Marvel Comics held a press conference with Joss Whedon to discuss his return to “Astonishing X-Men.” We’ve got the full transcript of Whedon’s chat down below (click here to go directly to Whedon’s transcript) with Editor Mike Marts’s comments up first. Also in attendance were Director of Marketing John Dokes and Marketing Coordinator Jim McCann. The call will later be made available as a podcast at Marvel’s Web site.
The following is a full transcript of the press conference.
Mike Marts: Hey guys, how are you doing? Mike Marts here. Needless to say we’re real excited about the return of “Astonishing.” You guys, retailers and readers, have been real patient through our little hiatus. We’re coming back February 22nd, which is the on sale date for #13. Same creative team with Joss Whedon, John Cassaday and Laura Martin, so, nothing changes there.
There’s been a little bit of confusion concerning the shipping schedule. The guys are back for a 12-issue stint. It’s bi-monthly from February through August. So, issues #13 through #16 will be bi-monthly, then we’ll resume a monthly schedule from September onward.
Let’s open the floor to questions.
We’re excited about the return of “Astonishing,” too, needless to say. What’s it like working with this team? You’ve got top writer/artist/colorist. How do you put them together?
MM: It’s great working with these guys. Being who they are, especially Joss with all his movies and TV and everything, he has the opportunity to act like a rock star if he wants to, but instead he’s extremely down to earth, extremely professional, always on time with everything and just a really good guy. The same goes for Cassaday, too. Despite what the rumors are, John has hit all of his deadlines with the books. Working with the two of them really is like an editor’s dream.
I know variants were a big thing for the original series. Will this be a repeated event with this second series?
Jim McCann: There will be a variant for “Astonishing X-Men” #13. There’s a Cassaday sketch variant that retailers will be able to order 5 copies per account. Also, in this weeks Marvel mailer, you’ll see a deep discount offer for “Astonishing X-Men” #13. If you exceed your total net invoice quantity of “Astonishing X-Men” #1, the cover with the claws, then you will get an extra percentage off your “Astonishing X-Men” #13. Look to your Marvel mailer or e-mail myself or David Gabriel and we’ll be happy to take care of that for you.
MM: Also, if you have any more questions for Jim McCann you should probably ask them now because it’s quite possible he will faint when Joss gets on. (laughs)
JM: I’ll be OK after the smelling salts! (laughs)
Will the events seen in “Civil War” tie into anything going on with “Astonishing X-Men?”
MM: For the most part the “Astonishing” run will be it’s own story much like the first two story arcs were. That being said, Joss is paying close attention to the global events that are taking place in the Marvel Universe, such as the repercussions from “House of M,” with the Sentinels outside the Mansion and the depowering of Mutants. Some elements of “Civil War” will be reflected within the book, but he won’t be making them a major part of his story.
Why the decision to make the first four issues bi-monthly instead of waiting for four months?
MM: We did have that decision before us, whether or not we should wait, and just based on reader reaction we get from fan letters and everything, we thought it was better to bring back the series sooner and stutter it, as opposed to delaying it further.
Right. Why start with #13 instead of going with a Season 2?
MM: That really was Joss & John’s decision. We offered that opportunity to them, much like we did on “The Ultimates,” but they really want to focus on this being a full, complete, consecutive run of 24 issues worth of stories and they didn’t want to interrupt that.
Mike, now that you’ve got 12 issues under your belt and you’re starting on this second run of 12 issues, has anything changed in the editorial and creative process in making this book?
MM: Not too much. We’ve got it down to a science by now, I guess. It’s really strange how this book, unlike any other that I deal with, when Joss turns a script in it’s flawless. It’s perfection. I’m not just saying that because it’s Joss Whedon. His scripts are so precise and really great. And John works like clock work and gets his stuff in. It’s really a nice process.
Can you talk about what extras we’re going to see in the collected hard cover in April?
MM: I don’t think we’re ready to speak about that quite yet. We’re still gathering a bunch of stuff together. Rather than revealing stuff now and then have it not show up later, we’d rather just hold off on that before we’re ready to speak about it.
Is there any talk about doing a Buffy/X-Men cross-over or maybe a Firefly/Starjammers one-shot?
MM: That’s a good idea! Ask Joss that question when he gets on the line. It would depend a lot on him, but that would be great.
Who’s in the cast of characters this time?
MM: Exactly the same. We’re dealing with Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, kitty Pryde, Colossus and … who did I forget?
MM: Wolverine, yeah, that guy! (laughs) And of course we’ll see some cameos and walk-ons from some of the students at Xavier’s, those that are left.
