a role wolves played in this story, he immediately headed off to the Natural History museum to draw them. He brings an enormous enthusiasm to this project and he’s got a great handle on Logan. He’s also got some great ideas.

I’m doing the combat stuff in “Origin II” in the same way I handle it in “Young Avengers.” That is, I’m writing the casual scenes in a more casual way with a full script, and I’m doing the combat scenes Marvel style. Adam does not need me to break down the panels, so where I can, I give him some freedom to show the big set pieces. I want to give him room to do whatever he likes.

Plus, I kind of like the sibling rivalry a bit! [Laughs] — the fact that two brothers are doing “Origin” and “Origin II.” This is a book about family in many ways, even on a meta level!

“Family” suggests an intimate feel, but from what you’ve told us, this is a sprawling period epic. Just how big are the scope and scale of this story?

It’s an interesting project to be working on in that it’s both of fundamental importance to the Marvel Universe, but it’s also separate and an easy entry point. In terms of miniseries and smaller projects, this is probably the single biggest thing I’ve done for Marvel. This is a singular thing, separate from everything else, but it still feels like a big, exciting thing to be doing.

I’m a little intimidated by it, but in an exciting way. I’m really looking forward to when it’s done. When all the issues are done and collected, it will make a great singular statement. To do such an important Wolverine story feels like a worthwhile use of my time.

Stay tuned to CBR News for more on “Wolverine: Origin II.”