If there’s one group in the Marvel Universe that’s defined by change, it would be the X-Men. The team of superpowered mutants has undergone dozens of permutations over the decades, working to assuage mankind’s fear of them, defending the planet from threats without and within and, at times, repairing a reality torn asunder by a number of cosmic-level threats.
When writer Brian Michael Bendis kicked off his run with 2012’s “All-New X-Men” #1, he changed the dynamic — and possibly the history — of the team when the five original teenage X-Men found themselves yanked through time, from the past to the present. Then, in the debut issue of the latest volume of “Uncanny X-Men,” he turned the mutant team’s world upside down once again with the introduction of the grown Cyclops’ new band of outlaw X-Men.
The coming months will see more dramatic changes rock the X-Men’s world as Bendis moves towards the climax of his X-Men run, which is set to wrap in May’s giant-sized, renumbered “Uncanny X-Men” #600 — featuring art by an all-star team of his X-Collaborators and back-up stories by past X-Men creators. CBR News spoke exclusively with Bendis for his first interview on leaving the X-Men books, his plans for “Uncanny” #600 and the issues leading up to it, and what’s next for the writer.
CBR News: Let’s start with the big question, Brian: Why now? Was it always your plan to leave the X-Men franchise with “Uncanny X-Men” #600?
Brian Michael Bendis: It’s funny — I’ve become known for doing the longest Avengers run ever and the longest Spider-Man run ever, so I had to tell myself, “I don’t have to do that every time! I don’t have to stay on every book forever.”
Over the course of the last few years, I will have written almost 90 issues of X-Men. That’s a good run! One of the best parts about being on X-Men was that I knew I was never going to hit Chris Claremont’s X-Men record, so I was free of whatever that is that drives such a thing.
Last year, we were planning everything out, and boy, “Uncanny” #600 came like two weeks before “Secret Wars.” So I thought, “That’s interesting! Let’s make the most out of that!” I can’t say too much other than what a perfect thing for the X-Men to have an anniversary issue just before “Secret Wars!”
Then at the same time, we were putting together a plan for things. I had gone up to the Marvel offices separate from the usual Marvel retreats. I sat in a room with everybody and went over some stuff. There were a couple of things that had been offered to me over the years that I couldn’t do because I didn’t have time or it wasn’t the right time. These couple of other things, though, are really starting to cook in my head creatively. I really want to do them, but I can’t do everything.
Then it was just like, what better place than “Secret Wars” to wrap things up on X-Men? You started with “Avengers Vs. X-Men,” and you wrap it up with “Secret Wars.” This is going to serve as a great launching pad for the next things that I wanted to do, which I really, really want to do. And as much as I really, really want to write X-Me,n I really want to do these things, too!
So it was like, “Okay, you’ve written X-Men. Now you can let go of it and do this other thing.” It really did line up in a nice way. When things line up like that, you don’t want to let go of them.
So that’s it. I’d like you to open this article by saying the reason I’m leaving the X-Men is Marvel is killing them all, or turning them all into Inhumans, and either I got on board with the program or I was out! So I’m out! Because I WILL NOT ALLOW THE TRAVESTY OF WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN TO THE X-MEN DURING “SECRET WARS,” where you find out they were all Magneto’s children the whole time and that Magneto was the first Inhuman! I didn’t want to be part of all it. So I’m excusing myself.
[Laughs] No matter what we say in this article, there will be conspiracy theories. Reactions of, “AH HA! HERE IT COMES!” There’s a lot of conspiracy about the X-Men, for some readers. No matter what I say, there’s going to be a part of the audience here who will think that this is part of whatever it is they think Marvel is trying to do to the X-Men.
That’s not the case. I know my departure is not going to help the paranoid people who think the X-Men’s days at Marvel are numbered. That’s not what this means. I know you’re not going to believe me, but I wish you would. If you knew me on a personal level, you would know that I don’t fib. This is because I’ve done my X-Men, and there are these other things that I want to do more. I would love to do both, but I can’t do both. I’ve already done the X-Men now, so I want to do this other thing before I die.
