A follow up to last year’s “Helheim” mini with artist Joelle Jones, “Brides” continues the story of the Viking warrior brought back from the grave by warring witches. This time out, however, the axe-swinging, blood-spattering violence is accompanied by some creepy character work. In the first two issues, readers caught up with titular monster Rikard as he has made a life with the now peaceful witches Brea and Groa as well as Kadlin — the daughter of the coven’s betrayed third member. When the power of Raevil — the sorcerer who corrupted the women to begin with — rears its head, Helheim is off slashing more monster throats as the story grows.
CBR News spoke with Bunn about the revelations of the recently released second issue and looks forward to how the Helheim story is growing as a whole. Below the writer describes his collaboration with an amped up Jones, explores the ways the story has grown with the witches origins and promises more twists, more blood and more insanity before the planned third series arrives.
CBR News: It seems like from the beginning of the “Helheim” project you knew you wanted to tell a longer story, but Joelle Jones is also a very in demand artist. Did you wrap the first book feeling like the second would fit in whenever the both of you could do it?
Cullen Bunn: When I first started thinking of the story that would become “Helheim” — and most of the time — I don’t think in terms of long term comics. I never do that when I’m coming up with a pitch. I feel like publishers will more readily go for a limited series. But as soon as I started working on “Helheim,” I had this want to stay in this world and stick with this story. I have a tendency to do that. [Laughs] As soon as I was into the first issue of “Helheim,” I knew that I wanted to go beyond that initial six issues. But Joelle had signed on for that six-issue series, and she had other books in the works at the time. So we did the first six, and she had to move on to some other commitments. I knew I didn’t want to go ahead without her. At this point, I can’t imagine anyone else drawing it. So we decided to do this as a series of miniseries.
The first series has a beginning, middle and end, and really, once you’ve created this Frankenstein Viking, the reader got a lot of blood and smashing and battles. There were a lot of unanswered questions about the background of the characters after all that. What was the piece of the world you wanted to explore first and foremost with this return?
In the first series, we join Rikard as he’s in the middle of it all. These witches have gone to war with each other, and his people are caught in the middle. We just took the story from there, and we didn’t provide any backstory on those witches. But I knew there was a story there, and I knew that was a story I’d want to explore. Why are these witches at war with each other? Who set them on this path, and waht set them off? And most importantly, we had to answer how this young girl Kadlin from the first series fit into all of this.
As I started in on those elements, it just came together that there was another party out there. There was someone else who had manipulated these women at some point, and it was someone who had hurt Kadlin’s family at some point. That was another mystery brought up in the first series — what did happen to her family? All those unanswered questions led to the catalyst for this second series.
The witches were truly the villains of the first story, but as this series has started, not only are they more sympathetic but we also have a big bad behind them. Was part of the draw in a series this brutal to say, “I’ll show you what a villain is!”
Bera and Groa — the two witches from the first series — are pretty awful. They’re just terrible people. But I liked the idea from the beginning of the series that you couldn’t take that at face value. Because if that’s the case, Rikard is also terrible and horrible. He’s a huge, hulking monster fueled by necromantic energies! So he’s the type to do something unexpected. Kadlin in the fist series is sweet and charming and innocent, and by the end we reveal that there’s much more to her as well.
So in the second series, I had the idea of playing with what you might expect from Bera and Groa and also in terms of Kadlin. Then, we introduce a new character who is really terrible. Even more so than the witches in the first series. I had to up the levels of awfulness. So this new character Raevil is a pretty horrible human being. That said, the two witches from the first series may be fighting on the side of the “angels” now, but there’s nothing to say that once Raevil is reunited with them that won’t hold.
And while those characters make up the so-called brides of the book, you also introduce another young woman in Sigrid, who’s so far been untouched by all this magic and evil. What does that innocent character add to the story mix?
Sigrid and Kadlin are roughly the same age, but she does come across more like a child compared to everyone else because she’s unsullied by the events of the first series. But she has a very, very important role to play in the series. And she like Rikard has elements to her character that are not what you’d expect. At the end of issue #3, there are some startling things revealed about her character. But I wanted to introduce an outsider character too — someone who had not been in the thick of things in the first series. I wanted someone who hadn’t been involved in the witch war and fighting undead creatures. In some ways, I see her as a parallel to Rikard before he died and was brought back from the dead. She’s kind of the heroic figure he was in the first issue of “Helheim.”
Joelle is an artist who has done a lot of work with romance comics or relationships stories, and “Brides of Helheim” is the kind of series where at one moment you have her drawing the slaughter of a bear, and the next minute it’s demonic group sex. How has the collaboration been in terms of getting this book as weird as you both want it?
When we did the first book, I was familiar with the other work Joelle had done. It was relationship-driven stuff, with beautiful people doing beautiful things. I had said to her, “Are you ready for this kind of series?” And she said, “Yeah. This is what I want to do. I want a series that is blood and violence.” And I think she welcomes these crazy things I’ve written into the script. I think there were some times in the first series that she wanted to kill me not because I was asking her to draw things that are too gruesome, but because I was asking her to draw armies of demons. It was just a huge checklist of creatures that came from my Dungeons & Dragons-fueled imagination. But other than that she brings so much energy to the page when it comes to those things.
And like with the sex scene from the second issue, I remember before I saw how she had drawn it, I got a call from my editor saying, “Cullen, we may have to ask Joelle to change this scene. She might have gone a little too far.” And when he sent it to me, I was like, “No! We’re not changing anything. That’s perfect.” [Laughs] She’s obviously bringing her own spin to what I write in the script, but it always makes the book that much better.
The first series wrapped with a twist that propelled us into the status quo of “Brides of Helheim.” So as you’re looking to the final issues of this installment, how are you hoping to set things off for more in the future?
There is a third miniseries in mind with the tentative title “The Womb of Helheim.” At the end of this series, we will be resolving a lot of things. Some characters will be exiting the story. But there will be another twist that will propel us to the third and final miniseries.
It’s fun because I had the general idea for the third series in mind when I started this, but as I’ve been writing “Brides of Helheim,” things have shifted and changed. Some characters have introduced new ideas into my head, and I’m taking it in a slightly different direction than I would have originally.
“Brides of Helheim” #2 is on sale now from Oni Press.
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