In 1961, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby gave Marvel Comics it’s first superhero team with the publication of “Fantastic Four” #1, and for the residents of the fledgling Marvel Universe, they arrived just in time. The appearance of the FF ushered in an age of heroes, but before that it was an age of monsters. In the Marvel Comics of the ’50s, alien, radioactive and supernatural monstrosities regularly rampaged across the globe. As the Marvel U grew and developed those monsters may have moved out from the spotlight, but while they were forgotten, they aren’t truly gone. Many of them have taken up residence in one of the wildest and weirdest places in the Marvel Universe; an island off the coast of Japan appropriately named Monster Island. Only the brave or the foolhardy would storm its beaches, but in a four-part story that begins in February’s “Astonishing X-Men” #36 by writer Daniel Way and artist Jason Pearson, the title characters do just that.
Way’s recent body of work includes 50 issues plus an annual of “Wolverine: Origins” and 26 issues and counting of “Deadpool.” Additionally, last year he began a collaboration with writer Marjorie Liu to chronicle the exploits of Wolverine’s villainous son Daken. So while Way is a veteran when it comes to solo books, “Astonishing X-Men” is the writer’s first stab at a team title.
“I’m kind of jumping into the deep end of the pool on this one. It’s been great, though, because ‘Astonishing’ really focuses on tight interpersonal relationships using massive exterior conflicts as the backdrop. That was the template Joss Whedon came up with, and it was massively effective,” Way told CBR News. “What that forces me to do is boil an interaction or scene down to just a critical element, then cut to the next character and the next location. Because it’s a team book, everybody on the team is a marquee character. You want to make sure everybody get’s time and I think the story I came up with fits the bill. So it’s a different experience writing a team book. Instead of sticking with one character from point A to point Z, you have other characters pitching in, helping out and getting involved. It keeps things more kinetic and is a lot of fun to write.”
When the Scarlet Witch used her reality altering powers to drastically reduce the number of mutants in the Marvel Universe it had the inverse side effect of swelling the ranks of the X-Men as more and more mutants turned to membership in the team as a form of protection. For his run on “Astonishing,” Way has assembled a small cast of characters, however, including several veteran A-List X-Men and one fan favorite character who is still sort of a rookie.
“We have Wolverine, Cyclops, Emma Frost and Armor. This is my first time writing Wolverine as part of a team and that’s been interesting. With Cyclops, he’s sort of got his balls back in recent years and it’s been great writing him. And Emma Frost is an incredibly complex character. I love writing Emma. She’s so cold but at the same time she’s very deep, emotionally,” Way explained. “Then you have Armor – what’s great about her involvement is she’s the newbie on the team. You get to see a lot through her eyes and get to her experience her sense of wonder. Some pretty huge things get dealt with in this story. They may be old hat to the X-Men who have done it all and seen it all, but it’s all very new to her. So you get things from a not quite so jaded perspective.”
Indeed, Armor will have much to see and experience when the X-Men arrive on Monster Island, because Way and Pearson plan to thoroughly explore their strange and fantastic setting. “We’re going to make the most of it. We’re not holding back with this. When you’ve got Jason Pearson as your artist, you want to make sure you give him the chance to blow people’s doors off, so I asked him what he wanted to draw?” Way remarked. “Together we came up with some cool stuff. We’ve got mostly Kirby monsters, but there are a couple of Ditko ones in there. Plus, Monster Island has got some great locales, like underground subterranean areas and a massive volcano. Also, some of the action takes place in Tokyo and other locations in Japan, and some stuff happens out in the Pacific Ocean.”
Way’s story begins with the X-Men attending a funeral in Japan. When horrified giant monsters begin coming ashore from nearby Monster Island, the team is forced to investigate. Their arrival on the island will bring them face to face with a villain they weren’t expecting. “We meet the villain on the first page of the first issue, so it’s not a big surprise who it’s going to be. It’s going to be a big surprise, though, that this character is able to cause so much havoc. The big bad guy behind this whole thing is actually Mentallo,” Way revealed. “He’s a character with some psionic abilities, but he’s just been kind of a jobber. He’s been slugging it out in the minor leagues for so long that he’s ready to make the big jump and in this story he picks a big target.”
The supporting cast of Way’s story will include a plethora of monsters and some unscrupulous humans looking to exploit what’s happening on Monster Island for monetary gain. “When you do a story on a Monster Island, it pretty much begs the question of, will the Mole Men play a role ? That was something I asked about, but evidently there are some plans for that character. I think we already had enough going on that we didn’t really need him involved,” Way explained. “However, Roxxon Oil does have some interest in what’s going on and does play a role in this story.”
Thematically, Way’s story is about family and what you’ve got to do to protect it. For tone, the writer looked to the films of a Japanese studio famous for its movies involving giant monsters. “In the first paragraph of art direction I basically told Jason that I wanted to do a Toho film, but with a James Cameron style budget,” Way revealed. “We’re going to go completely nuts with this. You’ll see a lot of big art.”
If fans respond to the X-Men’s foray onto Monster Island, Way would love to write more stories for “Astonishing X-Men.” “I’ve been having a great time so far. If people dig it and Marvel digs it I’d love to do some more – especially if Jason was still into it,” the writer remarked. “Jason has done covers for my books and we’ve been wondering for years when we we’re going to work together. Now the stars have finely aligned, it’s happening and we’re having a blast.”