The professional killer is one of the most interesting and exciting archetypes in crime fiction. Hitman stories often find their protagonists dealing with fallout from a botched assignment, trying to eliminate an impossible to kill target, or protecting innocent figures from criminal organizations. While most of these tales focus on the killer in his element, few delve into one of the most intriguing questions you could ask a hitman: Why? What actions and events led them to the murderous path they currently walk?
After past collaborations on Marvel Comics’ “Thor: God of Thunder,” “Wolverine” and “Ultimate Comics Captain America,” writer Jason Aaron and artist Ron Garney are turning their attentions to “Men of Wrath, a new creator-owned miniseries launching in October from Marvel’s Icon imprint that explores the nature and history of a professional killer. The story involves both the present day exploits of a hitman named Ira Rath and the violent family history that shaped his life and actions. CBR News spoke with Aaron and Garney about the projects, how their working relationship has evolved over numerous efforts and why now was the right time to tell this story, which marks 25-year veteran Garney’s first foray into creator-owned comics.
CBR News: So Jason, “Men of Wrath” is your next creator-owned project. What inspired this tale? What made you want to tell it now?
Jason Aaron: This was the first thing I started writing after I finished “Scalped.” This was always going to be the next creator-owned thing that I was going to do. Ron ended up drawing some of “Thor” though, so it got pushed back a little bit, and “Southern Bastards” ended up coming out first. “Men of Wrath” has actually been in the works longer than “Southern Bastards.”
I was always going to do this with Ron. He and I have done a lot of stuff together. We’ve done stories with Wolverine, Captain America, and Thor and we had talked about doing a creator-owned book that would give Ron the chance to do something grittier and real world. Ron has been drawing super heroes his entire career. So this is a first chance for him to do a full-on straight up, really dark crime book. So he’s been really excited about that and I think the stuff he’s doing on it looks awesome.
Was “Men of Wrath” designed specifically for Ron when you first came up with the idea?
Aaron: Yes, now with all the creator-owned stuff I do I start with the question of who do I want to work with? I have ideas for stuff that I would like to do, but with a creator-owned book you’re kind of the boss. You have the freedom to put together your own crew. You can say, “I want to work with this person” and that’s kind of the biggest appeal for me. So I figure out that part first.
â€¨Then I have the luxury of being able to work with people I know, people I’m friends with, people I’ve worked with before. That’s why you see me doing “Southern Bastards” with Jason Latour and doing this book with Ron. It’s really more about figuring out that relationship first. We figure out the collaboration and then we decide what we want to do.
Ron, you’ve been drawing comics for over 25 years now and I believe “Men of Wrath” is you first creator-owned book correct?
Ron Garney: Yes it is, not that I haven’t thought about doing other things, but this is the first one that came along that made sense with the timing of it.
How does it feel to be working on a project that you and Jason own after spending so much time drawing for Marvel and DC?
Garney: I love it. It’s always good to own your own creations. I think it was about time for me anyway. I have a lot of ideas on the back burner that I never quite got around to putting together.
â€¨So when Jason called me about this the timing was good, and I’m thrilled about it. Hopefully it will inspire me to get my other ideas off the ground.
As Jason said, he came up with the idea of “Men of Wrath” specifically for you. What do you enjoy most about collaborating with Jason?
Garney: I really don’t enjoy working with Jason at all. He’s kind of an asshole. [Laughs] I’m just kidding. I’m getting him back for an interview he gave about me many years ago.
When I read the stuff that Jason comes up with, or he tells me about it on the phone, or whatever, I can instantly connect to it. Whereas some other scripts take me a little time to get my head around them. I felt like that with one of the projects I did last year; that my head wasn’t quite where it needed to be, but with Jason’s stuff I connect with it right away for some reason.
It started right from the beginning when we did “Get Mystique” [in 2008’s “Wolverine” #62-65] together. The way he wrote meant that I was instantly able to visualize the stuff. Sometimes creative teams come along and they have that synergy going right away.
Jason obviously is working with a lot of great talent, so I feel very fortunate to be included amongst those guys that he’s working with because he is such a talented guy himself.
Unlike “Southern Bastards,” which is published by Image Comics, “Men of Wrath” is being released through Marvel’s Icon imprint. What made Icon the right home for “Men of Wrath?”
Aaron: I just wanted to take a chance and throw my name into that Icon ring. It’s been a pretty selective imprint over the years and I’ve enjoyed most of the stuff it’s put out.
