One of the more fascinating concepts in the Marvel Universe is mutantkind, a race of people who are just like humanity in every way except for one seemingly small difference — they posses a genetic quirk that endows them with a super power that manifests during adolescence. That small difference means a great deal to a large portion of the Marvel U. Many fear or resent mutants because of their powers. They view mutantkind as an alien race they have nothing in common with. Mutants have been wrestling with humanity’s prejudices and trying to find their place in the world since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the concept in 1963’s “X-Men” #1.
Over the years, a number of different leaders have emerged and attempted to guide mutants down various paths. Professor Charles Xavier believed humans and mutants could co-exist peacefully and founded the X-Men to promote this agenda. They serve as a team of mutant super heroes tasked with protecting a world that hates and fears them. Magneto, once Xavier’s best friend, believed another path was necessary. He formed the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, a terrorist group designed to create a world where mutants dominate humanity. After years of being divided by that conflict, mutantkind was united when the Scarlet Witch, a mentally ill mutant with reality-alterting powers, used her abilities to depower most of the world’s mutant population.
Now there are less than 200 mutants left in the world, and the majority live together on Utopia, an island home created by the X-Men, now under the leadership of Xavier’s former student Scott Summers AKA Cyclops. As leader of the X-Men, Cyclops has had to make a number of difficult and dangerous decisions. Sometimes he listens to the advice of Xavier and Magneto who are now his trusted confidants, and other times he goes his own way. That way often annoys other X-Men, especially Wolverine, who has his own perspective on leadership demonstrated via his role as co-leader of the secret team of heroic assassins known as X-Force. This spring writer Paul Jenkins and artists Laurence Campbell and Roberto De La Torre will examine the different perspectives of each potential leaders as they interpret a dangerous situation in the four issue “X-Men: Prelude.” CBR News spoke with Jenkins about the May debuting project.
Jenkins, whose body of work includes the six issue “Wolverine: Origin” mini-series and the recent “X-Men: Mythos” one-shot, finds the X-Men to be an intriguing metaphor. “They’re in part a metaphor for the melting pot that is America. They’re also in part a metaphor for racism,” the writer told CBR News. “Like any great characters there’s so much potential there for really, really good stories and hopefully we’re going to tell a really good story that not only delves into the core of who these people are and why, but help sets up some things that they’re doing in the X-Office.”
“X-Men: Prelude” sets the next major X-Men event in motion, but it’s also a series of character studies. Each issue spotlights a different character and explores their thoughts on leadership. Jenkins was given “Prelude” because of his aptitude and affinity for telling character-driven stories like “X-Men: Mythos,” which was part of a series of “Mythos” one-shots spotlighting a number of different Marvel characters. “I think at this point in my career there’s an interesting misconception that I don’t do or don’t have the desire to do monthly books. My preference is that I like to write character-driven material and I really like to delve into the nuts and bolts of what makes people work in these stories,” Jenkins said. “I have done monthlies before. I just don’t think that I’m so adept or interested in referring to 17 other comics in a sense. It’s not something I really dig, but I love doing this kind of thing.”
Each issue of “X-Men: Prelude” will be told from the perspective of one of its four protagonists: Cyclops, Magneto, Professor X and Wolverine. Jenkins and company will take into account each character’s experiences with and opinions on leadership.
“Cyclops really has done something that nobody else was capable of doing so far and that’s unite mutantkind. He brought them all together in one place and really gave them a sense of identity. Before that Xavier had his thoughts on how that should be done and clearly Magneto had his thoughts, which were driven in large part by what happened to him as a child and what happened to his family. Then there’s this wild card out there, which is Logan. He obviously has thoughts on leadership and he really cares about what happens to all of the mutants. He wants to make sure things are done right,” Jenkins explained. “We’re examining the way they get things done, which allows us to tackle their similarities and differences all in one. The differences are Xavier had a model of the things he thought you needed to do to lead. So did Magneto, and now so does Cyclops. Logan also seems to be formulating a concept.”
