The costumed do-gooders of the Marvel Universe give themselves heroic code names and create alter egos that often cloak or camouflage parts of their personality they don’t want to deal with or accept. Life has a way of forcing them to confront those aspects, however, often explosively when the hero finds themselves faced with some difficult truths to overcome and understand in order to defeat their foe.
In the current arc of writer Marjorie Liu’s “Astonishing X-Men,” the Shi’ar warrior Warbird is facing exactly that sort of crossroads as she has found herself wrestling with ghosts from her past. After that, the book’s cast will deal with a different set of painful truths when the “X-Termination” crossover with “Age of Apocalypse” and “X-Treme X-Men” begins in March, putting them face to face with the extra-dimensional counterpart of their deceased teammate, Nightcrawler.
CBR News: Marjorie, you’ve had two stories in a row now in “Astonishing X-Men” that dealt with controlling and altering minds — the story with Susan Hatchi and the current tale featuring Warbird and the Fianden. What is it you find so intriguing about these types of stories?
Marjorie Liu: Our personalities, our souls, our lives — it’s all in our minds. What’s more precious and sacred than that? To have someone enter your mind, control you against your will–that’s a terrible violation. Yet, that’s also the power our heroine, Karma, has been born with. She can possess others against their wills. I love playing with that conflict — that something so evil could be used for good, and that you can be a good person and still do these things to others.
My other fascination is with a) issues of identity and the masks we wear, and b) the control we let others have over our lives and identities. That’s what I’ve been playing with in these last two arcs. Susan Hatchi wanted to control others as a way of making herself feel powerful, while the Shi’ar feared losing control and that was why they destroyed the Fianden. In this latest arc, we also have Warbird coming to terms with her own identity and how she let others dictate who she should be. She gave up control over her life in order to be accepted by others. That’s a very ugly truth for someone as fierce and proud as she is.
As you mentioned, this current storyline is allowing you take a closer look at Warbird and some of the things that make her tick. So far, she’s felt a lot like another character you’ve written — X-23 — in that they’re both characters so trained and immersed in the world of violence that certain social interactions are bewildering to them. Is that a fair comparison?
X-23 and Warbird have both lived lives of violence, but I’d say that’s where the similarities end. X-23 was raised to be a mindless tool, and while some could argue that Shi’ar training produced a similar weapon in Warbird, at least she had a sense of place, a life that was for herself, and that gave her purpose, dignity and honor. She didn’t always like the choices she had to make, but at least she was capable of choice. Warbird, too, is a grown woman when we encounter her. X-23 is still a child, with so much more to learn and experience.
I’m curious about your sense of the Shi’ar as a whole. Is Warbird’s outlook because of the elite unit she was part of? Or do you feel the Shi’ar in general are just as militaristic and aggressive as, say, the Kree Empire?
Well, yeah! Although the Shi’ar have taken on the role of peacekeepers, they remain a very aggressive and militaristic culture. I mean, listen — they practice interstellar colonialism, which on our world has led to horrific (and insidious) trauma and violence. The Shi’ar don’t control that vast sprawling empire of planets because they’re nice.
Warbird has found herself threatened by a ghost from her past in the form of the Fianden, an alien race that uses art as a weapon, which is an interesting idea. Where did your idea for this story and the Fianden come from?
It came from Jason Aaron’s great Warbird issue, in which he delves into her childhood and we realize that she was not like every other Shi’ar in that she had a love of art. And that love was seen as defective, something she had to bury — though she wasn’t able to bury it as deeply as she liked. That was the root of her story, for me.
As for the Fianden, I loved the idea of art as a weapon, that something we celebrate, or even take for granted, would be viewed by others as a threat. Such a terrible threat, in fact, that the Shi’ar would be driven to eradicate it.
We tell so many lies to ourselves. We wear so many masks. And we do these things in order to get through our lives, and be accepted, or loved. But that can’t last. There’s always going to be consequences to denying our true selves. That’s Warbird’s story. She’s a warrior, yes — but there’s so much more to her, a whole other passion that she buried because it was unacceptable to those around her. In essence, Warbird is a mutant of her kind: an artist amongst warriors. And not only did she bury that artistic talent, she pushed herself to be a better warrior, harder and more dangerous than anyone else — perhaps to prove that the “weakness” she was born with still wasn’t present.
The truth that’s revealed to her in this story — the truth that terrifies her — is simple: Warbird is still the same little girl who was told that she was defective. With that comes a secondary realization, almost as terrible. Maybe, just maybe, the Shi’ar were wrong. And she spent all those years hating herself for nothing.
In March, “Astonishing X-Men” joins “X-Treme C-Men” and “Age of Apocalypse” for the “X-Termination” crossover, which I imagine is a lot of fun in that you get to collaborate with other writers and play with quite a few new toys. Chief among those toys is the Age of Apocalypse Nightcrawler. What do you find most interesting about this character, and how do you feel he was impacted by the end of the “Final Execution” arc in Rick Remender’s “Uncanny X-Force?”
