50 years ago, legendary Marvel Comics creative team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced readers to what eventually become one of the most popular comic franchises of all time with the release of “The X-Men” #1. That initial issue starred a group of five superpowered mutant teenagers trying to protect a world that hates and fears them. The example they set caused their team to grow and kicked off several decades’ worth of exciting stories.
Last year, the original teenage X-Men made history again in “All-New X-Men” #1 by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Stuart Immonen, which brought the teenaged Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman and Jean Grey to the present day Marvel Universe to see what had become of the legacy that they and their mentor, Charles Xavier, helped establish. The teens arrived in a state of turmoil in the X-Universe following the events of “Avengers Vs. X-Men,” which caused the death of Xavier and made Cyclops the face of a new radical splinter team of X-Men.
This fall, the past, present and future of the X-Men collide as the present day X-Men and a future incarnation of the team go to war over how best to handle the group’s time-displaced founding members. It all begins in September with “X-Men: Battle of the Atom” #1. The story continues as a crossover between “All-New X-Men,” “Uncanny X-Men,” “Wolverine & the X-Men” and “X-Men,” before concluding in “X-Men: Battle of the Atom” #2.
CBR News spoke with “Wolverine & the X-Men” writer Jason Aaron, “X-Men” writer Brian Wood and Senior Editor Nick Lowe about the crossover, which was announced by Marvel yesterday at its “X-Men” panel at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo 2013.
CBR News: Nick, “Battle of the Atom” gets underway in September, but before that readers still have several issues of “Uncanny X-Men” and “All-New X-Men.” How do those issues set the stage for “Battle of the Atom?”
Nick Lowe: The first issue of this book stands cleanly on its own, so new readers don’t need to worry about being lost. Everything will be laid out clearly herein. But, for those completists out there, “Uncanny X-Men” will show you what Dazzler’s up to post-“X-Termination” and why that’s important to the rest of the Marvel Universe. As for “All-New X-Men,” they are absolutely central to the event and there will be some lead up there. And there are some things coming up in “Wolverine” that will impact it, too, actually.
Jason, what can you tell us about the “Wolverine & the X-Men” stories that come before “Battle of the Atom?”
Jason Aaron: Right now we’re wrapping up our Savage Land arc. Then right after that, Ramon Perez’s last issue gives us a look at the Jean Grey School 25 years into the future. Since “Battle of the Atom” involves the X-Men of the future, this issue gives a tease of what that landscape might look like and who some of those characters might be.
Then, right after that in “Wolverine & the X-Men” we have our big “Hellfire Saga”, which we’ve been building to since issue #1. That’s a big six-issue arc, which culminates a lot of character arcs that have been playing out over the first few years of the book. Plus, it’s an escalation of the story of the Hellfire Club in a huge way.
Everything has been building towards that story now for quite a long time. I don’t want to say too much about the ending, but right after the “Hellfire Saga” wraps up, we jump immediately into “Battle of the Atom.”
Brian, issue #1 of your new “X-Men” title hits stores at the end of next month. How many “X-Men” stories come before “Battle of the Atom?” How do the initial stories set the stage for “Battle of the Atom?”
Brian Wood: Yeah, I’m just right into this one! Issues #5 and #6 of “X-Men” are the ones participating in this arc, so before that we have a short, three-issue arc and then a one shot of sorts. So, [there’s] not a lot of lead-up time. We’ll hit the ground running. I feel like I’ve talked to death about my initial story arc, so I won’t get into any more details on that, but I can say that I’ve managed to cover a lot of ground, to give all six (or is it seven?) characters near equal screen time. [It’s] very dense, but in a good way. By the time we start moving into “Battle of the Atom,” my title should be rock solid.
Nick, X-Men fans are used to and often enjoy the line wide crossover event, but “Battle of the Atom” comes during the X-Men’s 50th anniversary year. How did that influence the ideas for this crossover?
Lowe: It impacted it in quite a big way. I think it was Jason who suggested the involvement of the future in the sense of having past (the “All-New” crew), present (all the current casts) and future (the future X-Men) all mushed together for a 50th Anniversary giant story. From there, we had a bunch of discussions and then a mini-X-Men Retreat here in NYC.
“Battle of the Atom” gets under way with the first of two special book end issues. What can you tell us about this issue? Which creators are working on “Battle of the Atom” #1 and what can readers expect from this issue?
Lowe: On “X-Men: Battle of the Atom” #1, you have the amazing Brian Michael Bendis writing and superstar supreme artist Frank Cho who is absolutely killing it on “Savage Wolverine!” That’s super exciting. As for “X-Men: Battle of the Atom” #2, it’s the beard-Samson of comics Jason Aaron with the writer reins and an artist that we aren’t quite ready to announce, just so we don’t jinx it.
