Good news and bad news, Kirkman fans. The good news is that Atom Eve isn't dead, if you haven't figured that one out already. The bad news? Well, unfortunately, "The Astounding Wolf-Man" is getting the silver bullet treatment in Eve's place.
At the KIRKMANIA! Panel at Comic-Con International, Image Comics writer and partner Robert Kirkman spoke about the future of three of his ongoing creator-owned series, "Invincible," "The Walking Dead" and "The Astounding Wolf-Man." Kirkman offered a glimpse at what's ahead for Mark Grayson and Rick Grimes in the first two of those titles, while simultaneously breaking the news that "The Astounding Wolf-Man" will end with its 25th issue. CBR News caught up with the writer for an exclusive interview regarding his fan-favorite titles.
Recent issues of "Invincible" have been nothing short of brutal for fans of the series, with the near-death of Atom Eve and Mark's intense altercation with Conquest, an elderly Viltrumite who is anything but past his prime. But just as Eve's body was able to heal itself, so too will Mark's days as Invincible brighten in a very literal sense – the original Invincible costume is coming back in a special one-shot issue called "Invincible Returns" #1.
"It's time for the costume to come back," Kirkman told CBR News. "I always planned on having the new costume around for a little while. In 'Invincible,' I always try to do those fun superhero things that everybody does. I got to issue #50 and was like, 'Oh man, he's still got the same costume on? Most characters have changed costumes a couple of times by now!' I figured it'd be a fun thing to do."
While reverting to the original costume was always in the cards, Kirkman said that the change back took longer than he initially anticipated. "I didn't know it would last 18 issues or so," he admitted. "I wanted it to last at least a year, that was what I set out to do. It was never going to be a permanent thing. I always knew that I was going to be switching back, but it got to a point where we had the 'Conquest' storyline and the big issue #60 with the 'Invincible' universe crossover. There was just never a good time for the story I had planned to take place and get him back into the costume. But now's the time."
Kirkman wouldn't reveal exactly why Mark would be returning to his original costume, other than to say that something important would happen that prompts the uniform change. "He will spill food on his costume and that inspires him to put on his old suit," the writer joked. "It'll be much less ridiculous in the book, I promise.
"The fact that he has been through such a rough patch lately is the major reason that he's ready to no longer look at himself in the blue-and-black costume," Kirkman teased further. "That blue-and-black costume represents a time period where he's had it a little rough. He's ready to put it behind him."
Mark Grayson isn't the only Kirkman-penned character that's getting an outfit change. "The Walking Dead" protagonist Rick Grimes will be donning a new police uniform in "Hope," an upcoming storyline that puts the cast of the book in an unusually civilized location. Over the last several issues, Rick and his fellow survivors have been traveling to Washington, D.C. in hopes of finding salvation from the zombie crisis – though none of them could've anticipated what they'd find near the nation's capital.
"D.C. is going to be somewhat of a utopia compared to what they have been living in," Kirkman revealed. "They're going to find a pocket of civilization that is pretty much intact. It's somewhere on the outskirts of D.C., a suburban area that has pretty much walled an area off. We're going to meet those people, and our characters are going to intermingle with their society. There's conflict that arises from all of this, obviously, but there's going to be at least one issue where they're drinking tea!"
After spending a multitude of issues in the safe confines of a prison, it might appear that "The Walking Dead" is retreading old ground with its move to a closed-off utopian society, but Kirkman suggested that readers give the new direction a chance. "I imagine that this'll be another case where people say, 'I don't know how he's gonna pull this one off. How's he going to keep this going?' I've been hearing that since issue #8," he argued. "On the surface, I can see how people might think, 'Yeah, they're going to be totally safe now!' I'd just say, trust me. There's a multitude of story avenues that I can go through with this set up. It's a logical evolution of the series for me. It's something that I've had planned for a good long while. It's going to be cool, and I think that in reading the book for as long as people have, being walled in with a bunch of normal people in a seemingly normal, protected area may not end up being as great as it seems. There are problems that could arise from that."
What kind of problems, you ask? For starters, it might not be so easy for our heroes to adjust to a quasi-normal society given what they've been through. "Imagine living life for over a year where the only rule was survive," Kirkman argued. "Now, they're coming into an area where there are vastly more rules. They may have grown so accustomed to their way of living that going back to normal society could seem completely alien to them. It's going to be a rough transition, and some people are going to transition better than others."