As far as the success you’ve seen with the book itself, what have you learned about how to market the book that you could take to the other lines and the X-Men as a whole?
John Dokes: I think Joss’s name really stands out. If you look at the treatment we’re doing for the book market, it’s really focused on the name as opposed to previous issues where the focus was on the title of the book or the characters. His name is really selling this book as well as the art by Cassaday. We’re looking for this book to win a lot of awards outside the comic industry as well as inside. It’s just been great mentioning it, getting press out there about Joss and the X-Men.
MM: Another thing worth mentioning is that we all expected Joss to do a great job and to write a really good story when he came on and, of course, we were going to market the book around name value. But when he came in and the first and second issue came out and everyone saw that not only was this good, but this was the best X-Men comic they’ve read in a long time, possibly ever, well, that word of mouth helped propel this book to where it could almost market itself.
JD: When I first came back to Marvel it was one of those comics where I would say if you want to know what comics are all about, I’d say read this series. It’s really that tight.
What have you guys learned from your first run on this book to help you create other X-Men awareness?
MM: I think that if this series taught us anything it’s that we shouldn’t be afraid to focus on the characters themselves. I hate to use the words “smaller stories,” but more concise stories and stories that don’t necessarily have to be filled with everything – globe trotting and galaxy spanning stuff – but just focusing on the characters themselves.
I was somewhat disappointed to see that you had solicited the hard cover for April because I was hoping you’d consider putting together both of these series when they’re complete and put them together as an oversized, upscale collection like you’re seeing from DC. They sell really well and I feel a great series like this deserves a better treatment for hard cover.
MM: We’re definitely considering doing a larger hard cover. We just started our premier edition program last year and want to make sure we’re consistent with that and are focusing on the top books that we’re putting out. “Astonishing X-Men” definitely fits into that category.
Is Joss going to be doing anything like he did last time with “Giant Size X-Men,” a side-story alongside his regular run in “Astonishing?”
MM: He will be doing something else within the Marvel Universe. I’m not sure when we’ll be announcing that, but it will be sometime, I think, in 2006.
Also, the first run of “Astonishing X-Men” was broken up into was split into two six-issue story arcs. Will that hold true for this new series?
MM: Yeah, we’ll be following the same format. #13-18 will be one unit and #19-24 will be another.
You’ve complemented your live action performers for their delivery of your lines, you’ve singled out the man who lit your “Firefly” material, you’ve commented with admiration on your set designers and your costumers and your make-up professionals. You’ve praised all of those for the input they’ve provided in the live-action material. John Cassaday and Laura Martin have done all these roles in “Astonishing X-Men.” How has their participation affected your work on the series?
Well, clearly, they’re dragging me down. (laughs) But, I put up with it because Johnny’s so pretty! (laughs!)
I’ve said before that working with John is like working with my favorite director, cinematographer and actor. You’re right, there’s every other job including costume and production design. Between him and Laura, they make my life incredibly easy and my scripts incredibly short. Shorter than they’ve ever been. I can’t say enough about them and I don’t think that anybody would be surprised by that. Working with John is the kind of simpatico I’ve had maybe three or four times in my life with other writers and/or actors or anybody. We knew when we started we were going to have fun. We liked hanging out at Cons because Cons are cool, but we really couldn’t have predicted how much we would get inside each other’s heads.
So, yeah, if you want me to say nice things about John and Laura, this phone call is going to take a very long time. I’m proud to be bringing up the rear and to be the Jimmy Olsen in that particular triumvirate. (laughs)
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since entering the comics industry?
Stay off the Internet. Stay off the Internet. As Geoff Johns very seriously told me when I was first starting. That actually is probably the second.
The most important is probably … well, I had an interesting time with my second arc with “Danger.” It was not as well received as the first arc. A lot of people loved it, a lot of people really didn’t. While there are things in it that I think worked beautifully and stuff that I’m enormously proud of, it was interesting to look at it with a critical eye and ask what did I not give the X-Men audience? I was sort of adjusting from the first arc and going, “Well, they talked a whole lot, so let’s have some more smack downs” and suddenly there was, “Where is all the talk?”
It’s similar to what I learned on “Buffy” the soap opera. The character stuff is much more important than the ideas I have in my head about the nature of reality and the artificial intelligence run. There was stuff in there I think was fascinating, but ultimately what people want is the X-Men and all that other stuff is gravy. It was a bit of a rearing back for me, but it was also kind of liberating because I’ve never done something– except I think Season 6 of “Buffy”– that people were so critically on the fence about. It was a nice way of saying, “OK, I can do the things that interest me as an artist and don’t have to worry about always getting it right for the audience,” but at the same time I learned from some mistakes that I made there. I think that’s probably the biggest lesson.