After “Battle of the Atom” #1, the story spreads to the four X-Titles involved in the crossover, “All-New X-Men,” “Uncanny X-Men,” “Wolverine & the X-Men” and “X-Men.” How will the crossover be structured?
Lowe: It’s a traditional X-Over with the same story stretching over the four books involved. Just like “Second Coming” or “Messiah CompleX.”
Aaron: Since the story will move from one issue to the next between the different books, we’ll be getting to write everybody’s characters. All of the X-Men are in this.
Brian, I know you’ve done crossovers for “Ultimate Comics X-Men,” but this is your first time writing a traditional style super hero crossover where the story moves from one title to another. What’s that been like for you?
Wood: Yeah, the Ultimate one was more about each of us writing our own angles on a shared backdrop — not a lot of crossover, and nothing like this here. I’m a rookie! So I’ve hung back a bit and watched to see how Brian Bendis and Jason handled it. A bit of on-the-job training!
What can you tell us about the inciting incident that sets “Battle of the Atom” into motion? Where does the story go after that?
Aaron: Things kind of kick off when the original five teenage X-Men from the past get involved in a battle that goes very poorly. Something happens that raises the question of, “Why are we allowing these kids from the past to hang around in the present? It’s unbelievably dangerous because if something goes wrong with these kids, we have no idea how that’s going to affect the timeline.”
That sets up a divide between the X-Men. There are some who believe that they need to send these kids back right away and others who believe, “We need to fight to let them stay. They’re here for a purpose and they can’t leave until that purpose is finished.”
It sets what Nick calls “a logic and emotion debate” into motion. Sending them back seems to be the logical thing, but we have lots of X-Men who fall on the emotion side as well and want to let them stay. That line will divide people. The casts of each of the individual books won’t all be on the same side. So there’s a lot of division.
It seems like this might repair some of the bonds that were fractured in “Schism” and destroy other bonds between characters.
Aaron: It certainly could. This is not just a simple thing of Cyclops’ side versus Wolverine’s side like we’ve seen in the past. This is a very different kind of divide that fractures the X-Men in a lot of different ways.
Brian, what do these divisions mean for the characters and dynamic of your book? Will your main cast be united in their goals and beliefs, or will there be conflicting views on how to handle things?
Wood: Well, as you can already see in “Uncanny” and “All-New,” there’s conflict galore, and “Battle” amps that up quite a bit. My cast — the cast of “X-Men” — is no exception, but that’s okay. They aren’t a traditional team in the sense of a formal structuring; they are more like friends who unite in the face of trouble. While they might have less team cohesion than say the [original five], their bonds of shared history and respect are very strong. It’ll be interesting to see that tested.
There is one character from my book in particular that will get a massive benefit from this X-over — I don’t dare say who or how — but it was the one thing I wanted, going into that first writers meeting, and I made sure I got it. These are major, permanent changes I’m talking about.
I also understand things get even more complicated between the X-Men in “Battle of the Atom” when the X-Men of the future travel back in time to the present day and get involved in the titular conflict. What can you tell us about this group?
Aaron: Right in the midst of our big divide we throw in an all new group, the X-Men of the future who are led by Kate Pryde, the Kitty Pryde of the “Days of Future’s Past” reality. It’s her and a very, surreal crazy group of X-Men that show up and have their own opinion about how things need to go with the All-New X-Men.
How might the student body of the Jean Grey School react to meeting the future X-Men? It seems like these young mutants in training would be especially interested in who’s on that team.
Aaron: We have seen some glimpses of the Jean Grey School students in the future, and again we see another glimpse of the Jean Grey School 25 years in the future in an upcoming issue, but this group of X-Men that we will see is rather unlike any group we’ve seen before.
And yes, I expect that you’ll see some characters you recognize or appear to recognize. You’ll be seeing them in ways you’ve never seen them before, though. They’re all designed by Art Adams, too. He did character designs for the future X-Men and he’s drawing the covers to the crossover
Brian and Jason, are there any characters that don’t normally appear in your books that you’re excited to write in your “Battle of the Atom” tie-in issues?
Wood: My own book is still so new. So my primary focus is on my regular cast, making sure I get them through the X-over properly. Like I said, there are lots of conflict and character moments, and I got my eye on that.
Aaron: I’m excited to write the teenage original X-Men. I haven’t written them really before. I did get to write Jean Grey a little bit in “Wolverine & the X-Men.” So it will be fun to write them. And I like writing Cyclops. I’m pegged as a guy who hates Cyclops because I write Wolverine’s side of the equation and Wolverine might hate Cyclops, but that doesn’t mean I do. So it will be fun to write him again.