“I recently completed the story that focuses on Magneto. I thought what was really interesting about it was, here’s a guy that had a very radical idea of what he needed to do in order to do what he believed was best for mutants. He once was very, very extreme, but like any good villain his reasons are quite understandable. He could explain them to you and you could actually understand why he would do the things he does. It would be his methodology of killing people and doing bad things to get his point across that you would have a problem with,” Jenkins added. “He’s completely done a 180 though. I think he now understands and appreciates that, of all people, this young man Scott Summers has found a way to unite people using different methods. Each of these four characters has a core conceit or concept of how you lead and Magneto’s is that you can go anywhere as a leader and you can go to some very surprising places. His advice to Scott might be, ‘Don’t do what I did. Don’t fall slave to an ideology. Be prepared to accept all things.’ That’s quite a radical departure for the guy.”
While each issue of “X-Men: Prelude” will provide insight into the point of view of a different character, the plot of all four issues is connected in a unique and complex way. “We’re doing a ‘Rashomon’ style thing where you see the same scene from four perspectives,” Jenkins stated. “I don’t think we’re giving anything away by saying the X-Men united on Utopia are about to go forward with their concept of a nation and there’s this massive, massive thing that’s about to happen. I can’t say right now what it is, but the X-Men know it’s coming and they’re looking on nervously. There’s a feeling like whatever is coming will be there very, very soon. Cyclops has united the mutants and they’re facing an incredible danger that could lead to their extinction in about ten minutes, so how does he face this terrible thing that’s about to happen?”
Jenkins was quick to add, “The entire story takes place on Utopia and it’s really one scene essentially replayed four times, but you see it processed through four different perspectives. When you see it replayed like that you realize that each of our four core characters are seeing things in a different way and anticipating things in a different way.”
The supporting cast of each issue of “X-Men: Prelude” will include the three other characters not currently being spotlighted as well as Cyclops’ other trusted advisers. “The inner circle of Utopia are all gathered together in the war room trying to work out what’s going to happen,” Jenkins said. “It’s sort of like facing the first day of the battle of the Somme. They’re preparing for the charge that’s about to come.”
Bringing to life such a complex, character-driven story is tricky work, which is why Jenkins is happy to have Laurence Campbell and Roberto De La Torre as his collaborators on “X-Men: Prelude.” “I’ve had the opportunity to tell some great stories with some great artists. Two guys I’ve often gone back to are Sean Phillips and Jae Lee. Part of the reason for that is their ability to really carry those character moments. I think both of the guys we have on board for this series show they clearly have a real concern for the people in the story and they’re not necessarily focused on the explosions,” Jenkins remarked. “I’ve said this before and I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face, we don’t care about the fight unless we care about the people in the fight. So these guys really seem to concentrate on that and since this book is about character studies these are the perfect guys.”
In addition to “X-Men: Prelude,” Jenkins has plenty more comic work his fans of his will want to be on the look out for, including several titles from Marvel Comics like the previously announced “Thor: Heaven & Earth” mini-series, which will hit later this year. “In addition to the ‘Thor’ series I have another series in the works about the Second World War that is very far into production right now. I’m pretty sure that will be solicited some time very soon. It’s something I’m incredibly proud of. I love that kind of material and I’ve got to say that the art work looks absolutely beautiful,” Jenkins said. “It’s sort of in the vein of my ‘Captain America: Theater of War’ specials, but those were all self contained single issues. This is actually an eight issue series that has a self-contained story, but what’s cool about it is the series contains perhaps one of the most explosive and monumental secrets in mankind’s history, which is in part covered up by members of the Marvel Universe.
“Then in the vein of the Thor series I’m going back to the single issue mini-series where we explore different characters. I’ve got a couple of those in the works right,” Jenkins continued. “2011 is going to be a big year for me in terms of comics. Plus I continue to work on all of the film and video game stuff. I’m under NDAs for every single part of that. So I can’t talk about those projects, but I’m having a blast working on them.”