You don’t see many Icon books these days so I wanted to do my part to keep that imprint alive. We’ll see where things go from here.
Let’s move to the protagonist of “Men of Wrath,” the hitman, Ira Rath. What can you tell us about Ira? What are his goals when we first meet him?
Aaron: He’s a bad guy. He’s an older guy who’s reaching the end of his life, which consists pretty much of killing people for money and living alone in an empty house which doesn’t have much furniture. For him it’s clearly not about the money. There’s something else going on.
“Men of Wrath” is about a family history. So each issue opens with flashbacks to different generations of the Rath family. We kind of start to see how the cycle of violence begins and gets perpetuated and passed down from generation to generation of this family and kind of culminates in Ira as the worst of the bunch.
â€¨So it’s pretty clear from his opening scene, which kind of punches of you in the face and tells you that he is not a nice man. It’s a story of how this cycle of violence has led to this one sad and very scary man.
Okay, so elevator pitch wise it’s “William Faulkner writes hardboiled crime fiction”?
Aaron: Sure! This is another southern crime series like “Southern Bastards.” I think if I were going to talk about how one was different from the other this one is certainly much darker. This is more Cormac McCarthy. So if they were Coen Brothers movies this would be “No Country for Old Men” and “Southern Bastards” would be “Fargo.” “Southern Bastards” is still a dark book, but it’s got a different sort of edge to it. It’s a little quirkier, a little funnier. “Men of Wrath” is pretty much straightforward and mean.
You mentioned that Ira is an older figure and so is Earl Tubbs of “Southern Bastards.” You’re not the only one who’s fond of the aging Southern badass archetype either. For example, in prose Stephen Hunter’s Bob Lee and Earl Swagger novels feature characters in the same vein. What makes that type of protagonist so interesting to you?
Aaron: I love westerns. I’m a big western fan. I just watched “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” again the other day for the 100th time. I’m especially a fan of all of Clint Eastwood’s westerns from the Sergio Leone stuff through his own westerns and in particular “Unforgiven.”
I always like to think of “Unforgiven” as if Eastwood is playing the same guy he played in all these other movies, the Man With No Name, or Josey Wales, or whatever; everything has kind of led to this portrayal. Character wise that’s a far more interesting guy; Once you get to the guy who’s at the end of his life and has done all of this horrible stuff and is looking back over his life and wondering what was it for? What did I do? That’s a fascinating character to dig into.
I also love the cinema of the the 1970s back when you could have an action movie with an old man as the lead. You don’t see too many of those any more. So it’s a combination of those and I’m sort of fascinated by those kinds of characters.
Now Ira Wrath is a very different guy than Earl Tubbs. His motivations are very different. A lot of their problems both stem from family, but that’s really a theme of a lot of stuff I’ve done over the years. Family was one of the main overarching themes of “Scalped.” That’s something I’m always interested in.
The original idea for “Men of Wrath” really started with my own family history. My great, great grandfather stabbed a guy to death in an argument over some sheep. That’s the opening scene of “Men of Wrath.” Then his son, my great grandfather, died of rabies. Those are kind of my country roots and they inspired the Rath family in this book.
â€¨The cycle of violence in the book starts with the same thing, a stabbing that may or may not be justified. There’s questions about it. It’s certainly not a cold blooded murder, but that starts something. From that, the ball begins rolling and kind of gets worse and worse with each successive generation until it culminates in the present day.
Garney: Everybody has their history. Some history is more colorful than others, some less. Some are more dysfunctional than others. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I can guarantee this story is bound to hit on many different cylinders for many different people because of that family dynamic. Not that everybody is running around killing each other or that their father is a hitman, but we certainly can understand the disconnect that can happen in a family like that.
Ron what’s your sense of Ira Rath? What was it like designing him? And which aspects of his character did you really want to capture and bring forward in your depiction of him?
Garney: I just sort of design in my head. I don’t really sit there and try and work out anything specific other than what I feel. Whatever I’m feeling when I’m reading what he’s saying on the page is how he comes out. So he just sort of developed that way.
â€¨There’s a little bit of Clint Eastwood in him, a little bit or Arnold Schwarzenegger in him, and a little bit of Marv from “Sin City.” He’s a gruff, rough guy. That’s probably another reason why Jason thought of me for it. Because of my affinity for Wolverine and other tough guys like Ultimate Captain America.
