Despite what the movies would have you believe, being a mutant isn’t all about being super model good looking and possessing awesome super powers that inevitably bring you into contact with other good looking mutants. Every so often, you find yourself hunted, tortured and likely murdered for simply possessing a unique strand of DNA that gives you these powers, and Marvel Comics‘ X-Men are about to go for that ride once more. After the mysterious M-Day (in which Scarlet Witch reduced the mutant population to 198), X-Men and X-villains alike have been worried about their future as a species. As announced earlier at Wizard World LA, this June brings readers a new X-event entitled “Endangered Species” that deals quite squarely with the future of mutantkind. Spearheading the event is writer Mike Carey, who spoke with CBR News about the “Endangered Species” one-shot and the basics of the extended story that follows it.
“The ‘Endangered Species’ one-shot ships in June, and then from July to October
we’ll have the ‘Endangered Species’ back-up stories in ‘X-Men,’ ‘Uncanny,’ ‘New
X-Men’ and ‘X-Factor,'” explained Carey to CBR News. “And what it’s about… well, it’s about death, basically. One of the few things we’ve all got in common, but something which, when it comes, we all face alone. In the one-shot we join the X-Men – and I’m using that term in its inclusive sense, because there’ll be characters from most of the X-books present – at a funeral. It’s the funeral of a mutant. And we get to see their reactions not just to this individual death but to the species extinction they’re now facing. It’s a double-length story, and it had me exploring some aspects of these characters and their relationships that had never come up in the monthly book – I mean, not when I was writing it anyway.
“The back-up stories – also collectively titled Endangered Species – function as a lead-in to the X-verse crossover event that’s coming at the end of this year. They’re setting the stage, in a lot of different ways, and moving the crisis that we’ve finally acknowledged in the X-Men Annual and the one-off on into a new phase. I think readers will have a sense of gathering pace and momentum as the start of the crossover gets closer. Then in November the crossover itself gets going– and it comes up like thunder.”
Fans have also learned someone, or something, is leading a strike force to eliminate mutants, which brings to mind the classic “Mutant Massacre” crossover, in which Gambit led the Marauders to slaughter lesser mutants. The Marauders were lead by Sinister and Gambit has been recently seen in his company, so…Mike, got some answers? “Well, we know that Sinister is somewhere off in the wings, plotting something big. But we don’t know even the shape of what that something might be yet,” Carey teased. “I’ve always liked Sinister as a villain. I prefer him to Apocalypse by a long way, because (appearance aside) he’s more understated, more subtle, and therefore more genuinely scary. I also find his backstory genuinely fascinating, whereas Apocalypse’s is maybe a bit over-involved now. And anyone who could put together a team like the Marauders, and then ride herd on them, has just got to have the baddest ass in ass-dom. I like the way Sinister weaves his way in and out of everyone else’s story – there in the background, not noticed until you start putting two and two together. He’s very much the grey eminence of the X-verse.
“Gambit is a very cool character, too, and one that I’m very much looking forward to getting my hands on. I think his personal odyssey has taken some curious turns in recent years, but what we’re going to see this year and next is a restatement of what made him such a fascinating character in the first place. Kind of a rebirth, in some ways at least. But not a ret-con or a re-invention.”
Also playing a major role will be Beast, one of the original X-Men and their own resident scientific genius. Carey says that Hank McCoy is one of his favorites and when asked why, explained, “I can give you an answer, but it’s only going to be a partial answer. There’s just something about Hank that really works for me. Maybe it’s the tension between his animal strength and appearance and the fine, cultured mind that lies beneath. Or maybe it’s just that I can get behind the idea of a scientist hero (I’m a big Reed Richards fan too). You know, now that I think about it, it’s probably because of my atheist, rationalist world view: Hank is the post-Enlightenment superman par excellence.
“And having said that, oh man are we going to put his cool detachment to the test. In Endangered Species he’s pushing himself to the limit trying to find a solution to mutant extinction – and ‘the limit’ is going to lie way, way outside his comfort zone.”
This event has been planned for quite some time by the editors and writers in Marvel X-Office, growing out of the previous event (“House Of M”) that led to the reduced mutant population. Carey explained, “It began in June of 2006, on day two of the Marvel retreat. We were talking about the X-books crossover and how we wanted to approach it, and the seeds were planted there for some stories that would bring out and explore some of the darker consequences of House of M. I started to nudge these things into the light in the Annual back in January, and ‘Endangered Species’ brings them right to the fore.”
