This week, Marvel Comics teased "The First X-Men," a new project premiering in August. In a special press conference call, the publisher pulled out all the stops to explain what "The First X-Men" is, whom it involves and how it will affect the X-books and greater Marvel Universe. On hand for the call (moderated by Sales and Communications Coordinator James Viscardi) were legendary comic creator Neal Adams, writer Christos Gage and X-book editor Nick Lowe, who were set to tease the broad aspects of "The First X-Men."
Viscardi kicked off the call by introducing the participants and opened it up for the creators to tell the origins of "The First X-Men" as a series.
"I had these wonderful warm memories of Jack Kirby's 'X-Men,'" said Adams, who mentioned he had been on the book two issues before it had been cancelled. "At the beginning, Stan and Jack were just experimenting with things. Right at the very first issue, you have Professor X who is bald and in a wheelchair and these kids standing around them in costume and they are going to become the X-Men." Adams noted it seemed like readers were starting in the middle of the story rather than the beginning.
"Something must have happened before Professor X became Professor X," Adams said. "He could pass. He didn't look like a strange X-Man. He didn't look like a mutant."
Adams posited the concept was that Professor X wasn't the person who started protecting young mutants. "Maybe this was going on when Professor X was a teenager and mutants were being abused by the government ... and somebody stepped out to protect these kids. ... Who would he be and why would he go to Charles Xavier? ... That became my premise."
Lowe described the premise as "something X-Men fans would go nuts for," mentioning Adams had worked with the character of Wolverine before.
Adams described the series as "maybe groundbreaking." "It's the X-Men before the X-Men," he said, going on to say they were "maybe a disaster."
The artist also mentioned the involvement of Wolverine in the X-Men and why he keeps coming back. "How deeply entrenched is Wolverine to the X-Men? I think very, very deeply."
Gage expounded on how he got the job as writer on "The First X-Men" and characterized working with Adams as "a rewarding experience." "You see why Neil is such an industry legend. ... He came up with these amazing new characters, one of whom I swear is going to be the next MODOK. ... It's just been wonderful for me."
"Basically it takes place before the original X-Men and it's a time when mutants are coming [out in the country]," said Gage. "In this context, Wolverine is noticing this going on and says, 'Someone needs to protect these people.'" Wolverine allies with Sabertooth and approach a young Professor X, who is engaged to be married and "wants no part of it." The writer also characterized the book as "The Magnificent Seven," but with X-Men. There will also be some of Magneto killing Nazis.
"One of the things that attracted me to jump at this project is that in those early X-Men, everyone hates and fears mutants, but nobody really knows why," said Lowe. "That's one of the coolest things this series does. It gives a palpable reason that is core to some of the biggest X-characters there are: why mutants are hated and feared and why it's so different from other superheroes when they [start to appear]."
After a brief, joking conversation about Adams' "manly, hairy chest," Gage spoke a bit about the collaborative process. "For me, it's a process that has hopefully brought out the best in everybody."
Gage also mentioned a villain named "Virus," and said he was actually adjusting his writing while seeing the pages from Adams.
"It's a very good back and forth that's going on here," said Adams.
The creative team also spoke about the non-similarity to the film "X-Men: First Class." "I would say it doesn't," said Adams That would be the natural instinct, but it's nothing like it."
"The one common thread is Nazi hunter Magneto," said Gage.
"And that's from the comics," said Adams, going on to mention the initial encounter between Wolverine and Professor X. "Wolverine certainly has ample evidence in his arms as to why they need Charles Xavier."
Adams made an entertaining comparision for the creative process. "Being involved in the creative process is like going to the bathroom. You do it today so you can do it tomorrow," said Adams. Adams noted there is an African-American character called "Bomb" who was met by Wolverine and company.
"If you examine my old stuff, what you'll see is that each project that I do is different from the last project," said Adams. "It fits, in my view, in the empty space that Marvel left that I was able to fill." The artist also spoke about his experience on "Batman," saying it was being done like a novel, but "The First X-Men" would be a "high adventure comic book."
