Twas the Fight Before Christmas: Williams & Campbell Talk "Wolverine" #49

Wed, November 8th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer

It's almost the Holiday Season and for many people that means a trip to the mall where they fight the crowds.   This Holiday Season, everybody's favorite Canucklehead, Wolverine, finds himself literally fighting the crowds as a last minute shopping trip turns into a battle against a heavily armed blood thirsty cult. This is the premise of December's "Wolverine" #49 from Marvel Comics by the British team of writer Rob Williams and artist Lawrence Campbell. CBR News spoke with the duo about the issue.

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"Wolverine" #49, Page 2 "Wolverine" #49, Page 9
Campbell and Williams had recently collaborated on a story for "2000 A.D.," but the two actually met some time before that . " Rob's great; we have similar tastes in films and comics along with story telling," Campbell told CBR News. "I remember reading 'Cla$$ War' (which Rob had written) and thinking I really would have loved to have drawn it. At a convention, I pretty much went up and introduced myself, said I liked his work, and if he was looking for an artist to give me a shout.   As I walked away he probably thought I was a nutter. Anyway, to cut a long story short we eventually got to work together on 'Breathing Space' for 2000 A.D. I'm really pleased with how that strip turned out, my artwork had developed and it's now going in a direction I like. It was after 'Breathing Space' that we sent in a pitch to Marvel."

Over the years, Rob Williams had occasionally spoken with Marvel editor Axel Alonso. So when he and Campbell were ready to pitch to Marvel, it was Alonso they approached. " He liked 'Cla$$war,'" Williams said. "So, Laurence and I pitched him a mini-series for a minor X-character. Axel liked it, but the character wasn't available at the time - unbeknownst to us, he'd just had his legs cut off in a recent issue, which is as good a reason as any not to publish a mini-series, I feel (is Marvel ready for a stumpy superhero? Probably not). Anyway, Axel said that our pitch was a no-goer (disappointment) and then said, 'I'm doing this series of one-off Wolverine specials though, would you and Laurence like to do one?'(Elation). Things changed after that, and the special eventually became the double-sized Christmas issue of 'Wolverine.'"

When Alonso offered him the assignment, Williams jumped at the chance to write his first Marvel comic. "I grew up reading these things, so writing a Marvel comic is a huge dream come true for me," he stated. "And I'd never have imagined that my first one would be Wolverine - one of the coolest characters in the Marvel stable. When I was writing dialogue for Logan, I'd be getting a serious fanboy thrill out of it. It was a lot of fun and I think that's translated to the script. If a writer's enjoying themselves on a script, it usually shows in the end product. And I really enjoyed writing 'Wolverine' #49."

"Wolverine" #49, Page 17 "Wolverine" #49, Page 18
Campbell was also thrilled to be given a chance to draw one of Marvel's most popular characters. " When I got an offer from Marvel to draw Wolverine, I wasn't going to say no," he said. "Knowing Rob was going to be the writer also really helped, as we have similar tastes when it comes to storytelling. That and there's elves with machine guns."

When he sat down to pen his story for "Wolverine" #49, Williams had no trouble nailing down Logan's personality, but other aspects of the story proved to be challenging. " You don't need me to tell you he's a bruiser with a good heart. A haunted killing machine, etc. It's all been done," Williams said. "That's one of the tough things about writing Wolverine. You have to try and think how you can bring something slightly fresh to the character, otherwise there's no point. Anyone can roll out the 'I'm the best there is at what I do...' shtick and then have him diving into a hundred Hand ninjas. Mark Millar's run really nailed how deadly the character is. So, how do you give him a threat that's in any way dramatic? He's virtually unkillable, so how do you create tension? I think we've done that with this Christmas story. And hopefully, at the end of the second act of our story, you're thinking, 'how the hell can Logan possibly save the day here?'"

"Wolverine" #49, Page 28
Williams's story takes place on Christmas Eve and opens with Kitty Pryde asking Wolverine to prove that he's the best there is at last minute shopping. "So he finds himself in Lacy's - Manhattan's premiere department store - and it sends his senses wild (it'd send anyone wild). Logan's all about the outdoors and the natural world," Williams said. "Suddenly he's surrounded by thousands of people and is having perfume sprayed in his face by scarily intense zombie perfume counter girls (they're not actually zombies, probably). It's a nightmare for him - and gives us a nice bit of comedy to start the book. Then a heavily armed Death Cult takes the place hostage - they want to show the world that the true meaning of Christmas, love, peace etc has been forgotten. So, to try and shock the world awake from its Christmas present-buying frenzy and make everyone realize the folly of their ways and love one another, they're going to blow up Lacy's and everyone in it. No one said that Death Cults are logical institutions. From that point on its 'Die Hard' meets 'Bad Santa.'

"The Death Cult - Black Christmess - may just have an ulterior motive for their plan, and it may involve a spoilt billionaire's daughter who is being shown around Santa's grotto," Williams continued. "But they're not letting on. And the story has dwarfs with big machine guns; dwarfs who are dressed as elves - with very big machine guns."

