Waking up in a strange place can be a disorienting and even dangerous experience, but thankfully most of us don’t have to worry about whether or not we’ll be eaten by giant carnivorous reptiles on the rare occasion it happens. The titular character of Frank Cho’s ongoing “Savage Wolverine,” on the other hand, opens his new series waking up and finding himself on a mysterious and dangerous island off the coast of the Savage Land. CBR News spoke with Cho about the series which expands the Marvel NOW! initiative when it launches in January.
Editor in Chief Axel Alonso gave Cho his first Marvel assignment when he tapped the “Liberty Meadows” creator to write and draw a “Shanna the She-Devil” miniseries in 2005. Since then, Cho has drawn other titles at Marvel, but has yet to write another project for the company. Alonso felt the launch of the Marvel NOW! Initiative was the perfect opportunity for Cho to get back to both writing and drawing.
“Axel called me up and asked if I’d be interested in doing a Wolverine story. I asked, ‘Who’s the writer?’ and he said, ‘You are.’ That kind of threw me for a loop for a little bit,” Cho told CBR News. “Then Axel reminded me that he had hired me as a writer/artist when he originally hired me about nine years ago to resurrect Shanna. I had been doing a lot of side writing on books like ‘Jungle Girl,’ ’50 Girls 50,’ and ‘Guns and Dinos,’ so I thought, why not? I thought it would be fun to write and draw a Marvel story again.”
The other appeal of writing and drawing “Savage Wolverine” is, of course, the chance to work with the title character. The creator has been a fan of the character since his youth and embraced the opportunity to tell a story with the adamantium-enhanced X-Man.
“I was a typical Marvel fan growing up. Wolverine, Spider-Man and the Punisher were three of my favorite characters. I liked Wolverine because he was this scrappy fighter with claws and a healing factor. He was the badass. When you’re a kid, you kind of gravitate towards that,” Cho explained. “In recent years though, I think Wolverine got a little too dark and too involved with his inner demons. For the last 15-20, years they’ve been tormenting him with all sorts of things, like his past. I wasn’t interested in doing that. I just wanted to tell a nice adventure story with the character.”
To give “Savage Wolverine” a classic adventure feel, Cho looked to the pulp magazines of the ’30s and ’40s along with the Indiana Jones films for inspiration. He eventually decided to insert his protagonist into a “Lost World”-style story, blending the ancient archeological adventures of Indy with the pulp horror of writer H.P. Lovecrafts’s Cthulhu mythos.
“If you look at the pulp characters, you have people doing extraordinary things within the confines of realism, but who are still larger than life like the Shadow, Tarzan and Doc Savage. I’ve always though Wolverine would fit right into that company if played right,” Cho said. “And I’ve had this idea for an Indiana Jones meets the Cthulhu mythos style story in my head for a while now. I didn’t know what to do with it, but then I thought it would be fun to put Wolverine into that story and see what happens.”
Cho embraced the pulp aspects of “Savage Wolverine” even further with his decision to team his protagonist with a Marvel version of a classic pulp archetype, the jungle queen. That character is of course the heroine who launched his career at Marvel, Shanna the She-Devil.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for Shanna because she was the character that made my career at Marvel. I always thought if written right, she could be a pretty interesting character. Plus, with my humor background, I always like to write two characters; the straight man and the funny man. In this story Wolverine is the straight man and Shanna delivers the punchlines,” Cho said. “I update Shanna quite a bit in the story. She’s still married to Ka-Zar, though, so I’m going to go ahead and say it: Wolverine and Shanna do not hook up. Nothing like that happens. They have a dynamic more like what you’d see between two cop characters in a buddy action film.
Shanna and Wolverine’ share the same goal of discovering the true nature of the island they’re trapped on — and escaping it. “Shanna was helping this S.H.I.E.L.D. team survey the whole island when their ship goes down because there’s some sort of dampening field around the place,” Cho explained. “Anything that enters the island’s air space loses power, so the S.H.I.E.L.D. survey ship goes down with Shanna in it because she was their guide. Another mystery they’re trying to figure out is the source of this field. If they can take it down, they can possibly radio for help. Plus there’s this massive, savage tribe on the island that automatically attacks and kills anyone who lands there.
“Wolverine’s arrival on the island is even more mysterious,” Cho continued. “He wakes up and is lying in the grass on this island and he’s immediately like, ‘Where the hell am I?’ So he searches around and tries to find a way off the island and comes across a scouting party from the tribe that lives there. He sees that they have taken a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent as a hostage — and that’s how our story starts.”
Wolverine won’t be the only Marvel hero to arrive on the island in a mysterious fashion. Amadeus Cho of “Incredible Hercules” fame also finds himself unexpectedly transported to the archipelago. He’ll start out separated from Wolverine and Shanna, but the three heroes will cross paths before the initial arc of “Savage Wolverine” is finished.
“Amadeus is our third main character. He’s a fun character to use because I needed someone really smart to tackle the mystery of the island. I couldn’t use any of the other famous Marvel geniuses like Reed Richards or Tony Stark, and Amadeus is the seventh smartest person in the Marvel Universe, technically. He’s also a clean slate in a lot of ways, and he’s a smart ass,” Cho stated. “He’s kind of like the movie Tony Stark in this story, a Robert Downey Jr. character. He’s even got his own armor, a special three-piece Vindicator-style suit, which has an artificial intelligence. The A.I.’s name is Calvin, as in Calvin Klein. There’s a fun dynamic between him and Calvin where they’re going back and forth, just arguing about things as Amadeus explores this island.”
Cho’s “Savage Wolverine” plans also call for two more Marvel characters to arrive on the island before the initial arc of is complete, but at this point, he’s keeping quiet as to their identites. “My editor would kill me,” Cho said. “My phone is ringing right now — I think she knows I’m talking to you! I’ll just say that they’re huge surprises and definitely complicate things!”
Other complications Cho will use to test his protagonists’ mettle include primeval tribesmen and prehistoric monstrosities. “We’ve got raptors, T-Rexes and sabretooth tigers. It’s a Ray Harryhausen-style island,” Cho remarked. “Wolverine and Amadeus have abilities and technologies that help them deal with things like that, but with Shanna — I never liked the idea of a person able to fight off prehistoric monsters with gymnastic skills, so I came up with a organic way to empower her with some interesting physical abilities.”
The new monsters and setting of “Savage Wolverine” help Cho in crafting a new reader-friendly tale more concerned with the adventure and mystery the protagonists have been thrust into than past continuity. “This is one of the most new reader-friendly Wolverine stories that you’ll have read in a while,” Cho said. “You don’t really have to do his background story anymore. People pretty much know who Wolverine is. He’s a mutant with claws in his hands, and nothing can really kill him!”
Cho is also enjoying the chance to bring “Savage Wolverine” to life, stretching his storytelling muscles in new ways. “I’m not my changing my art style but I am changing the way I usually tell a story. I’m having fun with panel design,” the writer/artist explained. “It’s almost a nod to Frank Miller back when he was at his prime, or Will Eisner’s ‘Spirit’ work, where the way the panels were laid out also told the story. I’m having a lot of fun with that.
“We’ve got three different characters exploring the mystery of this island and eventually it becomes a race against time,” Cho continued. “Marvel gave me plenty of lead time, too, so the series shouldn’t suffer from any delays on my part. I’m halfway through issue #3 right now, and I should be working on issue #5, the final installment of the first story, when the book launches. This story is really going to leave Wolverine in an interesting place with a new big bad out there, ready to take on not just Wolverine, but maybe even the entire Marvel Universe!”