Ira pretty much is a real bastard and I also identify with the plot itself because there are some personal things that hit home for me in this. In a lot of ways the guy reminds me of myself. Sometimes I can be a cranky, old bastard. [Laughs]
Let’s move from the protagonist to the feel and tone of the world of “Men of Wrath.” Tonally is this a gritty, southern gothic? There are no elements of the fantastic or anything like that?
Aaron: Yes, it’s different than “Southern Bastards” in that respect also. This is very much a straight crime series. There’s nothing supernatural or anything like that.
Ron, as you said, you’re known for your tough guy characters like Captain America and Wolverine. What’s it like taking that tough guy aesthetic to “Men of Wrath” which doesn’t have anything like superpowers to fall back on?
Garney: I’m really enjoying it. I love it because, to be honest, over the years I can’t tell you how many times I’ve drawn a panel of a super hero fighting ten different guys. After a while that gets to be kind of repetitive. I’m not saying it’s always like that, but I’ve noticed over the last bunch of years that there always has to be that fight scene in there because they’re heroes and they have to be fighting ten different guys. Whereas in this it’s a little more of a personal story. There’s more depth to it than the average super hero book.
So for me, it’s a chance to step away from super heroes for awhile and I really think I needed it. Because as you said, it’s been over 25 years of super heroes. Now I have a chance to draw a crime comic that doesn’t involve super heroes.
I’ve really been looking forward to that. I remember enjoying “Road to Perdition” when it came out and wanting to do something like that. And I don’t know if that’s why Jason thought of me for this, maybe I told him something in the past about that particular book. So I’m thrilled to death to be doing something different like that. I love this whole kind of genre.
Are there any other antagonists or supporting characters in “Men of Wrath” that you can set up for us?
Aaron: We meet a couple more characters at the end of issue #1, but I’d rather readers discover them on their own. The story is really focused on this one family. It’s very much Ira’s story; a generational cycle of violence that’s led him to this point in his life and kind of where he goes from there.
Let’s move from characters to visuals. Ron, what can you tell us about your art style for “Men of Wrath?” Your last big work was the recent “The Accursed” arc of “Thor: God of Thunder” with Jason. I imagine “Men of Wrath” is a very different project.
Garney: I don’t know. I just do what I feel. I’m an emotional person in regards to the way I draw anyway. I’m not very clean, precise and anal. I’ve played around with that in the past quite a bit, particularly with my “Hulk” run when I was working with Sal Buscema. It was also the case with my “Silver Surfer” run. So there are certain times where I became more methodical, but I also have a side to me that’s more loose, fiery and gritty. I think that’s certainly come out more in the last bunch of years in my work. So this lends itself to that.
“Thor” was a little bit of a different animal because of the colorist involved. The colorist, Ive Svorcina, wanted to do more of a painted thing. So I didn’t put in a whole lot of blacks. He wanted to do that in the color. “Men of Wrath” is different. Starting with issue #2 I’m inking it. There’s a lot more black and moodiness that wasn’t quite as apparent in “Thor.”
As we discussed, “Men of Wrath” is about the history of violence that shaped Ira Wrath and his family, which means you’ll be drawing different eras, correct?
Garney: Yes, we see different time periods. As a matter of fact, this next issue that I’m working on, issue #3, opens on something in the past. I believe we start out in the ’30s. Then we jump forward. Then we jump back again to the ’60s I believe. It’s tricky because we’re in similar locations. So I have to even look into things like the furniture they’re sitting on and what kind of telephones they were using then. The cars and the buildings haven’t appeared yet in the script. I love doing those kinds of elements.
Finally, “Men of Wrath” is a five-issue miniseries, but are you interested in revisiting this world and its characters in another miniseries later on?
Aaron: Yes, absolutely. Ron and I have talked about doing a follow up which would be another “Men of Wrath” story or maybe even a “Women of Wrath,” something that would focus on the women from this same family. So we’ve got a couple ideas to maybe follow it up. We’ll wait and see how this one goes.
Garney: Yeah we’ve definitely talked about doing more. We’ll see how this one is received.
So this could potentially be a series of miniseries like “Hellboy” or what Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips did with “Criminal?”
Aaron: Exactly. I’ve got “Southern Bastards,” which is ongoing. I’m not looking to dive into multiple creator-owned ongoings right now. I don’t think I can handle that and I also don’t want to. I did “Scalped” for so long and now I’m doing “Southern Bastards,” but there’s also a lot of different stuff I want to do.
So I think you’ll see me doing more smaller projects like this so I can work with a lot of different artists and I can do a lot of different kinds of stories.
“Men of Wrath” debuts in October from Icon.