‘Death of Wolverine,’ ‘She-Hulk’ controversy: Charles Soule on Marvel

May 30, 2014 | 2:25 p.m.

Charles Soule received his first ongoing superhero comic assignment in April 2013, when he took over DC Comics’ “Swamp Thing” from outgoing writer Scott Snyder, revitalizing the title and beginning a writing streak that continues to this day.

He’s become one of the comic book industry’s most prolific writers, with three ongoing DC titles (“Swamp Thing,” “Superman/Wonder Woman” and “Red Lanterns”), three ongoing Marvel titles (“She-Hulk,” “Inhuman,” “Thunderbolts”) and his creator-owned science-fiction ongoing “Letter 44” at Oni Press. He’s also writing the weekly, four-issue “The Death of Wolverine” Marvel miniseries in September, his highest-profile project to date.

Hero Complex readers can see lettered previews of this week’s “Inhuman” No. 2, “Red Lanterns” No. 31 and “Thunderbolts,” Steve McNiven’s artwork from “The Death of Wolverine” No. 1, Tony Daniel’s artwork from “Superman/Wonder Woman” No. 6 and  No. 8, Javier Pulido’s artwork from “She-Hulk” Nos. 1-4, Jesus Saiz’s artwork from “Swamp Thing” No. 31, and exclusive preview pages from “Inhuman” No. 4, “Letter 44” No. 7, “She-Hulk” No. 5 and “Swamp Thing” No. 32 in the gallery above or in larger versions via the links below.

“Inhuman” No. 2: Cover | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4
“Red Lanterns” No. 31: Cover | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5
“Thunderbolts”: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3
“The Death of Wolverine” No. 1: Page 1 | Page 2
“Superman/Wonder Woman” No. 6: Cover | Page 19
“Superman/Wonder Woman” No. 8: Cover | Page 2 | Page 3-4 | Page 5
“She-Hulk” No. 1 -4: Pages from Issue 4 | Issue 3 | Issue 2 | Issue 1
“Swamp Thing” No. 31: Cover | Page 4 | Page 20

“Inhuman” No. 4 – exclusive preview: Cover | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3
“Letter 44″ No. 7 – exclusive preview: Cover | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5
“She-Hulk” No. 5 – exclusive preview: Page 1 | Page 2
“Swamp Thing” No. 32 – exclusive preview: Page 1

In a recent telephone interview, Soule discussed the eight titles, the difficulties and pleasures of each project, and what it’s like working with an all-star roster of artists. Check out the second installment of the two-part interview, with this portion focusing largely on Soule’s work for Marvel, below.

Read the first installment here.

Page 1 of "Thunderbolts" No. 26. (Marvel)

Page 1 of “Thunderbolts” No. 26. (Marvel)

Hero Complex: It’s interesting that you started writing “Red Lanterns” and “Thunderbolts” around the same time, and they’re both books that balance intense violence with moments of humor. Do you have fun indulging that more exaggerated side of your writing?

CS: I actually imagined “Thunderbolts” as a straight-up comedy book in a lot of ways, like a very dark comedy book, whereas “Red Lanterns” is more of a cosmic saga that has some jokes every once in a while. There’s some really dark things that happen in “Red Lanterns,” and I think that “Thunderbolts” doesn’t go quite that dark, or it plays the things that happened in more of an “Oh my God, that thing happened” kind of tone, which is fine. “Thunderbolts” I was mostly attracted to because I really wanted to write Punisher and Elektra and Deadpool, who are characters I have always really enjoyed. But the funny thing is that over time, I came to really like Red Leader, he became one of my favorite guys in the book. Sometimes characters surprise you.

HC: Your run on “Thunderbolts” ends this month, and it’s the first conclusion of one of your ongoing superhero projects. What are you focusing on for the finale of your run?

