In Marvel Comics’ Ultimate Universe, Charles Xavier’s dream of peaceful co-existence between man and mutant died with him. In the wake of Xavier’s death, the world learned that the Ultimate Universe’s mutant population were the results of a man-made experiment, which led the fearful and angry humans to imprison, oppress and even execute mutants. Some mutants fled to Tian, a floating city sanctuary in Southeast Asia that eventually came under the control of former X-Man Jean Grey. However, the mutants trapped in the United States were forced to fight for their freedom. Thanks to the resistance movement formed by Kitty Pryde, they were awarded their own mutant enclave in the Southwest United States dubbed “Utopia.”
Writer Brian Wood began his run on “Ultimate Comics X-Men” with the story of how Kitty and her friends formed their resistance movement and won their current home. His subsequent arcs have detailed the struggles Kitty and her fellow mutants have faced in developing Utopia and attempts to resurrect Xavier’s dream of a peaceful co-existence with the human world that surrounds their homeland. In “Ultimate Comics X-Men” #29, Wood and artist Alvaro Martinez embroiled Kitty and her fellow mutants in their biggest struggle yet — Jean Grey has decided that there’s only room for one mutant nation in the Ultimate Universe and has directed her forces to destroy Utopia.
CBR News spoke with Wood about the upcoming “World War X” arc — his final as series writer — and SOMETHING SOMETHING SOMETHING DARK SIDE.
CBR News: Brian, In “Ultimate Comics X-Men” #29″ you kicked off “World War X” and fired the first shots in a mutant versus mutant war. The combatants are Kitty Pryde’s Utopia and it’s residents, which want to co-exist peacefully with humanity, and Jean Grey’s Tian, which appears to be an isolationist mutant nation. At first glance it appears that the underlying conflict in “World War X” is the classic Professor X versus Magneto clash — only this time it’s played out as a conflict between nation states.
Brian Wood: It’s a valid comparison, and one that I had in mind for sure, but it’s not meant to be a direct mirrored situation. More of an “inspired by.” In the case of Jean and Tian, she desires a unified mutant population, and thinks that’s the only way to keep the aggressiveness of the anti-mutant humans at bay. Kitty and Utopia are far less militant and think that peace and balance are best achieved by being nonviolence and showing the world that mutants aren’t out to get them. It’s an interesting conflict, because the two sides aren’t polar opposites. They share the same goal; it’s just that one side is crazy extremist about how to get there. The other is well-meaning — possibly naive, but willing to take a chance on peace as a first and last option.
In your initial “Ultimate Comics X-Men” stories, you showed Kitty as a natural martial leader. Since then, she’s wrestled with not going on the offensive in various conflicts and bringing her people together. With the beginning of “World War X,” Kitty takes on the greatest test to her pacifist ideals and her vision of mutant unity. Is Kitty’s character arc the conflict between her past role as mutant revolutionary and her current one as legitimate figure of authority? What’s her state of mind going into issue #30?
She’s gotta make the call — and she will, soon — as to whether she can afford to be the pacifist she’s been striving for these last half dozen issues or so. This is why James Hudson has had such a hard time here — he’s wired for conflict. He’s literally built for battle. And time and time again, Kitty puts the kibosh on outright action in favor of pulling back and going the nonviolent route. And James had enough — we see that in #29 — and the question is, “How long can Kitty maintain her ideology?” Is there a breaking point where she needs to go on the offensive? Can she do that without making all her efforts to date seem hypocritical? The question is, rather, how can she do that without being a hypocrite? Because — this arc is called “World War X.” War’s a-comin’.
Let’s talk a little bit about Kitty’s opponent, Jean Grey. On the final page of issue #29, we see Jean burning with Phoenix power. In the Ultimate Universe, the Phoenix entity is a passionate and often malevolent force. Is Jean’s aggressive behavior towards Utopia because she’s in the grip of the Phoenix entity? Or is something else going on?
The Phoenix is showing itself here and there — I’ve been cautious with it. I think it’s far more interesting to have it be her “dark passenger” than some full-blown manifestation, at least for now. Jean’s behavior can be explained a couple different ways: the Phoenix, and the simple and timeless fact that “power corrupts.” She runs Tian since the deaths of Xorn and Zorn. Maybe it’s all just gone to her head, could it be that simple? If she, like Kitty, is putting all her energies to protecting the mutant race, how tough will she get?
As you mentioned, another interesting player in “World War X” is Jimmy Hudson, who appeared to switch allegiances from Kitty to Jean Grey at the end of “Ultimate Comics X-Men” #29. Is Jimmy’s defection is genuine or has he embarked upon his own personal espionage mission against Tian? Spoilers aside, can you discuss Jimmy’s motivation here? How did Cullen Bunn’s “Ultimate Comics Wolverine” miniseries impact the character?
