If any Marvel character was going to get two ongoing series in the Marvel NOW! era, it would be Wolverine, right? That's reality in 2013, as the perpetually popular mutant is starring in two different books — Savage Wolverine, written and illustrated by Frank Cho and debuting in January, and Wolverine, from writer Paul Cornell and artist Alan Davis.
The two books have very different aims, as Wolverine is set to be a slightly more grounded solo series, and Savage Wolverine places Wolverine in the Savage Land, and teams him up with one of the locale's most famous residents — Shanna the She-Devil. Along with that pair, Amadeus Cho — either the seventh or eighth smartest character in the Marvel world, depending on who you ask — is also getting involved in the adventure.
Newsarama talked with Cho about Savage Wolverine, his approach to each of the main characters, his artistic style on the interior and covers and bringing an element of supernatural horror to Wolverine's wide world. Courtesy of Cho, we're also presenting several black-and-white interior pages from Savage Wolverine #1 and #2.
Newsarama: Frank, one of the more notable twists of Savage Wolverine is that it's actually a team-up story between Wolverine and a character you're very familiar with, Shanna the She-Devil. How do you characterize the dynamic between the two? What makes them a good pair?
Frank Cho: Wolverine and Shanna are both headstrong characters. In some ways it's almost like a classic comedy team, kinda like Gracie Allen and George Burns. Most of the story, Wolverine plays the unwilling straight man while Shanna plays the funny man. It's basically, a study of conflicting personalities.
Also, I'm a big Indiana Jones fan so when you read this you'll get an Indiana Jones/Marion Ravenwood vibe.
Nrama: Though you've illustrated multiple titles at Marvel since Shanna, I believe Savage Wolverine is the first one at the publisher since then that you've also written. Has your writer-ly perspective on Marvel's characters shifted at all since then? And since that series was, by design, somewhat removed from the main Marvel Universe, what's it been like writing something that's a little more connected?
Cho: I've always wrote all my life one way or another. I started writing and drawing University2 (University Squared) in University of Maryland which turned to Liberty Meadows for national newspaper syndication when I graduated. I did the Liberty Meadows daily comic strip for over five years before I joined Image and Marvel Comics.
Since then I wrote Shanna the She-Devil, Zombie King, Guns & Dinos, Jungle Girl, Red Sonja and 50 Girls 50 with Doug Murray. Not to mention several movie pitches and scripts during the same time. I never stopped writing. Savage Wolverine is just another story in my long list of writing projects. That being said, I'm treating Savage Wolverine more as a creator-owned project than work for hire. What I mean is that I'm focusing on the essence of the character and not too much on the dizzying continuity. Axel Alonso at Marvel has been great. He's very supportive and very hands-off, allowing me to flex my creative muscles.
Nrama: Of course, you're also illustrating the series. What's your artistic approach for Savage Wolverine?
Cho: I'm going out of my comfort zone and playing around with the panel layouts — letting the panels help tell the story graphically. For example, when Wolverine is falling from the sky, I used long vertical panels to emphasize the great, great height from which Wolverine is falling and intercutting with multiple small panels to give the hectic action as Wolverine plows through the various branches on his way down the jungle floor.
Nrama: A few different Savage Wolverine covers have been released so far, and they appear to depart a bit from what people might expect from you, stylistically. What can you tell us about that (obviously very important) part of the book?
Cho: Funny story about those Wolverine covers. Originally, I was planning on oil painting all the covers but the drying time killed that idea after I finished the first cover. (Marvel eventually used that oil painting as the variant cover to issue #1.)
Despite the oil painting set-back, I still wanted to do something different with these Wolverine covers, so I decided to do a collage of different styles — again playing around graphically. So for each cover, the main Wolverine figure in the foreground is in regular comic book style and all background figures are in non-comic book style. All the background figures are ink washed, watercolored or drawn by ballpoint pens.
Nrama: You mentioned in a Marvel.com interview that your characterization of Shanna is similar to the one from your miniseries years back, but Wolverine is a versatile character that's been the subject of many different interpretations over the decades. What's your approach to Wolverine? Is it specifically influenced by any other portrayals?
Cho: My approach to Wolverine is very old school. I'm following in, more or less, the footsteps of Frank Miller and Chris Claremont of the 1980s. It's almost film-noir in its approach with great voice over narratives and dark humor — and lots and lots of action and "WTF" moments.
Nrama: Also in that same interview, you dropped the tantalizing line that it's a "Cthulhu type story." Is there anything more you can say at this point about the story's Lovecraftian undertones (or overtones)?
Cho: I've always been interested in stories with a supernatural horror bent to them. I'm a big Burroughs and Howard fan and to some degree, a Lovecraft fan. This story was something I've been sitting on and playing with for years but never had a chance to fully tell it as I envisioned. Then along came Marvel with this opportunity and I put Wolverine and Shanna into the story and, strangely, everything fit like a glove.
Nrama: One thing that's consistent with a lot of Marvel NOW! titles is that they're looking to examine different aspects of the main characters by putting them in different circumstances and settings. We know Wolverine will be in the Savage Land in your book — what does that element allow you to explore with his character?
Cho: It refocuses Wolverine as the jungle predator and warrior by putting him in the primal setting. This allows him to be purer in action and motivation.
Nrama: It's been revealed recently that Amadeus Cho is the third main character in Savage Wolverine, a surprising place to see the character. What motivated including him? And, as an Asian-American comic creator, how important is it to you to keep a character like Amadeus in rotation at Marvel?
Cho: I'm a very color-blind writer. When I write a story, the race of the character is never a factor unless I'm writing a race-motivated story. I've chosen Amadeus Cho in this story for the simple reason that I needed a genius level character who can solve the riddle of the island and a character who doesn't have too much backstory baggage.
Nrama: One more question: You made it clear that Ka-Zar isn't in the book, which I think was surprising for some given the nature of the series. Is there a specific reason you're avoiding the character, or did he just not figure into your plans?
Cho: No conspiracy or anything like that. Ka-Zar simply didn't fit into the story.