Editor’s Note: The following images are from Chris Bachalo’s work on “Uncanny X-Men” and not his work with Carey on “X-Men.”
Take one part acclaimed writer, one part fan favorite artist and add the most popular, arguably, super-team on the planet and you get this summer’s “X-Men,” with writer Mike Carey and artist Chris Bachalo. Marvel Comics‘ “X-Men” is indeed the project that Carey hinted at in his in-depth interview with CBR earlier this month, and the scribe spoke to CBR News about coming on one of the best selling comics in the industry.
“Am I excited? Oh yeah,” exclaims the writer. “I’ve been maneuvering for so long to get myself into this position, this feels like the heavens opening and the voice of God saying ‘Okay, enough with the whining, you can do an X-book. Although why I should put myself out for you after the way you made me look in ‘Lucifer’ is a mystery.’ Seriously, I’m so psyched to do this. The X-Men and the FF are the two coolest super teams around. I couldn’t be happier.
“To explain what made me a fan, though, I have to go back a long way. When I was in my teens there was a period when I’d given up reading comics. I don’t know why it was – life changes and stuff. My voice breaking. Finding out about girls. Stuff. But then I was walking past a newsagent’s shop one day, in Liverpool. Actually it was a place on County Road that probably doesn’t even exist any more. And I saw an issue of X-Men on the rack just by the door. It was from the arc that introduced the Shi’ar, so we’re talking pretty early on in Chris Claremont’s tenure on the book. I registered the title – X-Men – and the fact that the team seemed to have changed out of all recognition: apart from Cyclops, there wasn’t anyone else I recognized. And there was a little demon guy, and a man made out of metal, and so on. So I picked it up out of curiosity and I really enjoyed
“That got me reading comics again, and this time around I haven’t stopped. Kind of weird, really. That was a cusp when my life could have gone in a completely different direction, and at the time all I thought was ‘hey, good story. I’m gonna find out how this one comes out.'”
While that’s how Carey got involved with the X-men on a more personal level, his professional involvement with the merry mutants was a bit different. “I was invited to pitch, I think as part of a wider process. I played it cool for the first half a second or so, but I think I gave the game away a little when I started to drool. I come in around the middle of ’06 – July, in fact, on the heels of a huge and spectacularly dramatic arc which Peter Milligan is writing right now.”
While Carey has worked on various “Ultimate” Marvel comics, his work with the mainstream Marvel Universe has been quite limited. Carey is aware that this calls for a different attitude and approach. “Well, to begin with you’ve got a quarter of a century of continuity! The main X-Men cast have very convoluted and event-filled life histories, and you have to be on top of that if you’re going to write them convincingly. I’ve kept in touch with the X-books throughout, but even so there was a lot of research to do to make sure that I was completely up to speed on the characters I wanted to put the spotlight on. I’ve been immersed in stacks of trades and single issues that reach up to dangerous heights on all sides of me. But it’s great to be able to go on that kind of comic-reading bender – especially if it’s tax-deductible.
“But leaving those logistical issues aside, there’s a very different dynamic to writing Ultimate continuity and writing in the 616 universe. Part of that difference is how you approach the story in the first place. Ultimate books are a mixture of new material and rewriting of classic silver age stories: part of the fun, both of writing them and reading them, lies in that balance of old and new, and the extent to which the new stories draw on and go off at bizarre tangents from the past. New readers can enjoy them just for what they are: older readers or avid collectors can have the kick of comparing old and new, and maybe being false-footed by the writer – as in the recent Tomb of Namor story arc in ‘Ultimate FF,’ where Mark Millar made Namor a violent criminal rather than a king, but delayed the reveal until after Namor and Sue Storm had set off for a walk in the park together.
“The regular Marvel universe is different, obviously. The past is still there, but it’s there at the other end of a long tunnel and you’re mainly concerned with taking the momentum of these characters’ recent pasts and moving it on in unexpected and compelling directions.”
With all the major changes in the X-Men universe, from “House of M” to the upcoming “Civil War,” many fans have been speculating who will be on the team after the summer, and Carey is happy to reveal his roster. “It’s going to be eclectic, and I hope it’s going to raise a few eyebrows. Some people you haven’t seen for a while, and some people you never would have imagined standing side-by-side on the same roster. We’ve got Mystique finally being formally accepted onto the team, much to Rogue’s unease. But another choice – Sabretooth – is even more controversial. As to what could happen that would make the X-Men accept one of their oldest and most dangerous enemies as a team-mate, you’ll just have to guess for now. Apart from Rogue, Iceman will stay on from the existing team. Gambit, Psylocke, Havos and Polaris all have what you could call business elsewhere, so although they’re still active in the X-universe, they won’t be in the X-Men team for a good long while. Cannonball and Cable round out the initial line-up – again, two characters with a whole lot of history, who bring their own tensions and personal demons along with them: sparks are gonna fly. But like I said, that’s the initial line-up: we’ve got some more surprises to spring that I’ll keep quiet about for now.”
So what’s so interesting about Rogue? “Two words: passion and restraint,” Carey answers. “I like characters who have that tension inside them.”