It’s a very good time with me and Marvel. I’m enjoying it a lot. The projects in front of me for the next year or so are creatively fulfilling and challenging. I like that come next year, my creative portfolio will look completely different than the one I had five years ago. That is very interesting to me.
I don’t know if this is intentional or not, but looking at your X-Men run as a whole, it’s been about a lot of characters, but to me it feels like ultimately, you wanted to tell a story about the destiny of Scott Summers.
A lot of people think it’s all about Jean Grey. It’s funny. The X-Men, in general, are kind of like a Rorschach test — people see into things what they want to see. I think it’s because the book is so oddly universal in its underdog status that people really project themselves into certain characters. Some of which are well-known characters, and some of which are not so well-known characters. They really do see themselves in it. So it’s funny that you say Cyclops, but a lot of my mail has people saying it’s all about Jean or Hank McCoy, and that’s all it’s about. Others even say that it’s all about Emma and ask why I’m not doing anything with her.
I’ve got a lot to do before we wrap things up, but I’ve enjoyed this time with the X-Men a great deal. It’s one of those books where you wonder if you’ll have new things to say that haven’t been said. The high bar for the X-Men is very high, and I’m immensely proud of the collaborations I’ve had on the books. They’ve been truly beautiful, and we defied some odds.
There were people that didn’t think the premise of “All-New X-Men” would hold for more than six issues. I heard that a lot. Now, we’re knee deep in it and people are scared that we’re going to get rid of the premise. They’re scared the kids are going to go back. So we’ll see what happens in “Uncanny X-Men” #600, where it all comes to a head.
Before we get there, then, let’s talk about your plans leading up to it, starting with the cliffhanger of “Uncanny X-Men” #29, where we find out that Eva Bell travelled back in time and met with Charles Xavier. Will we see the immediate effects of that meeting right away? Or will this be similar to some of the time jumps you’ve employed in your past books, where you’ll slowly catch readers up on the changes Eva may have caused to the time line?
Issues #30 and #31 are going to solidify to readers that they have absolutely no idea what shape we’re going to leave the X-Men in when we’re all done with this. Already, a lot has happened, and a lot is going to happen with the next couple of issues. The cliffhangers at the end of each issue are very exciting and not where I think a lot of people think we were ever going to go.
One of the elements that will inform your final issues of “Uncanny X-Men” is the aftermath of the recent “Avengers & X-Men: AXIS” event. What do you find most interesting about the impact “AXIS” had on the X-Men’s world?
The Summers Brothers are the most interesting thing to me. As far as writing, I have a brother, and I understand the dynamic. Your brother when you’re kids, and your brother when you’re adults are two different things. Plus, I haven’t done a lot of brother material in anything I’ve written, so I’m eager to dig in with these two while they find themselves at such a crossroads with themselves as individuals and with the whole franchise of the X-Men.
The end of “AXIS” left Havok in his inverted state. What’s it like writing an inverted Alex Summers? What do you feel he brings to the book and the character dynamics?
It’s not so much as inverted as it is what their relationship has always been. I’m a big Havok fan, but I look at the Summers brothers like Chris and Liam Hemsworth. Chris is the movie star, and Liam is a movie star, handsome and in big franchises too — but Chris is on the cover of “People” magazine. Chris is always a little more well-known.
I look at it that way. They’re both extremely talented. They’re both extremely good looking. They’re both extremely good at their jobs, but Scott always had that extra little thing, and we’re going to examine that a little bit.
You’ll also be picking up the aftermath of the death of Wolverine and how that’s affected both X-Men schools. What’s your sense of how that’s impacted Cyclops and the other X-Men?
