Joe Madureira made his return to comics in November 2011 with a three-issue arc on Avenging Spider-Man written by Zeb Wells, the fan-favorite artist's first interior comic book work since 2008's The Ultimates 3.
In June, Wells and Madureira are reuniting for a three-issue stint on Savage Wolverine starting with issue #6, featuring Logan and Elektra united against the Kingpin-fronted Hand. It's a story arc that originally was intended to run in Avenging Spider-Man, but has been reconfigured as a Wolverine-focused story — though the creative team said that Spider-Man does play a small part.
We talked to both Wells (also the incoming writer of Nova) and Madureira about what their partnership, the currently deceased Daredevil villain that may or may not play a role in the Savage Wolverine arc, and the influence of Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz on their take on Elektra. Courtesy of Marvel, we're also debuting several pages of interior art by Madureira from Savage Wolverine #6.
Newsarama: Zeb, Joe, following the Avenging Spider-Man arc you did together, you're working again on Savage Wolverine. What's unique and special about this partnership that has you returning to it?
Zeb Wells: There's an energy to Joe's artwork that I really like writing for, and the storytelling is so strong. It's just so much fun to be alone in your office — which is usually so depressing — and seeing his artwork in your head as you write. It makes it a fun experience.
Joe Madureira: I'm blushing right now! [Laughs.] Originally when we were trying to figure out what I was going to work on at Marvel, they had sent me stuff from various writers — I had just been away for a while. I didn't even know what characters were cool anymore, or what was going on with Spidey. I hadn't been reading it. They sent me the Lizard stuff that [Zeb] had written, "Shed." It was literally a stack of comics, knee high, and those stood out to me as being my favorites. When they told me that Zeb was available to do the first Spidey arc, I was super-excited.
He just writes a funny Spider-Man, but his badass characters are cool too, like Wolverine. I've told him before — I just sometimes will laugh out loud while I'm laying out the page. I don't get to do comics that much anymore, so I'm kind of spoiled that it's such good stuff to work on.
Nrama: This arc originally started life as an Avenging Spider-Man story in the very early going, but you were able to transition and it was pretty much constructed as a Wolverine story from the ground up at this point, right?
Wells: Yeah. Luckily, just an outline had been written, and even that outline needed work because it was a little too Wolverine centric. So when it turned into a Wolverine story it was fairly easy to shift everything around to make it from Wolverine's point-of-view. But we still have a Spider-Man cameo in the first issue, which I think is pretty fun.
Madureira: And the last one. I think it just works so much better with Wolverine and Elektra, I can't really imagine anything remotely like the story we did with Spidey as the main guy. For me as just a fan, drawing Wolvie and Elektra together beating up ninjas is like a dream come true. I'm glad we went that route.
Nrama: Based on what's been revealed so far, it seems like something of a timeless story — it's in continuity, but not necessarily something strictly tied to anything else, and pretty much anyone can jump in and know what's going on. Is that the case?
Wells: Yeah, absolutely. It does exist in continuity. It deals with some of the Kingpin's politics with running The Hand. But you don't need to know any of that to enjoy the story. All the stakes are clear from the beginning.
Madureira: I was digging out all of the old Frank Miller Daredevil and Elektra stuff, and the Bill Sienkiewicz Elektra Assassin, all that good stuff. That was my teenage years, right there.
Nrama: Let's talk about the story itself — you mentioned that it involves Kingpin and The Hand, but with the first issue a month away, can you share a bit more about the story and what Wolverine and Elektra are out to do?
Wells: It starts with Kingpin having trouble as the head of The Hand. He sees The Hand as a tool to use in his quest to expand his criminal empire, and there are factions of The Hand that aren't OK with that — they have their own ancient agenda.
They’ve stolen Bullseye's body and want to bring him back to life to test the Kingpin. That of course brings Elektra into the fold, because she wants nothing more than to stop Bullseye from being brought back to life.
When Elektra shows up on Wolverine's doorstep and asks for help, Wolverine doesn't need to hear anything more than that. A weekend out with Elektra just tearing stuff up doesn't sound terrible to him.
Nrama: And the role of The Hand has allowed you to add some new characters to the mix?