"Breathing Space" #3, Page 1 "Breathing Space" #3, Page 2
Heavily armed elves are just one of the obstacles Wolverine has to overcome in his fight to save Christmas in issue #49. "It's very difficult to come up with a viable threat for the best killer in the entire Marvel universe. So, we've come at this from a slightly different angle," Williams stated. "Yes, there's a large group of heavily armed goons in Lacy's, and Logan's got to physically get past them, but how does he cope with the fact that the entire building is covered in explosives - there's not just one bomb to turn off, there's a lot of them - and there's thousands of people to save? And, more importantly for our particular story, how does Logan find one person in the middle of Manhattan during the Christmas Eve rush?"

As he searches for that one particular person on Christmas Eve, Wolverine will encounter a host of colorful characters amidst the holiday havoc. "There's the billionaire's daughter - Toulouse Lexington - she's kind of a Paris Hilton with more gawky teenage angst," Williams said. "She may have her daddy's money, but she doesn't have the thing she wants most in the world, as you'll see. Then there's Pinter, her overweight bodyguard. An ex-cop who got lazy and took the money for a baby-sitting job, and has been sleepwalking his way through his life as a result (there's a healthy does of self-loathing there). And then you have Cave, who I love. He's the head of the Black Christmess death cult. He's called Cave because we modelled him on Nick Cave. And he's an acerbic, fast mouthed, bitter career criminal who's never had the big win - never pulled off the big heist. He's C-list in terms of life seniority, and he knows it, and he hates it. This story is his one big chance to change all that. It's his Christmas present."

Since it's a story that stars the deadliest hero in the Marvel Universe,   and features a heavily armed death cult in a mall on Christmas Eve, "Wolverine #49" is a Christmas present for those who enjoy twisted moments of Yuletide themed havoc. "I refer you to the dwarfs dressed as elves with big machine guns," Williams said. "Really, I can't stress their importance enough. Also, I think there's a lot for readers to empathise with in this story - blowing up a department store on Christmas Eve, letting an adamantium-clawed killing machine cut his way through an army of store elves. If you've ever had to buy last minute Christmas presents, you'll know how it feels to want these things."

"Breathing Space" #3, Page 3 "Breathing Space" #4, Page 4
"Wolverine" #49 will also delivers more than just moments of twisted humor and high tension action. "The original pitch was 'Die Hard' meets 'Bad Santa' (the Terry Zwigoff, Billy Bob Thornton movie), and it's got the same acerbic, nasty humour - and dwarfs dressed as elves with big machine guns. One of the things I like about the story is it kind of has its cake and eats it. It's dark, funny, nasty and sarcastic in parts, but it also has a serious subtext about the meaning of Christmas and whether or not people are any good, or if everyone is, deep down, just out for themselves. Hopefully it'll make you laugh, provide some good dramatic Wolverine claw-slashing action and offer a slightly traditional Christmas glow too."

Lawrence Campbell enjoyed reading and bringing to life Williams tale of humor, heroics, and holiday cheer. " Rob's scripts are well detailed, something I like as an artist," Campbell explained. "He manages to make you laugh on one page with great dialogue and then you drop the smile as you turn over the page because something nasty has happened. I would also say that Rob's scripts have something to say without being preachy."

Since "Wolverine" #49 is a Holiday themed tale, Campbell altered his usual style for the issue. "I usually use a lot of black in my work, but because this is a Christmas issue, I lightened it up a little," he stated. "Although saying that, it does get dark towards the end. Style wise, I like artists like Sean Phillips, Michael Lark also the grand scale of Brian Hitch. Not saying I draw like that (I wish) but they are certainly an influence. Kris Justice is the inker on Wolverine; I've worked with him before on a couple 'Judge Dredd' strips for 2000 A.D. It's always a pleasure to have an inker you can get on well with. Kris did a good job."

In addition to rendering all the interior action of "Wolverine #49," Campbell also got to design the issue's cover. "I was pleased with the cover," he said. "Dressing Wolverine up as Santa and making him look hard isn't the easiest thing. The cover is also quite minimal, so I'm hoping it will stand out. A lot of people say my artwork and page layouts are 'very graphic.' I guess this is because I come from a background in graphic design. I spend a fair amount of time looking at how the page will read; the look of the whole page etc. I tend to be drawn to artists who have a feel for graphics within their work."

Working on "Wolverine" went pretty smoothly for Campbell despite the number of distractions he had to deal with while drawing the issue. "This year has been a very odd year for me," he stated, "While being given my first Marvel job. I also moved house, got married, found a murdered body, my mum got diagnosed with a terminal illness and my dad has been ill, to name a few things which have happened."

"Breathing Space" #7, Page 2 "Breathing Space" #7, Page 5

Williams has seen Campbell's finished work on "Wolverine" #49 and loved what he saw. " This is Laurence's first comic for the big two (he drew a well-received Image series called 'The Disciples' a few years back) and, when you see it, you'll know that it won't be his last. He's a great artist - has a beautiful sense of mood in his work, without ever forgetting the storytelling. He's kind of got a Tony Harris/Michael Lark thing going and he's done a really beautiful job here."

Like Williams mentioned earlier when a writer is having fun it shines through in his work and the same can be said of artists. " The whole thing has been a joy," Campbell said. "I got to draw Wolverine, a character I've liked since reading the Byrne and Claremont X-Men. Having Axel and Michael [Michael O'Connor] as editors has been great, their comments have been really encouraging and things ran very smoothly. I'm looking forward to the comic coming out and cracking open a beer."

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