To get a sense of the parenting skills possessed by Marvel Comics hero Wolverine you have to look beyond his biological offspring like the murderous mutant Daken and the brutal mercenaries known as the Mongrels who served as enforcers to his enemies, the Red Right Hand. He had no idea those children existed until well after they had grown into violent adults. A better way to evaluate his skills as a father is to look at his unofficial daughters — young mutants he took under his wing and helped find confidence and inner strength like Kitty Pryde (AKA Shadowcat) and Jubilation Lee (AKA Jubilee).
This August, Wolverine reunites with Jubilee and her adopted son Shogo for a camping trip that turns deadly thanks to the loss of his healing factor in the pages of “Wolverine Annual” #1 by “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” head writer Elliott Kalan and artist Jonathan Marks. CBR News spoke with Kalan about what made him want to dip his toes back in the comic book waters, the appeal of writing Wolverine sans healing factor, how Jubilee became part of his story and more.
CBR News: Elliott, between your work as head writer on “The Daily Show” and a number of podcasts your plate seems extremely full. And yet you’ve found time to do several short stories for Marvel, the most recent of which appeared in “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” #11. Comics are clearly a labor of love for you. What do you enjoy most about writing them? And is this year’s “Wolverine Annual” your first full-length story for Marvel?
Elliott Kalan: Writing comics is completely a labor of love for me, and something I’ve dreamed about doing for a long, long time. I say all the time that in 2009 I got engaged, won my first Emmy, and sold my first story to Marvel — and that if I hadn’t gotten engaged the Marvel sale would have been, by far, the most exciting thing to happen to me that year. Aside from the pleasure that just comes from getting paid to basically play “let’s pretend,” the enjoyment I get is basically twofold. I really love working in the comics format and breaking a story down into its tiniest bits, first dividing it by page, then by panel, and then by line of dialogue. There’s something very precision-oriented about choosing the individual moments to dramatize that’s a really fun challenge and very different from my day job. And the other thing I enjoy is just getting to speak in the voices of actions of characters I’ve been following as a fan since I was 10 years-old. Slipping into Wolverine and Jubilee’s skins and speaking in their voices was a huge thrill. Though honestly nothing is more fun than writing Doctor Doom dialogue.
This is my second issue-length story for Marvel, the first being a story in the “Iron Man: Iron Age” miniseries. That was more of a slam-bang adventure story, though, while this was a much more emotional story for me to work on and there’s something incredibly satisfying about that. I was able to draw on my own life a lot more for this story than anything I’ve done for Marvel before. Because yes, I am a mutant who hangs out with wolves.
[Laughs] Let’s talk a little bit about your title character. I believe this is your first time writing Wolverine, correct? What do you find most interesting about him? Which aspects of his personality are you especially interested in exploring? How does your approach to Logan change now that he’s without his healing factor?
This is my first time writing for Wolverine, but hopefully not my last. Why, does Marvel have anything big coming up that might get in the way of my writing a new “Wolverine” series? To me the most interesting thing about Wolverine is his sense of personal history and the way he’s developed over the past 40 years or so. Not only does he have this long character biography going back a century or whatever, but he’s changed so dramatically in the time he’s been published — starting as the loner wildman rebel and very gradually becoming one of the emotional centers of the Marvel Universe and a father figure/authority for a number of other characters. He still struggles with these darker aspects of himself, but now that means a little more because he’s become entangled in the kind of real familial relationships you never would have guessed he’d be part of when he was a new X-Man pissing everyone else off with his bad attitude. Also: claws and hangs out with wolves.
Those are the parts of his personality I enjoyed exploring the most — the man who struggles with his demons and isn’t totally comfortable with the fact that he’s now the protector rather than the prodigal son. His own relishing of, but discomfort with, this status of “respected community member” that he’s probably always wanted all his life but didn’t want to admit.
Writing Wolverine without his healing factor was great for me because I could really hurt him in a way he normally couldn’t be. I loved the idea of “this is a guy who’s used to just jumping into a fight because he can shrug off any wound” but then if someone shoots him he’s laid out the same way a normal person would be. The stakes are raised enormously when the guy who’s used to surviving explosions and laser blasts and having metal ripped out of every pore can be taken out by any random person with a gun.
This isn’t a Wolverine solo story. Jubilee and her adopted baby son Shogo are also involved. What made you want to bring Jubilee into this story? What do you find most interesting her dynamic with Wolverine? And can you talk about how that’s changed now that she’s adopted Shogo, or does the story itself hinge on that change?
