Being a member of the X-Men is different from being a member of any other Marvel Universe super team. That’s because the X-Men don’t just battle evil. They also represent and protect an entire species — mutantkind. A recent disagreement between Cyclops and Wolverine over how best to do that led each to go their separate ways and establish their own factions.
Cyclops’ faction of the X-Men continues to operate on their island home of Utopia in San Francisco Bay and are primarily concerned with protecting the world and intimidating those who would threaten mutants. Their members include mutants of all age ranges. Wolverine’s New York-based X-Men team has primarily been concerned with establishing a new training school for young mutants and trying to shield them from the present day conflicts that the X-Men have become embroiled in. The effort to prepare the next generation of mutants has been documented in recent story lines of writer Jason Aaron’s ongoing “Wolverine & the X-Men” series.
This March, Wolverine’s branch of the X-Men return to the business of protecting a world that fears and hates them when writer Marjorie Liu and artist Mike Perkins take over “Astonishing X-Men” with issue #48. Marvel Comics recently provided CBR News with some exclusive character sketches by Perkins and we reached out to him and Marjorie Liu for their thoughts on some of the characters that will be featured in their “Astonishing X-Men” run.
CBR News: Marjorie, we know Gambit is a character you love to write and in a book like “X-23” you generally wrote him as part of duo. What’s it like writing him as a member of the X-Men? Which aspects of the character and his dynamic with the X-Men are you interested in examining? What sort of role does he play on this team?
Marjorie Liu: I’m interested in exploring his role as an outsider to the team. I mean, there are other characters who might be considered outsiders — like Warbird, who isn’t just new to the X-Men, but the actual planet — but Gambit has always been on some odd footing with the X-Men. His past is almost as mysterious and dark as Wolverine’s, who didn’t used to be such an angel — and yet, Wolverine has become a respected figure in ways that Gambit hasn’t, and might never.
Gambit chose to side with Wolverine’s school-based faction of the X-Men and it seems many of his reasons are based on his experiences as a kid and more recently with X-23. Is that correct? What is Gambit’s view on Cyclops’ Utopia-based faction of the X-Men?
Liu: I think it’s several things. Gambit’s role as mentor and protector to X-23 might have made him look as his own potential as a teacher in a different way. Not that I think he would like to teach in a traditional setting — but I do feel he’s seen that he has something, maybe, to offer Wolverine’s school. More importantly, though, he’s not the type to send children into battle. Being someone who had no childhood of his own, who had to grow up rough and ready to fight, imposing that life on the young — even if it is a big, bad, world — would make him deeply uncomfortable.
Mike, in this drawing you really seemed to emphasize both the physical nature of Gambit and his shadowy background as a thief. Are these the qualities you find most interesting about him or are there other aspects of the character you enjoy as well?
Mike Perkins: I like Gambit to be the charming scoundrel. The guy who’s maybe not one step ahead simply because he knows he can rely on his charm to get him out of a sticky situation. I also see him as being almost balletic in battle and there’s a chance to play around, illustratively, with the movement of his long coat.
We also couldn’t help but notice Gambit is throwing the Ace of Spades and the Ace of Hearts. Are these just cards? Or do they provide commentary on the character’s nature?
Perkins: Hah! I’m glad you caught that! Yes, they’re definitely comments on the character’s nature. He has this divide in his nature that has shown up throughout his history and this was a shorthand way of showing this.
Mike, Bobby Drake is usually known as being the practical joker of the X-Men and is usually seen as a guy who is having fun and enjoys being a super hero. In this design the character looks primal and dangerous, almost as if he’s a mythical being. What made you want to depict the character this way?
Perkins: For me, Bobby Drake is one of the most experienced and powerful members of the X-Men. He was one of the founding members and has a mountain of history. I think it’s still important to retain that joker part of his being but I also want to emphasize his stature within the heroic community. Visually he’s also one of the most interesting characters to illustrate — especially if we’re pushing his powers to new limits — which is what we intend to do.
Recently it seems like Bobby has been developing more and more control over his powers and developing new uses for them. Mike and Marjorie, in your minds just how powerful is Bobby Drake?
Perkins: Massively powerful. Think about it. The air around you, the water in your body — all completely controllable by Iceman. It’s probably heresy to say so but I believe he’s potentially more powerful than Magneto.
Liu: Iceman is extremely powerful. He’s an omega-level mutant who hasn’t yet tapped his potential, which is something Warbird will recognize — and find incredibly attractive.
Physically Iceman brings a lot of power to the team, but what do you think he adds to the team mentally and emotionally? Ultimately, what do you feel his role on this team is?
Liu: Bobby is a really nice guy. He has no ego, no hunger for power, no drive to control others. He wants to be useful and help his friends, but he’s never taken himself all that seriously. I’m not saying he’s incorruptible, but I think that, of anyone, he has the least baggage and the cleanest sense of self. Which means that when things get crazy — and they always do, with the X-Men — you can count on Bobby to be a source of “common sense” reason and action.
Perkins: I feel that he can still play the joker — it’s part of his character after all — but there’s room for a certain amount of seriousness there.
Marjorie, since joining the Jean Gray School Bobby has had to take on a lot more responsibility. He seems to be handling it well thus far, but is he? What’s Bobby’s emotional state going into your first issue? Is he enjoying the chance to be more adult or is he struggling with his newfound responsibilities?
Liu: I think everyone on this team is struggling in different ways — for reasons that have nothing to do with Wolverine’s school.
