While the heroes of the Marvel Universe have fantastic abilities that allow them to tackle some of the more bizarre and ominous threats of their world, they still find themselves near-powerless when it comes to getting rid of some of the more mundane evils that plague it. Sure, Wolverine can hunt down and destroy a cell of super-terrorists, but can he dismantle a worldwide criminal trade that profits from the exploitation and illegal hunting of animals?
Phil Jimenez explores that question and more in a two-part “Savage Wolverine” story that kicks off in November’s issue #12. We spoke with the writer-artist about his tale, which finds his protagonist on a quest to destroy the poaching trade in the Marvel Universe.
CBR News: You’ve done plenty of art for Marvel, but I don’t believe you’ve ever written anything for them before. How does it feel to be asked to write and draw a story starring one of Marvel’s most iconic characters?
Phil Jimenez: Years ago, when I was coming back to Marvel to draw “Spider-Man,” I had plotted a fairly large cross-over/epic featuring Spidey and the epic return of the Sinister Six. It would have been like a “Crisis”-level event for Spider-Man, but for various reasons (notably the Spidey continuity reboot), that epic never quite came to fruition. However, editor Steve Wacker was kind enough to let me write a couple of small chapters of the story that eventually became the return of the Kraven family, “The Gauntlet,” since I invented Sasha and Ana Kraven, Kraven’s wife and daughter, which allowed me to flesh those characters out some and play with the “toys” before I gave them over to folks more qualified to handle them over the long term.
Other than that, and some brainstorming with the Spider-trust back in the day, this is my first writing assignment for Marvel. And suffice to say, I’m feeling very nervous about the whole endeavor. I think it’s a big deal, writing stories featuring such iconic characters that are important to so many. I think it’s a big responsibility, and I’m hoping I can pull this off.
One of the fun parts about this gig is co-writing the story with my friend Scott Lope, a celebrity animal expert who was Animal Planet’s Person of the Year a few years back and is a long time X-Men fan. It’s been great working with someone who gets all of it; he deserves quite a bit of credit for helping me figure out a basic framework, for helping me work through the logistics of some of the more difficult scenes and for keeping me abreast of little bits of X-Men continuity I may have missed over the years.
I have to give props to Editor Jeanine Schaefer, who’s trusted me enough with the material to let me just go at it. I’ve worked with editors in the past who have drastically changed or altered my work, and I just didn’t have the heart for that on something like this, which deals with a topic so near to our hearts. So far, that hasn’t been true at all. Jeanine has been everything you want in an editor — collaborative, helpful and insanely patient (these pages are going to the printer with the ink still wet!). I hope when we’re done, this will be a project we can all be proud of!
What do you find most interesting about the character? Which aspects of his personality do you really want to capture and bring forward in your art?
As most folks who follow me know, I’m not generally a big fan of male figures, particular the square jawed, bad-ass, alpha-male types that dominate the medium. I’ve always been interested in the heroism of the “other” — women, minorities, gays, because I think they represent (to me) a range of types, emotions, metaphoric subtexts, etc. that speak to me in a way that the “straight white alpha male” does not — but Wolverine has always been different to me, for some reason; I’ve been particularly fond of the character for decades. Perhaps it’s because he’s been featured so prominently in so many books for the past 30 years (popularity sure helps!), but I find that Wolverine has more nooks and crannies in his personality than nearly any other character.
He’s capable of great humor and sensitivity as well as great brutality and even cruelty; there are very few limits on the emotional beats one can get out of him given the proper context. Wolverine’s such a well-crafted, well-defined character, you can tell almost any kind of story with him, and he’ll naturally dictate his appropriate response to any situation — be it fighting ninjas, evil mutants, aliens or poachers. And he works as a character in almost any setting; he’s not limited in the way some other characters are, by milieu or origin or POV. Plus, there’s that old man/curmudgeon aspect of his character that I love, and a history that gives storytellers a ridiculous amount of room to play and explore.
My hope is to capture the “Logan” part of him as well as the “Wolverine” part in this story. This is as much a story about who Logan is as who Wolverine is, about Logan’s place in the natural world, about his affinity for the animal kingdom (he relates in many ways, I suspect, more to animals than to people). It’s about his size and scale in that world (he is only 5’3″, after all — tiny compared to a bull elephant), and I’m really hoping the art captures a sense of both incredible anger and deep sadness at the brutality to animals he witnesses throughout this story.
One of the things we did do was try to root our story in Wolverine’s history — we found several panels from stories old and new that fed into our interpretation of the character, and helped determine his course of action during the story. I’m a keen believer in using the history of these characters and building stories upon it; it’s those added layers of emotion and experience that allow us to invest in them over a long period of time. I really wanted to use what had come before to stabilize and legitimize our story, and make it something that would resonate for a long time with readers, and with Wolverine.
Your “Savage Wolverine” story pits Logan against the poaching trade in the Marvel Universe, which means he’s up against a problem that won’t necessarily be solved by killing a whole bunch of people. What’s it like for him as a character to confront something like that? How resourceful will Wolverine have to be in this story?
In our universe, poaching is a global, multi-billion dollar a year industry; thousands upon thousands of animals are brutally slaughtered annually with no end in sight. The reasons range from religious and cultural to financial. And I don’t want to give too much away about Wolverine’s reaction to it — how he deals with this realization is, of course, an important through line in the story — but it’s been fascinating working with a nearly invincible character who’s fighting something so, so far beyond his ability to defeat.
