London is in chaos, the vast majority of the population has been turned in to werewolves and, just to make things interesting, the moon always stays full. This is how writer Alec Worley and artist Jon Davis-Hunt left things off when the first chapter of "Age of the Wolf" concluded last year in the pages of "2000 AD." Not one to wrap things up neatly, the second series of "Age of the Wolf" picks up fifteen years later with London destroyed and only small bands of humans left alive. Humanity's only hope, then and now, remains Rowan Morrigan, an average girl turned post-apocalyptic warrior who talks to the dead, casts magic spells and can sprout trees from her blood.
Worley, a relative newcomer to the British comics scene, has written dozens of stories for "2000 AD" in his short career, including his hugely popular series "Dandridge" and a number of "Terror Tales" and "Future Shocks" one-offs. Despite being new to comics, he has quickly blossomed into one of "2000 AD's" most popular writers.
Worley sat down with CBR News to discuss the latest chapter of "Age of the Wolf," titled "She is Legend," which werewolf movie he adores and which American comic series he'd like to write if given the opportunity.
CBR News: How would you explain "Age of the Wolf" to somebody who hasn't read the first series yet?
Alec Worley: "Age of the Wolf" is a post-apocalyptic fantasy in which an ancient Nordic prophecy has cast a spell over the moon and turned half the earth's population into werewolves. The series is in three parts, each one a completely separate tale.
In the first series, the heroine, Rowan Morrigan, learns that she is descended from the prophecy-writer, who has decreed that Rowan must sacrifice herself to the werewolves' pack leader in order to ensure the doom of all mankind. As she flees across werewolf-ravaged London, Rowan defies her fate by creating a prophecy of her own.
Series two is called "She Is Legend." It starts in "2000 AD" Prog 1772 (out in the UK 29 February) and takes place 15 years on, by which time London has become a vast forest that has sprung from Rowan's spilled blood. Having mastered the power of the runes, Rowan has become something of a folk-hero and fights to protect her fellow human survivors against the predations of men and werewolves alike. Series three will take place another 30 years on from series two.
"Age of the Wolf" was your first ongoing series with "2000 AD." How did you get the call up from doing occasional one-shots to writing a comic that had months and months of teasers and an opening chapter in the now-classic 1700th Prog?
I called myself up, really. By then I'd done a good few one-shots and was gasping to pitch this 'I Am Legend with Werewolves' idea that I'd had for ages. To be honest, the writing ladder within "2000 AD" is a lot less formal than people seem to think. Okay, there's a definite 'apprenticeship' period, the duration of which seems to depend on how many other comics or books you've written outside of the Prog. Hence, a seasoned novelist like Michael Carroll didn't take long to graduate onto Judge Dredd, whereas I'd only ever written journalism, film books and short stories before writing for 2000 AD, so the apprenticeship was a lot longer.
To me, "Age of the Wolf" reads as zombie story in werewolf trappings. Everybody slowly becomes monsters and the few survivors are meant to hide and fight back while also dealing with the ugliness of their own humanity. Those sort of plot elements and themes are, traditionally, the territory of zombies. Usually werewolves are a minority group in werewolf tales. Did you intend to write this as a zombie-type survival story and not a traditional werewolf one?
Definitely. A touchstone here was the 1954 Richard Matheson vampire novel "I Am Legend," which is the book that inspired George A. Romero to make "Night of the Living Dead" and hence this whole zombie apocalypse template we've got now with "The Walking Dead" and so on. I initially figured, "Well, we've seen what happens when vampires and zombies take over the world, and that was back in the '60s! How come no one's ever done it with werewolves?"
I approached it mathematically at first. I worked out some figures based on the population of London, the percentage of people whom this cursed moon had turned into werewolves and the number of people those werewolves would kill or infect in a single night. I even went through two books on wolves in order to work out how much a regular wolf might consume every day and, by extension, how much a werewolf the size of a horse might eat. In the end, I worked out that the entire human race would have been wiped out within something like two weeks. This dictated a slightly different shape to the story, which -- because it's an apocalypse tale -- can only really have one ending, and that's 'we're all screwed.'
The traditional werewolf story as laid out by "The Wolf Man" -- the old Universal picture with Lon Chaney Jr. -- is very similar in that once the main character is bitten there's nothing else for him to do but eat a silver bullet in the third act. So I structured the story more like an epic fantasy, with this one girl fated to save -- or in this case, doom -- the world.
There was so much other stuff I wanted to include I ended up burying it in a backstory that never made it onto the page. There was so much, in fact, that I tried to make "Age of the Wolf" more about suggestion, more about what you don't see.
Your "Age of the Wolf" artist Jon Davis-Hunt has drawn your other major series "Dandridge" for you now as well. Could this be the birth of a classic "2000 AD" partnership?
