When Marvel Comics’ Wolverine faces a problem of the villainous kind, there’s a good chance that he’ll use his adamantium claws to whip up a lethal solution to it. What happens, however, when Wolverine faces an opponent who becomes a much bigger problem if he’s killed? Writer Charlie Huston and artist Juan Jose Ryp answer that question and more this winter when their new ongoing series, “Wolverine: The Best There Is” begins. CBR News spoke with Huston about the title, which introduces a new and dangerous villain to Wolverine’s rogues gallery.
When Huston and his editor Axel Alonso began discussing the project that would become “The Best There Is,” the two weren’t even thinking about the character of Wolverine. “We were talking about me doing something more long form, like what I had done with Moon Knight. The ideas I had for other characters weren’t fitting what was going on in the pipeline, though, and I had been revisiting Wolverine because he was another action oriented dark character, which is what I do,” Huston told CBR News. “Then, without being able to define it too much, I kept talking to Axel about how tired I thought it was that all Wolverine seems to do anymore since he got his memory back was deal with his past. I thought that was really appropriate for ‘Wolverine: Origins,’ but it seemed like all the character did was look backward. He would despair or get angry about what happened to him and lots of people from his past would pop up.
“It was just bleeding the well dry and it was also a case where some things just get stretched. You can’t have it where Wolverine has a backstory with every single fucking character in the Marvel Universe but somehow never knew it before,” Huston continued. “It’s like, why the fuck didn’t Captain America ever tell him that he knew him?”
The other area of Wolverine that Huston felt warranted further exploration was the villains that the character usually runs afoul of. “All of them are either samurai warriors, feral beasts or some form of the perfect assassin. They’re all people he can fight, obviously. You’ve got a guy with claws who [has a healing factor], so that’s what you’re going to do, but they really don’t fall out of these very limited categories of characters,” the writer remarked. “So what I proposed to Axel was that I wanted to create a brand new Wolverine villain…and I didn’t want him to have to anything to do with Wolverine’s past at all. I wanted to move the character forward in terms of giving Wolverine a new villain, and I wanted something to happen over the course of the initial 12 issues that changed Wolverine, or at least made it clear that if another writer wanted to pick up from here, that there’s room in the direction that I was going. So if somebody wants to pick up on what I did, they can. It’s supposed to be in continuity.”
Huston’s new villain would come to be called Contagion, and Huston has created him to be as different from Wolverine as possible. ” I wanted someone who was tall, physically beautiful and elegant, highly educated, incredibly self aware and erudite. Also, someone who had no physical prowess whatsoever and was incredibly fragile physically. He’s someone that you can’t have Wolverine fight, because there really would be no fight. If it ever came to blows, Wolverine would just kill this character,” the writer revealed. “He would be someone who could dominate Logan intellectually but also pose a perverse kind of physical threat.”
And the threat Contagion poses is a major one. The character himself may be fragile, but the he could kill millions with just a few drops of his blood. This twist has allowed Huston to inject a sense of drama and danger into Logan’s life that the writer feels has been lacking due to Wolverine’s healing ability becoming more and more powerful over the years.
“Part of the reason I told the story I wanted to tell was because the character has become so superhuman. There’s almost nothing you can do to hurt Wolverine. When I was a kid, I was really into the character. The thing that was originally cool about Wolverine was that he was a social misfit within the X-Men. He was the bad guy that was trying to redeem himself. He could be killed. You could actually kill Wolverine at one point. So the character was vulnerable. He was actually mortal. He didn’t just off the cuff kill thousands of people,” Huston explained. “The whole struggle for Wolverine was to live and work within the X-Men’s structure and not be a killer. That was cool, and having him be kind of vulgar and low brow was interesting, especially when you found out he’s got this honorable Japanese warrior side. But all of a sudden, it turned out that he knew everything about everyone at all times. He was like some weird combination of the Watcher, Batman, Daredevil and Superman. He was everything to everybody.”
In order to bring Wolverine’s power level down, in a sense, Huston and Ryp will introduce Contagion’s band of defenders, a team called The Unkillables. “I wanted to avoid giving the character minions, but then at a certain point I realized that I needed them. It wasn’t so much as the character needed them, but there was another aspect of the plot that I needed to fulfill, and in fulfilling that area I brought all these weird, obscure characters into this story. They became minions because it was so surreal and over the top at that point that it stopped seeming like a cop-out and started seeming like fun,” Huston explained. “Since the villain of this series is named Contagion, there are obviously disease and genetics aspects to [the title], so it won’t take quite a bit of imagination to see why a character with those interests might be interested in Wolverine as well. And just to fill in the background and have some interesting references, I was looking for obscure Marvel characters that might have healing factors without being gods, or have some aspect of their powers that was related to diseases.
“In the process of culling the research that the nice people at Marvel did for me, some of these characters, rather than being footnotes, became really central to the story and a lot of fun to play with,” Huston continued. “It’s fun to take characters that don’t have a whole lot of continuity, especially some characters who have literally never appeared in more than one issue of a comic before or completely predate even Golden Age continuity, and drag them into this universe. Then I was like, ‘Yeah – lets do a lot of that,’ actually.”