What about characters and institutions outside of the X-Universe? What kind of role will the larger Marvel Universe play in “Battle of the Atom?” Will teams like the Avengers or institutions like S.H.I.E.L.D. have a presence in this story?
Lowe: You’ll definitely see some larger Marvel U players, but I don’t want to tip our hand just yet on what kind of presence there is.
In terms of scope and scale how big is “Battle of the Atom?” Jason, you wrote “X-Men: Schism,” which involved another fracturing of X-Men unity. Is “Battle of the Atom” comparable to “Schism?”
Aaron: I think this is a way bigger scope and scale than “Schism.” “Schism” was pretty localized. It mostly took place on Utopia and was about one specific battle. This is a huge sprawling war between all the X-Men and it goes to a lot of different iconic locations around the X-Men world and from X-Men history. It’s very much an anniversary event.
We want there to be something for every X-Men fan in this one event. There are a lot of references to X-Men history, a glimpse into the X-Men’s future, and events that will change the X-Men of the present.
How brutal will some of the conflicts get in “Battle of the Atom?” Is this a story about heroes fighting heroes, or will old antagonisms and ideological schisms escalate things and make them ugly?
Wood: There’s a lot of fight scenes, to be sure. It’s hard to get too into it without spoiling some stuff, and also not to overuse or mislead with the word “schism”, but like Nick and Jason said it all ties into the “All-New X-Men” and the visitors from the future. All the X-Men are forced to come down on one side or another of this rather important event. It’s a very profound choice, and that causes the trouble. In a way, it’s worse than what happened in “Schism,” because it’s so much more emotional here.
Nick, what can you tell us about the stories and ideas Brian Bendis explores in “Uncanny X-Men” and “All-New X-Men?” Will we see some of the plot threads he’s been dealing with come to a head in “Battle of the Atom?”
Lowe: Oh yes. The story hinges around the All-New X-Men’s presence in the present day, so it has a lot to do with that book especially, but that goes for all of the books. A lot of what Jason Aaron is building in “Wolverine & the X-Men” in the “Hellfire Saga” builds to the event. While “X-Men” is still a baby of a book at this time (it’ll be at #5 and #6 for this story), there’s big character stuff building there that will have payoffs and effects coming out of the crossover.
Wood: Yeah, “X-Men,” my book, will come out of this changed. You’ll see some new characters in a totally new light, and we may — and I stress, may — have a slight roster change although that’s still being talked about. But this is very much an X-over that “matters,” in the comic book sense of the word, so it’s all part of a whole.
Aaron: The kids and the staff of the Jean Grey School will have been through a lot by the time this story begins. While the “Hellfire Saga” wraps up some of the events that have been running for a long time, it’s by no means an end to the story of those kids or the Hellfire Club. If anything, the last page of “Hellfire Saga” sets up probably the biggest X-Men story that I’ve done by myself yet, which is something I can’t talk about at this moment.
Jason, you’re also writing the wrap-up issue “X-Men: Battle of the Atom” #2. How does it feel to be the cleanup batter on such a big story?
Aaron: It’s certainly a lot of fun. I did the same thing on “Avengers Vs. X-Men.” I wrote the last issue of that too.
It’s a little harder to do the final issue, but this whole thing is a lot of fun — especially when you’ve got this many characters running around. Plus, there are even more surprises in store that I can’t talk about yet. The whole thing is just a blast. Getting to be a part of the X-Men on their anniversary is a huge thrill, let alone getting to play with all these characters in one colossal event. Having an X-Men book with an Art Adams cover kind of blows my mind.
Lowe: There’ll be a big finish in “X-Men: Battle of the Atom” #2 that will definitely shake up the X-Books after it.
Finally, how does it feel to be part of the X-Men’s 50th anniversary celebration with “Battle of the Atom?” What does the franchise mean to you?
Wood: Crazy. But the good kind of crazy.
Aaron: These last few years I’ve gotten to be part of the X-Men universe have been great, and I’m still having tremendous fun on “Wolverine & the X-Men.” It’s still an honor and a surreal experience to be guiding the X-Men, especially on such an auspicious anniversary.
Lowe: The X-Men franchise is why I’m in comics and has been a huge part of my life from before I worked at Marvel. It is an absolute honor and a career highlight for me. Getting to work with Arthur Adams on designs and covers alone was a huge honor. The fact that Art is just the icing on the crazy awesome story and crazy awesome creators cake is also insane.
“X-Men: Battle of the Atom” begins in September.