Absolutely! And together we shall tread the jeweled thrones of the earth beneath our sneakered feet. Or something like that.
Jon's quite astonishing really. He's amazingly disciplined and hardworking and completely puts me to shame. He's one of those artists who's really got an eye for a striking image, which is probably why he got nominated for an Eagle Award for his cover to Prog 1700. He's also the most enthusiastic person I've ever met. It's like he's been built by the world's happiest mad scientist.
He's been gaining a huge fan following here in the UK and it's only a matter of time before one of America's Big Two come looking to steal him away from us.
I've had a similarly fruitful pairing with Warren Pleece, with whom I co-created "Dandridge" back in "Antiquus Phantasma." Warren also worked with me on one of my favorite "Terror Tales," a story called "Lost Property," another ghost story, this one about spooks on the London Underground. Warren's an amazing storyteller and character artist and has worked on comics with guys like Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison and Ed Brubaker, so it was quite an honor to get paired with him.
You use a lot of Norse mythological stuff in this story, words like Midgard and rune are thrown around pretty liberally. How much research did you do?
I dug pretty deep into Norse mythology for this one, a lot of cultural history on wolves and werewolves as well. This sounds incredibly pretentious -- which means it probably is -- but I was trying to tie certain strands together, including Ragnarok and the runes and so on. Rowan was based on the god Norse Balder, who's this doomed son of Odin famous for his beauty and who would return from the dead once Ragnarok had come to pass. The prophecy itself, which Rowan's mom recites at the start of episode three was mine, but I took a few key lines -- and the title for the series -- from one of the Icelandic sagas about Ragnarok, which predicts, "an axe-age, a sword-age, shields shall be cloven; a wind-age, a wolf age, ere the world totters," and is, quite honestly, one of the coolest sounding things I've ever read.
I really, really, REALLY didn't want to end up just showing off how much I'd read. I hate it when writers do that. It was more an exercise in picking different threads out of different boxes and weaving them into a new story with new meanings.
The scenes where Rowan's mother comes back as a sarcastic ghost who lets Rowan in on the "rules" read heavily like "An American Werewolf in London." Was this meant as a direct homage or was it purely coincidental?
No, that was direct homage. Movies like "An American Werewolf in London" were another 'strand' that I wove into the story. John Landis anchors his script for that movie with these three meetings with the undead character Jack. So I did the same with these three meetings with three different spirit characters: Rowan's mum, her Gran and finally Fenris, each meeting taking her one step closer to death.
"American Werewolf" is a big film for me, although it's had a few too many movie magazine retrospectives written about it in recent years so the cult magic's worn off a bit. But it was the first modern horror film I ever watched, having sneaked round a mate's house to watch it on VHS, and it blew my twelve-year-old mind. I remember there being something particularly spooky about the fact that it was set in the city where I lived.
As you mentioned, the new series picks up fifteen years after the first. What inspired the huge time jump?
That was really just to give the series a chance to breath and let the world turn into something different from what it was in the first story. I also wanted to get away from the 'outbreak' scenario that you usually see in supernatural apocalypse stories, where we see the world just starting to crumble. I wanted to set this story at a point like in "Mad Max 2" and "Fallout" where the world has already fallen apart and the survivors have found various ways of adapting to this terrible new world.
At the beginning of the second series, Rowan appears to have become somewhat villainous in this world. I take it she hasn't been lying low for the past decade?
No, she hasn't. Having ridden off into the sunset at the end of the last series, Rowan has mastered her rune powers, whereby if she writes a certain rune and speaks the word aloud -- like 'fire,' 'ice' and whatnot -- she can make that word manifest. She's in her mid-thirties now, much leaner and tougher than she was in series one. I wanted to create this iconic badass superheroine, but really wanted to avoid the immaculate baby-doll look you get with the girls in, say, "Sucker Punch." I wanted her to look dirty and battered and scarred, like Mad Max or John McClane. The recent grungy redesign they did on Lara Croft was a big influence. The important thing was that Rowan had to be human, not this invulnerable fantasy superheroine with humungous tits and a machine gun.
She's spent the last 15 years patrolling the Forest of London, helping the survivors, protecting them from werewolves and raiders, which has earned her the nickname 'Little Red Robin Hood.' So she's not really villainous. To the people, she's this hero, this 'legend.' But beneath it all she's just as clueless and selfish and screwed up as everyone else. She also feels this weight of guilt at being at the centre of the prophecy that's destroyed the world. And she's dealt with this by developing this neurotic compulsion to save as many lives as she can. And it's this idea of duty that she has which comes into conflict with her personal feelings as the story goes on. I felt I didn't give Rowan's character much of a chance to breath in the last series, so I really wanted to make sure that her attitude and personality were driving the second series the whole time.