Every X-Men writer is faced with the challenge of bringing a new perspective to a franchise that has seen exploration in hundreds of books every year, for decades, and Carey explains what makes his goals unique. “In a way the mission statement is always the same: to tell huge, epic stories built around fantastic situations but compelling and believable characters – or as Chris Claremont (I think) once put it, you create a cast of sympathetic and interesting people and then you put them through hell.
“What do I bring to the table? Well, I’m comfortable with epic. There’s a sense in which ‘Lucifer’ was a single epic getting on for two thousand pages long. I think I’ve also shown that I can handle a wide variety of moods and registers – that I can do the simple and human as well as the mind-bending and cosmic. I’m not saying this adds up to a unique perspective, but I think it’s all part of the tool-kit.
“One thing I’m looking forward to doing is putting a team together many of whose members have colossal reasons to hate, mistrust and fear each other – and then playing out the ramifications of that.”
While many fans will no doubt be thrilled by Carey’s arrival on “X-Men,” some still believe there are too many X-series (and limited series) on the market already. That’s not a feeling shared by Carey. “I think the sheer number of X-books can make it hard to stay abreast of everything that’s happening. But I’m not sure that that’s what readers want to do in any case. Except when there are big crossover events like ‘House of M,’ mostly I think people have their own favorite characters and teams – and, inevitably, creators – and follow those, picking up by inter-textual references the events of books they don’t actually buy or read. It’s like TV. You can’t watch everything that’s out there, but most of the time you wouldn’t want to. Hopefully on any given evening you’ll find something to your taste.
“If that sounds like I’m evading the question, let me put it another way. The accusation of overkill would be valid if the books didn’t have their own identities and didn’t offer different flavors and experiences. I think for the most part they do.”
Still, the X-Men have been through a great many permutations and adventures over the last decades, and some wonder if perhaps all the stories have been told with the characters. Carey says that the massive weight of backstory doesn’t hinder him: it makes him excited. “This is where it gets interesting,” said Carey. “To some extent the X-Men are already in uncharted territory now, because the balance of power between human and mutant has shifted so radically in the wake of ‘House of M.’ The core characters are feeling their way through a situation that in some ways takes them back to their early days as isolated outcasts, although in other ways it’s entirely and dangerously new. That’s the common thread running through all the X-books at the moment.
“In terms of what I’d like to do in my own stories, I’m bringing some characters into the mix who will create unexpected dynamics and tensions. Characters like Rogue and… some other mainstays of the team… will reveal aspects of their natures that perhaps we haven’t been given much chance to see. Psychologically, there’s always terra incognita because we’re always changing in response to new situations – and there’ll be plenty of new situations in the issues I’ll be writing, including a major shift in relationships between the different X-Men teams.”
Carey spoke a bit about “House Of M” when he last spoke to CBR News, but with his ascension to the X-titles, we thought it would be interesting to address how Carey reacted to the event not only as a fan, but now as a creator. “As a fan and as a creator, I’m always excited by stories that tear down the established status quo and introduce a new situation and a new set of rules. Obviously that has to be done in such a way that you believe and are carried along by the story, but I think ‘House of M’ was hugely successful on that score.
“You’ve now got a situation where the mutants have been through a sort of cataclysmic pruning process,” continued Carey. “They’re demoralized, uncertain, uneasy with themselves and each other – and on the defensive to the point where they have to accept ‘protection’ from the Sentinel squad, who are almost the iconic embodiment of oppression and persecution for them. It’s an amazing scenario, which opens out in a lot of different directions. And like all the best stories, it starts and ends with character – with what the events do to the X-Men cast and with how the core characters react to them.
“The big surprises haven’t stopped coming yet, but the strength of the stories is that through all the twists and turns you can follow the personal logic behind the decisions the characters make. It’s grounded in what we know about these people already.”
The new artist on “X-Men” will be Chris Bachalo, and Carey is excited to work with the veteran artist. “With Chris, it’s like, hey, this is a guy who knows these characters inside out, so let’s do all I can to give his imagination and creativity free rein. One of the characters I’ll be using extensively on the book is an existing character who he reinvented with such force and visual panache recently that it was impossible not to use her.”
Still, even with both Carey and Bachalo on the book, the scribe is aware some might still wait for the trade paperback collection. What would Carey say to this group? “I’d say ‘well… hey, you people there. That’s all very well, but what about my royalty cheque? What about all the little Careys – seventeen at last count – hoping for new shoes and a square meal at the end of the day? I have to go home and face them, with beer on my breath. You don’t. So let’s dig deep, here.’
“No, I guess I can see the logic of buying in trade. But for me it’s always been outweighed by the pleasure of the cliffhanger – the pleasure of having a story eked out in installments that make you wait, because the waiting always increases the pleasure. As I believe ‘Frankie Goes to Hollywood’ said before me.”
If you’re still not sold on Carey’s “X-Men” and might not pick it up this summer, the writer adds, “You still need a reason why? All right, all right. Because my X-Men will be the only X-book that has scratch-n-sniff hallucinogenics as a cover enhancement.
“And because it’s going to have the coolest team line-up you’ve seen in many a long year.”
And now you can discuss this story on CBR’s X-Books Forum.