Quite easily, the biggest news to come out of Marvel Comics‘ “ReLoad” of the X-Men franchise is the new series entitled “Astonishing X-Men.” With writer Joss Whedon onboard, creator of “Angel” and “Buffy- The Vampire Slayer,” there are a lot of fans excited, but for many, there’s even more excitement over the artist: John Cassaday, of “Planetary” and “Captain America” fame. CBR News spoke to the artist and he told CBR why “Astonishing” isn’t just another X-title.
“If you’ve never read an X-Men comic, you can pick this up and enjoy it,” says Cassaday. “We’re paying attention to continuity, but we’re not letting it clog up the works. We’re using it to our advantage. To me, it’s the essence of what everyone loves so much about these characters.”
Now Cassaday isn’t a stranger to Marvel Comics, with “Union Jack” and “Captain America” in his résumé, but most fans associate him with DC Comics. “Joe Quesada was pitching me something… something I had to say no to,” says the artist of how Marvel wooed him. “Before the conversation was over, I made a vague mention that at some point I’d probably wanna give X-Men a shot. I didn’t mean this year or any time soon, just at some point… Joe was also aware that Joss and I knew each other and had talked about getting a project together. So Joe ran with the ball and we met up a couple of weeks later. He pitched me the idea, Joss was involved, other details came around and POOF! Here we are.”
Though to some the X-Men may not seem like an especially unique team anymore, Cassaday feels that if you look beneath the surface, you’ll see the dynamics of the members differentiate the team. “Fact is, they shouldn’t be friends,” he contends. “It’s like watching the ‘Real World’ or ‘Survivor.’ They all have such differences and wouldn’t be caught dead in the same circles. These heroes are together only because they must be. The rest of the world doesn’t want them. When I read the comics when I was younger, they seemed so serious, especially compared to other comics, and the danger felt real. Their personalities handled the situation so differently. The character in each of them came through. There wasn’t that, ‘Hey kids (wink!), it’s just a funny book!’ sorta mentality to it. There was a respect given to it that I picked up on even as a kid.”
And as a kid, Cassaday quickly developed a fondness for two particular X-Men, “Wolverine and Cyclops,” he reveals and when asked about his favorite storyline, says, “The ‘Dark Phoenix’story line, of course. If you haven’t read it, you’ll never truly ‘get’ X-Men.”
It’s not necessarily the nostalgia that makes this project different for Cassaday- despite what some may believe, he doesn’t feel he’s tackled a book like this before. “I’ve never worked on a true-blue team book. Some may call ‘Planetary’ a team book, but it is definitely not. I generally prefer to work on singular characters, the loners. I tend to find something more comforting about them. So doing a team book is a challenge, but not a particularly tough one since I’m working with a writer like Joss, who is so accustomed to the team soap opera genre. His characters interact realistically and that takes a lot of the weight off me.”
Speaking of Joss Whedon, all the “ReLoad” writers are being compared to the television writer and while some artists might feel pressured working on the “big” series, Cassaday is cool with it all. “Well, the pressure is there for a lot of reasons, but Joss isn’t one of them. We know each other and have an understanding of what we both want on this series. I’m proud to say he’s got confidence in what I’m doing and is my biggest cheerleader on the book. And fact is, I wouldn’t be doing this if Joss wasn’t the writer.
“I’m very confident in what we’re doing and I think it’ll show. I feel good about it.”
Besides new creative teams, one of the most talked about “ReLoad” changes is the return to traditional superhero costumes, instead of the leather looks derived from “The Matrix” and the X-Men films. “The costumes are mine, except parts of Wolverine,” says Cassaday of the redesigns. “He was ‘designed by committee,’ you might say. There was some work underway on him before I could take a stab at it, but I think we’ve found a happy medium. I did like the leather look, but that’s done and gone now, isn’t it? Time for change. And you’ll see, the costumes return for a reason.”
In the past, there’s been some question as to Cassaday’s ability to deliver on a monthly schedule and when the artist is told that, he laughs and explains he isn’t busy playing video games. “Fact is, I do more than 12 issues a month worth of work every year. ‘Planetary’ scripts are irregular, so I’ve done other projects to keep busy. You’d be shocked if I told you how many pages of comic art I’ve produced in the last six months. I could use a nap.”
As much as Cassaday loves the X-Men, he isn’t going to be on the series forever, admitting. Whedon and Cassaday are both contracted for 12 issues, one year. And mum’s the word from above, so really he can’t even tease about events in “Astonishing X-Men,” but Cassaday does hint that some fans may be wrong thinking DC Comics’ “Planetary” is finished by issue #25 or so. “Is Planetary almost done? We’ll see…” he smiles.