"If you look at the parameters of what we're saying here, the relationship doesn't even exist between this and 'Batman: Odyssey.'"
Lowe mentioned "The First X-Men" is canon and "key to Wolverine's history" and would "answer questions that have been begging for answers for decades."
The team will encounter hobo Sub-Mariner and FBI Agent Fred Duncan from "X-Men" #2. The series will stand on its own two feet, but will have throw-outs and flavor relevant to other Marvel books.
Lowe spoke about the possibility of a crossover between Howard Chaykin's "Avengers 1959," which is not currently in the works. "Definitely at some point, there could be something that ties it all in at the future," said Gage. "I would love the idea of the crossover."
Lowe spoke about choosing to move into pre-Stan Lee and Jack Kirby territory and that "The First X-Men" was "too good not to do." "For us, it always comes down to the story," said Lowe. "SHIELD is something that I've been working on that I promise is coming to an end soon. It all depends on the story. I can't tell you how many pitches we get for that stuff that doesn't see the light of day. It's a story like 'First X-Men' [that make us want to do it.]"
The series will be five issues. "We wish it were longer," said Adams.
"There's a lot of story in this. One of the things I love about working with Neil is that this is a man who can pull off the 8-panel page."
"I prefer not to, Christos!" said Adams to laughter.
Adams also spoke about his design for Havok and how his desire for functional costumes influenced some of the "First X-Men" character design. "He had this black costume that absorbed light," said Adams. "You can understand that's the kind of costume I like to design. So I'm going to give you characters with costumes or non-costumes that become costumes because they're different ideas. It's not skin-tight clothes, it's different ideas. One of the reasons Havok was good is because his costume did what it was supposed to do for his powers."
In terms of setting, Adams said the goal was to give a "general sense" of what time period the story occurs, rather than a specific time period.
Adams also mentioned the difficulty of doing team books. "Let me tell you from an artistic and writing point of view, it's very, very hard to do a group book," said Adams, noting we may have just had a movie that did it.
The artist noted his support of motion comics. "I don't think motion comics are ever going to go away," he said. "There's a lot of creativity to be done. I like the idea of the comic being done first. You do the comic, you turn them into motion comics -- and we're getting closer and closer to animation."
Lowe spoke about the connection between a fledgling Wolverine training mutants compared to the Wolverine today who is headmaster of the Jean Grey School. "This is a soldier looking at a problem and looking at how to solve it," said Lowe. "All of us have beliefs, we try to live our dreams and serve our beliefs ... this is one of Wolverine's first steps in working with mutants and trying to find out what their place is in the world. ... It's the same character and it's all connected. You're going to see a lot of juxtapositions and compare and contrast notes with 'Wolverine & the X-Men.'"
Adams hinted that Wolverine may have even more secrets in his past, mentioning that "mercenaries make a lot of money" and Wolverine may have invested in something mysterious.
"There's implications here that you will draw as readers that we won't even touch," said Adams. "When I said Charles Xavier could pass, ... at some point in his life -- and imagine the exploration of this in other stories -- he has to make that choice not only as Charles Xavier as the X-Men but admit he was a mutant."
Gage teased that the woman in the Adams cover art is a new character. "What's interesting is, she's not necessarily what you would think from the image there. It's part and parcel of who she is as a character."
The call wrapped up with a discussion about Hobo Namor. "At some point after World War II and before the Human Torch got his memory back, Namor was wandering around the streets of Manhattan," said Gage. "You'll see how, but somehow word gets out there's this super-strong guy in New York ... and they end up punching the hell out of each other."
"It's a wonderful incident in the middle of it," said Adams, "and I have to credit Nick and Christos for it."
With that, the call wrapped. The five issue mini-series "The First X-Men" #1 hits stores in August.