Before Marvel’s most famous mutant Wolverine was Weapon X or a weapon at all, he was a little boy trying to deal with a troubled family and the troubles of his burgeoning powers. Told for the first time in the 2001 limited series Origin, it began to to answer the big question of Wolverine’s origin but gave readers even more questions. And now, Marvel is returning to the Canadian wilderness to pick up on the story of the distraught youth who would someday become Wolverine in Origin II.
It all begins on December 26, as writer Kieron Gillen and artist Adam Kubert claw into a story that starts with Logan living in the forest as a loner amongst a pack of wolves. In November we spoke with Kubert about his work in the series, and now we turn to Gillen who reveals the motivations and meanings of the story he and Adam are telling, as well as the inspiration and the original title of this unique event series.
Newsarama: In Newsarama’s previous interview with you when Origin II was just announcedyou said it picks up after the end of Origin with Logan living in the wild with a pack of wolverines in the Canadian wilderness. How would you describe Logan when this series opens up?
Kieron Gillen: The man we saw at the end of Origin was still a long way from the man we read today. The man who we join has found a kind of peace with the Wolves. It's a simpler life in many ways. After everything he lost in Origin, he's managed to find another family. The concept of Wolverine as a loner – who still finds himself with these surrogate families is one of those great ironies of the character.
He's haunted, sure. He has rejected civilization, sure. But as we meet him, he's mostly happy.
No, that doesn't last.
Nrama: It seems like Logan here is almost completely feral, losing most of his humanity and turning this into kind of a monster movie like King Kong or something. As I said we saw this in Origin, but also in a story Logan told waaaay back in Wolverine #25 that was never clarified as fiction or truth by him. Can you talk about that and your research into this kind of thing of humans living with animals, in this case wolves?
Gillen: This is less of a research project than you may expect, given the other books I've done. It's very much an iconic look at that rather than a case study of it, as Logan isn't just like a human. He's got this big feral part of him. However the pack he lives with is based upon the best knowledge I could find about wolves in the wild (as opposed to wolves in captivity). That said, he hasn't really lost his humanity – it's more about him having rejected humanity.
Nrama: Not only are we seeing the continuing origin of Logan, but also the early days of another Marvel character – Mr. Sinister. You’ve said this will feature Sinister in his original human form as Nathaniel Essex, a 19th century scientist obsessed with evolution. We learned of this origin back in The Further Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix and how he came to gain his powers from Apocalypse and would eventually follow the mutant race and Cyclops’ Summers family. But this is before all that – how would you describe Essex at this point?
Gillen: With this story, we try to keep things as low-key as we can. This is a period story, and having too much of the full on Celestial Majesty of Sinister would break that. This is after his transformation, but we have him basically living as a disgraced scientist, with his true nature hidden. This is him rather than meeting these time travels, meeting mutants in the here and now. That changes things for him, and allows him to study the emergence of the species. One of my working titles for this story was Origin Of The Species. That's what Sinister brings to it.
Nrama: People who read your Uncanny X-Men work know far too well how you have a love for the Mr. Sinister character and that “full on Celestial Majesty” you speak off. How are you doing writing a more simpler, younger Nathanial Essex?
Gillen: It's fun, though it's a much different challenge. The Essex in my Uncanny X-Men story was far down the line, when he completely reinvented himself, choosing exactly how he wished to be. The man we meet here isn't that flamboyant peacock of the future. This is a guy who walks into the icy wilderness, and is by far the coldest thing there. There's wit, sure, but it's icy and cold. He really suits the mood of the story.
Nrama: You’ve mentioned elsewhere that this series will involve a circus group that helps coax Logan back into civilization. What can you say about this circus, and how it might be different than the circuses people know of today?
Gillen: I don't want to say too much, but this is a little after the end of the high point of people with unusual genetic conditions being exhibited as freaks. You can easily draw a line between the two, if you wish.
