Wolverine first grabbed readers way back in 1974, in Marvel Comics’ “The Incredible Hulk” #181 written by Len Wein and penciled by Herb Trimpe, where the clawed hero was dispatched by the Canadian government to put an end to a rampaging battle between the Hulk and Wendigo. Since that first appearance, he has remained a cornerstone of Marvel’s mythology, appearing in countless comic books, films and other media.
In June 2013, Marvel releases a new wave of “Season One” graphic novels, delving into the early days of Marvels canonical heroes, as announced Thursday at New York Comic Con. “Wolverine: Season One,” written by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker with art by Salva Espin, dives into the events surrounding the hero’s first confrontation with the Hulk. Wolverine is an agent with the Canadian Department H, and his journey from a raging man-beast to hero and teacher was just beginning.
Comic Book Resources spoke to Blacker about the development of the graphic novel, the challenges of tackling a fan-favorite character and the writer’s first foray into comics.
“Wolverine: Season One” marks Acker and Blacker’s first trip into the world of comic book writing. The two are best known for their work in television, writing for the series “Supernatural” and for their live staged radio and theater production “The Thrilling Adventure Hour.” The stage show, held monthly at the Coronet Theater in Los Angeles, has earned the writers a steady following, and it was through “The Thrilling Adventure Hour” the duo found their way into the world of comic book writing.
“We got lucky!” Blacker told CBR News. “One day on Twitter, we saw a video posted of a mustached gentleman doing a ukulele cover of the theme from ‘Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars’ (one of the main pieces of the ‘Thrilling Adventure Hour’). His bio said he’s an editor at Marvel. So we kept an eye on him. When he continued to say flattering things about the show, and us, we dropped him a line to ask how we could get involved in writing comics. He happened to be starting up this ‘Wolverine: Season One’ book, and after a series of emails, Jordan D. White decided we were the guys for the job. We’re thrilled that he would take a chance on untested comics writers with such a big project. We’ve learned so much about writing for this medium. It’s been a blast.”
Acker and Blacker are longtime comic book readers and fans. While this marks their entrance into writing for the medium, they are extremely familiar with the characters and their history.
“We are both comics readers from childhood, though Acker was always a Marvel guy and [I was] a DC fan,” said Blacker. “But we’d both check in with Spider-Man, X-Men, Wolverine and all of the big characters on and off over the years. We both really dug the ‘Old Man Logan’ story by Mark Millar a few years ago; that sort of put the character back on our radars. It’s been interesting seeing the iterations and paces Logan’s been put through in the past twenty years. What’s been clear is the indelible quality of Wolverine, the thing that makes him Wolverine, has never changed. That’s the thing we latched onto for our story.”
For “Wolverine: Season One,” the writing duo takes Logan back to his roots, exploring the period around that first appearance of Wolverine as a Canadian agent. While focusing on that first appearance, a large swath of the character’s history — in both comic books and film — informed their portrayal of the character.
“Wolverine’s history — and future, for that matter — is so rich that there was a lot to choose from,” said Blacker. “We’re big fans of Barry Windsor-Smith’s ‘Weapon X’ story as well as a lot of the Alpha Flight-related stuff. The movie version, especially from the first ‘X-Men’ movie, was also in the backs of our minds in writing the character, as that is the version with which the majority of the Wolverine audience is most familiar. To make the story ours, we concentrated on the aspect most interesting to us: Logan’s struggle between his civilized, ‘human’ side and his feral, ‘animal’ self.
“We had a big conversation at the beginning of this project with our superstar editor Jordan D. White about what part of Wolverine’s past to explore,” said Blacker. “We were thrilled to hit upon the opportunity to play in the sandbox created by our pal Len Wein. We knew Len’s issue — Wolverine’s first appearance in ‘Hulk’ #181 — would be the middle-point of our mini-series. Len’s first appearance is a really fertile area, as it revolves around three monsters who are also men — or perhaps vice versa.”
Tackling a heavyweight character like Wolverine is no easy feat for a writer’s first venture in the ring. Aside from his convoluted history and wide range of past and current portrayals from blood-thirsty killer to distinguished professor, Wolverine is a hero with a rabid fan base. As a character, he is able to carry multiple books at a time, and is many a young comic reader’s favorite character. From a writer’s perspective, this challenge can be seen as either a great opportunity or a great pressure.
“The toughest part was probably throwing away a lot of our pre-conceptions about Wolverine and paring him down to his essence,” said Blacker. “What are the base aspects of the character we find fun? The claws, the battle between man and beast, ‘bub’ — things like that. The dictate to make all of the characters accessible to new readers was helpful in that regard.”
While the book centers on the confrontation between Wolverine and the Hulk, a look into Wolverine’s past wouldn’t be complete without an appearance by his longtime nemesis, Sabretooth. As for the outcome of this meeting, Acker and Blacker remained tight-lipped.
“Sabretooth was a late addition to our story,” Blacker said, “but when we hit upon using him, we knew he’d help form the exciting climax to the book. Sabretooth is, in many ways, what would happen if Logan let himself become an animal. That’s probably as much as we can say.”
The two writers have been working with artist Salva Espin, and the writers are excited about the collaboration.
“Everything we’ve seen from Salva thus far has been amazing,” said Blacker. “We love the bold strokes of his style. Early on he told us he loves to draw ‘big fight scenes and beautiful women’ and we’re thrilled that ‘Wolverine: Season One’ has given him the opportunity to do both!”
Acker and Blacker found themselves writing comic books unexpectedly, making the journey into the industry through a somewhat atypical route. If they get their way, “Wolverine: Season One” will be just the beginning. The two are currently working towards a hardcover graphic novel anthology based on the characters and sketches from their stage show and podcast, “The Thrilling Adventure Hour.” With a Kickstarter campaign in progress and running through October, they hope to publish the book through Archaia. Although Los Angeles is currently the only place to see a live show, podcasts of “The Thrilling Adventure Hour” are available on iTunes and the Nerdist network.
“Wolverine: Season One” hits stores June 2013.