THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR “UNCANNY X-MEN” #534.1, IN STORES NOW
In 2006, things looked dire for the Marvel Universe’s mutant population and their champions, the mutant team known as the X-Men. Thanks to the reality altering powers of the mentally disturbed heroine known as the Scarlet Witch, mutantkind’s worldwide numbers had been reduced to under 200, and no new mutants were being born.
â€¨The X-Men found themselves looking for something to believe in, and one year later they got just that when a new mutant baby was born; a baby that some thought was a messiah who could reignite the mutant race. To protect the infant from those who wished her dead, the X-Men sent her into the far future to grow up. While they waited for her return, their faith was tested by a number of villains, from Norman Osborn, whose attempts to co-opt and corrupt the X-Men led them to create the mutant sanctuary known as Utopia, a man made island floating in San Francisco Bay; or the villainous cyborg Bastion, who sought to wipe out the mutant messiah, now named Hope, when she returned to the present.
â€¨The X-Men overcame these foes, and it looks as though their faith has been rewarded. Now that Hope has returned to the present, new mutants are appearing across the globe, leaving the X-Men one major foe to face: an uncertain future. Will it continue to bring good fortune, or heartbreak and destruction? The first glimpses of their uncertain fate came in “Uncanny X-Men” #534.1; a special introductory issue that features art by Carlos Pacheco and kicks off writer Kieron Gillen’s run as sole scripter of the series. CBR News spoke with Gillen about the issue, and the author offered up some in-depth commentary and inside info on several important pages.
CBR News: Kieron, it’s interesting that you open up this issue with a normal human’s reaction to the news that Magneto is now an X-Man, because the X-Men’s world is often a pretty insular one. It often feels like the only perspectives we get on Magneto are the opinions of the various X-Men.
Kieron Gillen: That was pretty much my thinking and it’s why we start with a helicopter ride to Utopia. The point of view being that we’re going to Utopia to meet the X-Men and if somebody is just picking up this book for the first time, that’s exactly what they’re doing.
But we start with someone who’s not a man of the street type character. He’s clearly not an every man because he’s a successful photographer. He is a human, though, and his reaction shows the way a lot of humans react to Magneto. So in thinking about this .1 issue, I asked myself, “What can you take as a given?” Abstractly, you can’t really take anything for given, but with the X-Men, if you’ve seen any of the movies you know Wolverine, Magneto and Professor Xavier and specifically know Magneto as, essentially, a mutant terrorist. So if you’re thinking mutant terrorist and then you see him in the X-Men, that’s immediately an enormous thing that has to be dealt with. So I wanted to show an outsider’s response to that. It’s an extreme, “Oh my god! I just dropped my Blackberry!” response. [Laughs]
And with the Blackberry I wanted to brand it. I wanted to say, here is this world and here are some recognizable objects. Then, we’re going to show how the X-Men interact with that world.
This scene is our first glimpse of the X-Men’s PR agent Kate Kildare in this issue, and I honestly don’t recall her looking this attractive before. Is this just Carlos Pacheco’s interpretation of her? Or is there perhaps more going on with Kate and Magneto’s meeting than meets the eye? Is Kate emphasizing her looks in an attempt to distract Magneto and perhaps gain the upper hand in what she feels will be a difficult meeting?
It’s definitely stressed more in Carlos’ take, but when I was writing this script I felt like, Wow — this is really quite flirty.” It felt like by the end that there really was a sort of flirtation going on between Kate and Magneto. That said, I come from a journalism background and have spent a lot of time with PR people and it’s a little weird writing a story with a PR person as a heroic figure. [Laughs] Actually, I’m totally going to have to give the issue to several old associates in public relations to see what they make of it.
So, there was definitely something in the script where the artist saw the flirtation and played it up a bit. I think it worked really well. It was an interesting subtext to a conversation that was basically about theory. I also suspect in about two drinks time Kate would have totally jumped him. [Laughs]
And later on in the issue when they’re chatting, you definitely get a sense that two strong personalities are getting to know each other and they’re liking what they see.
Sure, and that’s something I kind of liked as well. Magneto flirting with a human is interesting. His final line in the book is, “You use your power and I’ll use mine.” That’s a recognition, not really of equality, but understanding. And it’s something I liked.
Here, you set the other plot of the story in motion, involving an earthquake and fake A.I.M agents. Where did the idea for this come from?
