Marvel Comics‘ X-Men are outcasts, hated and feared by a society that doesn’t understand them. The Xavier Institute, Utopia, the Jean Grey School or whatever headquarters they call home at any given time exists as a safe haven for mutant teens whose powers and appearances would cause the rest of the world to label them freaks and menaces. While most X-Men have fantastic powers and abilities, there’s always a chance a not-so-special mutant would arrive on the X-Men’s door and fail to stand out among the other Children of the Atom.
That idea drives musician and writer Max Bemis and artist Michael Walsh’s new five-issue miniseries, “X-Men: Worst X-Man Ever.” The digital first title introduces readers to Bailey Hoskins, a teen so mundane he was almost invisible, into the world of the X-Men. CBR News spoke with Bemis about the project’s new reader friendly approach to past and current X-Men continuity, his cast of new characters including Bailey’s classmates and instructors, plus which iconic and fan-favorite X-characters will appear in the story.
CBR News: Considering “X-Men: Worst X-Man Ever” is a unique project, I thought it might be best to start off with a comparison and description to help our readers get a feel for the book. It feels a bit like the recent “X-Men ’92” series in that it’s more about exploring, celebrating and satirizing the core concepts of the X-Men mythos than it is about things like continuity. Is that a fair comparison and description?
Max Bemis: Oh yeah. The whole thing is actually kind of a comment on continuity in general; in life, in comics, and specifically in the X-Men universe. I’m really bad at being overly meta with everything I do. [Laughs] And in this case with the idea I had it just fell into place too easily.
The way it is with me and Marvel is the ongoing books are so good that for me it has to really stand out when you do something outside of continuity or even outside of a main book for it to register in any way. So I thought that since I’m not really embedded into any of that stuff I can really play with all these ideas, like you said. So it is very much a comment on what is X-Men continuity? What do the X-Men and their history mean to their fans and to the Marvel Universe? And what do they mean as icons? Because they really are icons at this point in pop culture. They stand for something.
As a long time X-Men fan, what made you want to adopt the approach you’re taking in “Worst X-Man Ever” where you look at the titular group from an outside character’s perspective? Was there every any temptation to instead tell a tale where you dive into the P.O.V. of one of your favorite X-Men?
Yeah! Of course! Even if I had been handed a tie-in type miniseries or something like that I would take it really seriously and dive right in. Some of my favorite minis though, like “Arkham Asylum,” kind of take the meta approach since they’re not really tied into the continuity. And if you look at Grant Morrison’s actual run on “Batman” versus “Arkham Asylum” you can see in one instance he’s kind of tasked with the idea of moving the characters forward and in the other he’s trying to help people wrap their minds around the concepts of what Batman and the Joker are, and stuff like that.
So taking a character who isn’t an X-Man was kind of an obvious choice for me because that’s kind of what I am to this universe right now. I’m new to playing in this sandbox. I also wanted this to be an entry level book that also catered to hardcore fans. That was kind of the idea.
So it’s like the person who only knows this vague idea of the X-Men from the movies is almost like a kid in a candy store wandering around this continuity that has this vast implications, and they’re like “What’s all this? Magneto is a good guy? Scott Summers killed Xavier?” So I kind of wanted to have someone who basically the reader is when they’re going into reading this kind of a book.
Your protagonist in “Worst X-Man Ever” is a young mutant named Bailey Hoskins. What do you want readers to know about Bailey’s life before he heads to the Xavier School?
He is an everykid by definition, more so than most everyman heroes are. I have a tendency to write everyman heroes, be they men or women. I’ve done otherwise but a lot of times my protagonists are kind of warped versions of myself. In this case though Bailey is not a warped version of myself. My goal was to make the most painfully normal kid that I could.
The whole focus of the book is that that the most painfully normal kid in the world becomes an X-Man and therefore he’s the dork. Because he’s so normal on a team of “cool freaks” he’s the freak. So the idea is that before he suffers from the problem that he doesn’t have a “thing.” That’s his big irritation. He doesn’t have a thing to stand out and it kind of pains him.
Did you ever read Si Spurrier’s “X-Men: Legacy” or “X-Force?”
What you’re talking about brings to mind the character he created for those books, ForgetMeNot, the X-Man who everyone forgets about if they’re not looking directly at him.
