No Killswitch For Killmonger
Oct 07, 2018
by Vince Brusio
The weakest link in the chain is what shuts down the problem. But if the weakest link is a person’s past that has been buried deep under psychological debris, is there enough time to dig through the dirt before the problem is on top of you? We ask writer Bryan Edward Hill how deep he had to dig to unearth N'Jadaka’s pain and suffering. We wanted to know how much dirt he had to shovel to put himself in the same dark hole as lKillmonger.
Vince Brusio: Bryan, Killmonger was the villain who faced off with T’challa in the Marvel Studios movie, and for many new fans to Black Panther it was the first time they’d seen the character. Is Killmonger #1 (OCT180803) a series that will bring those late to the party up to speed with the character’s background and history?
Bryan Edward Hill: When Marvel first came to me about writing a Killmonger "origin" series, I said that I didn't want to simply recap what's been done before in comics, splashing some of the film on top of it. I wanted to write a story that explores his emotional and philosophical transformation into the titular villain. While it's true that most people are familiar with Erik from the film, the great work that's been done with him in comics needed to remain in the continuity.
All that being said, you don't need to know a lot of continuity to read this. Whenever I'm working on a "number one" whether it's a mini-series or an ongoing, I'm trying to make it a good read for longtime comic fans, but also something exciting and daring for first time comic readers. Every book is an opportunity to bring more people into the culture of comic books.
Vince Brusio: How did you get inside the head of N'Jadaka? Did you just reflect on past continuity, or did you try to make your series more street smart?
Bryan Edward Hill: I'm not an actor, but my writing process is very similar to acting. In order to write a character well I need to "live" in their head a bit. Reading the continuity work helped. I took a long look at Evan Narcisse's Rise Of The Black Panther, but I can't just use comics to write comics. That's not writing. That's parroting. To create something unique you have to push much further than that, on the page and in your thoughts.
Erik has a militant worldview, backed up by brutal life experience and a Wakandan belief system that he's always struggling with, the beliefs a child can remember of the world that he feels abandoned him. I needed to put myself through the process of that thought.
By nature, I'm a peaceful man. I always seek a diplomatic solution to problems, but Erik doesn't. Erik is a man with no room for what he sees as injustice and he's incredibly comfortable with violence. For those aspects of his character I trained a little in small arms, at a gun range near where I live. Unlike his previous comics incarnations, I have a lot of gunplay in Killmonger because that made sense to me. Erik would be comfortable with them so I needed to be comfortable with them. I needed to explore the darker parts of my own nature, the reasons I would be motivated to take someone's life in anger. So there was a lot of internal work I had to do, with myself.
What I share with Erik is a lack of faith in the goodness of the world, in the inherent goodness within humanity. It's not a "finished philosophy" but there is a strong part of me that thinks the world may be impossibly corrupt and I wonder about all of the systems put in place, and who they serve and why. For this I had to explore my doubt about the nature of the world and think about what could turn that into a hatred that burns hot enough to aim war at the world around me.
Vince Brusio: Did you have to tread carefully in creating this character’s drive and motivation? It has to be tricky writing about someone who deals out death. You can’t help but think that you’ll generate some sympathy for the character, given the early tragedy he experienced in his life. Right?
Bryan Edward Hill: As I said above, my process is a combination of exterior research and interior work. That's the thing. It's NOT tricky. We need to THINK it's hard to get into a destructive mindset, to think like a "villain" would think, but it's actually pretty easy if you're honest with yourself. The self is a mansion full of rooms, and some of those rooms have locked doors. Behind those doors we keep the parts of ourself that frighten us, or we deem too dangerous to set free.
All I did was open those doors and see what was in those rooms. In my mind. In my heart.
I just looked at those things honestly and drew upon them for the writing. I don't sympathize with him, but I can empathize with him. I feel for the child that was traumatized, the boy who grew up as a bastard of his own culture. I don't agree with the choices he made in the face of that trauma. Erik's story is a tragedy. It's about a man failed by the world, by his culture, and ultimately by himself. Tragedy can be an element of what causes our behavior, but ultimately we are responsible for our own actions. For me, Erik is a bit like Macbeth, a man damned by his own ambitions that slashes away at his ethics in service of his will to power. The difference is, for Erik, the witches and Lady Macbeth are parts of his own consciousness. Maybe that's what Shakespeare wanted us to consider, the parts of our own minds that are the witches seducing us into violence, the voice in our mind that's the queen pushing us into bloody consequence.
Trauma can either reinforce our understanding of emotional consequence and make us able to protect the world, or it can be the justification of a life-long hatred that we turn upon the world. It can create both hero and villain, and in this case Erik failed himself by not realizing his better potential, which happens all the time in the world.
This story is: The Fall of Erik Killmonger.
Vince Brusio: What do you find most exhausting/rewarding about working on the Killmonger mini-series?
Bryan Edward Hill: As you can see, for me writing is a very personal journey. What I always find the most rewarding are the things I learn about myself. There's a line from an old show called Millennium where the Frank Black character played by Lance Henriksen said "I see what the killer sees, from his own heart of darkness. I become the capacity, the capability." That's the process of this and through that process I reconciled with my own destructive instincts and hopefully brought them further into balance.
Vince Brusio writes about comics, and writes comics. He is the long-serving Editor of PREVIEWSworld.com, the creator of PUSSYCATS, and encourages everyone to keep the faith...and keep reading comics.