When I first came up with the issue, I developed the basic structure and this part of the story developed from that. The basic structure was a PR argument about fear, love and evil, juxtaposed against a fast-paced X-Men adventure. In the end, Magneto steps into that adventure and very publicly saves the day. So we can say this is why San Franciscans would like having Magneto around: he saved their city. He makes this big action that develops from the structure of the issue. In terms of the actual story, the idea of an earthquake was a suggestion of my editors, and I kind of ran with it.
One of the themes of this story is image; what matters and what people think of you. I just wasn’t interested in using A.I.M. by itself, but if you add something on top of it, then things got unusual. And it fit nicely with our story about a villain pretending to be more heroic.
Plus, with this plot I got to show more about what the X-Men are doing in San Francisco. That’s more what this subplot was about, anyway. The X-Men are important on the West Coast. They may not live in San Francisco proper anymore, but they’re still engaged with the local community. This was, in fact, quite a casual plot for them. It’s not a big deal. It only becomes one when they realize what’s really going on. They handled it and they handled it brilliantly because they’re the X-Men and they’re very competent. This is what they do.
One thing that’s worth noting about the fake A.I.M. thing is that the X-Men really don’t discover what’s going on there. They discover the plot, but they don’t realize that these two guys are faking that they’re A.I.M. agents. That part of their plan worked. They succeeded in deceiving the X-Men in at least part of the truth — arguably in the same way that the X-Men have convinced the world that Magneto is a little more benevolent than he is.
This is your first scene with the Mayor of San Francisco, Sadie Sinclair. What was it like writing this character?
She’s great. I like writing a competent mayor who has made the X-Men a part of her community. Yes, we still have the hated and feared thing, but these are X-Men who have got a hotline to the local community.
I also included her here because she’s going to be an important part of my stories in “Uncanny X-Men.” She doesn’t have a big presence in my first arc, but she does have some influence on things. Then in my second arc, which ties into “Fear Itself,” there’s a lot about the relationship between Utopia and San Francisco in terms of symbiosis, or lack of depending on the situation. So her presence here is me subtly introducing the status quo.
In addition, I like the fact that she’s a mayor who can name check concepts like anarcho-syndicalism. Also notice that there’s an appearance of a muffin on this page, and there’s also a muffin in “S.W.O.R.D.” #1. Basically it’s a motif. My Marvel Comics motifs? Chain guns and muffins. [Laughs] Between the two, you can easily spot me!
Why is Magneto playing with a remnant of the Breakworld bullet that he destroyed?
Since this is a point one issue, I’m introducing Breakworld here by having Magneto play with the bullet. The next arc is about Breakworld, so I’m introducing the idea that Magneto destroyed some manner of galactic space button and has some of its metal. We’ll explore more of that next arc. The fact that Magneto is still interested in it plays into “Breaking Point.” That’s sort of the point of that scene.
Plus, it’s a fun image. It’s a casual use of his power. When I read comics, I love to see characters use their powers kind of because they’re there. This is Magneto’s version of a Newton’s Cradle.
Here, the fake A.I.M agents mention a mysterious club and there have been rumors going around that a new Hellfire Club will take on the X-Men in the future. It seems like there’s some foreshadowing going on in this scene.
Well, that’s certainly one way to read it [Laughs]! It’s very much a deliberate mention and sounds like foreshadowing to me.
Magneto is reviewing the film of his alleged attack on New York with Kate, and I noticed that he’s wearing his helmet, but he’s not wearing it in his previous scene with Kate. Why is that?
It’s kind of in character for him. In this scene he says, “I’m not that guy, but I could have done it.” I don’t necessarily mean he would have done it. He wants people to aware that he could destroy New York if he wants to. Magneto’s opinion is that humans don’t fear him enough. If they were more afraid of him, they wouldn’t ever mess with mutants again.
â€¨That’s his point, and of course Kate kind of goes a different way, attacking that point. In shorthand, he had that helmet on because he’s being Magneto. This is who Magneto is. Plus, it’s a great visual. One of my favorite panels in the entire book is on the next page where he’s glancing back. There’s a nice bit of expression and emotion in his eyes, and the angling stresses that humanity beneath it.
What’s Magneto feeling, watching the footage of his doppelganger attacking New York City? At first glance, it seems like he’s pretty angry, but is that necessarily the case?
Part of his feeling is that it wasn’t him, so he’s annoyed the attack is still an issue. I think the question of what Magneto is feeling and thinking is something we should be asking ourselves often in this book. I don’t really do a lot of thought captions, especially in a book like X-Men where what a person is thinking and feeling should be in the panel itself.
It’s the same thing with “Journey Into Mystery,” which also comes out this week. There’s a question of, what is Loki really thinking? I’m lucky enough to work with expressive artists and the question of what someone is thinking is something I really want to cultivate. “Who is this character really?” is something that’s important in drama, for me.