But don't worry. She doesn't spend the whole series sat in a tree thinking about her feelings or whatever. She's all about kicking ass. In fact, I think we may have doubled the violence quotient with this series. There were a couple of panels where I did pause and think, "Damn. Can I really do that in '2000 AD?'" Tharg let it slide, so I guess you can. Hooray for inventive dismemberment.
[Editor's Note: Tharg is the nickname held by whoever is the current EIC of "2000 AD." This position is currently filled by Matt Smith.]
Can we expect more human against human conflicts in the second part and less human against werewolf? You seem to be setting up different camps of human survivors with differing views right away in the second series, which never works out well in post-apocalyptic situations…
It never does, does it? I guess "Mad Max" would have been a very different movie if everyone just sat down and settled their differences over a cup of tea. ("Give the Great Humungous two sugars! And there shall be an end to the horror! I promise you!")
In "She Is Legend," the human survivors have formed these different communities, hiding out among the trees in these fortified settlements, while others have developed into weird cults and others have become nomadic raiders. The werewolves sleep underground during the day and venture out to hunt when the moon rises. They're more of an ambient threat this time, a lot like the zombies in "The Walking Dead." The humans are definitely the bad guys.
The real villains of the piece are an army of raiders led by a criminal family called the Skinners. They've established a base in what's left of Buckingham Palace. Rowan's been away, looking -- unsuccessfully -- for a way to break the moonspell and return the world to normal, which has given the Skinners a chance to branch out into slavery. They're currently rounding up people from the surrounding settlements and selling them to various tribes around England. The story kicks off as Rowan returns to the Forest and finds out what the Skinners are up to.
There's Harry Skinner, who's this hulking neo-nazi. I based him on Tom Hardy as a sort of cross between the roles he played in the movies "Bronson" and "Warrior." His sister Kate is the Palace gamekeeper and has clashed with Rowan in the past. And their grandmother is the Emperor to Harry and Kate's Darth Vader. She's the key villain of the story. I couldn't resist the idea of turning the little old lady from Red Riding Hood into this foul-mouthed cockney gangster. Writing Granny's scenes were a hoot.
You wrote a "Future Shocks" called "Lord of the Fanboys" in Prog 1672. The protagonist is a sci-fi writer who agonizes over having to become a "sci-fi hack" instead of a more "serious" writer while at a convention full of rabid fanboys. Do you feel that there is an actual bias felt by authors of sci-fi and fantasy by authors of more "serious" writing?
Dear god, yes! Especially so here in the UK, a country in which cultural snobbery has become an art form. To be fair, I think as popular culture dumbs itself down -- which it definitely has over here -- the highbrow responds by becoming more exclusive. But I also think there's something in British high culture that regards itself as the custodian of Chaucer and Shakespeare and the wealth of English literature that sprang from them, and which thou shalt not taint with genre or silly pictures!
In the UK, there's a distinct prejudice towards the fantasy genre, which most critics aggressively loathe! Good fantasy tends to get categorized as something else, either 'magic realism' or 'metaphysical fabulism' or whatever, in the same way that if you don't want to embarrass yourself by reading a comic you call it a "graphic novel." It's ironic really, as us Brits can claim to have written some of the most influential fantasy fiction -- and comics -- of all time. And yet I think I'm right in saying the BBC still can't bring itself to officially describe "Doctor Who" as "science fiction." Very strange and very sad.
Have you had any interest from publishers here about entering the American comics market?
Not yet. I'm not sure I've done enough work yet to really be considered much of a 'name' overseas. If that's how it actually works, which I suspect it doesn't. The alternate worlds required of both "Age of the Wolf" and "Dandridge" have been pretty time-intensive so far, but I'm getting quicker and more efficient with every script I write. I'm planning on sticking with "2000 AD" for as long as the Galaxy's Greatest Comic will have me, but I think it's good to get some variety into your résumé.
I do have a vague plan in mind, which involves me approaching the American and French markets once I've got some "2000 AD" work collected in trade. Interestingly, I'm now spending more time writing comics than anything else and my family aren't starving just yet. If I can make the transition to writing creatively 100% of the time without having to sleep on a park bench then I'd be living the dream. And if I can find room to fit in something arty and creator-owned that would be even better. This year I'm concentrating on the third "Age of the Wolf" and the next "Dandridge."
As for American publishers getting in touch, I see that Dynamite have recently been showing a lot of interest in "2000 AD." My fellow script-droids Al Ewing and Rob Williams have already been lured across the pond to write for them, and I'll be very upset if either of them get asked to write a Red Sonja comic before I do. Just saying.
"Age of the Wolf: She is Legend" by Alec Worley and Jon Davis-Hunt starts in "2000 AD" Prog 1772 on sale February 29 in the UK.