Four years ago, Wolverine’s villainous son Daken made his Marvel Universe debut courtesy of writer Daniel Way and artist Steve Dillon. Since then, the Canadian mutant’s offspring been incredibly busy. He’s tried to kill his father several times, and as a member of Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers and Dark X-Men teams, he’s gone toe-to-toe with several of the Marvel U’s major players. Daken’s ultimate goal was to take control of the shadowy and powerful organization lead by Romulus, the villain who raised him, but before his dreams could be realized, Daken’s father dismantled Romulus’ secret cabal and imprisoned the manipulative villain.
As a result, Daken has been forced to strike out on his own and create his own power base. In recent issues, “Daken: Dark Wolverine” writers Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu have detailed his initial steps in accomplishing exactly that. The island nation of Madripoor, long known for its lawlessness, is now under Daken’s control — but that’s not enough for the scheming mutant.
Next week, writer Rob Williams begins his run as the book’s new writer with the special, new reader friendly “Daken: Dark Wolverine” #9.1, a story that sets the stage for Daken’s next campaign in his quest for criminal empire. CBR News spoke with Williams about his plans for the series and about the way in which his work on the “2000AD” sci-fi crime series “Low Life,” soon to be collected as “Low Life: Paranoia,” helped him prepare to take on what may be Marvel’s most unrepentantly conniving character in recent memory.
CBR News: So, Rob — when we’ve spoken in the past it’s been about your love of Marvel’s classic heroes, but based on your work on books like “Low Life,” Com.x’s “Cla$$war” and now “Daken,” I’m guessing you also have some affinity for morally gray and villainous characters.
Rob Williams: I think there’s a lot of great drama and attractive themes that comes from characters in a morally gray area. I think it’s fair to say that I’m interested in all kinds of characters, be they hero, villain, or anti-hero.
Fans of your Marvel work know you as a writer of one-shots and miniseries, but you’ve actually been writing an ongoing series for some time. You created “Low Life” for “2000AD” back in 2004, correct?
Yes. “Low Life” has been running for a long time out of “2000AD,” the classic British sci-fi weekly, which launched the careers of people like Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Grant Morrison and innumerable others. “Low Life” is set in the worst and most industrialized area of Judge Dredd’s Mega City One and I’ve been able to create my own little localized world within Dredd’s world. The series revolves around the undercover judges of the Wally Squad. These people have been undercover too long in a very strange environment and a lot of them are quite weird and eccentric as a result.
One of the main characters is Aimee Nixon who is basically a fantastic liar, which means she also lies to herself a lot. She’s a very interesting character. There are a lot of levels there. Then there’s another character named Dirty Frank, who is quite mad and speaks about himself in the third person. He started as a background character and he got so popular with “2000AD” readers that we started moving him to the forefront. He lends himself to a lot of dark and violent stories, but he provides a lot of comic relief as well.
So I’ve had a blast writing the series and I’ve had some wonderful artistic collaborators on it as well. People like Henry Flint, who’s an absolute genius (and doing some Marvel work in the upcoming “Fearsome Foursome”). I don’t use that word lightly. He’s one of these artists coming from a very mad place with huge amounts of energy. And when Henry left, Simon Coleby took over. Simon has done work for “The Authority” and is again a wonderful artist. We’re currently working together on an as-yet-unannounced project that should hopefully be out sometime in 2011 or 2012.
Then D’Israeli took over when Simon went off to do “The Authority.” D’Israeli did “Scarlet Traces,” which I believe won an Eisner Award a couple years back. He’s worked with Warren Ellis and a lot of great creators. I’ve been very lucky with the artists on “Low Life.” They’re all out of this world. I’m really glad it’s being collected for an American market. The collected edition hits stores in June so people coming to my Marvel work will now be able to see what I’ve been doing for about the last six years.
What sort of lessons did you learn while writing “Low Life” that you plan on applying to “Daken?”
When you write for “2000AD,” you do it in five page episodes. Within those five pages, you need to have a beginning, middle and end. So it’s a really interesting writing exercise. It teaches you economy in your writing. All the things you do in a 22 page story for the American market you have to do in five pages for “2000 AD” You’ve got to establish character and setting. You’ve got to create drama, an inciting incident, and a goal for your protagonist and you’ve got to do all of that very, very quickly.
I think John Wagner, the creator of Judge Dredd, is on record as saying writing five page stories sorts out the men from the boys. I think that’s part of the reason why “2000AD” has been such a great academy for comic talent over the years. When you work for “2000AD,” you learn an awful lot from writing and drawing those types of stories. Then, when you go onto the American format, you feel like you’ve got so much room to breathe. You get this sense of freedom because you’ve been raised on five pages. Lots of great work continues to come out of “2000AD”. The continuous roll out of talent over the years has been extraordinary I think.