I think it’s a terrible tragedy. You’ve got to remember, they’re not really over Xavier yet, and now this has happened. I think with Wolverine, it takes a while to sink in. They keep thinking, “He’s going to heal, somewhere. Maybe there’s a hair somewhere that will turn into Wolverine.” So it’s a little bit of denial, but it’s denial based on some scientific things with him. There’s a feeling that maybe he’ll come back. In my opinion, with some of the characters, it’s a slow burn with Wolverine on whether or not he’s coming back and how to deal with that tragedy.
These aftermaths will inform the events of both “Uncanny” and “All-New X-Men.” We know some of the events we’ll see in “All-New” are of intergalactic proportion, since that series is part of the upcoming “Black Vortex” crossover. What sorts of hints and teases can you offer up about the events we’ll see in “Uncanny,” though?
With “All-New X-Men,” we’re in the Ultimate Universe and then the Black Vortex. Then, I’ve already teased that the Utopian storyline that I’ve been teasing since my first story arc will be coming. That’s going to bring us up to issue #600 of “Uncanny,” which also celebrates “All-New X-Men.”
In “Uncanny,” so much happens in the next two issues, I’m actually scared to say anything else. A lot happens that changes things dramatically. Even with the end of #31, our editor Mike Marts called and went, “Holy Shit! What?” I asked, “Are we good with this?” And he goes, “We can do it.” So that’s where we are with that.
I will tell you that “Uncanny X-Men” #33 will be a fan favorite, because this is as close as I’ve ever come to writing something because people told me to. We had a pseudo movie poster-style illustration in “All-New X-Men” #25 of Kitty and Magik as monster hunters. When it came in, I said, “We should do that! We should just do a book of Kitty and Magik fighting monsters.” I said it half joking, but I wasn’t really joking because as soon as you saw the illustration, you want to see more of it. The consensus of the response that I got from issue #25 was that Hank McCoy should burn in Hell, and we should do a book about Kitty and Magik fighting dinosaurs and monsters.And we’re doing it.
Let’s talk a little bit more about Magik, then. You say readers sort of brought their own impressions as to what characters you were interested in, but it does seem like you were especially were interested in her character.
Yes — there were quite a few characters, not just Magik, that I really have an affection and empathy for. She’s definitely one of them, and she’s going to have a lot to do in the next two issues. There will be a lot going on with her. I like her training with Doctor Strange in the past and bringing it forward. A lot of people seemed to like that as well, which was nice.
The X-Men tend to float off into their own little part of the Marvel Universe. It’s almost like they’re their own universe or publishing house. There’s the Marvel Universe, and the X-Men universe. I think that can be a mistake sometimes, and I like to find ways to pull them back towards the Marvel Universe. I think the Doctor Strange connection with Magik is a connection, and Beast’s Illuminati membership is another one. Wanting to bring them towards each other is something I really like to do, and Magik seemed obvious in that.
For people who only read “All-New X-Men,” as things escalate towards “Uncanny” #600, will it be possible to just read one of your books?
It’s like this: Things started in “All-New X-Men” #1, which was kind of like “Uncanny X-Men” #1. That book sprang from “All-New X-Men” #1. Now, everything is going to finish in “Uncanny X-Men” #600. It will be very clear that things conclude in “Uncanny” #600. The issue is really big. It’s not just double-sized. It’s a lot of pages.
For those that know their stuff, I kind of harken it to “Justice League” #200, which had all these amazing artists doing one little chapter. It’s not a jam book of just single illustrations; it’s little chapters of every artist that’s worked on the X-Men we’ve done together wrapping up the chapters of those characters.
I’m not trying to be deliberately vague, but when you see “Uncanny X-Men” #31, you’ll see what a shift it is. You’ll see why I want to let that shift happen and flash in people’s eyes without telling you what it is. A genuine status quo change is coming for “Uncanny X-Men” very, very soon.
Let’s talk what we can about the story content of issue #600. Will you be able to wrap up all the story threads you’ve introduced by the time #600 rolls around? In the recent “Uncanny” and “All-New X-Men” Annuals, you hinted that a major storyline would be coming up involving the Beast.