This is an interesting double-page spread of Magneto’s big hero moment, but it’s also a bit ominous. It seems like, if a reader was just flipping through this issue and saw this scene, they might conclude that Magneto is attacking San Francisco instead of saving it.
Yeah. It’s more the fact that it’s a display of enormous power. The visual thinking is that we have these images of him attacking New York, and if you actually think back to the “Planet X” arc, there’s all these images of Manhattan’s bridges being ripped up and turned around. I wanted an image displaying that kind of power, which harkened back to that arc. So it’s sort of like, yes, “Magneto” previously used his powers to destroy a city, and here he saves it. The only difference is intent.
Magneto’s display kind of proves the Machiavelli quote that it’s best to be both loved and feared. You can easily imagine there’s a feeling now in San Francisco where they’re glad Magneto is on their side.
We don’t really get a good look at the expression on Magneto’s face after he saves the city. Was that intentional?
Sort of. You would have gotten a slightly better look, but annoyingly there was a small production error. A speech bubble was pushed over a little, which is unfortunate, because it literally happened at the last minute and nobody noticed. So it will be corrected in the trade, but even if you saw the panel as intended, you’d just get a sense of him thinking, “Yeah, this is just how it’s going to be.”
The themes I introduced in this issue are all going to be very important for the next year or two of X-Men. We’ll continue this exploration of being feared and loved and see where that could possibly lead. When Joss Whedon kicked off “Astonishing X-Men,” they decided they were going to be super heroes and going to give people a chance to love them again. It didn’t quite work. They’re trying to do a bit more of that as we’ve seen in adjectiveless “X-Men.” They’re going out and being heroes in the world, but my particular take is, maybe the X-Men have to be heroes in a slightly different way than the Avengers or the Fantastic Four or whoever. Maybe they have to be loved and feared? Or maybe they don’t have to be both? My series is called “Uncanny X-Men,” and Uncanny is a very interesting word. All of this stuff fascinates me.
GILLEN’S FINAL THOUGHTS ON “UNCANNY X-MEN” #534.1.
Writing this issue was a little scary. I’m following some of the responses online, and I’m very gratified that people mostly like it. It’s a meaty 22-page story, but for half of it, Magneto is literally having a chat about PR. It’s not exactly a traditional super hero comic, so the action stuff is deliberately slight, but it’s also tightly paced. The X-Men literally hunt down our bad guys in one page. It’s all tightly compressed and I’m just pleased it worked. It was like, “Hoo-Ray! It’s not an unreadable mess!”
Also, I almost cut Namor’s lines about moving the Earth and experimental friends. I wasn’t sure if it was too much, but on the page I really quite liked it. That’s how I like my Namor; ridiculously arrogant and quite uncaring of how it comes across. That line has been quoted in a lot of reviews I’ve seen. So I’m pretty glad I kept it. [Laughs]
I really like this issue because it feels like we’ve got a complete package; the main story, Nick Lowe’s editorial letter and the preview of things coming up which is one of the advantages of working on two arcs at a time. We have two stories being produced at the same time, so we can actually tease some stories without breaking them, which is a great place to be in.
GILLEN LOOKS AHEAD TO “UNCANNY X-MEN” #535, IN STORES THIS WEEK, AND BEYOND.
I’ve had people ask me about the teasers we included in the back of #534.1. They asked who the blond was in the explosive vest and who is getting his face slammed into the control panel. I can’t reveal the blonde woman’s identity, but you’ll find out the identity of the guy getting his face slammed and the person doing the slamming in issue #536. It’s out by the end of the month, so you’ll know that shortly.
Everything is happening really intensely, and I mean that in a good way. We’re double shipping this month, so readers will get the point one issue and two more issues, which means they’ll get a sense of what my run will be like, very quickly. We’ll be three issues into my run by the end of the month and I think that allows readers to get up to speed. In a way, there will be less question marks hanging over things.
â€¨People will get a good sense of my run from this issue. There’s a lot of stuff I’m interested in there and the “Breaking Point” arc that starts next issue highlights a lot of the emotional stuff I’m doing. The one thing we weren’t able to show in this issue is the inter-team dynamic and emotional core.
Everything is exciting! I look across the next three years of X-Men and it’s one of the biggest periods of change and actual emotional impact for at least as long as I’ve been reading comics. This is a really big period. Jason Aaron is telling a huge story with “X-Men: Schism” and I’m getting to tell some big tales as well. I feel very privileged. I’d be envious of the guy who got to write these stories and the fact that I am that guy feels miraculous.