It seems appropriate that the creator of “Low Life” would be taking over the adventures of “Daken,” one of the Marvel Universe’s most charismatic lowlifes. What made you want to take over the title?
He’s still very new. When you’re working in the Marvel Universe, most of the characters you get to write about have been around for at least 20 years. Daken is still fresh and there’s not as much continuity there, so there’s a feeling of freedom with the character. So far, Marvel editorial has been really open to my suggestions for the book. When you come onto a book starring Batman, Spider-Man or any of these larger more established characters that are wonderful and great to write, there can be a lot more limitations. With Daken, you can easily go in any direction.
And because he’s of a dubious moral nature, you’re not limited in that respect either. There’s all these emotions to explore and things you can examine. He can do good and he can be very, very bad, as we well know. So I saw this as a great creative opportunity.
So far, Daken’s ongoing adventures have been written almost exclusively by his creator Daniel Way and co-writer Marjorie Liu. Their well-received run on the character came to an end with “Daken: Dark Wolverine” #9, in stores now. How does it feel to be following this particular writing team?
It’s always intimidating, especially in this case. Daken has become very popular in such a short time. That says a lot about what Dan and Marjorie have done with the character. When the announcement was made about me taking over the book, I immediately got e-mails from some rabid Daken fans saying, “Don’t you dare mess with this!”
Daken has shown up in other books, but Daniel and Marjorie have been the ones in charge of creating and laying out his past. Especially Dan, who invented the character. So when you get offered a job like this a large part of you is very excited and another part is quite intimidated as well. [Laughs] You’ve just got to do what you do, hope people like it and have fun with it and not get bogged down by worrying too much
So, how has it been writing Daken? Is he a character you were immediately able to have fun with? Or was he a difficult character to get to know?
What I find most exciting about writing Daken is, and I can’t remember who said this, is it’s not enough to put characters’ lives at risk. You’ve got to put their souls at risk as well. I truly believe that and I think with Daken — he’s a killer and a nasty piece of work, so I think the exciting thing from my point of view is, he’s got a soul, and we’re going to find out if he’s all bad. That can lead to some interesting directions and tension. We don’t know where he’s going to go.
Wolverine’s relationship with him is interesting because, despite all evidence to the contrary, Wolverine believes his son is redeemable in some way. I like stories where we’ve got a nefarious character and there’s a chance to potentially tell a redemption tale. Whether or not he is redeemable is something we’ll find out. It may well be that he’s not. So there’s a lot of universal themes there as well as the chance for kick-ass action.
Daken’s most dominant personality trait is his ego. How do you feel that affects his character?
It’s one of his most prominent and interesting traits. He’s the smartest person in the room — and he knows and believes that. The way Daniel and Marjorie have written him is that he’s two steps ahead all the time. That can be intimidating for a writer because you have to put yourself into that position and plot things two steps ahead.
I also think his intellectualism is him trying to prove that he’s better than his father. I think that’s where his sense of taste and culture comes from. That’s a very interesting dynamic, but I want to take him away from Wolverine for a little while because it seems like everything he’s done has been because of Wolverine. At some point a child will say, “No! I’m moving away from home!” This is what we wanted to do. He makes the decision to not be constantly knocking on Wolverine’s door, but even that is a reaction to his relationship with his father. So he’s very complex. He’s not a straightforward character and I don’t want to write him as such.
Your run begins with the release of “Daken: Dark Wolverine” # 9.1. In the series’ previous storyline, Daken cemented his rule over the island nation of Madripoor. So what’s on his mind when your run begins? Is he basking in the glory of his new found power base? Or does he have something else on his mind?
First thing to say is just how amazing Ron Garney has made #9.1 look. Just immaculate, perfect storytelling decisions throughout. There’s a lot of subtle things in the script and I was absolutely floored by how Ron picked them all up and made them so clear on the page. He’s absolutely lifted this issue to the point where it’s one of the things I’m happiest with in my career. There’s a lot of artists who can do bombastic action but I think the ones who get great acting performances from their characters are the ones I enjoy working with most. Seriously, I came away from this feeling I’d kill to work with Ron again.
As for the plot. Daken’s now the crime boss of Madripoor, he’s done this to one-up his father, but now that he’s achieved it, he still feels empty. I think he’s searching for happiness, but there’s no happiness to be found constantly walking in his father’s footsteps. He’s been Wolverine in the Dark X-Men and the Dark Avengers, and I think he has a moment of clarity where he says, “I need to find my own path here.” So he relocates to Los Angeles because he believes there’s not really a crime boss there. There’s no Wilson Fisk style figure. So when he gets there, he’s going to try to establish his own destiny.
