By Casey Brazeal
Born in Alabama but living in Kansas City, Jason Aaron is the writer and co-creator behind the gritty crime comic-book thriller “Scalped.” Earlier this year, he announced that “Scalped” would end its story and its run at issue #60. During its run of more than four years, this story of reservations, casinos and meth has been nominated for both the Eisner and Harvey, the two most prestigious awards in comics.
But Aaron will still have plenty on his plate—he also writes “Wolverine,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Wolverine and the X-men” and “Punisher Max” for Marvel. Both “Hulk” and the new title, “Wolverine and the X-Men,” launched number-one issues November 2.
How’s the response been to the books that just came out?
I am really happy. Both books seem to be getting a great response, especially X-Men.
It’s a new direction for Wolverine. He’s wearing a suit and running a school, instead of just carving people up with those claws. Is it fun to do something new with Wolverine?
Sure, that’s one of the problems with Wolverine. He’s been around for a long time, he appears in a lot of books, he’s been in a lot of different kinds of situations, it’s hard to find something brand new to do with him. I love the chance to put him in a situation we’ve never seen before, especially one he’s not comfortable in.
It’s cool to see how you have this rebellious character who has to deal with bureaucrats and such. How do you keep Wolverine in this interesting new world and keep him kicking ass?
Well, I am not changing who Wolverine is. I’ve been writing Wolverine for about as long as I’ve been in comics and I just came out with one of the darkest Wolverine stories anybody’s ever done.
It’s not that I’m trying to neuter Wolverine or change who he is or what people have always enjoyed about him. It’s just putting him in a different environment.
In some sense, it’s an evolution of the character and we’re watching him embrace the new responsibility that he’s never had before but he’s still going to be the guy he’s always been. If anything, he feels like it’s only more important that he’s going out and doing what he does. Keeping problems from ever making it to the doorstep.
In “Wolverine’s Revenge,” Wolverine unknowingly kills his illegitimate children. Do you purposely try to tell very different stories and stretch the character?
With a character like Wolverine, sure. He’s one of those characters that you can put in lots of different kinds of stories. Just in the Wolverine stuff I’ve done in the last few years, you can see that I try to do a lot of different genres and tones—very different sort of situations.
You can’t do that with every character. He’s one of those that you can and I am always going to try and take advantage of that.
With the #1 issues, how do you make sure they’re accessible?
I am always trying to do that with anything I’ve done, going back to my first big Marvel gig with Ghost Rider. Ghost Rider’s got as convoluted and complicated a back-story as any character in comics. It was a struggle to make it fresh and accessible without throwing out everything that had come before. And I always try to do that with everything.
There’s no secret recipe, there‘s no special formula. I’ve been reading comics for years but even I don’t remember the back stories and all the history of most characters.
You don’t just completely rewrite history—you’ve got to understand that other people have written these characters before you and other people will write them again after you’re gone. And you’re just kind of a caretaker of these characters. You’re not the be-all-end-all.
In your other recent #1, the Hulk story, you have the Hulk separated from Bruce Banner, the Hulk’s human identity. How did this idea get percolating?
It was just me wanting to do a new take on the Hulk-Banner dynamic. I wanted to do something that was fresh and accessible to people who hadn’t been reading Hulk the last several years but still honor that core dynamic that has driven Hulk stories for decades.
Let’s shift gears and talk about “Scalped.” Is it true that you’ve been writing “Scalped” for as long as you’ve been in comics?
Yeah, pretty much. It wasn’t the very first thing. I won a Marvel Talent Search contest and the first thing I wrote was a short little Wolverine story and the first twenty-two-page comic I wrote was “The Other Side” for Vertigo, but “Scalped” started coming out alongside “The Other Side,” or it may have been two issues afterward.
Now, fifty-three issues in, do you feel excited to be putting this thing to bed and moving on to other characters and projects or is it hard to be putting aside this opus you have been working on for several years now?
I am certainly not bored. It’s not that I’m bored. I still like writing these characters. But it is exciting to be wrapping things up and bringing these arcs to their end point. Telling stories I have had in my head for years now—I am excited for that.
Once I get to the end and realize I don’t get to write these characters anymore, it may be a little sad or surreal. But for now I am still excited.
How many issues ahead of us are you?
Just a couple.
Are you loyal to an original outline or, as you’re writing these issues, do you find yourself saying, “Well, now that I am writing it, the story should take this turn or contain this detail?”
Sure, that always happens and I don’t think you can be beholden to an outline that you came up with years ago just because you did come up with it years ago. For the most part, I stuck pretty close to the way I had the ending planned out. I’ve had the ending for most characters mapped out pretty early on in the process, and I’ve stayed pretty close to that, but I always try to leave myself room to go with things as they come to me as I’m writing.
After “Scalped” wraps up at issue sixty, do you have anything in the works that would be creator-owned or away from the whole capes and cowls world?
Yeah, you’ll certainly see me do more creator-owned stuff. Probably not until “Scalped” wraps up. But as long as I’m in comics, I want to be doing creator-owned work in some capacity or another.
I love what I do at Marvel. I’m very happy at Marvel but I will always have my hand in creator-owned work as well.
In terms of writing a crime comic in this gritty world where horrible things are done to people, how do you get your head into these characters? How do you write these folks?
Those are the kind of characters I’ve always been interested in as a writer and as a reader, the bigger and more obvious the flaw the better. That’s the stuff I’ve always been attracted to.
Those kind of tortured characters are the ones I gravitate toward. Those are the kind of characters that are at the heart of noir. Characters who are flawed and oftentimes realize what their flaws are but still can’t help but succumb to them. Often, you know how things are going to wrap up and you know they’re going to be bad but you want to stick around to watch the train-wreck that’s going to happen.
In some ways that’s what “Scalped” is. There are twists and turns but it’s not a book that’s going to dazzle people with plot mechanics. It’s very much a character-driven book, and I think that’s what people have latched onto and it’s why we’ve been able to do fifty-four issues. People love these characters as much as [R.M.] Guerá [the penciler for the series] and I do.