Those annuals, where we found out a lot more about Eva, and which were drawn by Andrea Sorrentino, will become more and more important as “Uncanny” approaches #600.
The premise of “Uncanny” #600, for lack of a better term — it’s not similar to “The Trial of Jean Grey,” but this is the trial of Hank McCoy. It doesn’t involve a judge and jury trial. Hank was the inciting incident of my run. There are big goings on for Hank coming up in “The Black Vortex” crossover and leading up to #600. Even when it was focused on Jean, Scott and other elements, this whole story was about Hank McCoy, in a way.
Can you talk about how you end things? Will you be doing a clean break like how you ended your run on the Avengers books? Or is this sort of a hand off of the baton style finish, like “Daredevil?”
The idea of “Secret Wars,” and I think people will have more of a sense of it this after the big Marvel event the other week, has allowed me a clean break as it were.
You mentioned you’ll be working with your past artistic collaborators on “Uncanny X-Men” #600. Who all is currently a confirmed member of the issue’s art team?
The following artists are currently locked in. Stuart Immonen is in. Chris Bachalo is in. Kris Anka is in, and Mahmud Asrar is also in. There are a couple more we’re waiting to hear back on, but Stuart, Chris, Kris and Mahmud were the major forces. I was really hoping we’d be able to get them all. Everyone is very busy, and not everyone is as nostalgic as I am. I was happy that they all hopped on board for this. I think the plan is that Chris Bachalo will be like the anchor artist of the book, and all these chapters will be by everybody else.
If people don’t remember “Justice League” #200, it’s a great back issue to find. It’s got this amazing Brian Bolland Batman, Green Arrow, Black Canary section, and all these really amazing artists did these powerful little chapters for each little team-up. I’m poaching from that.
So this is like a giant, 100-page book. It’s really cool.
So you’re really celebrating this milestone. Not only did you get to write X-Men, but you also got to write one of it’s big, centennial issues.
I take centennial issues very seriously. I take milestone issues very seriously, and I take Annuals very seriously. They’re something that I, as a reader, always wanted. Every time someone really landed their anniversary issue and really made it a statement about the book, where it is and where it’s going, I just loved it. I tried to do that.
I understand this issue will also be a celebration of some of the creators who came before you because some past X-Men creators might be doing some back up features?
Yes, there are a couple little things cooking. I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say here, though. I actually put in some requests for past creators and those who are still with us will hopefully join us.
Looking back at your X-Men run what are some highlights for you?
The collaborations. The books never were not gorgeous. They were among the best looking books on the stands. I’m very, very happy about that. I got to work with people who I had in the past, but in a different context. I also worked with completely new people.
Everyone delivered. I think Stuart set a level to which everybody was desperate to live up to or try to surpass. That made the whole run crackle. So that was exciting.
As we talked about in the past, this idea of the original X-Men coming to the present wasn’t my idea. It was an idea I had heard about at the retreats and was bummed out that no one was doing it, because I wanted to read the book. So now the book exists, and I’m also happy about that.
It’s one of those premises that only the X-Men can withstand. It’s such a big premise that other books would buckle under it. The X-Men don’t buckle under it though, and I couldn’t be happier with the fact that we were able to take this whopper of a premise, sell it, and make it all about the characters.
That’s what I set out to do, and that’s what I think we did. I see the response from people all day long, and I will miss getting a question on Tumblr every 10 minutes about the X-Men. I get questions about all of them. You name one and I got a letter about them this week. Literally, name an X-Men! I absolutely got a letter about them this week.
Yes! Someone asked Tom Brevoort on Tumblr if “Powers” was ever going to team up with the Marvel Universe. He said it was up to me. I said, “We’re a homicide detective book. Which character can I kill? I have to kill a character to start the crossover.” And Maggott was easily the number one choice. [Laughs]
We’re laughing, but I’m not even joking.