Additionally, the survivors won't be getting totally complacent, as zombies will remain a part of the book. "There's gonna be supply runs," he revealed. "Everyone's going to get a job. Some of those people's jobs will be expanding the safe zone wall. So there's going to be construction working against the zombies. There's going to be dangers, everything that comes with trying to survive in a walled-in society. You're going to have to eventually go out of there – it's just that when you're done going out, you get to go home and have a dinner party. Part of the conflict coming up is going to be, 'Is Rick double dipping? Did he bite that chip and put it back in the dip?!' These are the things they're going to have to deal with again!"
If the "The Walking Chip" sounds a tad stale to you, at least Kirkman is enthralled by the idea. With both "Invincible" and "The Walking Dead," Kirkman said that he's constantly developing new stories that excite him. "I've always wanted to do long, sprawling runs on books, and it just so happens that it's happened on two creator-owned books that I control completely," he said. "Being able to ride that out for the long haul and lay out these choices and turns, do everything I can to keep things interesting and compelling, I only get more excited. My excitement level is as high as it's ever been, and I'm continually coming up with where the next place to go is, what the next arc in the book is."
While Kirkman has the same amount of control on "The Astounding Wolf-Man," the series can't be classified as a "long, sprawling" series in quite the same way… especially since it's about to end. "'Wolf-Man' has been moving to a monumental story event that's been set up since the very first issue, answering the question as to why exactly he was picked by the Elder to become Wolf-Man," Kirkman explained. "It's been revealed that he was specifically chosen, and it wasn't some kind of random attack. We've always been building to that, and the story has gotten so big, that it's one of those things that I don't know if we can top. It feels like it's time to move on."
The final issue will be #25, and while Kirkman said that the ending is story-driven, there are other motivating factors for concluding the series. "Sitting here with 'Invincible,' 'Walking Dead,' 'Haunt,' 'Wolf-Man' and 'Image United,' my dance card is kind of full," he admitted. "With 'Wolf-Man,' we're hitting this point where it's like, 'Oh, this is going to be a cool, finite conclusion to this series, I better not ruin this!' I could keep going on for six more issues, and then be like 'Ah, well. Now it's not as cool.' Jason [Howard] and I have other things we want to do together on top of this, so at this point, we want to move onto other things and explore ideas. That's another cool thing about doing creator-owned comics: you can kind of decide when you want to hop off the ride and go proceed with something else you'd wanted to do for a while. It's time. It's a good point to jump off."
But there are certainly some benefits to ending "Astounding Wolf-Man" at this point, not the least of which is providing a gratifying conclusion. "I'm excited to try and test my ability to end a story, which I've done on a few occasions to varying results," said Kirkman. "I've never actually gotten to sit down and map out the ending and take my time to do whatever I want to complete [a book] in a satisfactory fashion. So, it's pretty exciting. It's going to be a big extra-sized extravaganza that we're building towards. Jason and I are really excited to see it come to an end."
Even when "Wolf-Man" is done, Kirkman's partnership with artist Jason Howard is far from over. They're a while away from announcing their next project, though the tone sounds markedly different from what "Wolf-Man" fans might expect. "Jason and I have young children, which is one of the many things we have in common," Kirkman teased. "Working on 'Wolf-Man' has been a lot of fun, but my son is three and I have a four-month-old daughter. It's getting to the point where it'd be nice if I had one, single book that they could read! The thing that Jason and I are going to work on will be kid-appropriate, though not necessarily exclusively for kids. It'll be fun trying to strike that balance on a series so that it appeals to everyone but also be appropriate for children. I think comics need more of that."
A kids-friendly project might not be the greatest relief for disheartened fans of "Wolf-Man," but Kirkman offered a realistic viewpoint on the book's ending. "It's unrealistic to think that every single one of my creator-owned books is going to go on forever," he laughed. "I think 'Walking Dead' and 'Invincible' will go on for a good long time. I don't plan on ending them anytime soon, but if I hit that point where the story would have a perfect ending… and I'm not saying that 'Wolf-Man' has a perfect ending, though it's an ideal ending point from my point of view. Once people see the story, they'll understand. Doing something after this would be kinda whatever. I'm not killing the character or anything."
After a pause, Kirkman added: "Well, maybe I am."