Classmates: Van Lente talks "Wolverine: First Class"

Often the most interesting aspect of Marvel Comics super teams is the strong friendships forged between the heroes. The longstanding lineup of the Avengers has lead to much camaraderie like that shared between Iron Man & Captain America and the Beast & Wonder Man. The X-Men have also had many famous friendships, and a fan favorite is the pairing of Kitty Pryde and Wolverine.

Writer Fred Van Lente takes readers back to the early days of Kitty and Wolverine's relationship with the debut issue of the new ongoing series, "Wolverine: First Class," on sale now. CBR News spoke with Van Lente about the book.

"I thought the best way to make this sort of a different kind of Wolverine book was to give somebody a co-starring role and since it was going to be called 'Wolverine: First Class, I didn't want to do what Jeff Parker was doing with 'X-Men: First Class,' to which this book is sort of a companion," Van Lente told CBR News. "I thought let's make this two characters and since this was set around the time Kitty Pryde has first joined the team let's have the conceit of the book be that these are the solo missions Wolverine and Kitty went on in between what's happening in the Claremont-Byrne stories."

Indeed,"Wolverine: First Class" is set in the era of some of the most beloved X-Men stories ever told, that of Chris Claremont and John Byrne's legendary run on "Uncanny X-Men." As such, continuity is something Van Lente must take into account when crafting his stories. "You've got to make it work to your advantage," he said. "We have people like the Marvel Handbook writers looking over every script and I have my 'Essential X-Men' collections that I refer to constantly. So far, I haven't really been stopped from doing anything I wanted to do because of continuity."

The first eight issues of "Wolverine: First Class" are set between issues #138 and #150 of "Uncanny X-Men." "Issue #138 is the funeral of Jean Grey and that's significant because at the end of the issue, Kitty Pryde shows up to actually attend the school," Van Lente explained. "Then in issue #150, Cyclops, who left the X-Men after Jean's funeral, returns. So after issue #8 of 'Wolverine: First Class' we'll probably start dealing with Cyclops's return."

Kitty and Wolverine may be destined to become the best of friends but it's going to take some time. "Wolverine: First Class" #1 finds Professor X partnering the newly arrived Kitty up with Wolverine, something neither of them are happy about. "Kitty is definitely a fish out of water in that she's been scooped out of her safe suburban environment, dumped into this X-Men situation and thrown in with Wolverine who at this point in his history is this very cranky loner," Van Lente remarked. "He's not yet the ambassador of the Marvel Universe, which is what he seems to be now since he's in every book. He keeps to himself and is very withdrawn and introverted. He doesn't particularly like the idea of a 13 year old girl following him around and from Kitty's stand point Wolverine is like a million years old. So it's not exactly starting out as a walk in the park for either."

The missions Wolverine and Kitty are sent on together are X-Men-related, but usually situations whereby an entire team of heroes wouldn't be right to tackle the problem at hand. "You would send them out together partly for the same reason you send out scouting missions instead of an entire army. It's recon and that's what happens in issues three and four," Van Lente explained. "And sometimes, like in issue #1, sending out the whole X-Men would draw the unwanted attention of their enemies like Magneto and The Brotherhood. And sometimes they just end up falling into adventures like heroes often do. They're ACTION MAGNETS [Laughs]."

In the first issue of "Wolverine: First Class," Kitty and Wolverine find themselves embroiled in an adventure involving many of the customary mutant related problems the X-Men of the era faced, but that won't usually be the case. "With this series, I'm taking the opportunity to throw the X-Men characters out of their comfort zones," Van Lente stated. "That's why I'm pitting them against the Man-Beast and the High Evolutionary in the first arc of our series and later on we're going to have the Soviet Super Soldiers. With the exception of Sabretooth in issue two we're trying to stay away from the usual staple of X-Men characters just because there's a lot of Wolverine books being published and I think it's important to differentiate between the different brands."

Andrea Di Vito is the artist tasked with bringing to life the first two standalone issues of "Wolverine: First Class." "He's just a terrific, natural storyteller," Van Lente stated. "What he really nails and what I love about what he's doing with his stories is the acting. There are a lot of character moments both humorous and not so humorous and he just nails every one."

Wolverine and Kitty's various adventures will be told as a mixture of single-issue stories and multi-part arcs. "The first two issues are both done-in-ones," Van Lente confirmed. "The second issue involves birthdays, Mariko Yashida [Wolverine's love interest at that point in his history], Sabretooth, Kitty, Dazzler, limousines, and ninjas. I'll let you use your imagination to figure out how they're all connected but they are."

