This June, Marvel’s exploration of its most expansive franchise’s earliest days expands into an All-New, All-Different direction in the form of “Uncanny X-Men: First Class.” Announced this weekend at San Francisco’s WonderCon, the ongoing series picks up in the place of Jeff Parker’s currently wrapping “X-Men: First Class Finals” series by spinning new stories not of the original five X-Men but of the fledgling international X-Men who debuted in 1975’s “Giant-Size X-Men” #1. At the helm of the series stands New Zealand native and current British resident Scott Gray, who American readers might recognize from Marvel’s monster-heavy “Fin Fang Four” comics which he wrote with fellow New Zealander artist Roger Langridge. Still, with his first ongoing series set in the Marvel U, Gray holds big plans, and he told CBR all about his take on the second generation of X-Men, the villains he’ll be pulling in and the fan favorite artist who joins him on the series.
CBR: Before we dive into the series itself, I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about how you landed this gig. Some fans will obviously be aware of your work with Roger Langridge, but has branching out into the rest of the Marvel U been something you’ve been hoping to do for a while?
Scott Gray: Oh yeah, I was a Marvel baby from Day One! I grew up in New Zealand in the 1970s, when absolutely every Marvel title was available, and every British weekly comic too. The first comic I collected was “The Mighty World of Marvel,” a weekly from Marvel UK that reprinted the [Stan] Lee/[Jack] Kirby “Fantastic Four” and the Lee/ [Steve] Ditko “Amazing Spider-Man.” So I got a classical comics education right from the start! I’ve been living in England since the early ’90s, working in the comics industry in a number of guises I wrote the “Doctor Who” comic strip for eight or nine years, and have edited a line of Marvel reprint titles for Panini Comics UK. I even got to resurrect “The Mighty World of Marvel!” Panini also publish British-originated Marvel stories in a couple of titles: “Spectacular Spider-Man Adventures” and “Marvel Heroes.” I recently had a crack at writing some Iron Man and Hawkeye stories, and it kind of whetted my appetite to do more.
Producing the “Fin Fang Four” with Roger Langridge has been a fantastic experience. Roger was asked by editor Nate Cosby to write some Captain America stories for the “Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes” title, and I think he suggested my name to Nate for some additional writing work. So thanks, Roger, my first-born is in the post. Nate liked what I did with Cap, and one day casually asked me if I knew anything about the X-Men. I said “Sure!” thinking that he probably wanted to find out where to put the apostrophe in “Shi’ar” or something. But no! Instead he asked me to pitch him some ideas for “Uncanny X-Men: First Class,” which I very quickly did, and, Gods of the Earth and Air, here we are!
While in general, people working on books like “First Class” are traveling on some pretty hallowed ground, picking up and telling new stories during the advent of the All-New, All-Different X-Men must be an exciting and somewhat nerve-wracking task. What’s been your guiding principal on jumping into such a classic run and telling new stories?
My mantra is a simple one: “Don’t screw this up.” Yeah, “exciting and nerve-wracking” is a good way to describe this. I’m adding new stories to a period of Marvel history that is sacred ground to a million comics fans, and I’m aware of that. I really want to do something worthy of that original run of “Uncanny X-Men.” That comic changed the way comics were done, pure and simple. I was there when it started I distinctly remember plunking my 25 cents down for “Uncanny” #94, opening it and wondering, hey, who are all these new guys? But the All-New X-Men claimed my heart very quickly, and for the next few years I was camping outside the newsagent the day before the next issue was due. I love the second generation X-Men, so my guiding principle is: be true to the characters. Treat ’em with respect. Make the stories personal, and exciting, and thought-provoking.
In a specific sense, where do we pick things up in this series? Are you diving right in after the events of “Giant-Size X-Men” #1, or does the book take place in a less specific timeframe than that?
We’re setting “UX:FC” soon after the M’Kraan Crystal saga in “Uncanny” #107-108. It’s a very interesting time for the X-Men – they’re still learning about each other at this point, and trying to work as a group. It’s actually the only time that the entire second generation team are all together, but we only caught a brief glimpse of that period in “Uncanny X-Men” before they got split up. So the line-up is Cyclops, Storm, Banshee, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Phoenix! Her presence instantly gives the title a different feel as we didn’t see her in action with the X-Men very much. Phoenix isn’t quite a team member, though. She’s living in Manhattan (with the world’s coolest roommate, Misty Knight), but she’ll be making regular appearances. The question is, can the X-Men work with a volatile super-telepath who’s still stretching her mental muscles?
The last First Class series dealt very much with the idea of Cyclops and the gang being teenagers who were going to school at the Xavier institute. When you’re working with Wolverine, Nightcrawler and the rest of the Wein/Cockrum/Claremont set, it seems that a change is needed as those characters were a bit older and their stories didn’t involve the school element as much. How will you be playing with/tweaking this idea in your series?
