To secretly manipulate the events of the Marvel Universe so they favor a larger agenda, an individual would have to be extremely cunning. And someone who could do that for centuries would certainly be one of the most devious villains in the world. The enigmatic Romulus is just such a person.
In the pages of "Wolverine: Origins," Logan is on a quest to kill Romulus for making him a hapless pawn for more than a century. Over in "Dark Wolverine," Daken Akihiro, Wolverine's son, is posing as his father in order to gain the power necessary to topple Romulus. Daken doesn't want to just kill Romulus, though -- he wants to become Romulus.
With new issues of both books in stores this week, CBR News spoke with writer Daniel Way about the two Wolverines and what readers can expect from their current quests to take down Romulus.
"The thing about what Daken is doing in 'Dark Wolverine' is that he's doing exactly what he would have been doing except now he gets to do it in public -- he's hiding in plain sight," Way told CBR News. "The first arc is three issues and really the main goal is to establish Daken's M.O. He's in a building phase he's exerting influence and generating a bank of favors. You see Daken making a lot of Romulus type moves while working under cover with the Avengers."
When he's in his father's costume, Daken looks very much like Wolverine, and they're only distinguishable by Daken's rather large dragon tattoo. Out of costume, Daken's a particularly good looking man and his Mohawk haircut is fairly conspicuous, something Way thinks makes the character all the more invisible. "The whole thing about Daken is that he's so striking and shines so bright that you don't really see him. You get such a strong impression of him that you don't really see his face," Way explained. "He's kind of like a stage magician. When he walks on the scene you immediately notice him but you don't really see him. He burns too brightly. That's why Daken didn't have a costume before he started impersonating Wolverine. Everything about him was a costume."
Some readers are wondering how Daken can have a tattoo, given that he inherited his father's mutant healing factor. "Ink is not a poison. So when the wound from the tattooing process heals, the ink will still be there," Way said. "Tattoos aren't scar tissue. There's scar tissue underneath but when you traumatize the skin and saturate it with ink, the skin heals and the tattoo remains. Everybody gets tattoos and everybody heals from the tattoo. The tattoo ink is left behind and it's not poison so his healing factor doesn't get rid of it."
Beyond the superficial, Daken and his father Logan are most different in the ways they operate. "Wolverine is the guy who sneaks in the back door and stabs you in the face. Daken will get you to let him in the front door and stab you in the back," Way explained. "Wolverine is extremely straight forward while Daken is the manipulator. It's extremely hard to figure out what angle he's coming at you from."
In "Dark Wolverine" #75, Way and his collaborators Marjorie Liu and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli showed what a frighteningly good manipulator Daken is as he used the sexuality of both a man and woman to get what he wanted from them. "In that issue, I think we made it clear, because we went on both sides of the sexual coin, that what Daken does has nothing to do with sexual desire. It's an extremely cruel way to manipulate someone but it's affective," Way revealed. "That's the other thing about 'Dark Wolverine'. When Marjorie and I are doing our job right, Daken will often be a character you don't and aren't supposed to like. He's a character you're going to really have to watch because he will do some good things in the book, then he'll something equally bad."
Daken may be a master manipulator, but there's one person who's proving to be a worthy test of his skills: Norman Osborn. "Marjorie and I both love to write the Norman and Daken scenes," Way stated. "These are two guys that are so artificial. There's so much behind their mask and they both can needle each other to the point where their masks slip and they have to pull them back."
Before he decided to take down Romulus, Daken was one of his agents. At a very young age, Daken was trained by Romulus to manipulate and deceive people, yet many aspects of human interaction are still a mystery to him. "That's because it's so contemptible to him, and the other thing is offensively, pound for pound, Daken can be unbeatable but he's never defended anything in his life," Way explained. "He's not even a guy who necessarily has to dodge bullets. So what we're going to find out in the second arc of 'Dark Wolverine' is this whole hero thing? He sucks at it and that's going to be an utterly crushing blow. Everybody is expecting him to be as good as Wolverine and he doesn't have a hope in hell of pulling that off. It's going to be a fun story because Norman tees him up to do something heroic and of course Daken ruins it and things go sideways."