CS: When I started writing the arc that finishes it, the three-parter, I did not know I was ending it, so I zigged a little bit from where I thought I was going to go with it to make it be more of a statement about writing the book, who I think the characters are and what I think they should be and so on. It was fun, in a way, to be able to end it because writing an ending is something you don’t always get to do in superhero comics. The whole point of them is that they go and go and go and go. I hope I did it justice, I hope people enjoyed my run on that title, and I’m proud of it. I’m proud of the work the artists did and that everybody did. It’s sad to see it go, but I know it’s in good hands with Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, who are the “Thrilling Adventure Hour” guys taking over for me, and I think there’s lots of good stories to be told with that group.

HC: Now that your time with “Thunderbolts” has ended, what can you say you learned from your run on the title?

CS: I think I honed my comedy chops a lot. I don’t think that “She-Hulk” would be quite as sharp as it is — listen to me talk about my own stuff — but I think the wit of “She-Hulk” is something that makes it strong. It’s funny how that came up, because I came into “Thunderbolts” thinking it would be more of a balls-to-the-wall action book, and if you look at the first two issue I wrote, which are Nos. 12 and 13, both one-shots, it’s more like that. But with issue No. 14, which was where an artist named Jefte Palo came on board, he had a much more cartoony tone — not in a bad way, it’s just much more figurative than literal—and it seemed like I could do all these sight gags and things like that with it, particularly with Deadpool. And that informed writing the rest of that arc, a five-part story. It was the work on that first chunk of issues that gave me the tone that was the right way to go with “Thunderbolts,” and then figuring out how to write jokes with that group really helped me with “She-Hulk.”

HC: How big of a fan of “She-Hulk” were you before getting the assignment? What attracts you to the character?

Artwork from "She-Hulk" No. 5. (Marvel)

Artwork from “She-Hulk” No. 5. (Marvel)

CS: I was an enormous fan of Dan Slott’s run and John Byrne’s run was a big deal for me. I found Slott’s version of “She-Hulk” first and then I went back and looked up some of the older stuff because I liked it so much. And it was so good. It was perfect. It was my perfect comic book at the time that I found it. I was picking it up off the shelves and so happy it existed, and I still am. And now that I know Dan Slott and I’ve gotten to hang out with him a little bit, he’s the nicest guy in the world. I’ve thanked him for his version of “She-Hulk”and he told me he thought mine was pretty cool, so that was a nice moment.

When I got the call for this one, it was two things that attracted me. One was She-Hulk, because I’m an attorney and so being able to write a book about a lawyer has always been on my list. And then Javier Pulido as the artist, who is somebody I knew from — he did that fantastic “Hawkeye Annual,” and he’s done lots of amazing work in the past — so I knew he could bring something very unique as far as storytelling. I wouldn’t have to limit myself as far as storytelling ideas. Whatever I decided I was going to do, he would be able to execute…. Every book I write is a little different in terms of scripting, but with Javier, I feel like I can write whatever I want in a way that is very freeing and cool because I know he’s going to be able to interpret it in a way that looks fantastic.

HC: How do you build a “She-Hulk” story? Do you start with a legal concept and find Marvel characters that would fit, or do you begin with the characters and find a case that works for them?

CS: It tends to start with a case these days, because I think that’s what people are coming to “She-Hulk” for. They want the amazing art, and I should say that Javier is off for issues No. 5 and 6, but Ron Wimberly is taking over for those issues and I just saw some pages today that look unbelievable. We wanted an artist who was going to be able to have as unique a take as Javier but wouldn’t be compared to him exactly, so his tone is very different, but it’s just as cool.

For me, it really does start with the case, because that’s what the whole issue is generally going to be built around, whether it’s going to be a 1-, 2-, or 3-issue story. There is a larger story that we’re telling in “She-Hulk” that will go across the front 12 or 13 issues, which involves “The Blue File,” which has been referenced several times now in the issues. But by and large, it’s about finding a Marvel universe character that would be an interesting case for Jen to work on and then letting the cool soap opera or character work of the cast we’ve set up play out. As much as I hope that book is to read, it’s as much fun as we have making it. I love them all for different reasons, but “She-Hulk” is really hitting on all cylinders right now.