It seems like one of the most apparent qualities of Northstar is his attitude and Mike conveys that nicely in this drawing. Mike and Marjorie, what do you think the character’s attitude ultimately says about him?
Perkins: He’s impatient and a little bit arrogant but his heroism is without question. Well see some big changes coming up for Northstar — in all aspects of his life.
Liu:He’s a very confident man — a bit of a diva, even — but that rock-solid self-assurance will find itself tested through his relationship with Kyle. His heart is where he’s most vulnerable.
Mike, I noticed you have Northstar running in this picture and it seems like the character’s speed power lends itself to travel both by ground and air. As an artist, do you enjoy drawing the character on the ground or in the air? Or is he equally exciting both ways?
Perkins:Well, if you check out any encyclopedia page for Northstar I think you’ll find that he has a staggering amount of different powers — not just the ability to run fast. I’d love to delve into those other powers in this run.
In Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente’s “Alpha Flight” series Northstar and his boyfriend Kyle went through quite an ordeal. Marjorie, I know you can’t reveal much for fear of spoiling the ending of that series, but how are they handling things when your run on “Astonishing X-Men” begins? Are they recovering nicely or are they still haunted and frightened by what went down in Canada?
Liu: A little bit of both. It won’t take much to rattle them, let’s put it that way.
Speaking of Canada — and I know you may not be able say much here either because of spoilers — why has Northstar left and rejoined the X-Men? What does the group ultimately mean to him? And why did he pick Logan’s team over Scott’s?
Liu: I’ll address all those questions in the book, but what I can say is that sometimes people — especially couples — need a change in scenery. Especially when one partner is in a high stress job that puts a strain on the relationship.
Marjorie, Warbird is a relatively new character and, from what we know about her so far, she seems to have arrived on Earth mainly to serve as a bodyguard for Kid Gladiator of the Shi’Ar. What made you want to include her on this team? Can you tell us why she’s joined the team? Does it conflict at all with her responsibilities as a bodyguard?
Liu: I have a fascination with outsiders, men and women who live on the fringe — and there’s nothing more isolating than being a literal alien on this earth. Warbird might have come here on assignment, but there’s more to her than just being a bodyguard — which is something she’s going to discover as she begins fighting alongside the X-Men.
As a an alien bodyguard tasked with protecting royalty Warbird comes from a different culture where she’s part of the majority. What’s it like for her to be part of a team that’s feared and hated by the world it’s trying to protect? And what’s it like writing a character with an alien perspective on Earth and the X-Men?
Liu: Again, I’m fascinated with outsiders, with the idea of “strangers in a strange land.” I don’t think, either, that Warbird will immediately recognize that she’s feared and hated by the rest of the world. Or rather, that will be such a strange concept for her, that she may be rather oblivious in the beginning. She’ll be more interested in all the small details that fascinate human travelers who are exposed to the foreign and exotic: food, architecture, culture, the lack of conveniences that one might be accustomed to having.
Mike, in your drawing Warbird seems to be very lethal, but she also seems to be a character who enjoys combat. Is that what you were going for with her body language? It seems as if she’s taunting an unseen enemy to try and provoke them to attack her.
Perkins: She’s, undoubtedly, very confident in her abilities — I’m guessing that you have to be if you’re employed as a bodyguard! I enjoy getting as much of the characteristics into my figure drawing as possible and the Shi’Ar are a very proud race. They have feathers — they preen!
It also seems like Warbird is a very self assured character. Is that correct? It seems by wearing a costume that leaves most of her stomach exposed she’s saying a lot about her abilities as a warrior.
Liu: Oh, sure. Exposing the most vulnerable part of your body to attack means you feel pretty badass about your fighting abilities.
Mike, we wanted to ask you about Wolverine’s mask. In this picture the ears on it are large and almost horn-like, giving the character an almost devilish appearance. Do you enjoy drawing him in the mask? What do you feel the mask adds to the overall look of the character?
Perkins: Wolverine’s mask, by way of comparison, is like Batman’s ears — Open to interpretation and length! Yes, I do feel that the bigger ears provide a more sinister silhouette.
It also looks like he has some belt pouches as well. Wolverine is one of the world’s most experienced soldiers and covert operatives. In your mind, what does he store in these pouches? Might we see some military gear coming into play in his adventures in “Astonishing X-Men?”
Perkins: He can keep whatever he damn well likes in those pouches and no one can say anything about it, bub! Snikt!
I reckon he has to have something useful in there, right? He has no pockets!
Seriously, I got asked a similar question at a convention when “Union Jack” was being released and, just for that guy who asked the question, I made sure that UJ delved into his pouches. It’s safe to assume I’ll be making similar accommodations in my issues.
Marjorie, you’ve written Logan before but never in a position like this. In your mind how comfortable is he with leadership of this team?
Liu: Quite comfortable, actually. He’s assumed a leadership role for so many years. This is familiar to him. Not that I think he takes it for granted, though. If someone gets hurt on his watch, he bears the responsibility. That’s not something he takes lightly.
Leading the X-Men is just one of Logan’s many responsibilities these days. He’s also a member of Luke Cage’s “New Avengers” team and the leader of “Uncanny X-Force. Will some of those other responsibilities keep him from accompanying this X-Men team into the field? Or can we expect Logan to be front and center leading the charge on every mission in “Astonishing X-Men?”
Liu: He’s got a solid role in this first arc, but by the next? We might begin pulling him back, just a little. We’ll have a very good reason for that.