The first and second X-Men generations are very different animals. The original team were all about the same age, all American, all from similar backgrounds. They got on really well there was an instant camaraderie there, and they clicked as a team early on. The second generation are much older. They’re Canadian, Kenyan, Irish, German, Russian. They have dark pasts they’d like to forget. They’re all individuals. They have years of experience with their powers, but have never worked in a team before, so they don’t mesh nearly as well as the first group. So yes, there will be a change in tone from “X-Men: First Class” because the characters demand it. Xavier won’t be giving Wolverine any geography assignments. The adventures are still going to be fast-paced, global in scale and action-packed, but they will take a greater emotional toll on our heroes. These X-Men live in a larger, more dangerous world. But there’s still room for humor, of course anyone who thinks the New X-Men were all doom n’ gloom clearly never witnessed Storm’s epic battle with the egg salad in Iron Fist #15.
Digging into the characters, who have been the X-Men you’ve gravitated to/focused on the most out the gate? Are you planning on balancing time equally between the team within the issues, or are we going to be seeing a Storm issue here, a Colossus issue there, etc?
We’ll definitely be shining a spotlight on individual members, but this is a team book the stories will never be strictly solo adventures with none of the other characters in sight. Our opening story focuses on Nightcrawler, who immediately bamfed in front of me and demanded my attention. I’ve always loved the character. Kurt Wagner is a brilliantly heroic figure; noble, romantic, compassionate. But he has a face and body which gets the general public’s hackles rising. That sense of isolation, and the instant revulsion he can generate, must be heartbreaking for such a sociable man. So here he is, enjoying his new life in America, and one day something really nasty happens to him in New York. How does he react? Not too well, as you’ll see.
On the flipside of that, what kinds of villains have you been toying with? Some of the previous First Class writers have opted to use some of the seldom seen bad guys from X-Men history…what’s your take on who can show up?
Anyone is up for grabs, as long as they don’t poke giant holes in the X-canon. I don’t want to start mucking up the continuity, I’d much rather this comic was seen as a proper piece of the X-Men’s history. There’s someone I’m planning on resurrecting, but with a new appearance and outlook on life.
I think it’s important to give “UX:FC” its own identity, so it won’t just be one long trip down Memory Lane. I’ve got a bunch of ideas for new villains. The Knights of Hykon are coming soon! They’re a gigantic alien threat who have devastated countless worlds, and now they’re heading for Earth. But this isn’t an invasion…it’s something worse. The Knights have already had a huge impact on the X-Men, in a strange, hidden way that our heroes have yet to discover.
Overall, since this is an ongoing series, what do you plan on in terms of ongoing or long term storylines? Obviously, the First Class books are partially meant to be good access points for younger readers, but with so much strong serialized material as the backbone, how much will you be developing things long term/playing with major events from X-history like?
Like you said, the First Class titles are there to welcome new readers, so the stories will be punchy and concise. There won’t be any nine-part epics. I don’t really want to start basing entire storylines on previous X-Men plotlines. This comic will respect and reference what’s gone before, but you won’t need to know large amounts of X-history to enjoy it.
When it comes to long-term planning, I want to show the emotional development of the characters over the course of the series. When does Storm begin to trust people in general, and men in particular? Why do Nightcrawler’s religious convictions develop? When does Wolverine genuinely sign on to the X-Men and start believing in Xavier’s dream? All this stuff pretty much happened off-panel, but we can show it here. We can also plant plotlines that grow into big stories. I was always a sucker for the Mysterious Sub-Plot as a young Marvel fan. Who’s that guy standing in the shadows? What’s in that glowing box? Why has that town suddenly disappeared?! It’s a powerful tool to hold the readers’ interest, and I want to use it as often as possible!
Could you tell me about the artist you’re working with and what they contribute to making this series fit well alongside guys like Dave Cockrum and John Byrne?
When I found out who was drawing “UX:FC,” the news had me dancing around the house all day in a deeply embarrassing fashion. But I don’t care cos Roger Cruz is onboard!!! Roger provided the fantastic art for “X-Men: First Class” and I couldn’t be happier that he’s illustrating the next X-generation too. He has a beautiful, detailed, dynamic style that’s perfect for these characters. He’s interpreted Dave Cockrum’s designs and made them his own. This comic is gonna look amazing!
To wrap up, what else can you say about your very first story, and what’s got you most excited about it seeing print this summer?
As I said, the first story takes a good look into the heart and soul of Nightcrawler as he faces a major personal crisis. It also happens to feature the first encounter between the X-Men and the Inhumans! So what happens when two ultra-powerful groups of superhumans, unfamiliar with each other and both highly secretive, meet? Well, things start off pretty smoothly, but then go slightly downhill and finally plummet into an abyss of absolute disaster! Get ready for one seriously explosive battle.
What’s got me most excited about it? Well, there’s a Wolverine/Gorgon moment I’m really looking forward to seeing and a Nightcrawler/Colossus confrontation which should raise a few eyebrows. But listen, writing an X-Men comic is literally a childhood dream come true for me. EVERYTHING about this is exciting – heck, I can’t wait to see the staples!