It’s a fresh start, but he’s going to Hollywood and he’s such an egotist that he wants to be a star. He wants to be known for his own sake. When he gets to Los Angeles, he discovers a lot of different players looking to establish themselves as the Kingpin of LA. I pitched it as kind of a “Year One” story for Marvel’s next Kingpin of crime. This is Daken trying to establish his own destiny.
Daken wants to establish himself as LA’s new crime boss, but there are other people there trying to do the same thing. Plus, at exactly the same time he arrives in LA, some nasty and very grizzly murders start occurring. Whether or not they’re connected to Daken is another matter that we’ll find that out as the story progresses.
He arrives in Los Angeles and thinks, “I’m the top predator here.” He’s going to quickly find out though that there’s a lot of dangerous predators in Hollywood (Laughs). The LA setting also affords us a nice visual aesthetic, which is very different from a lot of Marvel books that are traditionally set in New York. It always amazed me that so few Marvel Universe characters are in LA. Of course, Brian Bendis has got Moon Knight in LA too.
It looks like they’ll run afoul of each in August’s “Daken” #13. What’s it like writing the dynamic between Moon Knight and Daken? And will this story set up future interactions between the two characters?
I don’t want to give away too much about their meeting, but with Moon Knight inhabiting the same territory as Daken, and their purposes running contrary to each other, they were always going to meet up. The interesting dynamic on this for me is that Moon Knight and Daken are both characters who could spend a lot of time on the psychiatrist’s couch. The two-parter is like HBO’s “In Treatment” with a lot more punching and stabbing
When Daken arrives in Los Angeles, who are his initial adversaries?
We’re going to start off with mainly new characters, so you won’t see a lot of Marvel mainstays, initially. Our first arc, “Big Break,” is a three-issue heist story. It’s very much crime fiction in LA. We’re not starting out with big Marvel super heroes and villains, but in the initial arc, a well know Marvel mercenary turns up and he’ll definitely give Daken a good fight.
The cover of “Daken: Dark Wolverine” #12 that you’re talking about Taskmaster. What made you want to pit that character against Daken? And will Taskmaster’s appearance here be informed by any of the events in the recent “Taskmaster” miniseries by Fred Van Lente and Jefte Paolo?
You know, I only picked up the first issue of Van Lente’s “Taskmaster” mini, but I really enjoyed it. I’ll have to get the trade. But, again, with a character like Daken, who’s this world class killer and fighter, you have to give them a threat and a challenge. Someone who can stand up to them. That’s definitely true of Taskmaster. And, as with Moon Knight, there’s enough kinks in his personality to allow us to make their interaction a little askew and interesting.
I also understand that there will be some new supporting players in Daken’s life once he reaches LA. In particular, a troublesome FBI agent. What can you tell us about this character?
Her name is Donna Kiel. She’s an FBI profiler and she’s as smart as Daken. He’s going to find with her that he’s met his match in a lot of ways that he hasn’t before. She basically starts investigating the murders that have started occurring in Los Angeles. And since those murders begin at exactly the same time Daken arrives, she puts two and two together. She’s going to be a very major player in this series.
Donna isn’t the first person to try to get inside Daken’s mind. Moonstone, his comrade on the Dark Avengers, tried to figure out what made him tick. She gave up her quest, though, when she started to get frightened by what she was finding. Will Donna be more successful?
You could have a world class team of Jungian psychotherapists working on Daken around the clock and I don’t think they would make much progress. That’s sort of a testament to the complexity of the character. That said, Donna is going to try and get inside Daken’s head and she will succeed to a certain degree.
We’ve talked quite a bit about story and characters, so let’s close things by chatting about the artists tasked with bringing them to life. Who are you collaborating with on “Daken: Dark Wolverine”? What do you feel these artists bring to the series?
I talked about Ron Garney on “Daken” #9.1 earlier. For the “Big Break” arc, we have a fantastic Italian artist, Matteo Buffagni, whose work reminds me a little of John Romita Jr. at times, and that’s no bad thing. And we’ll also have some pages each issue from Riley Rossmo (Image’s “Green Wake”) which is giving us a really exciting and very deliberate visual change. Riley’s helping us show a very different point of view in each issue, shall we say. It’s one of the hooks that was in the initial pitch for the book. You’ll have to pick “Daken” up to see what I mean.
We want “Daken” to be a dark crime fiction title. There will be lots of action and hopefully everything that people expect from the character. As for “Low Life,” I’ve been writing it for about seven years and it’s something close to my heart. I’m really excited that an American audience is getting a chance to see it because I think it’s some terrific stuff and it’s a similar subject matter, I guess. I’ve been writing crime fiction for seven years, so if people want to see where I’m coming from with “Daken,” “Low Life” is a good place to go.