Exactly. That’s basically his persona, and we do get to know him more over the course of the book. I’d like to think he fleshes out and becomes more than two dimensional. At the same time though, I want him to be a stand in for everyone.
What can you tell us about Bailey’s classmates? Will you be introducing new characters there as well?
Yeah it somehow became that way with all the main characters in the book. I didn’t set out to do that, but I don’t usually set out to do much. It kind of happens and in this case the entire main cast that will have an effect on the plot line are all new characters, even though popular X-Men like Beast will pop up at such opportune times it’s almost a parody.
How does it feel to be creating several new characters for a Marvel comic?
I love it. In a way I think everything is cannon in comic books because everything is so fluid. When you look at how often the comics industry have used these devices to bring in someone like Grant Morrison’s Marvel Boy into the main fold it’s almost like it doesn’t really matter. So yeah, I feel tremendously honored to create an X-Man whether he’s “in continuity” or not. And again, I think it’s even more satisfying that the question of continuity comes up in the book.
In terms of established characters for your faculty you pretty much got to pick and choose which X-Men you wanted and which incarnation. Beyond Beast, can you tease anyone else we might see?
Sure, I’ve been reading the monthly X-books for a really long time. So I generally know who happened to really be kicking around at the time. So my approach was to imagine that I don’t know anything and it’s kind of this conglomeration of the most popular, and/or the weirdest, and/or the best employed for the plot line.
So it’s kind of a mixture of the stereotypical team from the ’60s meets the animated series meets the movies with a few super weird canonical characters thrown in there.
Super weird — So there’s a chance readers might see someone like Maggott?
[Laughs] I don’t want to spoil anything, but I might have used Maggott. There was actually a point where I thought I need to use Maggott but he’s become such a joke that I need to reach further to make because Maggott is the automatic go to in terms of the weirdest X-Men ever. I might have ended up using him though. [Laughs]
Based on the character at its center, it seems like “Worst X-Man Ever” is a story full of humor and some emotional moments. Is that fair to say?
Yes, if anyone has read or read about any of my work they know I’ve done a range of stuff, but it always has a sense of dark humor. So there’s almost a Bill Murray-style sense of humor in this with the patheticness and the tragedy of life being a lot of the basis for the humor. I’d say it’s a lot closer to “Polarity” or “Oh, Killstrike!”, two books I did at BOOM!, in terms of tone than like “Evil Empire” or the “Crossed” stuff I had been doing, obviously. [Laughs]
My editor, Jordan [D. White], and everyone at Marvel is super supportive of this project being weird. So I got to take things to the extreme without ever being hindered in any way. This is one of the easiest experiences I’ve ever had writing and it was great to never be hindered by editorial especially considering how crazy I go with the book.
I think your collaborator on the book, artist Michael Walsh, is the perfect choice to depict all the strangeness, humor and emotion of “Worst X-Man Ever.” He did all of that in his “Secret Avengers” run, which I was a huge fan of, and it looks like his work on this project is even more appropriate.
Yeah, he has, and he was always so good! I think in comics there’s a pressure with artists that we don’t see someone doing the same thing over and over again. So we’ll see someone like Michael hone their craft over time and become better and better, but I have been a fan of his for a long time and I was completely honored when they brought him up as the artist. I’m very proud that he’s stoked and it comes through that he enjoyed the project via the art.
I know your music career keeps you busy, but if readers respond to “Worst X-Man Ever” would you be up for revisiting the series with a sequel or does this put a nice bow on Bailey’s story?
Of course! I would easily be up for revisiting Bailey, and in general, right now my plan is that I have my first 100 percent creator-owned project going on right now. So I’m stepping back a little bit to focus on that, but with Marvel, and I even had some talks with DC, there are some properties where it’s not work for me. [Laughs] I would break my vow of focus to do anything else at Marvel or with a property that I’m absolutely in love with the way I am with the X-Men.
I want people to go into “Worst X-Man Ever” knowing that it’s sort of a welcome break from the heavy weight that continuity can be for a reader. I know some times I have to read comics as home work just to be up to date. I love that, but at the same time it’s nice when something pops up where you can go. “Okay! I can just read this and forget about everything.” So that’s hopefully something that the book has to offer.
“X-Men: Worst X-Man Ever” is available digitally now.