HC: There are some very obscure Marvel characters involved with “The Blue File.” Is part of the thrill of writing “She-Hulk” being able to explore those fringe characters?

CS: Yeah, it’s really fun. The Marvel universe is a deep, weird, woolly place, and getting to expose strange corners of it is part of the fun of “She-Hulk.” Honestly, it’s part of the fun of any Marvel book. You can do that in pretty much any book. But “She-Hulk” particularly lends itself to that because of the legal conceit that keeps it going. Anybody can walk through her door and a lot of weird people do. Believe me.

HC: How did Patsy “Hellcat” Walker come to join the book’s supporting cast? She’s a great character.

CS: I thought Jen needed a foil, and Jen has primarily been portrayed as a party gal, a fun-loving, ”let’s go out and deal with the consequences later” gal. And the current version of Patsy Walker is kind of screwed up. She’s going through some stuff. So it puts Jen in a role that she’s not totally comfortable with, which is sort of a mentor role. Putting characters off their standard footing a little can generate some good drama, so she’s trying to help her friend, but her friend has her own idea about how much help she needs and sparks fly and it’s interesting. And I just think Patsy Walker is the best.

HC: What can we expect for the future of “She-Hulk” in terms of what’s happening with Jen, her cases, and any upcoming guest stars?

CS: The next couple issues deal specifically with “The Blue File,” which is exciting. Then after that, we get into a one-shot that has a very fun guest star that hasn’t been solicited yet so I won’t spoil it. [Marvel’s August solicitations reveal the guest star is Hank “Ant-Man” Pym.] But basically the idea is that Jen starts to interact more with some of the other people in her building, who, as you may remember, are a bunch of weird entrepreneurs and people trying to monetize whatever little superpowers they have. So there’s a lot of strange folks in the building where Jen has her office, and she will have a story relating to some of those people. And Javier outdid himself on the art for that one. It’s nice.

For what is currently planned as Nos. 8, 9, 10 is the biggest story that I’ve yet told in “She-Hulk.” It’s incredibly complicated, and it’s taking six issues of work to get three issues together, but I think it’s going to be totally worth it. If you read issue No. 4 and you saw the fun interaction she had with Daredevil, with Matt Murdock, at the beginning of that issue, you might enjoy some of the stuff that happens in Nos. 8, 9, 10.

Hero Complex: David Goyer, the screenwriter of quite a few comic book film adaptations including Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy and “Man of Steel,” recently made some controversial comments about She-Hulk, saying, “She-Hulk was the extension of the male power fantasy.” What are your feelings regarding his wildly inaccurate statement about Jen Walters, who was first introduced as Bruce Banner’s cousin?  
CS: My feeling is that the best place to find out what She-Hulk is — and has been for as long as I’ve been reading (and writing) her — is her books. She’s a brilliant attorney who’s also completely physically capable,  able to go toe-to-toe with the strongest opponents (of any gender) in comics. She’s smart, beautiful, sassy, funny, optimistic, one hell of a dresser… she’s everything I’d want a daughter of mine to grow up to be, in fact — even the green part, if that’s what she felt like doing. That is She-Hulk. Those are the qualities that make her such a unique, wonderful character, and I couldn’t be more proud to be adding my take to the nearly 35 years of great She-Hulk stories we’re already lucky to have.

HC: The Inhumans were on a list of characters you wanted to work with at Marvel. Why?

CS: I thought, and continue to think, they’re super cool. They’re like a royal family. But they’re also weird — they’re not space aliens exactly, but they kind of are. And I’ve always liked the idea of characters whose powers are variable, so you don’t know what you’re going to get. The premise of Inhumans is that they’re ordinary people, but once they get exposed to this particular substance called Terrigen mist, they power up. But they don’t know ahead of time what that power is going to be, so it could be anything. That, coupled with the neat cosmic royal family idea—I’ve always thought they were just weird and strange and cool and off in their own corner of the Marvel universe. So the idea that I get to make them not off in their own corner, but expand the mythology massively and do a lot of neat things with them is damn appealing. That’s why I was into it, I’m having a lot of fun with it, and I’m very far along on scripting at this point, so I can say that many, many cool things happen in “Inhuman”and I think people should continue checking it out.

