The struggle of Marvel Comics X-Men characters truly is a universal one. That’s because in two different universes the super powered mutants that make up the X-Men still strive to protect a world that hates and fears them. These worlds are similar in some ways and very different in others.
In the Marvel Universe the X-Men are the next stage in evolution and have recently returned from the brink of extinction. Now that their darkest hour is over they face a new challenge: figuring out the future of mutantkind and how it can peacefully co-exist with a fearful and paranoid humanity. The mutants of the Ultimate Universe in “Ultimate Comics X-Men” are not the next stage of evolution. They were created by an experiment conducted by the U.S. government, but they still have to deal with the forces of fearful and bigoted humanity. In fact, humanity’s crusade against the Ultimate U’s mutants recently intensified when word leaked out about mutantkind’s true origins.
This June, acclaimed writer Brian Wood will begin to enjoy the unique experience of writing both of these X-Men teams at the same time when he takes over the writing duties of both “Ultimate Comics X-Men” and “X-Men.” Wood’s run on the books was announced today at the “Marvel: The Next Big Thing” panel at the WonderCon Convention 2012 in Anaheim, California and CBR News spoke exclusively with him about his plans for the titles.
CBR News: Brian, you have a long history with Marvel’s mutant titles having written “Generation X” in the early 2000s, and you returned to them a few months ago with your current “Wolverine & the X-Men: Alpha & Omega” limited series. Now you’re about to take over two very different X-Men books. I think it’s fair to say that you have an affinity for Marvel’s mutant characters. What is about the idea of the X-Men and mutants in general that make them so compelling to you as a writer?
Brian Wood: It’s probably nothing that any other writer doesn’t feel, or any reader for that matter. The struggle of the X-Men in society is analogous to so many things we have experienced, or can relate to: race, gender, sexual orientation, the trials of youth, and so on. It’s very accessible, and very easy to tap into as a writer. And like all timeless themes, it can be re-told in so many ways and always feel compelling.
When I started working with Marvel again last year, I was open to whatever but really wanted to write the mutants again, I really feel that’s my home. “Generation X” was a lifetime ago, or feels like it, and it was my first-ever professional writing job and I think it influenced me more than I realize. It was 1999 or 2000, as I recall. I’m really excited to be back.
One of the things that make “Ultimate Comics X-Men” & “X-Men” so different are the worlds of each book. Let’s talk a little bit about the world of “Ultimate Comics X-Men.” It’s a nightmarish one where mutants are being rounded up, imprisoned, and killed. What’s it like writing the X-Men against this back drop? Is it harder for them to be heroic in this world where survival is such a struggle? Or does the adolescent nature of the book’s teen cast mean they’re a bit more idealistic?
The world that exists right now in the Ultimate books is everything you just said, but if you know anything of my past work you know these are themes I’ve dealt with before. I can bring something to the table here, a certain POV that I think will work really well. At its core it’s still the same mutant/human conflict, but the stakes are incredibly high and with the Ultimate line having more leeway than 616, you can really push it to the edge, and over the edge. With my stories, I’m looking forward to having them push back against this repression in a major way — not just in one-on-one cases but as a collective whole, a unified mutant push for freedom, for safety, for basic human rights. For the right to be a mutant and live free. What’s happening to them now is essentially a genocide, an ethnic cleansing.
And yeah, the cast is young in years but not in experience. And certainly not after seeing all they’ve seen. Hard to be idealistic when you see your kind facing extermination.
Since we’re on the topic of the teen cast writer Nick Spencer brought together in the first arc of “Ultimate Comics X-Men,” let’s discuss them. What do you find most interesting about Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Johnny Storm, Jimmy Hudson, and Bobby Drake?
I’m finding my own voices for them. These are characters who are so well known and loved, its delicate work handling them, keeping what’s iconic about them but figuring out how to fit them into these stories. Kitty is the focus of my run, she’s the lead character, and to a slightly lesser extent so is Jimmy Hudson. But the cast will revolve around Kitty as she takes this core group out of the tunnels of NYC and into the fight, literally. You’ll see her grow into something you’ve never seen her as, ever.
Nick Spencer didn’t just bring these characters together, he also set up a world full of mysteries like why so many “dead” mutants seem to be appearing alive and well. What was it like taking over the book from Nick? Are you interested in tackling some of the mysteries he set up right away or do you want to deepen these mysteries and let them grow for awhile?
It’s tricky, because based on what I’ve seen, Nick was taking a real longview with his plotting, seeding things that were not likely to be resolved for years, probably. My job, as it was given to me and also as per my own instincts, is to re-focus the book and re-establish the core cast and get it in line with what’s happening in the “Ultimates” and “Ultimate Spider-Man.” The Ultimate universe is tight, we’re all working really closely together to make sure our plots line up and reflect each other and adhere to a common timeline.
