Kieron Gillen: Something 'Tooth and Something New

Kieron Gillen: Sabretooth & Bill to Come

X-Men Origins: Sabretooth

Sabretooth died in Marvel’s Wolverine monthly title a couple of years ago. No, not died like “No-one-saw-his-body-when-something-exploded,” died. And he did not die like “Shot-on-the-steps-of-the-courthouse-Captain America-style,” died. Folks, to be blunt, Wolverine cut his #$%*ing head off—and that’s…pretty dead. Deader than dead, really.

Well, much like Cap—he’s still dead; but Marvel has decided to posthumously reward Sabretooth’s creepy, bloodthirsty fans with an origin story in X-Men Origins: Sabretooth. Written by Phonogram’s Kieron Gillen and drawn by Dan Panosian—this story promises to reveal the tragic and troubled beginnings of one of the most sadistic villains the Marvel Universe has ever known.

Newsarama contacted Kieron Gillen to discuss his work on Sabretooth’s origin story.

Newsarama: First off, isn't Sabretooth dead? Is an origin story foreshadowing a return?

Kieron Gillen: To be honest, Sabretooth's decapitated state didn't prey on my mind. Is he dead in the Marvel Universe? Sure. But as a figure, he's still this big, brooding enigmatic sadist. I wanted to do just a single story which you could give to anyone who wanted an answer to the question: “So—what's the deal with that Sabrethingy guy? And why he's got such a thing for fighting that little fellow with the claws?” A little meditation on violence that'd work for everyone from the person who's memorized every X-men comic that's ever been written to someone who's just wandered out of the cinema after seeing the Wolverine movie in May.

And to be doubly honest, I dunno. Ask Nick Lowe!

NRAMA: What's the big draw to such a nasty character like Sabretooth?

KG: For me, that he is such a genuinely nasty character. He's the sort of character who's desperately trying to wriggle out of the PG-rated comic that he finds himself in. If you give him free reign he'd go rampaging, transforming it into a MAX comic so brutal Marvel would get closed down by outraged censors. When writing him, you find you need to keep a leash and whip to keep him under control.

Put it like this: there are characters in any TV show whose appearance prompts me to whisper in a voice somewhere between awe and fear: “No Good Can Come of This.”

That's Sabretooth.

NRAMA: What can you tell us about the one-shot? How definitive is this tale?

KG: Oof. “Definitive” is a loaded word. You may as well ask me if it's a shoe-in for an Eisner.

IT TOTALLY IS.

Er... okay. The thing with Sabretooth is that he's a villain. Redemption doesn't stick on him. It's just too much against the core of him. So, as a villain, what's most interesting is how he works as an antagonist; specifically, his relationship with Wolverine. The shorthand for Creed is generally “Bad Wolverine”. There's more to it than that. It's easy to see why Logan hates Creed. What makes Creed take such enormous sadistic pleasure in hurting Logan specifically? This is a relationship, and this story is about looking at its roots—which start far before the two men ever crossed paths.

In other words, most origin stories are little contained things—how I became a hero, fundamentally. Creed's origin is really how he came to be such a perfect foil for Wolverine. And that's a story which starts in his brutalized childhood in the middle of nowhere and ends a blood-stained one-hundred and fifty years later. It's a love story, inversed. How I stopped worrying and learned to hate that guy. And fighting. Lots of fighting.

NRAMA: The solicitation for the book mentions a pretty random but significant bit of trivia—Sabretooth likes to mess with Wolverine on his birthday...every year. Were you influenced by older Marvel lore when you penned this story?

KG: I came to comics relatively late—I read them when young then got back into them when I was into my twenties. As such, I don't have that enormous intrinsic knowledge which some creators bring to bear on the genre. I swapped it for a lot of research.