Nrama: Time-wise, this is set in the cusp of the 20th century, on the brink of what would become World War I. Besides being a number on a calendar in someone’s cabin in Canada, how are you using this particular moment in time to your benefit for the story?
Gillen: I've mentioned this a little earlier, but it's really about a world just falling towards WW1. It's the period where the Schlieffen plan was formalized in Germany. It was when the Futurist manifesto was written. For a man returning to civilization, this world may not actually portray “civilization” in the best of lights.
Nrama: We know at one point Logan takes part in World War I, which started in 1914. Will you be delving into that at all?
Gillen: No, though we do foreshadow it a little. The earliest part of the known Wolverine timeline is really what happened with Silver Fox. The Logan we leave at the end of Origin will be heading in that direction.
Nrama: Clearly the original series Origin is a foundation for Origin II, but can you disclose what other books are fundamental touchstones – story-wise for Wolverine, but also thematically in other comics – or outside comics all together?
Gillen: It's an unusual book, Origin. It's a sequel, but I want it to be as iconic and as singular statement as the original. It echoes forward into pretty much every Wolverine story ever, but I also want it to be able to be read as your first Wolverine story. Hell, even if you don't know anything about the Marvel Universe, the story is pure enough to be read as its own thing. A feral man with animal powers is living with wolves... and his return to civilization. That's a pure, accessible story. It's also one which defines some core parts of the Logan we know. In terms of influences outside comics, I normally reference the Jack London novels, specifically White Fang. There's obviously some King Kong in there as well. It's set just before World War 1, so everything of that period is looming on the horizon. It's set just after the Victorian age, so everything of the 19th century science – specifically Darwin – is sort of looming.
Nrama: One of the key aspects that made Wolverine so popular is the mystery that surrounds him. Origin answered many questions but also proffered several more. When approaching this, how do you go about writing this untold chapter without tarnishing what makes the character special?
Gillen: That's the trick. Perhaps the easiest answer is to nod towards the original Origin, which showed it was possible. Once something has been proved possible, it becomes less of an overwhelming worry. In mainstream superhero comics, we're always standing on the shoulders of giants.
To do a book called Origin without answering meaningful mysteries would be a problem. To answer a mystery in a way that doesn't satisfy and say something fundamental about the character would be worse. I'm trying to do both. In a real way, that's what Origin stories are. It's not just “where they came from.” It's “This is who this person is.”
I think Origin has a compelling view of Logan, by the end. He's one of the most unusual superhero characters in all of existence. I think familiarity has often made people under-estimate him.
Nrama: One of the biggest surprises for Origin was the absence of Sabretooth, who many people believed grew up with Wolverine and was possibly his brother. We saw Sabretooth and Wolverine cross paths as far back as 1910, and you even wrote a comic once that summarized Sabretooth’s origin early on in your Marvel career. Can you confirm, deny, or elaborate on Sabretooth’s chances to appear in this series?
Gillen: I would say Sabretooth's animosity towards Logan would be a standing mystery, and one worth exploring. Whatever it is would have to fit in this period...
Nrama: Have you had any conversations with Paul Jenkins, Andy Kubert or Joe Quesada on email, at conventions or at a summit about doing Origin II?
Gillen: I haven't had the pleasure of speaking to Paul and Andy, but I've talked to Joe about this. It was talked about extensively at Marvel Summits. In fact, he gave a note on my initial presentation which is probably the single best note I've ever received in my career as a writer. Very small, very precise and completely opened up the story.
Nrama: Origin II is unmistakably an event book, but not the type people are used to with crossovers and the sort. How would you describe the gravitas you and Marvel are putting on this?
Gillen: It's a rare joy. Normally to do a big book at Marvel, it often feels like you're the lead singer in a choir, with all the books arranged in harmonies around yours. In this, we get to do a pure, beautiful singular story which is its own thing... which still has obvious incredible weight for the Marvel Universe. Gravitas is a good word too. When it hits the shelves, what Adam and Frank has done will simply be unlike anything else on the shelves. It's big, beautiful, meaningful, and just exciting.