Daniel Way is very happy with the "Dark Wolverine" project and is enjoying the chance to collaborate with Camuncoli and Liu. "I plotted out the first issue and Marjorie scripted it. I went in and re-scripted the opening five pages to get the opening scene with Daken just right because I'm more familiar with the character than Marjorie is," Way said. "But once I scripted that opening Marjorie got it. And looking at her scripting since then she really does get the character."
While the introductory arc of "Dark Wolverine" finds Daken making the opening moves in his gambit to become the next Romulus, over in the pages of "Wolverine: Origins," Logan is looking to get his endgame going against the villain. In the current "Romulus" arc, Wolverine traveled to Russia hot on the heels of Romulus's chief agent, Victor Hudson. "Victor is actually a relative of Wolverine and he acts as Romulus's finger in the outside world," Way explained. "When Romulus needs something done personally and immediately Victor gets the nod. Romulus's method is to stay in the background and influence others to do what he wants, but when it's time for direct action he uses Victor, who is perfect for that type of work because Victor can never tell someone what he's seen. That's because he's both blind and mute. He's been that way since birth when he was taken away from his mother. Romulus is his whole world and Victor is this scary, violent being."
While Wolverine was tracking Victor through Russia in "Origins" #37, Romulus was shown making his way in the same country, aboard his favorite method of transportation: trains. There were a couple of reasons why Way gave Romulus an affinity for trains. "There are train tracks all over the world. They use to be the mode of mass transit and Romulus goes back quite a long ways. Trains helped spread the ideas of empire like satellite monarchies and influential armies. Romulus's influence acted in sort of a similar way. It started in a small localized region and as the principles he influenced moved outward, so did his influence. So it's a huge metaphor that I'm working with. The rail system started out with some central railways and by the 1800s anybody who was anybody had their own railroad spur and everything was connected with these railways. If you look at the rail system now, a lot of it has gone completely into disrepair. So Romulus travels by this almost forgotten mode of transportation.
"A lot of people don't know this, but if you have your own railcar you can attach it to Amtrak and cargo trains. You pay the freight and they'll pull you. This seemed to fit the character. Trains are big and their tracks sometimes parallel roads and sometimes they'll disappear into the woods. You wonder where they went and all of a sudden their back again."
At the end of "Origins" #37, it was revealed that both Victor and Romulus were in Russia as a way to ensnare Wolverine in a trap. Victor lured Wolverine to a Russian prison that one of his archenemies, Omega Red, currently calls home. Romulus arrived to deliver a device known as the Carbonadium synthesizer. Wolverine thought he had disposed of the device in an earlier arc of "Origins," but in issue #37, Romulus used his considerable influence to have it retrieved.
"Omega Red wants a lot of things but at the top of his list is the Carbonadium Synthesizer because it will stabilize the radiation eating away at his body," Way said. "He does that on a short term basis by sucking the life out of other people, but that's something that occupies a lot of his time. Once he gets the Synthesizer he can concentrate all his time on utterly destroying Wolverine, whom he hates. So what has happened is Romulus, in the manner that he usually employs, has set Wolverine up for a crash course with Omega Red. Romulus planted Omega Red in that prison, which for him was essentially an all-you-can eat buffet. He brings in the payment, which is the Carbonadium synthesizer, and then drops Wolverine into the prison. Romulus conspired to get all these elements in the same place at the same time and then just locked the door."
The "Romulus" arc marks the second time Daniel Way has used Omega Red in "Wolverine: Origins." The characters previously tangled in the "Savior" storyline and Way is excited to present the rematch in "Origins" #38. "Omega Red is such a cool character and when he first appeared he just kicked everyone's ass. Then over the years he really became marginalized. When I wrote the character in the 'Savior' arc he was playing a central role but the confrontation with him wasn't going to be the big showdown. We weren't ready yet for that. This is it though. This is the big showdown because Omega Red has never been this strong."