The first multi-part arc of "Wolverine: First Class" kicks off in issue #3, with the monstrous Man-Beast as the main adversary, but his creator the High Evolutionary will also make things complicated for Kitty and Wolverine. "I wanted to use manimals. I love manimals particularly those with swords," Van Lente said. "They excite me greatly. So the High Evolutionary seemed like a good way to do that.

"Also, Wolverine's main conflict is with his berserker rages so you can almost say that even though he is a mutant, Wolverine hasn't quite evolved with the rest of humanity," Van Lente continued. "So I thought it would be interesting to have the High Evolutionary make Wolverine evolve up to that point and out of his berserker rages. The question than becomes is he a less potent fighter if he's more normal? And can he deal with giving up his animal side in order to get some peace of mind?"

Salvador Espin will depict Kitty and Wolverine's struggle with the Man-Beast and the High Evolutionary. "He draws great manimals and we've got all sort of crazy animal hybrids running around like Bova and many of the New Men," Van Lente said. "Salvador can take the fantastical and ground it in reality but his art still has that nice fantasy edge to it."

Berserker rages won't be the only thing making Wolverine miserable in "Wolverine: First Class." At this point in the character's history, he also suffers from amnesia. "He's having Professor X probe his memories to try and piece them together," Van Lente explained. "Part of the reason why he's so cranky at this point is because he doesn't remember much of what's happened to him or what he's been doing since he was recruited by James Macdonald Hudson, the leader of Alpha Flight. We'll see Alpha Flight in issue #5; that's a very exciting issue drawn by Clayton Henry."

The other X-Men from this point in history -- like Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Angel, and Professor X-- will appear in supporting roles in "Wolverine: First Class." "I don't know if they show up every issue but they show up in more issues than they don't," Van Lente said. "They're largely background characters though, because with two strong characters like Kitty and Wolverine the whole purpose of the series is to see them play off each other.

"Within the main cast there's not a lot of room for other characters," Van Lente continued. "I'm actually introducing a new character in issue one who will become a fairly important supporting character. I can't really tell you anything about her except that she's a she."

Naturally, Colossus will become an important background figure in "Wolverine: First Class" in later issues as Kitty starts to develop feelings for Peter Rasputin. When Kitty and Colossus began their relationship in the original "Uncanny X-Men" stories, there never was hardly any discussion of the disparity in their ages, but that's something Van Lente promises to look at it in "First Class." "That was something that struck me," he said. "I came to the X-Men a lot later in life, as a kid I was more of a fan of stuff like Fantastic Four and Thor. And reading those X-Men issues now as an adult, that certainly struck me as something to explore and they didn't really do that. Is Peter 17 or 18? Kitty is said repeatedly in the comics to be 13-and-a-half."

The tone of "Wolverine: First Class" is similar to that of "Incredible Hercules" -- which Van Lente co-writes with Greg Pak-- in that both provide a mix of fun, action, and poignant character moments. "Even though Wolverine is 'The best there is at what he does,' he must struggle with feelings of powerlessness," Van Lente remarked. "When you read about amnesiacs the most horrible thing for them is that they don't know things and have no way of knowing them. I can only imagine how frustrating and futile that must feel.

"When you combine that with the fact that when he gets into a fight his emotions get ratcheted up in this berserker manner and he continuously fails to pull himself back from the edge that's a real tough thing for a person to take. To me, that's what makes Wolverine interesting. Not the claws, the healing factor, or the fact he can kill 200 guys in a room but when he does, he feels bad about it! So I like coming back to the tragic elements in a character whether it's Wolverine, Hercules or whoever."

Of course, Wolverine isn't the only character with trouble causing personality traits in "First Class." "Kitty does, for lack of better words, dumb stuff," Van Lente said. "Even though she is really smart she's still only 13-years-old and is going through all these changes and has all these doubts and responsibilities heaped on her. So she ends up doing a lot of stuff she regrets later, too. Although she kills fewer people than Wolverine."

"Wolverine: First Class" is a book for people who love the classic X-Men characters but are looking to see them in situations they're not usually in. "It's an X-Men book because there are X-Men in it, but it's different in the sense that they're not dealing with the perennial political issues that X-Men normally deal with," Van Lente explained. "Mainly because that's what happened in the Claremont-Byrne run and the Claremont-Byrne run is perfect the way it is."

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