The longterm stuff that Nick set up will take a breather for a little bit while we take care of that immediate business.
Speaking of immediate plans, “Ultimate Comics X-Men” #13 hits in June. What’s your first issue all about?
We start off with a Kitty-centric issue to re-introduce her — its been many months since she’s been front and center, and as I kick off my run my first order of business is to establish her as my lead. And also to give her a mission, and essentially she is fed up with hiding from the world. The worse it gets out there in the world the less she can stomach just lying low and doing nothing. From that point on you’ll see an extremely proactive Kitty Pryde, one determined to lead the group into the locus of the conflict. You’ll also see a more “out” Kitty in terms of her identity as a mutant, and her willingness to challenge the forces against her kind out in the open and for the world to see. I hesitate to get into too much detail before I even start, but this should give you a good idea of the tone of it all.
Let’s move on to you work in the Marvel Universe with “X-Men.” What do you feel is the mandate of this book? What types of stories are you interested in telling?
I’m departing a bit from what Victor Gischler’s been doing. Frankly, I couldn’t do what Victor does and it’s not what an editor would hire me for anyway. I come from a background different from most comic book writers and I don’t have the same breadth of knowledge regarding characters and continuity. I come in pretty fresh and research as needed, and that’s going to make for a different sort of X-Men title.
The goal I’ve given myself here is to take the “security team” label I’ve seen associated with this book and really explore that, really run it out to its fullest potential. They won’t just be interacting with known villains, but be taking the mutant/human conflict out to its bleeding edge, all over the world, taking on missions that will be very grounded. I’ve always responded best to the X-Men stories that had humanity itself as the threat.
You’ve got an interesting cast for these stories: Storm, Psylocke, Colossus, Domino and Pixie. What made you want to include these characters in this series? And how would you describe the initial dynamic between them?
This is the pre-existing cast save for a couple tweaks: Warpath is out, Pixie is in, and Jubilee was taken off by editorial. So on balance not that much has changed, but my concern was to make sure I had a team of characters with complimentary powers that covered a lot of bases with no overlap. Like any sort of “security team” would have, a guy that does this, another who is an expert in something else, and so on. I don’t see myself changing the characters in any way that would disrupt the existing dynamic, but I am interested in writing Pixie — I think she’s fascinating. Her history is vast, complex, and the powers she has have a load of potential.
For your initial story, which kicks off in “X-Men” #30, you’re pitting your cast against a newly discovered, centuries old, mutant race. What can you tell us about these characters? What makes them good adversaries for your cast?
I think their mere existence alone is pretty interesting. I call them the neanderthals to us modern humans, a “proto” race of mutants that predated those we know, and are entirely connected, genetically. They lived and died out centuries ago. It’s a huge, huge revelation, not only because it gives the mutants a much longer history than they thought, it also gives them a greater “claim” to the world than they had — it reduces the argument some might have that mutants don’t belong in society or are otherwise freaks or aberrations. And what can these proto-mutants tell us about modern mutants? Is there a future race of mutants yet to come, that are much further refined? These proto-mutants are primitive, crude, and more elemental in their powers.
As far as being adversaries, I think the big question is why are they back. if this is an extinct race, how have they returned?
Going forward, what types of adversaries are you interested in featuring”X-Men?” Will you be using established characters or creating new ones? And will the team be limited to X-Men adversaries or can we expect them face a wide range of Marvel Universe threats?
In both books, I think the biggest conflicts will be from the threats that come from humans. Personally, I’ve always related best to the X-Men stories where the mutants are at odds with society rather than merely at odds with a villain. This is not to say I’m not writing villains, but my focus will be on that human/mutant conflict and what that says about all of us. Core X-Men themes at play, here.
We’ve talked quite a bit about story and character, so let’s finish up by talking about your artists. David Lopez will be bringing to life your “X-Men” scripts and Paco Medina will draw your teen heroes in “Ultimate Comics X-Men.” What do you feel are the primary artistic strengths of each? And what’s it like working with Paco who has been part of “Ultimate Comics X-Men” since its first arc?
It always takes me a little while to figure out the answer to a question like that, because I really try and study an artist’s work and their way of working, to better tweak my scripts to match. In other words, I write to the strengths of the artists (like so many other writers do as well). David and Paco are super talented and enthusiastic. I want to give them great scripts to write and find the best way to collaborate over the long term. As an artist myself, I’m sensitive about it. I don’t ever want to come off indifferent to them or overbearing in how I write what they are meant to draw.
Wood’s “X-Men” #30 and “Ultimate Comics X-Men” #13 both arrive in June.