The next arc of the X-Men is so entirely internal, it’s really a six-issue examination of who the people are, what makes them tick and how do you take them apart. Good lord am I having fun.
Will you be creating any new mutants that might be seen in the pages of “Astonishing X-Men?”
That hasn’t been my focus. I’m the kind of guy who can do one side of the Rubik’s Cube. Sometimes two if I put down other things, but never six. To me that’s a very tall order. There are obviously two characters who will appear, Hisako, who still hasn’t chosen a superhero name, and Blindfold, who were both in the first and second arcs. But, I’m really interested in my one-side of the Rubik’s Cube and that’s those six characters that I have. I have so much to figure out about them, so they’re really my focus. Obviously I’m always looking for new villains and, the big question is going to be, “Will that be Emma?” But those guys are meat enough for me, so it’s not so much about finding new peeps.
Which of the six characters do you relate to the most?
Well, obviously I’m buff like Colossus and embarrassingly hairy like Logan. (laughs) I just did an issue that really focuses on Scott and I really feel a lot of his pain. Scott and Kitty, obviously Kitty, both to me have a certain element of always feeling out of their depth and really taking everything to heart and being really buffeted by everything that goes on around them. That’s a quality I’d like to shed, I’d like to be more Logan like, but why I love them is that they come through despite that. Especially after you read issue #14, you will understand why Scott is someone I really feel a kinship to and Kitty in a similar, but slightly different way. Kitty, I think, is at more peace with herself than he is, but she always feels a little like, “I’m a child and this is a mutant war! This is a huge cross-over, what am I doing in it?”
In your last run we saw the team interact with the Fantastic Four. Do you have any plans to bring in other stars from the Marvel U with your new run?
The Marvel Universe is undergoing seismic shifts that are ginormous and having the privilege of sitting in on the big summit, it ain’t getting simpler any time soon! It’s very hard for me to sort of figure out how to interact. I had planned to bring the Vision into the “Danger” arc since he would obviously relate to that whole concept, but then I was told he would be a disembodied voice by the time my issue came out, so it’s complicated. The first arc is really very internal and the second arc deals very much with the Break World and paying off all the stuff we built up with Horde.
So, not so much, but very much towards the end, particularly in the “Giant Sized Annual” that Johnny and I will finish with, I’m going to be dredging out everybody that they’ll let me have for a very specific reason.
Imagine this– A Buffy and X-Men Cross-Over or maybe Firefly/Starjammers. Have you ever thought of doing that?
I wouldn’t say Firefly/Starjammers because I’ve always figured Firefly as being much more grounded. Buffy/X-Men? Oh, it’s crossed my mind. It’s crossed my mind. But it’s my ambition to actually turn out the scripts for just X-Men, which is going to be the new name of the book, “Just X-Men.” (laughs) It’s a notion I play with because you can’t not play with those notions. It’s too much fun.
I’m sure there are fans that would like you to stay with that notion.
Well, you let these things gestate long enough and you find someone dumb enough to draw them and everything’s good. I think it would be a little bit of hubris to take the reality I created and bring it to the X-Men right now. I don’t think I’ve been there long enough to justify that, although I do have one cross-over moment that I’ve always had in mind that if I could work that in, it’s a little piece of dialogue, I would, but again it’s not about me. And as much as I love Buffy, it’s not about her, it’s about the X-Men. So, I would be leery of that. It would have to be separate from what I’m doing with the X-Men right now.
You talked about the characters you related to most. I’m curious about the opposite side. Which of the six characters is the one you can’t relate to and how does that make it more difficult to write for that character?
Colossus is tough because he’s very internalized, not in a zen sort of way, though. Logan is very easy to get a take on things. He’s famous for it and he’s the poster boy for Marvel Comics, quite frankly. But with Colossus, what he’s holding back and what’s not said is more of a mystery. Somebody who doesn’t express every single thing they’re going through all the time always frightens me. I don’t have an unspoken thought and so he’s been a tough nut to crack and that’s part of this arc. Again, it’s getting inside everybody’s head and his is made of metal, which made it harder to get into.
How will “House of M” or “Decimation” have an impact on your upcoming arcs?
Only marginally. I had pitched my arcs out before “House of M” was created and there was some dissonance reading them. I was like, “I don’t know if the things I will be referring to will matter as much to people.” That’s part of why I’ve got such an internalized story. I’ve sort of removed myself so that I don’t clash with what’s going on. In a way, I’ve just kind of avoided the issue because, as I said, I’ve had these things worked out well in advance.