His character is so flawed, so beautiful. He’s got this amazing capacity for love — but the anger is just as strong, as is his righteous sense of justice. And his resolve, once he sets his mind to something, is terrifying. Writing him has been incredibly exciting, and seeing Gabriel [Walta]’s pencils of him in Issue #59? Wow. Just — wow. I’ll touch on this later, but the beautiful thing about working with someone of Gabriel’s caliber is that he captures tones and nuances in Nightcrawler’s character that show his intensity, his edge — and his pain — in ways that are visually unforgettable.
As for the lingering impact of the “Final Execution” arc, I’m sure he doesn’t lose sleep over killing Blob. Hell, no. But I do think it’s left an emotional vacuum, of sorts. Part of the love he had for his wife became wrapped up in getting revenge on her killer. And now that’s done. So — what’s next? Our world is quite nice and very comfortable compared to the one he left behind, but it’s not home. It doesn’t carry all the visceral emotional weight of his own world.
I’m especially curious about the dynamic between him and the regular Marvel U’s Iceman, who in the AoA reality was a nasty villain. What can you tell us about the dynamic between these two characters?
You just touched on my favorite part of what’s coming. Yes, Nightcrawler’s interactions with our Iceman will be fraught, and there will be direct consequences that carry into our world. Iceman — our Bobby Drake — will learn that he has the capacity to be an evil son of a bitch. And that’s going to scare him, because in the AoA universe he started out as he is now: Nice. Trustworthy. A good friend. And yet, he still turned. Why? And could it be that the “good face” Bobby puts on for everyone hides a deeper trauma that’s going to come back to haunt him? How much do we really know about Iceman? How come his relationships never work out?
You also get to play with some new protagonists in the form of the casts of “X-Treme X-Men” and “Age of Apocalypse.” Which characters from these books are you especially enjoying writing?
Jean Grey! Kid Nightcrawler! Dazzler! Oh, and Sage. I’m sort of curious about what will happen when she sees Gambit again.
The AoA Nightcrawler sounds fairly central to this story — does he set the crossover in motion? And is this a traditional crossover, where the story begins in one book and then is continued in another, or is each book telling one portion of a larger story?
Nightcrawler definitely sets things in motion, and issue #59 is a prologue to the entire event. I’m laying the emotional groundwork for what’s coming, the reason it all goes to hell. The idea behind it is pretty simple: Specifically, where is home? What is home? Who is home? And what will you sacrifice to protect your home? David Lapham, Greg Pak and I have set ourselves the task of answering those questions in the most spectacular, violent way possible. Each of our books will carry the story forward, from start to finish.
You’ve touched a little bit on this already, but let’s start to wrap things by talking about the artists you’re working with in the months ahead.
Gabriel Hernandez Walta is one of those rare and lovely artists who can take the smallest detail, the slightest nuance, and turn it into an utterly compelling visual story. In fact, his storytelling is absolutely luminous. He does his own inks, and you can tell the difference; he’s got an incredible mastery over dramatic compositional chiaroscuro, and brings each panel alive with a style that’s like some beautiful marriage between the elegant lines of Georges Remi and the experimental realism of some contemporary fine artists. He’s been an absolute pleasure to write for. Gabriel is responsible for this latest arc, and though he’s taking a break during the crossover, he’ll be back immediately after, with issue #62 and onward.
I’ve also lucked out with the amazing Matteo Buffagni, who is drawing crossover issues #60-61. Again, another artist who manages to be both elegant and visceral, with a flair for kinetic storytelling that totally captures the brutishness, terror and violence of this horrifying world that our team finds themselves in during the crossover. His style is like a meaner, leaner, Terry Dodson, which is perfect because this is a pure-action superhero story that calls for epic, large-scale destruction and heartbreak. Readers are going to go wild over his work.
Finally, can your offer up any hints or teases as to your larger plans for “Astonishing X-Men” in 2013? How big of an impact will “X-Termination” have on the larger status quo of the book?
The arc after “X-Termination” will focus on the following four things: Iceman. Ex-girlfriends. Pregnancies. Apocalypse. All of which pretty much go together, right?
Every take on the X-Men has its own particular flavor, and what I’ve been attempting to bring to this book is that in the midst of the battles and threats, and this rapidly evolving universe, the human and emotional worlds of the characters always remain front and center. These are stories about men and women who happen to have extraordinary powers and obligations, and what I’ve enjoyed is trying to combine what is traditionally attractive about a group series (all the large-scale threats a group can take on, as well as their dynamics, and tensions) with what is also amazing about solo books — all those individual character moments that propel a story forward in emotionally satisfying ways.