Omega Red's strength means the showdown between him and Wolverine that kicks off in "Origins" #38, on sale this week, will be the most brutal clash in the two characters' shared history. "It's going to be a complete blood bath," Way remarked. "One of them is going to die. We take it to the absolute extreme. In fact there's going to be a lot of dead bodies by the end of this arc."
Wolverine's fight with Omega Red in "Romulus" is bound to be brutal, but it's not the arc's biggest bout. "Not only do you get your first full glimpse of Romulus in this arc, you get the first physical confrontation between Romulus and Wolverine," Way revealed. "This is something that Wolverine has been spoiling for about 30 issues, so if the fight between Wolverine and Omega Red is brutal this will be a confrontation that's beyond description."
Romulus's first full appearance won't be the only reveal. "Over the years I've been talking a lot about how everything in this series is connected and how all there threads are going to come together and this is the arc where that really starts happening in a big way," Way confirmed. "You get a lot of explanations like what exactly are Romulus's larger motivations? And you'll find out that something has been happening ever since Wolverine got his memories back. Stuff that Wolverine wanted to happen did happen, but could Romulus have actually plotted out some of the events in this series? When Wolverine got his memories back, did he become free? Or did he go right back to being Romulus's pawn?"
Daniel Way has been very pleased with the work his artistic collaborator Scott Eaton has been doing on "Romulus." "In the first chapter there was a lot of very tense setup; dialog-heavy scenes with cold war spy-style phone conversations. That's not easy to pull off visually, at least not in a dynamic way," Way said. "I was very spoiled working with Steve Dillon on this series in that he's incredibly good at that stuff. Scott's stuff blew us away though. When his pencils started coming in they were so textual and beautiful. When you're with the warden and the captain of the guards in that prison, you're feeling it. It's awesome and Scott's Omega Red is just sick! I was very happy with how things turned out."
The"Romulus" arc concludes in September with "Wolverine: Origins" #40. Then in October, a new five-part arc called "Seven the Hard Way" begins, and features the return of artist Doug Braithwaite. "'Seven the Hard Way' is a dice term. 'The Hard Way' means it's improbable. It's hard to pull off and in this case what it is describing is this new plan that Wolverine has enacted, which is going to be almost impossible to pull off," Way said. "It's going to involve bringing in six characters from all over the Marvel Universe. Characters that we are not used to seeing interact with Wolverine. It all ties-in to this plan and it's going to have to be a new kind of plan if he's going to have any hope of defeating Romulus. Because after the revelations of the current arc you'll find out that Wolverine just might be the worst contender ever to take on Romulus. Wolverine can kill almost anybody, but Romulus just might be the one guy he can't take out that way."
If it seems like "Wolverine: Origins" is building to a climatic finale, that's because it is. "We've been clear from ground zero that this is going to be a five-year story spanning about sixty-some issues. There is an end to this series. There can be only one ending. The only question is who's going to be left standing at the end and we're getting to that point?" Way said. "The 'Romulus' arc actually does a lot towards narrowing the playing fied. In the first and most of the second act of this series I wanted to do a different type of Wolverine story, one where instead of just popping his claws and going to work, he used his brain. I wanted to show that Wolverine was dangerous on many levels.
"Once you have that plan in place, you have to execute it and we're getting into the execution phase, literally. The plan is almost all set and once the players are all in place Wolverine's goal is to kill Romulus. There's no ifs, ands or buts. He's out to finish him off and burn the bones. I feel that I end a story pretty well and when I do end things I try to pull everything together and give you that payoff. That's coming, but with 'Origins,' each arc is like a chapter in a novel. Things have been happening on a macro scale. 'Origins' is a huge story, but there's an equally huge payoff."