HC: “Inhuman” is an ensemble book, but we’ve only seen part of the ensemble at this point. How big can we expect the cast to get?

CS: The cast will be pretty big. Medusa is basically going to be one of the centerpieces of it, but there are some new characters who are going to be rotating around her, as well as existing Inhuman characters that we’ve seen before. And sweet cameos from people around the Marvel universe. Captain America shows up and has some awesome scenes in issue No. 2. Thor shows up a little bit later. The Inhumans are a big new power base, and a lot of people are interested in them. Marvel’s putting a lot of resources behind it, Marvel really wants it to do well, I want it to do well, so we’re trying to make everybody know what the Inhumans are and how they fit into the Marvel universe.

HC: How do you balance character with plot when you’re working on a big sweeping event like “Inhumanity”? How do you make sure you’re honoring those characters and making readers connect with the people in the midst of this sprawling story?

CS: Every one of those is different. You basically have a checklist of plot points you have to hit, and then it’s about finding the ways to not just show those plot beats. You’re trying to find different angles on people’s reactions. A couple of lines of dialogue, it doesn’t take much just to get that level of human interaction or human relatability. Even the largest cosmic events, you can do a lot with just somebody saying something about what they’re looking at. But that’s one of the differences between a good comic and a bad comic. Because we’ve all seen spectacle before, many, many, many times in comics. It’s about finding a way to bring something new to it. Something relatable to it that could make a difference.

HC: How has it been working with artist Joe Madureira? And Ryan Stegman was recently announced as the new “Inhuman” ongoing artist with No. 4 — have you gotten a chance to see some of his pages and designs?

CS: I’ve gotten a whole issue in from Ryan, which is beautiful. They’re both very different artists, but they’re both so good. I’m just spoiled. Think of the list of artists I’m working with now, between Joe and Ryan to Tony Daniel to Steve McNiven, it’s just out of control. And Javier. Everybody is top-notch. Everybody is at the top of their game, and I feel like I need to deliver scripts that are up to what they can provide. I’m just really lucky.

Black and white artwork from "The Death of Wolverine." (Marvel)

Black-and-white artwork from “Death of Wolverine.” (Marvel)

HC: “Death of Wolverine” will be looking at different eras of Wolverine’s life before he’s killed off. Can you get any more specific about those periods? What aspects of his character are you focusing on?

CS: I want to hold off on getting too specific about each one, just because there’s a long time between now and September, and I want to hold some of those reveals until it’s a little bit closer. The book is not a trip down memory lane, but it will have a tonal feel that will hopefully satisfy longer-term readers of Wolverine as far as, “Oh, I remember when Logan was in this place.” One of my goals for the series was to make sure to hit what I consider to be the touchstones for Logan, for Wolverine. If you had someone list 10 things about Wolverine’s history, what would those 10 things be? And so I want to at least allude to those as a way of honoring the legacy of the character, but also letting Logan reflect upon his life as the story plays out. So when we come to the end of it, hopefully he’ll be in a good place, or bad place. I don’t know, you’ll have to read it to find out.

HC: What are some of your personal favorite Wolverine stories?

CS: There’s a ton. The Claremont/Miller beginning of the “Wolverine” solo series is amazing. “Kitty Pryde and Wolverine” is fantastic. Some of the stories set in Madripoor are great. I like “Old Man Logan” quite a bit. Brian K. Vaughan did a very cool 3-issue story with Eduardo Risso [“Logan”] that was magnificent. There’s a lot. I think I’m even missing some cool ones. I think most of the Wolverine stories I gravitate towards are more the solo story stuff, although I know there are amazing X-Men stories involving him, too. There’s so many different Wolverines, you’ve got a lot of options when you want to choose one.