However, the rest of the Marvel universe aren’t going to be sharing the spotlight. “This is an X-Men only event, by invitation,” said Carey. “There will be some MU guest stars in the ‘Endangered Species’ stories, but not in the crossover itself.”
While Carey is no stranger to epic stories, as his DC Comics/Vertigo series “Lucifer” proves, this is his first superhero crossover and they’re quite a different beast from anything else in the industry. The scribe has no complaints thus far and even offered a tale of a chicken sandwich gone wrong. “It’s been great – but I don’t know if that’s a typical experience. It’s worth pointing out that this is a very self-contained event as crossovers go. It only involves four books: it has no tie-ins to other monthlies, no manufactured spin-offs. So the five writers – me, Ed, Craig, Chris and Peter – along with our respective editors, have been in the driving seat throughout the planning stages. I think sometimes with bigger, company-wide events, for logistical reasons the coordinating role has to be taken by someone higher up the ladder, and individual creators can find themselves having to incorporate story elements that don’t make a huge amount of sense in terms of their own book and their own characters. This isn’t like that at all. And the beauty of it is that because we started planning so far in advance, we’ve all in our different ways been converging on the big story, so that when we launch into the crossover it’s going to seem like the most natural, most inevitable thing in the world.
“As for embarrassing stories, well, for some reason all the jokes that come up at these things are spectacularly obscene, and I wouldn’t want to offend your readership. I remember talking about the movie ‘Brick’ with Ed Brubaker, while Jim McCann was eating stuffed chicken right next to us. Ed made a reference which was, well, unfortunate in context, and Jim sadly pushed his plate away with the remark that he’d never be able to look at stuffed chicken in the same way again.
“I also remember hitting a question about X-Men continuity that nobody in the room could resolve. So we called Tom Brevoort, who just came up with the answer off the top of his head. Scary. I think in his teens Tom was bitten by a radioactive Wikipedia.”
Carey also doesn’t feel intimidated launching the very first crossover of his career, complete with arguably the biggest franchise players in comic, one of the most devoted group of fans in comics and… well Mike are you feeling pressured now? “Nah, I’m beyond being pressured or intimidated now,” said Carey. “I’m in a dangerously over-confident stage. Tomorrow I’ll be a quivering wreck again, but for now… look on my works, ye mighty, and give me props.”
The latter hasn’t been a problem for Carey, as his work on “X-Men” has been well-received by critics and fans alike, an oddity for any X-Men writer. It’s not unreasonable to wonder when the other shoe might drop, but Carey isn’t worrying about the bad-he’s enjoying the success. “Yeah, I do feel like I’ve had a spectacularly positive journeyman year. And it’s true that I was scared at the outset as to how my frankly weird take on an X-team would be received. X-Men fans are passionate and vocal and they maintain a large net-presence. But as yet, very few of them want me dead, and my ‘hate mail’ folder remains empty except for those occasional notes from my mom-in-law.”
Joining Carey on the “Endangered Species” one-shot is artist Scot Eaton, hand picked by editor Andy Schmidt and a perfect choice in Carey’s book. “Scott was the first artist Andy approached, and we were all really delighted when he said yes. His range and experience are so huge, I don’t think there are many projects he couldn’t roll up his sleeves and take on, but this book in particular – because emotional and character beats are so much at the heart of it – requires an artist who can handle the nuances of facial expression and body language without dropping a stitch. Well, Scott’s go to be high on the shortlist, hasn’t he? I think he’s going to be absolutely stellar on this.”
In many ways, “Endangered Species” goes back to the core of the X-Men’s origins-people feared and mistrusted simply because they are different. People struggling to define themselves as more than just outward differences or in spite of existing prejudices. “Well I was talking a while back about ‘Children of Men,'” explained Carey. “In that movie, the human birth rate has dropped to zero and people are having to cope with the fact that they’re the last generation of homo sapiens. Nothing to come after them but a long, strained silence. And when I watched it, I was struck by the analogy with global warming. We’re all of us looking now into a future that might not have people as a part of it. Okay, we’re talking five or six generations rather than one, but there’s a real possibility now that our own actions may change the planet in ways that make it too hostile an environment for us to survive in.
