It's a rare Marvel Comics superhero who qualifies for his own mature readers imprint under the publisher's MAX label, though if there's been one glaring omission in the eyes of the fans for the line which includes more adult-themed stories of Punisher, Deadpool and more, it's been Wolverine. That dry spell will end this October with the debut of "Wolverine MAX."
Written by Jason Starr with art from Connor Willumson and Roland Boschi as well as covers by Jock, the ongoing series will present a different version of the X-Man called Logan. Set apart from the Marvel Universe with its own set of rules, its own history and its own take on the wild mutant, "Wolverine MAX" starts with a theft in modern Tokyo before digging in to the past of a man with no memory as his greatest enemy waits in the wings.
CBR News spoke with Starr about the series, and the writer described his path from crime novelist to working on the Vertigo graphic novel "The Chill" to taking on this anticipated series after his own "PunisherMAX" work. He also digs into what will make this Wolverine's history and powers different than his Marvel U counterpart, what Sabretooth means to the series and more.
CBR News: Jason, you've written a number of comics over the past few years, starting with some work for DC's Vertigo Crime line of graphic novels. What's your origin as a comics writer? Were you actively trying to break in, or did editors seek you out because of your prose work?
Jason Starr: It was a combination. I had been really interested in getting into comics. I grew up reading comics, and I saw a lot of the crime comics that guys like Brian Azzarello, Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka were doing. So I was looking to get into it, but at the same time, an editor at Vertigo wanted me to write an introduction for a collected edition of "100 Bullets." So I did that, and in doing it some editors there started reading my crime novels. When Vertigo Crime launched, they asked me to pitch an idea. That's how it evolved. So I think it was because of my crime fiction that I got here. They read my books and dug the stories I was telling.
You worked on that graphic novel, a "PunisherMAX" arc and some work on "Justice Inc." for DC's Next Wave pulp line. All of those feel a bit set apart from playing along in the big universe/continuity heavy kinds of superhero comics. "Wolverine MAX" fits in that wheelhouse too. Does that come from a desire as a novelist to do things that are a bit more self-contained, or is it just that the projects that have come your way sit outside the mainstream?
I think it's a combination. My stories tend to be on the edgy side. That's definitely my wheelhouse, and so it falls easily into Vertigo or the MAX line. It's simply the place where I feel more comfortable. I wouldn't pass up the opportunity to write an ongoing series where I had to stick to the rules of an ongoing universe. That just hasn't come along for me. I guess the closest thing was when I did a short fan story for a "JSA" 80-Page Giant at DC. But even in that, they told me I could do anything I wanted. So it wasn't like I had to stick to any particular storylines.
But that's something I'd really actually love to do because I'm always up for a challenge, and I think there are a new set of challenges that come with writing something within a storyline where you have to adhere to preexisting rules and previous character relationships. And there's also challenges when you're doing something neutral or when creating your own rules. To me, it's just a question of what set of constraints you're writing under. I would like the challenge of having to try and write something where I'm jumping into a continuity that already exists, but for now, I really like this opportunity I have with "Wolverine MAX" of taking an existing character but creating my own world around him.
You're coming in like most MAX books in a situation where you get to decide the particulars of who Wolverine is. Without the standard bearers of being a member of the X-Men or struggling to escape Weapon X, what did you find were the hallmarks of the character that helped shape your story?
It was based on my own experience of Wolverine and what I wanted. I talked to a lot of die hard fans including some friends of mine who are die hards. I wanted to know what they always wanted, and between that and thinking about it and talking to my editors, I wanted to do something that didn't stick to those constraints. I wanted an almost timeless version of Logan without some of his previous constraints. But we're having fun with his claws and his healing factor and some familiar aspects of his abilities -- even giving them different origins possibly. I wanted to go towards writing a kind of fan version -- or at least the version fans really wanted to see -- of Wolverine. That's what's been in my mind.
There have been a few Wolverine stories over the years that tried to jettison the specific trappings of the X-Men world from a manga-esque mini to Brian K. Vaughan and Edurdo Risso's "Logan." Did you have any particular stories that you looked to to help define a stand alone Wolverine tale?