This has to come into the conversation somewhere– I’m ahead on my scripts! [My editor Mike Marts] can back me up on this. It’s never happened before, but it’s a new me! I have a bet with my wife that if I’m late with a single script, for anything, this year, I have to watch a particular movie– that I’m not going to name– three times in a row. Believe me when I say this is strong motivation. (laughs)
But yeah, I worked this stuff out before and then obviously huge changes came with “House of M” and I have to kind of ignore them, but never contradict them. I’m just going to do my thing.
How far ahead are you?
I’ve outlined the third script and written the first two and Johnny’s drawing the first. I’m ready to fire off the third one. That’s farther ahead than I’ve ever been. OK, I’m not Bendis, admittedly, but I feel “Bendis adjacent.”
Everybody knows you have an affinity for these characters and there’s been a lot of enjoyment in the fan community as far as what you’ve done with them so far. Your work obviously speaks for itself, but I was wondering if there were any moments with the characters that you really identified with as a fan and things that you really wanted to see happen– those things that you can’t fit into your stories– to give the readers out there a little bit of an idea of what excites you about these characters that you can’t really portray within the story limits.
Well, obviously we’re talking about nudity! (laughs) It’s those rippling metal muscles! (laughs)
The things that I can’t do, those would be the things that when Joe first approached me and I first thought I was going to do this, I had just an enormous number of ideas. Two in particular that excited me were for new characters and just sequences and concepts and I wont’ actually describe them because I like them well enough to think that they might show up at some point, either there or elsewhere.
When I finally settled on what I was actually going to do, I built around the moments so there were very few where I thought, “Gee, I guess I’m not going to get to do that.” The moments that I wanted to see the most are pretty much in the book and it’s definitely a fanboy thing. My target audience when I write generally speaking is my wife. I think one of the nicest moments in the X-Men was the “Fastball Special”, which is not something she would get. I had to leave behind the general world and say this was one for those of us who’ve in the trenches all those years is to do the “Fastball Special” without ever naming.
Obviously, the revelations of Colossus was crazy fun. There’s a moment coming up in issue #14 that is something I’ve been waiting for since before I got the gig. The whole Kitty and Emma dynamic, which is going to get more fun, with her little slap down in issue #2, they’re all little personal moments between the peeps, those are the things that always completely get in. In issue #15 I have a Logan moment planned that I think is going to just completely alter the fabric of the actual known universe! (laughs) Not to oversell it, but the world is going to turn the other way and Margot Kidder’s going to come out of a ditch. (laughs)
Could you expand a bit on how the events in “House of M” or “Decimation” affected your plans, or are you isolated enough that it didn’t really matter?
As I said, I kind of deliberately avoided it. I was a little bit thrown off my game when I read it. I was like, “OK, everything’s different now!”
Basically the biggest thing is that I had to replace was Nick Fury with Maria Hill because Nick Fury’s gone underground. He was going to be, not a huge part, but a part of the thing. There’s a scene between Abigail Brand– who’s very much a player particularly in the second arc– and Maria Hill that would have been Nick. There might be reference here or there, but to me I have to maintain the integrity of the book, even more than the integrity of the Universe. Once again, I’m never going to contradict anything that happened in “House of M” and I’ll use it if I can, but I want somebody who starts at issue #1 of “Astonishing” to go to issue #24 without having to make a huge calibration if they don’t know “House of M.” So, it’s important to me to stay current with the Marvel Universe without being a slave to it.
Did we fully explain the whole Colossus coming back after he was cremated story?
In terms of Colossus, yeah, the explanation would be what David Greenwald once coined “Flabotanum,” which is how do we scientifically or magically explain something that we want to see emotionally. Because he injected himself with the cure and died, they took his body for tests to try and find a cure for mutants and they revived him because they could do that and they switched bodies and it was the other body they cremated… it’s not necessarily the most brilliantly thought out explanation, but it got me to opening that door. If you can get there with something just a little more credible than, “We can give the aliens a virus with my laptop,” then you’re OK. (laughs)
How far back does your fascination with X-Men go?
I think I may have picked up one of the first “Not A Dream, Not a Hoax” Professor X is dead covers ever back when it was still only $.25 cents. But I really didn’t start until around issue #98. So, I was there for Cockrum just turning out the epic in a huge way, then Byrne stepping in and blowing our socks off. I stayed with it for a long while– for me it was a long while. I sort of disappeared a little bit before Byrne did. And I’m not mentioning who the writers were because they were all Claremont. I happened to pick it up right when Paul Smith came on board, right before “Live Free or Die” at the end of the Brood saga which is, to me, one of the most important issue I’ve ever read, which is just the issue of them waiting to basically die before the big epic. To me, there’s more “Buffy” in that than any comic I know because it’s just them talking about who they are and religion and sex. I was just blown away that you could do that with a comic and I just love Paul Smith’s pencils.
