Interview: Cullen Bunn Brings Back the Dead in BRIDES OF HELHEIM

STK651670Cullen Bunn revisits the world of witches and undead Vikings with his new mini-series Brides of Helheim, a sequel to last year’s Helheim. A beautiful and brutal combination of Frankenstein’s Monster and Nordic living, Helheim ended on a bleak note – while evil was (seemingly) defeated, mighty Rikard remains far from Valhalla living in the literal ruins of his former life with yet another witch. Comicosity had several questions for Bunn about the next phase of Rikard’s journey, as well as the fate of Kadlin’s adorable dog.

Alison Baker: Brides takes place six years after the events of Helheim. When did it become clear to you that your story was larger than those first six issues?

Cullen Bunn: When I’m working on a story that really speaks to me, I want to explore the world in much greater detail. It’s something of a curse, really. As I was writing HELHEIM, I realized that the story of these characters and the world they live in was much bigger than a six-issue series. What fueled the war between Groa and Bera? How is it that Kadlin had the magical mojo to raise the dead at the end of the sixth issue? How would the world be changed after the Witch War? And what role would Rikard play in that world? Those are questions that will be addressed in the new series.

AB: Kadlin has grown up since we last saw her. How has she changed as a character? Has your approach to her changed?

CB: I had a few people who were a little angry at me at the end of the first series. They thought, based on Kadlin’s final act, that she had shown her true colors as a villain. If the story had ended there, that might have been a legitimate thought. It would have been left to the reader to interpret and, admittedly, Kadlin’s actions were pretty damning. But now we’ll see her end goal, and her seemingly ruthless acts become a little more justified. Kadlin was always confident and brave and wise beyond her years. Now, after a few years have passed, she’s also poised and determined. I wanted some of her “childish” characteristics to show through every now and then, and I play that against the adult responsibilities she’s shouldering.

AB: What (if anything) can you tell us about the link between Bera, Groa, and Kadlin?

CB: I can tell you nothing!

But there is a connection between them that goes far beyond what we’ve seen so far. All will be revealed in the second issue, though.

AB: Rikard seems more mentally “with it” (less monster-mind) than he used to be. Has draugr living improved under Kadlin’s care?

CB: Rikard has found a little peace. He hasn’t been waging constant war with the forces of darkness, so his human mind has had some time to take root. I definitely wanted Rikard to seem a little more “together” as the series started. As long as he avoids violent conflict with demons and the undead, he’ll be fine. But peace isn’t going to last forever.

AB: You set up a new Big Bad in this issue. Has this new character been the real threat all along?

CB: We’ll learn more about this villain in our second issue. He’s connected to Groa and Bera and even Kadlin. Like Rikard, he’s been laying low for a while, but once he comes out of retirement, all Hell will break loose. This villain came about while I was pondering the questions about the world I mentioned earlier. My initial notes about this guy read something like “a mad monk… warlock… the Black Abbey…priest gone very, very wrong.”

STK653593AB: What were your inspirations for Sigrid?

CB: With Sigrid, I wanted someone who would be a foil for Kadlin. Where Kadlin is dark and mysterious and even a little sneaky, Sigrid is bold and in-your-face. She is inspired by Viking Shield-maidens, who would ruin your entire day if your were an enemy warrior. She hasn’t been tested in battle, but she’s not afraid of it. Where Kadlin relates to Rikard from a mystical side, Sigrid will relate to his warrior spirit.

AB: You’ve reassembled your amazing art team from Helheim – Joelle Jones & Nick Filardi. Can you tease us on some of the visual storytelling they have to offer in Brides?

CB: Once again, I’ve tried to challenge this dynamic duo with action and set pieces and character designs that might make another pair flee in terror. And, once again, they’ve come through like the true masters they are. They’ve managed to bring action and thrills and horror and sexiness to this series in a way you can’t imagine. In the first issue, they bring Sigrid to life, and make you fall in love with her. Then, they shred the page with a dire bear. Then, it just escalates from there. Giant sea monsters? Check! Evil churches? Check! Massive supernatural battles? monster versus monster action? Evil orgies? Check! Check! Check! This series will have people talking about Joelle and Nick, I think. And when our fourth issue rolls around, your eyes might just pop out of your head!

AB: I know we’re just at issue one of part II, but any chance we can look forward to a Helheim Trilogy?

CB: That’s the plan! BRIDES OF HELHEIM would be followed by a third (and final) series tentatively titled THE WOMB OF HELHEIM.

AB: What’s your favorite thing about this group of characters? What sets them apart from the characters in your other creator-owned work?

CB: This is my sword and sorcery book… a story that has been stoked by years of reading Conan stories… and watching Harryhausen movies… and being fascinated by the legends of Beowulf… and reading comics like CLAW THE UNCONQUERED. These characters offer me a chance to tell stories that just wouldn’t work in any other setting. They are more primal and ferocious than characters in, say, THE SIXTH GUN or THE DAMNED. So I guess they scratch a different itch for me. Now, when I figure out how to create a crossover with all those worlds… that will be a glorious thing.

AB: DOES THE DOG DIE, CULLEN?

CB: I’m not a monster… am I?

BRIDES OF HELHEIM #1 will be available from Oni Press on October 1, 2014. Bunn’s other current titles include THE SIXTH GUN (Oni), THE EMPTY MAN (BOOM!), THE REMAINS (Monkeybrain), MAGNETO (Marvel), SINESTRO (DC) and the forthcoming LOBO (DC). 
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