HC: What is artist Steve McNiven bringing to the table?

CS: These guys are magicians. They can do anything. You can write anything at all, and then it just shows up on the page. Perfectly rendered, perfectly realized. I’m amazed. The very first page of “Wolverine,” I asked for “a thousand-yard stare,” right? You can Google “thousand-yard stare” and you can see what it looks like, but how the hell would you draw that and make that work? It’s perfect, it’s exactly right. And if that gives you an idea of where Wolverine is at in “The Death of Wolverine,” that’s intentional.

HC: Where did the idea for “Letter 44” come from? What were some of your influences for that book?

CS: I’ve always been a fan of manned space travel. Not “Star Wars,” but NASA and Apollo 13. The real-deal astronauts, it’s incredible what they do. And so I wanted to write a story that incorporated them as main characters, but I was also thinking about what would get the United States to restart its manned space exploration program, because we haven’t really had a manned exploration program in a long time. So what would get us back in the solar system? What would get us to greenlight, or spend all those billions of dollars, to get us to Mars or wherever it might be? And I thought, well, the discovery of legitimate alien life in our solar system would probably get us out there. So that is where the genesis of it came from.

And then the political side of it, which is such a big part of “Letter 44”, came from thinking, “What if this happened but people didn’t know about it? What if this was a secret and we wanted to know what was out there before we let the world know that it was there?” And I thought about how that could work, and presidential secrets and all of that. I’ve always been very interested in that side of things, partially maybe from the law degree, I don’t know, but I like presidents. I think it’s a tough, weird job. Any world leader job is sort of bizarre and strange. It’s one of those jobs that’s almost analogous to a superhero. You have virtually infinite power, and then it’s about how you exercise it, how you use it. And the responsibility of that is really something. So putting presidents and space travel in one book was an easy sell for me, and fortunately it seems to be something other people are responding to as well.

HC: “Letter 44” is currently in development as a TV series on Syfy. How did that come about? Have they asked for any of your input?

CS: They have asked for input, which is great. I’ve been pretty involved. Obviously, an adaptation from comics to film or TV involves a lot of changes, but I’m part of it, which is nice. I’m not directing the pilot or anything, that’s Jonathan Mostow, but it’s still nice to be there. As far as how it came about, the book is published by Oni Press, and Oni has a production arm whose job is to take comic projects that Oni has and see if they can be developed or sold to ancillary media. There was a lot of interest in the project from the beginning, a lot of people thought it could be something in that world, and it’s worked out. I can’t wait to see what it looks like with all these people moving and saying some of these words that I originally wrote. You don’t have to have that happen to be a success in comics at all, because comics are comics, but at the same time, that would be really neat to see. We’ll see what happens, but I’d be thrilled.

HC: What can we expect for the future of “Letter 44”?

CS: The second arc is starting very soon. We just had the end of the first one, with “Letter 43” and all the other cool twists that we put in. The second arc begins with a one-shot issue that is basically a flashback delving into the back story of two of the astronauts on the ship. We see Charlotte Hayden and we see Rowan, who has been referred to, but never seen. When the ship left Earth, it had nine astronauts on it, and now for some reason there are eight. We don’t know what happened to Rowan, we just know he’s not there anymore, so we start to see more about him. And then moving past that one-shot, we have the second full arc beginning, in which we have — one of the things I want to do is reinvent people’s expectations of what this book is and what it could be with every issue. And huge things happen in every issue of the second arc that turn the whole story on its head over and over again. The scope gets bigger and bigger and bigger, to the extent that I don’t think anyone will be able to predict where it’s going to go. It’s constantly surprising, and it’s constantly dangerous. It’s a book where many, many things happen that are just big, and I hope people like it as much as I do.

– Oliver Sava

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