Wells: Yeah. That's another thing I learned in the past Avenging Spider-Man arc with Joe. If you're not having Joe design some new characters you're really missing out. His sense of design is so great that I really wanted to give him a bunch of stuff he could go crazy with.
Madureira: I love The Hand, and that period of Elektra, and Marvel. There is a slight homage to the cover of the Wolverine trade paperback of the Frank Miller issues, where he's got a pile of ninja on top of him, and he's got a chain in his teeth. I was like, "Oh my god, that is the coolest thing I've ever seen." I kind of played off that for one of the covers. I'm just excited about that whole theme, so designing some new, important Hand guys was definitely really fun.
I like coming up with new characters. Whether it's revamping an old character no one likes or just coming up with brand-new stuff, that's kind of what excited me as an artist. Plus, I don't have to use reference as much. "What is that guy's costume?" I made it up, I can draw whatever I want!
Nrama: Joe, obviously Uncanny X-Men was the first big project of your career. Do you find that it's still the same basic things that are informing your take on Wolverine, or has it evolved a great deal for you?
Madureira: You know what's funny? When I draw Wolvie and Spider-Man — maybe I'm just my own worst critic — but I try new things each time I draw them, because I don't love my Wolverine, yet. And I've drawn them so many times. There's just some certain characters that in my head — "It'd be so cool to draw them" — and then I do, and I'm not that excited about it. When I drew Captain America in The Ultimates, I hated my Cap, even though some people are like, "Man, your Cap's cool!" and they made statues out of it. I don't know.
I like Leinil Yu's Wolverine better. I struggle with the classic Paul Smith and Art Adams and John Byrne stuff — that was my first exposure to Wolverine. Then the recent guys that do darker, grittier, more realistic stuff, like Leinil. I'm like, "Where am I in there?" I feel like I'd have to do a monthly Wolverine book for like a year to finally get a handle on him.
Despite all that, I still love drawing him. Love drawing the Hulk. Love Spidey. There's just certain characters that I could probably draw everyday until I die, and I wouldn't get tired of it. Like Hand Ninja. And Moloids, it turns out. [Laughs.] We found out I like drawing Moloids a lot.
Wells: Those Moloids were great.
Madureira: The Kingpin will be replaced by a Moloid as leader of The Hand!
Nrama: Are you inking the story yourself, or is it colored straight from pencils?
Madureira: It's colored over the pencils by Peter Steigerwald, and he's doing some pretty awesome, funky stuff with the line art.
We talked early on: "Let's not darken the line art and just make it black, so it looks like it was inked by a charcoal pencil." He's been doing this cool, watercolor-y little fills and stuff on the black areas. It's pretty rad. It's definitely way more atmospheric and gritty than I've ever seen my stuff before.
We talked about the Eletkra Lives Again book, and I believe Lynn Varley painted it, and it had a grittier palate to it. He's kind of been just messing around, trying to come up with a unique look. I've been really excited by the stuff he's been doing so far. I did ink one of the covers, but that's the only piece that's inked.
Nrama: Neither of you are as firmly entrenched as the day-to-day Marvel business as some other creators are — do you find that's helpful perspective? Has it allowed a little bit of a different outlook, a fresher take on some of these characters?
Wells: I hope so. When you're working in other disciplines you hope that when you come back to comics it’s made your writing stronger. That's why I want to do comics forever, because it's so fun to go out and do something else and learn about your writing or your process, and then come back and see how it affects your comic book writing. I think the stuff that I'm writing now wouldn't be the same if I hadn't done other stuff.
Madureira: Once upon a time, when Steve Skroce worked on The Matrix stuff, they were like, "What do you like better, comics or movies?" It's that question I get a million times about games. He said sometimes he really misses the freedom of just working on a comic by himself, or with a very small team. And then after a while he missed being in a studio with like a bazillion people, and feeding off their energy and ideas.
That is so true. After being in a studio, working on games stuff, I'm like, "Oh my god, I wish I could just sit in my room for a week and listen to music and draw by myself." But at the same time, I know that all the games and character design and animation storyboards, and all the stuff I've worked on over the last few years have definitely changed my work — hopefully improved my work. I think you can see the evolution. I'm way more confident about creating new characters. Back then I was so scared. Now I'm like, "What? Bring it on!"