Those limits gave us so much to work with — but also a lot of hurdles. We still want Wolverine to be heroic, after all. But any personal victory he achieves may not match the width and breadth of the “villain” (poaching) he’s struggling to vanquish. And what does that say about heroism, and heroic actions, and going forward or giving up? Why fight the good fight at all if you know it’s one you’ll never win? This is why I love Wolverine — because these are exactly the questions a creator can explore in a story with a character as perfectly built as Logan, especially one with his set of values and his incredible sense of honorable duty.
What types of adversaries will Wolverine face as he tries to bring down the poaching trade? Will we see some familiar Marvel villains?
Let’s just say his primary adversary in this story will surprise even him, and will change a long-standing relationship in his life — maybe forever.
Before this story is over, you’ll have taken readers to both real jungles and the concrete ones of Madripoor. What’s your sense of Madripoor? Which aspects of the infamous island-city did you want to explore?
Madripoor really is an amazing locale in its way. Its lawlessness, location and wealth make it a perfect “stand in” for the countries that make the smuggling of illegal poached animals so sadly easy and lucrative in our world. It has an incredibly rich history, in-universe mythology and the mix of rich and poor, high tech and slum, makes for an incredibly diverse number of environments to draw.
Further, Wolverine’s got such strong ties to the place — his son Daken ruled it for a while, remember — and a history that was almost impossible not to get lost in during research. More than anything, I wanted to explore what “crime” in Madripoor is acceptable to Wolverine, and what crime is not — and how he’s come to make those distinctions. Plus, I got the chance to draw Tyger Tiger in a couple of scenes — and boy, did she end up being more fun to doodle than I expected!
What can you tell us about the supporting cast of your “Savage Wolverine” story? Will Wolverine have any allies in his quest?
While this story is primarily about Wolverine, Scott and I wanted another POV character or two to help shed light and different perspective on the topic. Scott really sold me on Kitty Pryde (not that it was a particularly tough sale) as the perfect counter-balance to Logan. She provides Wolverine with some vital information while keeping the Jean Grey school running in Wolverine’s absence, and provides us with some insight Wolverine’s character might not naturally be capable of giving, considering his headspace in the story. She’s not actively with him on the mission, but her role as his friend and confidant is incredibly important in this story.
As I mentioned above, Tyger Tiger shows up in some of the Madripoor stuff, and Cypher also makes a brief but important appearance, too — and some of the students at the Jean Grey school make a few cameos as well (I really just wanted to draw them at least once, after all!).
Let’s take a moment to talk about the visuals of your story. How would you describe the look of your tale? How does it compare to some of your recent work?
We had a very limited time to work on this story, so I ended up inking a lot of it myself. I just hope it looks good and people like it. I had a couple of my peers look at some of the pages, and they kept calling them very “classic” looking — I do have an old school way of storytelling, with lots of panels on the page and a fairly formal approach to the figure drawing.
What I will say is that the line work has a lot of texture, is a synthesis of a lot of influences from inside of comics and out, and the larger number of panels on the page seems to have given us a lot more story to work with. The book, I hope, will be a “read” and worth the price fans pay; I think they’ll get a lot out of it visually, and be able to go back to it again and again and find little gems and details they might miss upon first glance.
Since you’re telling a story that’s essentially about a man trying to bring justice to endangered animals that are abused and slaughtered, I imagine this is going to be an emotional, visceral, and almost noirish story.
You’re pretty spot on about tone, although it’s still in many ways an action-adventure tale. I wouldn’t call it overly noirish, but it’s rooted in some very real-world horrors and it’s highly referenced visually. It’s a tough call, both creatively and editorially, showcasing such “real” violence; folks are much more comfortable with Wolverine slicing apart ninjas than poachers slicing off the faces (literally) of rhinos and elephants. I’m hoping I tackled that stuff visually honestly and fairly; I hope the shock comes from the fact that these horrors are actually happening and not simply from their visual depictions.
Finally, I know you did research on real world poaching for this story, which can be a rough topic to look into. What was it like writing this story? And are there any resources you recommend for people who want to become better informed about this topic and what they can do to make a difference?
The insane brutality of poachers and the incredible (though understandable) indifference from most of the population here and abroad were huge eye openers. The reference was simply horrible to look at, but certainly nothing, absolutely nothing, that those out in the field working to save these animals aren’t going through. Further, the short-and long term effects of such slaughter on the people and wildlife of multiple continents is mind boggling. Trying to begin to address such slaughter and the cultural and financial reasons behind it, in a two part story was daunting, and Scott and I had to make sure we kept the story scaled to the arc and personal to Wolverine. And while we wanted to write a story that spoke about the horrors of poaching, more than anything we wanted to craft a tale that gave us new insight into Wolverine, Kitty, Madripoor and the Marvel Universe — something that gave us something new and fresh about a character with thousands of stories under his belt.
That was more important to me than anything; it’s a Wolverine book, after all, and the challenge for us was in figuring out what we could say about Wolverine that hadn’t been said before, what new twist or angle could we give his character that others could build off of in the future, and fans could read as “real,” “accurate,” “legit.”
There are always dangers in tackling “real world” subjects in comics; no one wants to be lectured when they buy these comics, they want to be entertained. But I do think people can respond to material about “the real world” if presented in the right way. I think the trick of that is, as mentioned, to make sure it’s always a Wolverine story; to keep the focus on Wolverine and his allies and to make sure the story is told through Wolverine’s eyes; to make sure Logan never gets lost in the story telling shuffle (he doesn’t!), and to make sure the conclusions he arrives at are organically his own. The readers can make their own minds up about the rest of it, as long as they feel like the story they paid for is sound, well structured, and hits real emotional beats for the characters featured within.
I sure hope we did that!
Opportunities to work on books like this — using iconic characters, exploring such world themes — are a gift. I’m incredibly grateful to Jeanine and Marvel for giving me the opportunity and to Scott for all his help.