Longtime fans of Marvel Comics’ “Uncanny X-Men” fondly remember the early ’90s. Back then, the book starred the X-Men’s “Gold Team”: Archangel, Colossus, Iceman, Jean Grey, Storm, and Professor X. Their adventures were chronicled by writers John Byrne and Scott Lobdell and featured the dynamic penciling of acclaimed artist Whilce Portacio. Eventually, the Gold Team’s ranks would grow by one when they encountered the time traveling mutant known as Bishop, a character designed by Portacio.
In 1992, Portacio left Marvel to help co-found Image Comics, where he would create the series “Wetworks.” In 1996, he returned to Marvel for a run on “Iron Man” during the “Heroes Reborn” era of the title, and in 2000 he drew a run on “X-Force.” Just this year, Portacio returned once again to the House of Ideas with a new art style designed to please his old fans and win him some new ones. Readers have been treated to hints of that style in February’s “Hulk” #18 and “Uncanny X-Men” #522, which is in stores now and features the return of Kitty Pryde. In July, they’ll get to see what Portacio can do with a longer story as he returns to the X-Universe first with penciling duties on the “Uncanny X-Men: The Heroic Age” one-shot before stepping onto “Uncanny” to pencil an entire arc from #526 to 529. CBR News spoke with the artist about his return to the book that helped launch his career and what people can expect from this run.
CBR News: So, after 16 years, how does it feel to be coming back to do not just an issue, but a story arc of “Uncanny X-Men?”
Whilce Portacio: It feels great – the best thing is, the team I know is still relatively intact. Every decision I have ever made about working on an X-book was predicated on working with the characters I grew up with, the original X-Men. In this case Scott, Warren, Bobby and Hank. And what an issue to start this new chapter of my relationship with the X-Men – the return of Kitty Pride to the team. Now, I have never really dealt with her, but I have an affinity to Peter, and bringing Kitty back allows for a more developed approach to Peter in future stories. So, in a true sense, even though there is a new status quo, not only for the X-Men, but for all mutants, coming back with this issue and this coming arc is very much like coming home for me.
As you mentioned, the X-Men cast still contains plenty of old favorites from when you were drawing the book, but it’s also grown quite a bit in recent years. As an artist, which of the newer characters do you find most interesting?
To tell you the truth, I can’t wait to get to know them all. After all these years in the industry, it is less and less about finding a character that I can easily think about what I might like to do with visually and it’s more and more getting to know the character first, and then figuring out what to do with them visually that goes hand in hand with their exact character; finding a look and feel that fits the actual make up of the character itself. So it’ll be a fun time getting to know as many of the “new” characters as they’ll let me.
On another note, most of my time with the team in the past has been with Warren when he was Archangel, so it’ll be interesting to feel my way with dealing with him as the original Angel.
The character that’s changed and grown the most since your time on the X-Books is probably Cyclops. Which of his qualities do you want to capture and emphasize in your art?
To me, the line that has always stuck in my mind to describe Scott was what Hank called him in an old Neal Adams issue of “Uncanny” – “our dauntless leader.” Scott has all the qualities, physical and mental (in terms of strategy) to be a leader, but, he just never actually wanted to be a leader. I always saw him as a guy who loved to figure out strategy and figure out how to deal with any situation because it was a puzzle to solve. He loved solving the puzzle; he just balked when he realized that that means you have to “boss” people around. I really think he sees giving command decisions as bossing people around and is uneasy about, in his mind, pushing people around, regardless of whether those people are counting on him to have the correct solution or not. Which is why, as much as I am personally attached to Jean Grey, he is an interesting match with Emma Frost.
She is a strong personality that you can argue doesn’t always makes the correct decisions all the time, but she is always sure of herself, right or wrong. Whereas Scott always doubts himself. Which I think is a great characteristic in a leader – flexibility, not to be locked into only one way. That is the path to being predictable and therefore to your future downfall. I wonder if Scott can learn from Emma how to make decisions. How to make a decision, and then if it is wrong, adjust. Don’t worry if it is wrong, just go with it…
In terms of art, with Scott’s new sense of command, I want to draw him more iconic. Maybe posing a little too much. Trying out the concept of the bold, confident leader…
In Uncanny X-Men #522 you employed a style that seemed to incorporate your signature elements of very detailed action, but it was also incredibly expressive. Can readers expect a similar style from you for your story arc that begins in July, or does the story call for a different approach?
As you can see with also the “Hulk” issue, I am, and have been recently in this frame of mind of hitting mood moments. I am still wrapped up in the whole epic visualness of superhero action, but you are right that I am more and more into smaller moments, which you can argue are really the big moments, especially being that these are superheroes, so epic action is a natural part of their lives. I have always loved writers that can write a good conversation. I actually enjoy reading natural conversations out loud, enacting them as I read. If I can read a written conversation and sense the emotions and motivations as I read it the first time through, then that to me is a conversation that is natural and can really happen. Those, I love.
The story in the coming arc, as it is unfolding for me, is grand and epic, and promises to take Scott and the team and the whole related mutant family to the “big” that I have always been drawn to artistically, yet still give me moments to flex my more subtle skills.
Speaking of your coming story, since it begins after “Second Coming” wraps, I imagine you can’t reveal too many plot details, but can you tell us what type of story this is? Is it an action packed tale or a more mysterious one? Does it involve Earth based elements, or does it pick up on the story that you and Matt Fraction told in #522, revealing more of what happened to Kitty Pryde while she was in space?
I’ve only seen the front end of this story so far, and that lead up promises a strong Scott and therefore a proactive team and story. I remember reading the first script the first time through and putting down the plot as though I had just read a great sci-fi novel. To me, that is a promise of big things to solve and overcome, with a heavy sense of emotional consequences in tow, which I think has always been a hallmark of a good “Uncanny” book. That emotional sense that it means something to these characters the situations they have to survive through.
I love drawing epic and fantastic situations, and also now more emotional scenes, Matt has a great grasp of both these worlds. I am constantly amazed with how he can handle so many characters with each of his plots. I myself would waste so much time just trying to figure out which character of this current cast of thousands would be just right for any particular scene. Also, you can sense in his plots that he actually visually “sees” his words, so to speak. That, I think, is the best skill set a writer can achieve; the ability to “see” how much “space” his words need to breathe in the visual world. I never feel constricted for space to properly “show” his words visually.
How many parts is your story arc on “Uncanny?, and when your story is finished, will you become part of the regular rotating art team on the book?
I think we’ll need more time to figure this one out. For the time being, I am handling it as if this is the only thing in front of me – in other words, I’m gonna thoroughly enjoy what time I have with these characters I have been so artistically involved with for so long.
I can’t think of a better art team than Edgar Tadeo on inks and Justin Ponsor on colors to carry me through this new adventure with Matt Fraction on the “Uncanny” team I love so much. Thanks to Axel Alonso and Nick Lowe for making it happen.