Writer Bryan Edward Hill on Killmonger, Psylocke, Redemption, and Reinvention
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Writer Bryan Edward Hill has honorary citizenship in Wakanda courtesy of 2018’s KILLMONGER limited series as well as a passport to Krakoa from last year’s FALLEN ANGELS, but originally he saw a very different travel plan for himself.
“For a long time, I honestly thought I would work for the FBI. See, I read comics but that didn't make me want to be a writer. It made me want to catch bad guys. When it came close to picking a college path, I had fallen in love with cinema—and was still reading comics—so I went to NYU and took writing very seriously from that point on.”
Prior to his college days, Hill recalls a fleeting memory of an issue of UNCANNY X-MEN read in an airport—“There was a convertible with Longshot on the cover, that’s all I remember”—that would spark a love for Marvel’s mutants. Other early favorites included Spider-Man and Captain America, plus an affinity for the art of Jim Lee.
A decade of working on comics and screenplays would bring the writer to Marvel’s doorstep in 2018 when editor Wil Moss recruited him to expand the origin of Black Panther’s archenemy. Erik Killmonger had first appeared during Don McGregor and Rich Buckler’s epic 1970s saga “Panther’s Rage” in the pages of JUNGLE ACTION, but with the character hitting the big screen earlier that year, a new lens on his early days seemed appropriate.
“I didn't feel external pressure, per se, but that might be due to my process,” reflects Hill of writing KILLMONGER in the wake of the film. “When I'm working, I'm pretty impervious to that kind of thing. I'm just in the ring and fighting. I will say that I put pressure on myself to do something that didn't feel like work I had done before, and also to make it more than just ‘hit movie tie in book.’ I feel like I accomplished the first. I'll let readers decide if I accomplished the second.”
Paired with artist Juan Ferreyra—“Fantastic. Innovative and generous. Just a great storyteller. Love that guy.”—Bryan envisioned his take on the displaced Wakandan as “a modern tragedy” following young Erik on an odyssey through America that would shape him. “Stylistically, as I started working with Juan and responding to his genius as an artist, I ramped up the action, the violence and the surrealism because Juan can handle all of those things with powerful style.”
KILLMONGER ended in a place that would certainly lend to further exploration into this powerful figure’s formative years, but while Hill may have more stories to tell, his next Marvel foray gave him a chance to reconnect with some of his favorite figures in the company’s pantheon. Jonathan Hickman’s ambitious reimagining of the X-Men’s status quo during the summer of 2019 opened the door for new approaches to familiar faces.
“I think the main benefit of this approach is that the characters can be more individual, with different goals beyond ‘humans don't like us,’” Hill touts of the Dawn of X dynamic. “The social allegory of that is always important, but there's more to explore now. It's a narrative universe unto itself, a whole landscape inside of Marvel. Brilliant stuff.”
Of all the protagonists to select to lead his proposed plan, the scribe selected Kwannon, the alter-ego of Psylocke who had supplanted Betsy Braddock in the '90s—sort of. It’s complicated. But Hill had a desire to give love to an often-forgotten cog of X-Men lore.
“Aesthetically, she was always ripe with power, but there hadn't been much written about her specifically, especially outside of the 'Betsy' of it all,” he explains. “I heard that Betsy was going to be Captain Britain and get Excalibur and all of that—and I didn't want Kwannon to get lost in the shuffle.”
FALLEN ANGELS followed the dark path of Kwannon alongside Cable and X-23 as the trio confronted mysterious opposition that threatened Krakoa. A layered supporting cast and the incredibly moody art of Szymon Kudranski served to underline the goals of the series.
“His work is full of emotion,” reflects Hill on his collaborator. “Very cathartic. Reminds me of the kind of avant-garde work I loved in the late '80s. When I saw what he was doing, I tried to work towards those elements and give his imagination a platform. It was fantastic to see what he did with those scripts. Really interesting dude, Szymon.”
With both KILLMONGER and FALLEN ANGELS in the rearview—and available to read in full on Marvel Unlimited—this splendid storyteller stands ready to re-examine either of his prior works, but also to forge ahead and apply his brand of action to other Marvel mainstays: “Most of my work is about redemption and purpose. The possibilities of reinvention and how purpose can transform you and give your life, your struggles, meaning.”
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