I’ve joked about it, and other creators have also joked that X-Men fans are the toughest. It’s not a generality, but there is a section that is eager to prove you wrong, or eager to prove that they know more than you. I found, though, when it’s all said and done that I enjoyed all of that immensely.
That is passion of the highest order, and 99 percent of the people were able to interact with me and my fellow creators in a respectful if not sarcastic, fun way. There was always someone being a shithead, and I’m not talking about them. There was genuine passion, even if they weren’t sure where we were going and if they were worried that we weren’t going in a direction that they wanted, or that we weren’t giving their favorite character the due that they needed.
I will miss that passion completely, even from some people who think they hate my guts, but read every issue. If you hated my guts you would have stopped after the first arc. If you’re still reading it, even though you think you hate me, you don’t hate me. You’ll come to terms with it down the road. I know this for a fact. At a certain point, you have to admit that you like something. This is who you are, and this is what you like.
I really, really appreciated every anonymous or non-anonymous letter I got about Scott Summers and all these characters. I will also miss how much the X-Men means to people struggling with sexual identity issues, or looking for representation for themselves in books. Even though that stuff isn’t overt in the X-Men, it is to some of the readers, and I appreciated that as well. I’ll miss it.
I wanted to circle back and talk a little more about how you may be done with the X-Men, but you’re not done with Marvel or comics in general.
Yes. I usually don’t talk about my contracts or when I re-sign. I never really announce those, except for the occasional post on the Internet. This time, we are announcing that I have re-signed because of the “Powers” TV show and the other stuff that’s going on.
There’s a tendency with creators that they get their movie or TV show, and then they bail. They just leave. That’s fine. I understand that, but I’m not leaving. I love comics. They’re my first love and my true love, and just because I’m having a little bit of luck in these other areas doesn’t mean I’m going to abandon all that. This was the dream; to come here and do this. I don’t feel done yet.
I’m not saying I’m done with them as a writer — I’m done with the X-Men as a franchise writer. I’m done with writing the monthly franchise, and I’m going to go off and do other stuff. I don’t think this is going to be my final statement on the X-Men, though. I can’t say this is the last time I will write them. I don’t think it is. I feel I might have some big ideas that I might want to attend to down the line.
So I’m torn between my genuine happiness about the state of the books themselves and leaving on an up note, emotionally and creatively. At the same time, I’m sad because I’m literally only leaving because it’s as good a place as any and I have other stuff to do. The good news is that I’m not leaving because I’m sick of the X-Men or anything like that. A lot of times people leave a book because they’re sick of it, and I’m not.
I’d be surprised if you didn’t have anything new in the works at Marvel. You’ve always said given your choice you’d like to have a foot in both the creator owned and mainstream worlds.
That will continue. That will always be the case. I’m not going to change that just because we got “Powers” going. I’ve done both the whole time and I will continue to do both.
I’m getting this question a lot on my Tumblr. I’m not answering it every day because I don’t want to sound repetitive, but a lot of people think I’m leaving. There must be a message board somewhere where someone is throwing this idea up that I’m leaving Marvel or comics, and the idea that I’m leaving the X-Men is going to exacerbate that rumor.
I get it. I appreciate it. I appreciate anyone talking about me in any context, but if you knew how much I love the act of making comics, and how much I love Marvel, you would see why I’m so aggressive in squashing a rumor like that. It’s almost insulting to me that someone thinks I would leave comics. I love comics. That’s why I’m bringing it up.
My departure from the X-Men leading up to “Secret Wars” does cast even more questions about what “Secret Wars” actually is and what the fall out of “Secret Wars” actually is. I can tell you that I know what the fallout is, and I’m very excited about it. I wanted to position myself to be in the perfect place to enjoy the post “Secret Wars” Marvel Universe, whatever that may be. These other opportunities that have been afforded me are just that.
“Uncanny X-Men” #600 arrives in May.