Essentially, being an origin story across 150 years, I was looking for through-lines—what would have Creed been like in the mid-1800s? What would he have been like circa 1905? 1960? 1977? The yearly-fight was such a bizarre and glorious element I just wanted to immediately grasp it. What sort of person would do that? Also, the sheer whuppin’ is key—while the relationship changed in later years, if we're talking origins, the core of Sabretooth is the one guy who beat up Logan regularly. I wanted to show that. And, just as importantly, I wanted to explore why someone would think something as mental as that was a good idea.

NRAMA: What drives Victor Creed? Is he tragically malevolent or was this guy just bred for hate, like a pit bull?

KG: Closer to the former than the latter but...well, the real tragedy of Creed is that he doesn't think there's anything tragic about his malevolence at all. Creed likes being Creed. He's totally at home with being a monster. He has these instincts towards brutality—so why shouldn't he act the way he does? I like how blood feels in my mouth. I like the sound of tearing flesh. You want me to live in denial?

NRAMA: Will the Weapon X/Weapon Plus programs figure into this story?

KG: A little. I mainly touch on the Team-X period. As a story, it covers an enormous expanse of time. There are key parts of Creed's life I don't touch on—because they don't actually delineate anything new about the relationship between the pair. The interesting thing about the Team X period, for me, was that Logan and Creed were mates in it, at least for a while. That's fascinating, isn’t it? That's what the whole comic was like for me. Seeing what was already there in the history, seeing what could be invented without ruining it and trying to tie it all elegantly together.

NRAMA: How has your work transitioned from doing something like Phonogram to something more mainstream like a Marvel project?

KG: Well, I'm trying to work in something that at least kind of resembles a plot. It's a radical new direction for me. My first draft of Sabretooth featured sixteen pages of Logan and Creed fiercely debating their favorite Bad Seeds albums, but Nick told me I was on the wrong track.

Honestly, really very little change in terms of my thinking. The nature of the characters creates the nature of their stories. The oblique weirdoes in Phonogram lead to stuff that's perversely structured or uncomfortably intimate. Sabretooth leads to a history written in human gore.

NRAMA: What are some comics you're currently reading? Are there any other characters that you're particularly interested in the Marvel Universe?

KG: Oh, lots of stuff. To choose a recent one, I'm enormously excited by Incognito—Brubaker and Phillips are just one of those pairings who've got ridiculous chemistry in everything they do. You know what I said earlier about the “No Good Can Come of This” factor? That's what I feel about Incognito in its opening. Brilliant.

Regarding who I fancy in the rest of the Marvel U...well, I almost don't want to say anything. For me, starting to play with Marvel is discovering that the commonly used phrase “toybox” is more than just shorthand. That's what it feels like. When someone asks me about what I think of a character, it's only then when I really start to think about them, toss them around, see what they feel like. And that process of discovery is joyous. In terms of writing Sabretooth, that's exactly what it felt like—falling a bit in love with a character I wasn't seriously thinking of ever writing. There were scenes I was giggling whilst writing. It was enormous fun.

In other words, I don't really like approaching it with desires in mind, eyeing up girls at the school disco and trying my luck. I just want to see what's in there that can amuse and delight, you know? I want to be surprised by my work as much as everyone else.

Sorry. This is a bit sappy; hippy stuff. Forgive me.

Gillen's next toy from the toybox

NRAMA: What else do you have hitting shelves in the near future?

KG: First thing I did in the Marvel U actually is coming out tomorrow at the time of writing—a Dazzler strip in the final part of X-Men: Manifest Destiny. Next story I have up for Marvel is a Beta Ray Bill Special which is out in a bit.

Bar that, we're continuing with rapturously reviewed music-is-magic comic Phonogram: The Singles Club and a couple of unannounced things I'm doing for Avatar. All of which are splendid.

NRAMA: Where can readers learn more about your upcoming projects?

KG: For those interested in enormous mental downloads on pretty much everything—but mainly about when I've got comics for you to buy—I run my blog at www.kierongillen.com. Alternatively, for those who are interested in the exact state of my hangover or procrastination at any given hour, you can follow my twitter at @bremxjones. Or you can find my house and stand outside staring, silently.

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