So, I read through that era pretty much until right when Romita took over in the middle of an issue, which is the end of the Madeline Pryor/Mastermind, is he really back, saga. Then I was gone to a far away land until Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely brought me back. I can’t stress enough, and I don’t think it’s been stressed enough, what an amazing run they had on that book. Most of the stuff I reference, the really emotional stuff, and a lot of the interesting ideas come from what they built. Obviously, at least two of the members from the Hellfire club are from their run. Other artists worked on that run, too, but I always think it pretty much belonged to Quitely because he really defined the look.
There’s a lot of stuff that happened in the ’90s and every now and then Mike will mention, “Oh, by the way, Scott grew a third arm for a few issues in 1992 so you’ll want to avoid doing that again.” So, I definitely missed a lot of stuff.
Again, the Morrison era was for me what absolutely brought me back to the X-Men and he gave me so much rich stuff to draw off of. It’s been a big banquet. Those are really my big, defining eras.
I know you’re used to having millions of viewers with your TV shows and films and that comics has a smaller audience. I was wondering if you’ve enjoyed your time here and if you would consider doing something else other than the X-Men?
First of all, I think that the comic book reaches about as many people as my TV show did (laughs), so it’s not that much of a sea change. It’s only a question of time.
The X-Men is definitely my dream book. I have other projects that I would love to do, but I have movie scripts that are a little bit late and TV shows and other things. None of it is any different for me, I love it all. Telling a story is telling a story. The great thing about X-Men is, as I said after the first question, I have Johnny and I have Laura, so I get all the results that I usually have to stay up all night commanding to get. I just get them right away and that’s really gratifying. It’s just a question of time and I have to be a little realistic about how much time I have, particularly because I’m getting back involved with “Buffy” comics and in a lesser way with “Serenity” comics. So, I have to budget my time.
If there are some books that Bendis isn’t writing, I’m ready to pick up that slack as soon as my calendar clears.
I was one of those who really enjoyed your “Danger” run and enjoyed how you reached back into Marvel lore and pulled a character out of thin air, but the Danger Room has always been there. I thought that was a neat trick you pulled.
When I deconstruct what I think what was wrong with it, I don’t mention the fact that I also hold it very dear and the Xavier smack down is one of those things that I’d always wanted to do.
My question is based on what led you to even think of the whole idea of that story, to create the Danger Room as its own sentient character. Is it just the general interest you have in A.I., or was it something you saw in the past X-Men that you knew you could exploit with the Danger Room?
I can’t remember the genesis, but I know the moment I was categorically reaching for was the Danger Room is angry. Just saying “The Danger Room is Angry” got me so excited because it’s the kind of sentence that makes me want to write comics. For me, I had to sort of beg for an explanation of “How does this work? How can the Danger Room do absolutely anything?” I’m put off by absolutely anything. Doctor Strange has always confused me because he just waves his hands and there’s sparks and things happen. For me, actually, this is a complaint I made back in the day– the day being the ’90s– I felt like all of the X-Men had become Doctor Strange. Their powers had become like, “I will reverse the polarity of your ions, thus causing blowback which will…” And I was like, “Where’s the guy who can turn to sand? I’m confused. I don’t know science! I want my mother!” (laughs) And you’ll see I have a very pared down team. Basically, their powers are very simple and that’s on purpose.
I’m interested in A.I. and anyone who’s interest in science fiction right now can’t help but be because there have been so many interesting and thought provoking works on the subject of late. Once I realized what the Danger Room was, the idea that this environment wanted to have an identity and that it would be “I was taught to kill,” just exploring that, particularly in the issue where it forms into a body — all the things it says to Kitty – those were fascinating concepts. The concept of being.
Ultimately, again a lot of fans were like “fascinating concept, but where’s Scott and Emma kissing?” It really came from the moment of hearing that the Danger Room is sentient. This is something I’ve dealt with in TV as well, I don’t watch that much TV and I wasn’t reading a lot of comic books for a long while, so there are plenty of things I’m going to do where people will say, “Well, that’s kind of reminiscent of…” But, for me, not knowing that, it felt enormously fresh and exciting and then to be able to lay that in literally from the first issue where they’re all in Hawaii, but the scale is wrong. All those little references to the Danger Room acting a little wonky and making decision by itself, knowing where I was going was just a big high.
Special thanks to Stephen Gerding of Kung Fu Rodeo for his help with this transcript.