Shaking Things Up - Robert Kirkman Talks Astounding Wolf-Man

Kirkman Talks Astounding Wolf-Man

Editorial note: This article is spoiler-free for the first half, so anyone who isn't caught up on Astounding Wolf-Man can read until the spoiler warning below.

Robert Kirkman is shaking things up again.

This time it's within the pages of Astounding Wolf-Man, the Image Comics series he launched last year with artist Jason Howard. With issue #7 of the comic, the premise of the whole series got turned on its head, shocking readers with several unexpected twists while turning up the heat for the main character, who uses his lycanthropy powers to fight crime.

And with the first trade paperback out, which collects issues #1-7, this week's issue #8 not only starts a new path for the direction of the series, but also represents a jumping-on point for new readers as the series heads into a two-issue crossover with Invincible, which Kirkman also writes.

Of course, this isn't the first time the writer has messed with the status quo. His recent, much-discussed video editorial aside, Kirkman also shocked readers of Invincible around that series' issue #7.

"I had always planned to shake things up in Astounding Wolf-Man similar to what I did in Invincible, and to a certain extent in The Walking Dead," Kirkman said. "It's more fun for me to have a series that starts out as one thing and then turns into another. I like the twists and turns along the way, where the status quo shifts. I think that's something that Image Comics as a whole can do that Marvel and DC can't. So I like to bring the goods on that front."

Kirkman, who was recently named as a partner at Image Comics, said the series will really start to gear up with this week's issue as the main character, Gary Hampton, takes his life in a new direction.

"Issue #7 sets the stage for the next two years of the book. We're going to see what Gary's mission is starting with issue #8. He has a much clearer focus in the book now, as he has a specific goal to achieve. And we'll find out what that goal is in Issue #8," the writer explained.

Issue #8 also starts another new status for the series -- monthly. Formerly on an every-two-months schedule, Astounding Wolf-Man will now come out every month, something Kirkman said readers can expect from all his Image books in the future.

"The book is definitely monthly," he confirmed. "I should be making a big announcement very soon about all of my books shipping on time, so that should be very exciting. It's monthly, and it's actually going to stay monthly for a good long time, so that's good news."

As Kirkman revealed to Newsarama in Chicago, part of the reason the comic is on a monthly schedule is that the artist, Jason Howard, just started working on the comic full time.

"He had a day job for a bit, but now he's taking the plunge and he's a full-time comic book art guy. That's exciting for him because he's got more time to spend with his family. But it gives him more time to dedicate to the book," Kirkman said. "Jason's the heart and soul of the series. With issue #8 and on, his stuff gets better and better. It's kind of shocking the level of advancement and improvement of some of his art."

While the main character of Gary Hampton interacts with superheroes in the series, even interacting with Invincible again in the upcoming two-part crossover later this year, Astounding Wolf-Man also focuses on horror characters. So far, readers have seen vampires and other werewolves showing up -- but there are more horror elements to come, Kirkman said.

"It was always supposed to be an exploration of horror elements and superhero stuff, just to put a little more focus on that and have fun with it," he said. "All superhero titles have the horror-type stuff from time to time. There have been vampires showing up in Spider-Man and all kinds of cool stuff like that. So the Astounding Wolf-Man was always supposed to be a horror book by way of a superhero story. And there will be more horror-type stuff appearing in the series as we progress. There's a lot of cool plans for this series, so I'm excited about what we have coming up."

Kirkman's hopeful the trade will lead people into the series, although he said Astounding Wolf-Man is selling well enough now to continue even if the trade doesn't give it a boost.

"If anyone's interested in getting a fresh start on this series with issue #8 as it comes out on the shelves this week, in one fell swoop, they can be completely caught up on the series," he said. "Sales going up would definitely be a good thing. But the series is healthy. It's doing really well. I'm not unhappy with how it's performing. We just got numbers, and we got a little bit of an up-tick with the trade, but I don't think the trade has been out long enough to affect sales too much. My Image work does so well in trades that I think a lot of people, when Astounding Wolf-Man came out, were just waiting for the trade paperback. So now that the trade paperback is out, I think we'll have a lot more people reading."

Editors note: This is your warning that there are spoilers for issue #7 ahead!

The biggest change as the series heads into issue #8 is the status of the main character's relationships. For the first seven issues, Gary's family and mysterious friend, Zecheriah, were his support network. But that all changed when Zecheriah killed Gary's wife, Rebecca.

"That was an accident. He was kind of hopped up on superhero blood," Kirkman explained. "He's been draining blood from Sergeant Superior, and superhero blood has different effects on vampires, just like we talked about in the series, just like werewolf blood has different affects on vampires. So it makes him a little more hot-headed and a little more strong. So yeah, it was a complete accident."

While the "accident" was explained in the series, what happened next wasn't -- Zecheriah began to bite the fallen Rebecca.

"That will be explained eventually. I don't want to give too much away, but he definitely had a reason for doing that," Kirkman said. "She was not revived. If he was trying to turn her into a vampire, he was interrupted. So in issue #8, her funeral is discussed and she's in the ground. She's dead in issue #7. Whether he was just trying to feed on her or if he was trying to turn her is still to be determined. But if he was trying to turn her, Wolf Man interrupted that and inadvertently also killed his wife. So we'll see more of that as the series progresses."

While Kirkman wouldn't come out and say if Zecheriah is now Astounding Wolf-Man's nemesis, he confirmed that there wouldn't be any touching moments of forgiveness soon.

"They're not going to be friendly in any way, shape or form from this point forward. He did kill Astounding Wolf-Man's wife, so that's not going to endear you too much to your fellow man," he said, adding that another development in issue #7 with Sergeant Superior's Actioneers, who were turned into vampires, will also heat things up in the series. "Zechariah has gone from having a werewolf subordinate to having an entire superteam of vampires under his control. So we'll be seeing more of that."

Another status-altering event came in issue #7 when Chloe, Astounding Wolf-Man's daughter, walked in on her father has he held a bloody Rebecca in his arms.

"Astounding Wolf-Man is now a fugitive because it's believed that he's the one who killed his wife. His daughter, who came across the scene of him holding his wife while he was still in wolf form, thinks that he's the one that killed her. And she's not too happy about that. So the police are now on the hunt, looking for Gary Hampton," Kirkman said. "His secret identity is now completely public. He's a criminal. And part of that is going to lead to an Astounding Wolf-Man/Invincible crossover that's going to come up soon. The story's going to start in Invincible #57 and continue in Astounding Wolf-Man #11. So you'll have to have both issues to get the two-part story. It should be pretty cool, and we'll finally get to see those characters interacting a little more than they did in Invincible #48.

"Chloe will be moving to the forefront a little bit more as the issues progress, so she's going to be more of a main character," he added.

While the complete switch from Wolf-Man being a rich, family man to a poor, hunted fugitive may seem pretty drastic, Kirkman said that's the type of thing he hopes will keep readers interested and coming back for more, as he's planning even more surprises in the future.

"For me, it's just a matter of letting cool stuff happen, and not really holding back when exciting series-changing events come up," Kirkman said. "It almost makes it easier to write for me because it makes it more fun. And I think that makes the story more fun to read too."

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