Well, Jimmy (or James as I’ve been trying to call him now, with mixed results) has always been a sort of odd-man-out under Kitty’s leadership. She strives for peace and compromise, but he’s a mutant seemingly built for one purpose: battle. For a while, he felt he could find a useful role as a sort of back room enforcer, the muscle behind Kitty’s words, and for a while he was, but as time goes on he’s started to feel less crucial to Utopia as it has thrived. As we can see, he’s sort of thrown in the towel with the pacifists in Utopia and gone to where the action is: Jean Grey and Tian: where his unique talents can be put to use. I don’t think this makes him a villain — I think probably in his mind Utopia and Tian merely have different approaches to a common goal, but maybe that’s naive of him to assume that.
One thing I’ve tried to keep in mind while writing this is: these characters are human, as in fallible, and also rather young. So they can do contrary things, they can change their minds, they can make dumb mistakes, and so on. I think it’s too common amongst comics’ readers to find perfect logic in everything a character does, but it’s not realistic to expect that of a character. In the case of Jimmy, he’s probably making a stupid mistake, but it’s a move he feels he had no choice but to make.
Another potential wild card in the conflict between Utopia and Tian is Nomi Blume. In issue #29, she’s seen defending Utopia from an attack by the Tian-based mutant Farbird. Is Nomi’s loyalty is ultimately to Utopia, the mutant homeland she helped forge? Did Farbird’s attack help enforce that loyalty or has it made her start to question it?
Nomi is very young, only about 14, and while I regret not having the time or space to really get into this subplot, her motivation for being “against” Kitty was teenage jealousy. She wants to seem as awesome as Kitty and the others are, as she was one of the young ones in the Morlock tunnels under NYC. So, she makes the extraordinary effort to follow the others out west, alone, and prove to them she is as capable as they are. When she feels they are not sufficiently awed by her own awesomeness, she gets angry, hurt and resentful, and this fuels the antagonism we saw for about a dozen issues. But while she’s sort of a brat at times, she’s capable and has a great power set. Once she’s able to prove that, and finds a way to integrate herself into the main group, its better. She really helps out, and for now, buries the hatchet with Kitty. When it comes down to it, she can shelve her emotions for the sake of the greater good.
We also saw the Tian-based mutants of Derek Grant and Liz Allen in “Ultimate Comics X-Men” #29. Will Derek and Liz play a significant role in “World War X?” What do you find most interesting about their characters?
They play a role for sure — I think in time they’ll play a greater role, but for this arc here, they are a check and balance against Jean Grey’s extremism.
Now that the opening shots have been fired in “World War X,” what else can you tease about the plot and themes of this story? Ultimately, what is it about?
At its core, it’s a story about conflicting ideologies and unchecked egos. Jean’s major malfunction is that she sees Tian, with her as its leader, as the one and truly proper mutant homeland. She sees upstart Kitty over there in Utopia, getting headlines and stirring up trouble and, basically, stealing her thunder. She thinks she can fold Utopia into Tian, and create a single mutant nation that will be stronger. And she believes in this so much that she thinks violence used to bring about this unification is totally justified. The protection of the mutant population as a whole is more important than whatever individuals she has to knock around to get it done.
Kitty, along with the rest of the Utopians, have literally built their homeland with their own two hands and spilled blood to defend it, so while they have no beef with Tian, there’s no way they’re going to be “folded in” to anything. Utopia is their home, period, even if it’s not perfect and amazing like Tian. Mutants should be free to live wherever and however they want.
We saw a bit of that tension in the previous arc, and here it explodes into open conflict.
Are there any other major players in “World War X” that might get some page time?
Colossus. That’s all I’ll say. Well, actually, there’s a sort of alter ego to one of the other main characters that’ll come out for the first time in my run.
Artist Alvaro Martinez came on to illustrate this arc. What can we expect from his work on the remaining chapters of “World War X?” What do you feel are his major artistic strengths?
He’s a guy I had never heard of (my fault) and now he’s one of my favorite artists. His work is much more literal and realistic than Mahmud Asrar, who came before him, and at first I found that a bit jarring to the eye — but it was just a matter of me adjusting the writing to match it. His action sequences are amazing, as are his backgrounds. I keep trying to challenge him with bigger and grander scenes. Right now we’re working on issue #33, the end chapter, and I literally can’t wait to see the final pages.
Finally, “World War X” feels like it’s your biggest arc of “Ultimate Comics X-Men” to date. What is your grand overview of the tone, scope, and scale of this arc?
It’s the biggest in the sense that it has the most action and resolutions and pivotal events, yeah. It’s also the arc I’m ending my run with, so I guess that explains that! But like with a lot of my other books, I consider it just part of a larger arc — in this case the start of the Utopia-based stories, from #19 onwards. #19-33 is a complete story, that of Kitty Pryde and the formation and survival of Utopia. I hope there’s a complete hardcover!
“Ultimate Comics X-Men” #30 is in stores now.