The Unkillables’ roster is comprised of several characters drawn from Marvel Comics’ seventy years of history, with Huston only able to hint at and reveal the identities of a few of the team members. “This will give you an idea of how obscure and fringy we’re getting here. Of the Unkillables, I think the best known character is going to be Madcap and the least known one is going to be a character named Harry Sykes, who is just not going to show up anywhere [Laughs],” Huston revealed. “Someone is going to have to be very dedicated to have any info on him. There’s also a character from the mystical part of the Marvel Universe named Immortalis.”
The inaugural arc of “Wolverine: The Best There Is” will span several issues, but the events of the book unfold over just a couple of days. In that time, readers will also learn the backstory of Contagion and his connection to a surprising corner of the Marvel Universe. “It’s one I love. I have no doubt, though, that some readers are going to get there and go, ‘Oh no! You’re fucking kidding me! Don’t pull that, Huston!'” the writer stated. “I kind of liked it, though. It comes out of nowhere and I think it’s fun.”
The first half of the opening storyline is about Wolverine dealing with The Unkillables, leaving Contagion’s backstory and connections to other corners of the Marvel U to be explored in the second half of the arc when some of Marvel’s cosmic characters come calling. “One is a shapeshifter from one of the black and white Marvel Magazines from the ’70s. Another one is a character named Monark Starstalker, who I had dug as a kid. He had appeared in one issue of ‘Marvel Premier.’ When I realized I needed a cosmic bounty hunter, I thought about this character. It turns out that Abnett and Lanning were using him in one of their cosmic books,” Huston explained. “I was trying to remember the character’s name, and when I did, I Googled it and what I found was a preview for an issue that was going on stands the following day where they had brought this character back. The only other time he had appeared was in that issue of ‘Marvel Premier.’ The character had literally never been used after that. I was thinking about using him again, and the very next day, this issue of ‘Nova’ hit stores.
“So Abnett and Lanning had like a two issue story where they brought back and kind of re-imagined this character and gave him a different set of powers,” Huston continued. “At that point, if I was going to use the character I was going to have to incorporate the power set they gave him and I would all of sudden have to deal with continuity. I couldn’t just have this mysterious cosmic bounty hunter show up on Earth but it worked. Or at least, I hoped it did!”
As far as the writer’s artistic partner on the new ongoing, Huston had been a fan of Juan Jose Ryp’s art ever since he picked up a one-shot that Ryp had done with Warren Ellis called “Angel Future Stomp.” The writer was so enamored by Ryp’s art that he has made it a point to pick up all of the artist’s subsequent work. “I love that crazy level of detail [Ryp] gets into. He doesn’t etch every ridge of muscle and vein and every hair on this character’s face and then present it in a double page spread. Instead, you get these huge panoramic shots of Times Square or something crazy where the humanity is richly developed and there in the details of the setting. I love his work and I’ve imagined his art many times for many things that I’ve written since I started writing for Marvel, but when Axel and I started talking about artists I don’t even think I brought up his name on this,” Huston remarked. “I had stopped bringing up his name because he was always doing something, and I’ve been so busy with my other work that I stopped reading comics. After Gregg Hurwitz’s first couple of issues, I even lost track of what was going on with Moon Knight. Then, all of a sudden, Axel brought up Juan Jose and said that he was drawing ‘Moon Knight’ and I had no fucking clue that was going on.”
Huston eagerly asked for the chance to work with Ryp and thus far, their collaboration has been everything the writer hoped it would be, and more. “So, the first 11 pages are drawn and inked and they’re just crazy. They’re so good. They’re exactly what I would have asked for. He draws the panel that you want, but he also just fills it in and enriches it so you can look forever at it,” the writer remarked. “I just got a page that has a scene set in a club and it’s just gorgeous. It makes me wish it was a two page spread. Instead it’s like a three-quarters page, but he put a big video screen over one of the bars and he’s got a clip of a movie playing on it. I recognized instantly that the movie still you can see on the screen in this panel is from the opening sequence of ‘Once Upon a Time in the West.’ I recognized it instantly, because I love that movie so much and I hadn’t said anything to him about that at all. So, just in case you can’t tell, I’m hugely enthusiastic about Juan Jose and his work.”
When readers pick up the first issue of “Wolverine: The Best There Is” they’ll be embarking on a ride that isn’t just exciting, dark and violent as Huston plans to have plenty of humor and some bizarre, surreal and feverish moments as well.
“What I thought was fun about Wolverine was that the guy was kind of a creep and just completely out of place. He was the guy who would say the wrong thing and call Professor Xavier, ‘Chuck.’ He was the tough guy and the motormouth and all those kinds of things. Then over the years, it seems like the character has become more god-like in his powers and grim and humorless in attitude. So there’s definitely room for this,” Huston said. “This thing has gallons of blood. It has metric tons of fluid poured all over it, but I hope that it also has a lot of dark humor. I also hope that it’s really perversely weird and surreal, which is one thing I don’t think really shows up in Wolverine stories. I wanted that kind of bizarre Grant Morrison-style oddness, and this is not to suggest that I can approach Grant Morrison’s writing ability or talent for perversity. That’s just what I’m hoping for in this. I’m trying to tell a strange kind of over the top story with Wolverine at the center.”