Definitely the Claremont/Miller series in Japan. I think that's where you'll see some similarities. Though, our style is going to be very different from that. I'm also particularly fond of what Greg Rucka did. I definitely looked for a realistic version of Wolverine and not a superhero version. I wanted a down to earth guy who could function in the real world. I wanted to give him a back story that really explains how he's been able to do that for centuries -- to integrate into society. To me, that's what those stories have --Â a kind of realistic bent where this stuff could actually be happening. My main story line is about a robbery even though it will include some elements like his claws, healing factor, etc. But you would believe this could all happen in the real world. I really wanted that.
For years, we had Wolverine stories where his entire past was kept in the closet, and even though he wasn't always actively trying to solve that mystery, I feel like his character was always on some noble quest or other. He'd find some young girl in danger and carry her to her final destination or what have you. How do you answer that question of "What does my main character want?"
I get to make up what he wants. That's what's cool about it. I wanted to stay away from some of those stories that have been done before. I wanted him to have different motivations that get into his psychology deeply. It gets at what really motivates him while I can stay away from a lot of what's come before. He has different motivations there while I'm still going to be able to play up different themes from the past --Â the aloneness, the feeling of not being able to have close relationships. We'll really get into the fear of commitment he has and his inability to get involved with anyone because his healing factor keeps him alive so long. There's a psychological factor to that. At the same time, these are going to be really action-packed stories that are driving things forward. Hopefully they'll have the feel of the Jason Bourne stories in how they're action driven.
Well, you are writing a MAX book here, which begs the question: since we've seen Wolverine involved in some pretty violent situations over the years in the regular Marvel line, what opportunities have you taken to take advantage of the MAX mandate?
It's all about the situations I can come up with. I think in my own writing, my strength is definitely coming up with "no holds barred" stories where a lot of shit happens. [Laughs] That kind of thing comes very naturally to me. Sometimes, I almost have to hold back and censor myself, so it's really freeing to me to write a MAX book where I can let loose and tell the stories that I could always tell in my crime novels but also kick it up a few more notches. The violence always comes natural in these stories, but at the same time, everything will have a reason. I won't put in violence for the sake of violence. The violence will always be plot-driven, and it will have to make sense for the story.
We know that Sabretooth is showing up along the way. Like I said, Wolverine has always had a certain set of attributes -- being a loner, being on a quest --Â but Sabretooth also has his "greatest hits." It seems his job is to often push Logan and bully him and torment him until he finally loses control of himself. Is that how Sabretooth will be functioning here as well?
He's definitely going to be a thorn in Logan's side. That sort of dynamic will be there. But I guarantee this will be a different Logan/Creed dynamic than we've seen in the past. I think it will be more twisted psychologically, and I'm definitely going to get into Creed's psychology the same way I get into Logan's --Â what he wants from Wolverine and what he means to him. Their relationship is going to be really dysfunctional.
The last piece of the puzzle here is your artist Connor Willumson, who I'm betting a lot of fans are unfamiliar with. What is he bringing to the table to help define this Wolverine on its own terms?
I haven't seen a lot what he's done for our book yet, but I love all his art I've seen on the web. His "Untold Tales of PunisherMAX" was amazing, and he's actually going to be co-artist. Roland Boschi is also going to be working on this. Each of them are handling different parts of this story, and I think for the part of the story he's covering, what Connor's doing is perfect. The combination of Connor and Roland -- how their art will be juxtaposed against each other -- will be amazing.
This will be an ongoing series unlike most of your projects from the past. How much are you able to plan out the life of the series long term?
The way I'm plotting this is definitely geared towards the long haul. There will be over-arching questions introduced in the first issues that I'm not going to be answering for a while. They're these big questions that hang over the whole storyline. I really want to build up suspense around that. A lot of that will have to do with Logan's history. As he's putting together pieces of his past, so will the readers. It should be an interesting series for the reader because as Logan is discovering things about himself, so are they simultaneously. And the way I'm structuring the first several issues will definitely help set up what's going on in the future.
"Wolverine MAX" #1 ships this October from Marvel Comics.