Actually, Jubilee was part of the deal from the beginning — I’d pitched a Jubilee idea to Marvel that didn’t get picked up, but as a result they asked me to do this Annual as a look at the Wolverine/Jubilee relationship. It’s a relationship I’ve always had a fondness for, since when I first got into comics Wolverine’s solo book was basically “The Wolverine and Jubilee Adventures.” I loved their dynamic, and the Wolverine tradition of taking vulnerable young women under his wing and teaching them to find the strength within themselves. Wolverine and Jubilee have all the love of a father/daughter bond, but they chose each other to play those roles. And no matter how irritated they may get with each other, they know they can count on each other. But they irritate each other. A lot.
Jubilee, like Wolverine, is a character who’s changed and matured so much since she first appeared. I love that she’s gone from teen mall rat to single mom, without losing the core of her personality. She’s still this fun, goofy character, but she isn’t the kid sidekick anymore; she’s a parent. And being a new parent myself, this was something I could especially relate to.
And that’s very much what this story is about, Wolverine recognizing and realizing how much Jubilee has come into her own and become a grown-up (even if she doesn’t always act like one). It’s a beautiful thing to me, I love stories about characters changing over time and growing into the people they’re going to be. It’s what I love about “Mad Men,” for instance, watching these characters grow and change under the pressures of time. The way people are changed by their experiences (losing their powers, having babies, etc.) is what I was thinking about while writing this. So go ahead and put that in the pull-quote: “Does for Marvel what ‘Mad Men’ did for television!”
What else can you tell us about the plot and themes of your “Wolverine Annual?” The solicits suggest that it’s a camping trip that sets the story in motion?
The story starts off with Wolverine taking Jubilee camping because without his healing factor he’s feeling his vulnerability more and wants to teach her to fend for herself in case he isn’t around to protect her in the future. He tells her not to bring Shogo along, but of course she brings Shogo along. And what could easily have been a fun, sitcom-y type thing gets more dangerous when wolves and a guy with a gun show up.
What details can you offer up about the antagonists of your story? How much danger are Wolverine, Shogo and Jubilee in?
One of the things I liked about writing this story is that the antagonists aren’t really villains. They’re regular people experiencing their own problems who make an assumption about Wolverine and Jubilee that quickly spirals out of control. Nobody in the story is sinister or malicious — just misguided and confused. But they’re still in plenty of danger! On average a lot more people die in the woods than because a Sentinel falls on them!
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Are there any other supporting players in this story that you want to hint, tease or talk about?
The cast of characters is relatively small. I’d rather let the reader meet the new people. Although I think I did mention that there are a bunch of wolves in this, and Jonathan Marks draws some amazing wolves.
Speaking of, I believe your “Wolverine Annual” marks the Marvel debut of Jonathan Marks, whose past work has been primarily for Aspen Comics. What do you feel he brings to the book as an artist?
Jonathan’s art for the book is both really unique and really clear and readable. He brings a fantastic quality I’d call rustic or wood-hewn or autumnal to the whole thing. He really brings out the emotion of the talky scenes and the speed and tension of the action scenes. It’s really beautiful.
What can you tell us about the tone, scope and scale of the story you and Jonathan are collaborating on for “Wolverine Annual” #1?
This is a small-scale story with a lot of big-scale emotions in it. We’re following the characters over the course of roughly a day, but during that time they’re going to reflect on their entire lives. The tone is a little nostalgic, and a little sad, and a little angry, and a little proud. Does that make sense? It will after you read the book!
I’m very proud of this story, and I think the book is going to be really, really special. It might make people look at Jubilee in a different way. I’d like to think of this as the definitive “Wolverine and Jubilee go camping in the woods with a baby” story.
I know your day job and other responsibilities keep you pretty busy, but is there more comic work in your immediate future with Marvel or perhaps creator-owned?
There isn’t anything concrete I can point to for future comic work, but I certainly hope there will be. I love writing for Marvel and I’ve got a lot of love for those characters. And eventually I’d love to branch out and do something entirely my own. First I’ll just have to invent six more hours for the day.
Finally, fans of your comics work who want to check out more of what you’re up to can go beyond “The Daily Show” since you also co-host a film podcast called “The Flop House.” What can you tell our readers about it? I understand it’s where you and your co-hosts provide commentary on recently released bad movies?
“The Flop House” is your classic “three friends who have just watched a bad movie talk about the movie and get distracted and go off on tangents about ‘Ziggy’ or ‘DuckTales’ or what kind of snack chips Sylvester Stallone prefers and make fun of each other for mispronouncing words” podcast. I’ve been doing it with my fellow “Daily Show” writer Dan McCoy and our friend Stuart Wellington for about five or six years, and I think we’re almost getting good at it. It’s a lot of goofy nonsense that we have a ton of fun saying and for some reason thousands of people enjoy listening to. I’d suggest anyone who likes movies, comedy, or nonsense give it a listen!
“Wolverine Annual” #1 by Elliott Kalan and Jonathan Marks goes on sale in August from Marvel Comics.