Many of the most famous and celebrated Wolverine stories have dealt with the character’s past. There’s the “Weapon X” storyline from Marvel Comics Presents #72-84 in 1991, 2001-2002’s six-part Origin miniseries and Wolverine Origins, wrapping later this month after 50 issues.

It makes sense — the character’s mysterious, byzantine past has always been a central part of his appeal, and given that he’s been alive since the late 19th century, there’s a lot of past to cover. But you won’t find any of that in Wolverine: The Best There Is, a new ongoing Marvel Comics series launching Winter 2010 from writer Charlie Huston (Moon Knight) and artist Juan Jose Ryp (Black Summer).

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“The idea was that Wolverine seems to have been, ever since the character got his memory back, kind of stuck in this rut where he deals almost exclusively with his past,” Huston said to Newsarama via telephone. “Not just Wolverine Origins, which is entirely appropriate and the reason for the title to exist, but really just kind of across whatever Wolverine titles and minis, he’s almost always dealing with something that he’s fought before, or something he had forgotten — atoning, revenging.”

In order to combat all this reflection, Huston’s created a new adversary named Contagion, who very deliberately has no connection to Wolverine’s past in any form.

“It’s a character that I very specifically designed to have no possible connection with Wolverine whatsoever in the past, so there will be no sudden revelation that this is Wolverine’s long-lost uncle, or that Wolverine killed his grandfather,” Huston said. “His interests in Wolverine are purely that Wolverine has something that he wants. He doesn’t need to prove himself on Wolverine, he doesn’t need to go mano-a-mano, it’s purely a matter of ‘this jackass has something, and I’m going to get it from him.’”

When describing who Contagion is, Huston first explained who he isn’t.

“There’s basically three classifications [of Wolverine’s prior enemies]: a feral, animalistic bad guy or some form of samurai warrior or some former crazed assassin,” Huston said. “Broadly speaking, his antagonists fall into one of those three categories.”

Contagion is, in Huston’s words, the “absolute opposite” of Wolverine.

“Someone that was explicitly not a fighter, someone that was physically frail,” Huston said. “Someone that was tall. Someone that was pretty and elegant.”

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Huston didn’t discuss Contagion’s powers in too much detail, other than confirming that his name is kind of a big hint.

“You don’t have to scratch at the surface of the character’s name too hard to get the idea that his powers have something to do with disease or viruses,” Huston said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to say that if you’ve got a character with powers that are somehow involved with disease and contagions, his fascination with Wolverine might have to do with [Wolverine’s] healing factor.”

Marvel executive editor Axel Alonso said that this forward-looking approach was always part of the plans for The Best There Is.

“When Charlie and I discussed this series, Wolverine Origins was the sister title to Wolverine,” Alonso wrote to Newsarama via e-mail. “So one thing we agreed on was that this series, instead of looking in the rear-view mirror, would focus on the horizon through the windshield.”

Clearly, this series is designed to be a different kind of Wolverine comic book, and Huston said it’s not just because of the “don’t look back” philosophy. The writer, best known for pulp novels including Already Dead and last year’s My Dead Body, said the chapters “roam all over the place” and will contain “considerably more dialogue and conversation” than most Wolverine comics. The second half of the initial 12-issue arc will also include cosmic elements.

“There’s a possibility we might get another half-dozen readers,” Huston said, adding with a chuckle, “I think it’s quite possible that we’ll alienate even more regular Wolverine readers.”

A particularly quirky part of the story is Contagion enlisting the help of the “Unkillables,” a team of immortal oddities plucked from the most obscure sections of the Marvel Universe. Criteria for inclusion was to not have a speck of connection to Wolverine, which made the search a little tricky.

“I made myself a rule,” Huston said. “Other than the supporting X-Men, I wanted to avoid using, at all costs, characters who had crossed paths with Wolverine in the past.”

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Huston said had so much fun assembling the Unkillables, that they took a greater role in the story than he originally expected. He’s leaving the exact selections a mystery for now, but did share some hints, including that at least three or four of them are characters that have never appeared in “more than a single issue of Marvel continuity.”

“To kind of measure the level of obscurity, the best known of Contagion’s Unkillables is Madcap,” Huston said. “Who isn’t exactly A-list. After that they get stranger and stranger. There’s a couple classic ‘80s-style characters in there. I’ve got a character from a 1950s horror short story. There’s a character from one of the British Marvel lines from the ‘80s or ‘90s that I don’t think ever crossed over, was never published in the states. Then on the cosmic side, one of the characters is a shape-shifter from the future who appeared in a single issue of one of Marvel’s magazine format publications during the ‘70s.”

Another character Huston was eager to use was Monark Starstalker, an outer space bounty hunter introduced in 1976’s Marvel Premiere #32, written and drawn by Howard Chaykin. Huston was under the impression that was his only appearance, until research for The Best There Is led him to discover that Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning were planning to use Monark in Nova — with the issue in question scheduled to ship the very next day after Huston found that out via a Google search. Weird as that was, Huston was able to get into contact with Abnett and Lanning to make sure they were on the same page.

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Huston cited Wolverine stories written by David Lapham as some of his recent favorites, but said the origins of his Wolverine fandom are from when he was a teenager.

“I’ve read some really good Wolverine stories over the years,” Huston said. “To me, it’s all rooted in how [Chris] Claremont framed that character in that first run of Uncanny [X-Men], and then how he expanded on the character on that first miniseries with Frank Miller doing the art.”

Huston couldn’t be happier with the visuals on The Best There Is, praising the work of Ryp, and informing that the Spanish artist is already at work on pages.

“The artwork’s on this is just mind-blowing,” Huston said. “I’m so very, very happy. I’ve been in love with his work for years.”

Alonso concurs, praising “the density of detail” in Ryp’s work.

“Juan’s style is relentless,” Alonso wrote. “Just like this story.”

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