“You could, if you wanted to, see Endangered Species as another exploration of that same set of ideas. On a personal level, our own mortality is a conundrum that we can never quite get our heads around. You know, on one level, that you’re not going to live forever, but you cope with it by not thinking about it. Or you brood on it, occasionally, but it’s impossible to imagine your own consciousness snuffed out. Now try to multiply that by seven billion. Imagine this world-spanning civilisation shutting up shop. The lights going out all over the world. It beggars the imagination.
“But maybe somewhere in between the one and the seven billion it finds a level where we can face it. Two hundred unique beings, staring into the abyss. And the abyss staring right back at them.”
With some fans feeling burned out by all the “events” of late, they may be tempted to only buy “core” titles from this crossover, but Carey maintains they’re all essential-and affordable. “There aren’t very many chapters at all, in absolute terms, and every one
is part of the core story. I repeat – no tie-ins, no spin-offs. It’s all meat. And it’s the culmination – the climax – of everything that’s happened in the X-verse since ‘House of M.’ This is where it all happens.”
The issue of procreation has come up in the X-Men titles since “M-Day,” as no mutant children have been born, leaving the existing mutant population quite worried about their future. Some readers wonder if two mutants could still give birth to another-such as Cyclops, the X-Man who seems to have lots of mutie kids from other realities- and while another Summers hellion might be cool, Carey said not to expect anything. “There’s no guarantee. Human genetics is a lot more complicated than Mendel’s model (which I think was based on the flowering pea), and it’s often very hard to know in advance which genes are going to be expressed in any one child, even if you know the complete genomes of both parents.
“More importantly, though, there’s a little-known fact about “red-line taxa” – the environmentalists’ term for endangered species. Once they die out past a certain point, it’s not just a numbers game any more. Even if all the surviving members of the species start reproducing like mad, there isn’t enough diversity left in the gene pool to resurrect the species. Their decline has become irrevocable. Well, two hundred is way past that point.
“Of course, in the case of human mutants, you could in the past rely on a certain number of mutant children being born to human parents. But Wanda’s ‘no more mutants’ edict has suppressed that. It’s not going to happen. Homo superior has hit the wall.”
While the announcement of “Endangered Species” caused a lot of excitement among fans, some have wondered when Marvel’s Merry Mutants will catch a break. It seems as though mutants are always facing some new threat each day and one has to worry about their resultant mental state. “They get their moments in the sun,” said Carey. “But it’s true that the moments mostly tend to be separated by danger, pain, imminent death and many different flavours of fear and loathing. Let’s not forget Chris Claremont’s recipe for a good team book. I’m paraphrasing here, but I think he said ‘take a bunch of basically likeable people and put them through hell.’ But there’s a sense in which you don’t go to superhero comics to learn about human nature in the ordinary range of situations: you want to see what human nature is like when it’s tested almost all the way to destruction.”
With few exceptions, X-Men fans are known as some of the most devoted and passionate readers around, with a voracious appetite for continuity and their characters. So CBR had to ask Carey, as the devoted X-Fan he is, what would be his complaint about the one-shot? “Probably ‘Damn it, why hasn’t Wolverine killed anyone yet?'” he laughed.
Finally, with all this talk about death and extinction, CBR News decided to lighten things up, appealing to the inner geek and posed Carey some classic X-Fan questions.
If Wolverine and Sabretooth fight to the death, who wins? “Got to be Wolverine. If he’s the best there is at what he does, then Sabretooth can only place second or lower. That’s just logical.”
And if the same occurred between the Summers brothers Havok and Cyclops, “Havok wins because Cyke stops fighting at the crucial point – but Cyke gets the moral victory, as always.”
Why aren’t there more ugly mutants? “Someone came up with a great explanation for this on my blog. It’s because of sexual selection, which runs parallel to natural selection and modifies its effects. A gene that makes its owner drop-dead gorgeous has a much better chance of spreading through a population. Of course, ideals of beauty change over time, so the human race as a whole hasn’t been evolving consistently towards movie star good looks – but the X-gene expresses itself in a spectacular array of different traits, and one of its subtler effects is that it makes mutants measurably hotter than homo sapiens. Except for Mammomax, god rest him.”