Benjamin Percy has had a fascinating career trajectory, at least in my eyes. I was introduced to his work through his run on the Rebirthed Green Arrow run, but the man as a creator was always on my periphery. I simply wasn’t reading what he was putting out.
So when he was announced as an instrumental figure within the updated X-Men line of books, my eyebrow was raised. I just had no idea if he would be up to snuff. I guess I just had to have faith, because his run on X-Force is getting better and better with each issue, and his new Wolverine series is a hit from the get-go. His work doesn’t just stop at Marvel; he’s also working with new publisher AWA on a zombie book.
If you watch Percy speak at a panel like I did during the convention, he can come across as a little intimidating. With his deep voice and gruff vernacular, he looks and sounds like he was ripped straight out off… well, a Benjamin Percy comic. Meeting him, however, will wash all those fears away. He’s an attentive and articulate guy with a warm heart. I wanted to pick his brain, so we sat together during this year’s C2E2 and we had a chat. Enjoy!
The Beat: How did you come to write Wolverine?
Benjamin Percy: He’s my favourite character. He’s always been my favourite character. So this is, as corny as it sounds, a childhood dream come true. I was approached by Marvel a few years back about writing the podcast series. I put together a thirty-page, single-spaced pitch, the subtext of which was, “You’d better give this to me or else.” I was excited not just by the chance to write Logan, but by the frontier of a podcast universe. I ended up writing two seasons of the show, The Long Night and The Lost Trail. From there I adapted The Long Night into a comic miniseries. When [Jonathan] Hickman contacted me and said, “I think you’ll kill on X-Force,” I took his advice literally. I made sure that Wolverine was on the team. I guess you could say that, as a result of all this, I’ve been in the Danger Room for a long time, getting ready for the solo title.
The Beat: Did you know that you were going to write the Wolverine series when you started X-Force?
Percy: No. It’s one of the few situations where I haven’t had to pitch. In the past when I was writing for DC and Marvel, you’re typically involved in a bake-off situation where you’re in the running for a series but it’s not guaranteed. You have to convince them by writing a bible. In this case, given how much Wolverine I had already written, [X-Men editor] Jordan White called me up and said, “He’s yours.” After I hung up the phone, I felt a little shaky. I wondered if I had had a brain event and imagined it. I’m deeply grateful to be a custodian of this character.
The Beat: Well, it’s been good. So far.
Percy: There is no “… so far.”
The Beat: Right, I apologise.
Percy: Just kidding. It’s f*cking good! I’m going to make sure it’s good for as long as I have the reins. Not just good, I’m going to put all my heart and sweat and fur and adamantium into it.
The Beat: I truly do believe you. So, when it came to the podcast, what lessons from writing Wolverine in that capacity did you apply to writing him in his own series?
Percy: The podcast broke my brain in many ways. How do you translate a visual medium into audio? How do you write, for instance, a fight scene? I learned a lot about structure, about unusual approaches to narrative, about unreliable points of view since the entire series is an interrogation.
I also learned a lot about Wolverine, even though I thought I was one of the foremost experts on everyone’s favourite canucklehead. I recognised, in audio, just how silent he is. It’s not that he doesn’t talk, but he’s a man of few words. That was one of the reasons why it felt right to push him into the shadows for the podcast. It’s a kind of hunt for Wolverine. It’s a murder mystery and he’s one of the suspects. By doing that, I was able to keep him mysterious. To get him out of the warm and fuzzy spotlight he’s been in with a lot of the movies. I think Logan is the greatest comic book movie ever made. I thought it was a truly authentic approach to the character. In some of the other X-Men movies I feel like he’s become too familiar to us. I wanted to defamiliarise the audience and make them terrified of Wolverine. He can be a scary dude. Even though he has a heart, it’s buried deep inside a cage of muscle and adamantium.
In the comic, I’ve transferred some of that first-hand knowledge I gained from the podcast and I’m able to do things I couldn’t do there. I’m able to, for example, monologue via caption, and really get inside his skull. He’s the sort of person who’s not sharing things with others, so this gives us access in a way that I couldn’t when I was doing the audio performances where he was sharing things by letter or phone call. Things he wouldn’t be able to say in person. To expose him and make himself vulnerable.
The Beat: With X-Force, how do you bridge the gap between telling stories about characters people love, versus telling stories about them transitioning into another person, like Beast for example?
Percy: I’m always reading X-Men stories right now because I want to honour the legacy of these characters. But I also want to put my own unique lock on them. I’m not looking to be a cover band. I’m not trying to write the X-Men’s greatest hits. I’m trying to acknowledge the fact that the paradigm has shifted. We’re in this new era, the era of Krakoa. As a result of that, yes: these characters have a long, hoof-marked history that I respect. At the same time, this has changed everything. So, I’m trying to recognise their core characteristics like, how would they respond in this situation? How would Beast respond? If he was put in charge of Krakoa’s defence, as the head of the mutant CIA, he would make some morally compromised decisions in the name of good. From the very beginning, Hickman said, “This is a new dawn. This is about Krakoa. You’re not writing the X-Men in any other point of history, you’re writing the X-Men right now.” So it always has to filter through that lens.
The Beat: Comparing the X-Force to the CIA feels like a very direct statement. How was it discussed among the X-writers that X-Force would be the “dark team” that told the more brutal stories among the X-line?
Percy: Well, it suits my sensibilities. I’m a dark-hearted bastard. They want every series to be unique to its creators. They want us to lean into what we’re best at. The idea of a mutant CIA is a meaty one. And a complicated one. It’s full of promise when it comes to spectacular missions, but also ethical concerns and the struggle to defend a nation. Krakoa’s not an island; it’s a nation. If you look at the role of the CIA in our country, you know it has a troubled history. It’s made some really questionable moves. And the mutants are in for the same.
The Beat: I wonder, since you left DC pretty abruptly, what it is about Marvel that’s able to foster truly the best comics work you’ve ever done?
Percy: Marvel trusts its creators. They allow creative freedom in a way that I wasn’t permitted before, and I really appreciate that. Yes, we’re on Slack. Yes, we get together for a summit every six months. Yes, there’s always an editorial conversation. But there’s no micro-management. It’s about elevating creative voices. Which is especially my experience with the X-group. I feel really damn lucky to be working with these people, and to play with the Marvel sandbox.
The Beat: To cap things off: you and Logan share a masculine disposition. Since you portray Wolverine as a macho character with a heart of gold, I’m wondering if under all that flannel and bourbon beats the heart of an emotional man?
Percy: [laughs] I’ve always felt that Wolverine was a close cousin to me. That as a hairy, smelly, grumpy, flannel-clad, cigar-chomping, whiskey-swilling loner who lives in the frozen north, it’s never been hard to occupy his imaginative space. Despite the fact that I lean towards the shadows in my work, I’m also a dad. I will play pretty ponies with my daughter. And I will spend hours every day driving my kids to dance and theatre. And I will shed the occasional poisonous tear when they do something that makes me proud. I guess that’s my way of saying that Logan and I have a spiritual connection.
Written by Benjamin Percy, the X-Force and Wolverine ongoing series are currently in stores.