Bendis & Humphries Explore Marvel's "Black Vortex" Event

For years, Marvel Comics cosmic characters were known for their old school '70s appeal. And even though the likes of "Guardians of the Galaxy" have now conquered the pop culture landscape with a modern twist, there's still room at the publisher for one of the more old school storytelling styles: the crossover.

Launching next month, "The Black Vortex" is a crossover story that brings the cast of Guardians in contact with the X-Men. The event will launch with a special one-shot by Sam Humphries and Ed McGuinness before spreading to "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Legendary Star-Lord," "All-New X-Men," "Nova," "Cyclops," "Captain Marvel" and other series.

On the verge of the release, Marvel held its latest "Next Big Thing" conference call with the press featuring Humphries, X-Men mastermind Brian Michael Bendis and editors Mike Marts and Katie Kubert to discuss the ins and outs of the cosmic clash.

The call started with the pair of writers talking about the genesis of the series, which Humphries is essentially "show running." "This grew bigger and more exciting as we shared it with our colleagues at retreats and in Editorial," Humphries said, noting that it was time to challenge the characters of the Guardians franchise on a bigger level. "It became clear that this was an event-caliber story."

The Black Vortex as a piece of the cosmic landscape has been working its way through the writer's books over the past several months, and Humphries expressed some nerves whenever he considered that it was a comic tale told over 13 chapters overall with four co-authors and over 25 characters. "We've really put in the work behind the scenes and have an outstanding bench of creative talent working on it. It's going to be dynamite."

Bendis said despite the large number of people, every writer was allowed to be themselves in the story as they worked off of Humphries main plot. "The artists are given the freedom within the story to express themselves," he said adding that the artists all want to draw the cosmically fantastic. "This gave us an opportunity to give quite a handful of artists who were itching for their chance to let go cosmically their chance."

With the expansive cast, Humphries said that writers such as Kelly Sue DeConnick and Gerry Duggan would be able to move their own books forward as they tie into the series. "Each core group of characters in this story get their own moment to shine," he said with a particular focus on a big moment for Captain Marvel and a "hilarious" Nova story within the bigger event.

Bendis talked up the artists including newly minted Marvel penciler Andrea Sorrentino. "You just write your ass off and then you just let him do what he's going to do because it's almost indescribable what he does. You just get out of his way and let it happen...it's so exciting when the pages come in. Every artist in the group is like that. When you go into an event - even when it's an artist you've worked with - there's something about how an artist will take the opportunity to draw bigger. After an intimate storyline, they feel when they're drawing an event," he said.

Storywise, the event deals with characters who come into contact with the Black Vortex and become "Cosmically Enhanced." McGuinness laid down the core designs for how these characters would appear in the story. "I'm convinced that Ed McGuinness found the Black Vortex when he was a teenager, and that's why he's such an amazing artist," joked Humphries. "He didn't just come back with new costumes. He came back with new character twists and new powers...what he delivered was so compelling and intriguing that I ended up rewriting part of the outline to give it more focus...you want to get more in their mindset and see what kind of havoc they're going to wreak on the cosmic landscape."

The "Alpha" issue picks up from recent issues of "The Legendary Star-Lord" where Peter Quill's father has been amassing a number of cosmic forces. "He sees himself as an empire builder," Humphries said. Meanwhile, Quill and his new love Kitty Pryde get drawn into the influence of the Vortex and call upon the X-Men for help. "I believe all of comics will eventually get drawn under the influence of the relationship of Peter Quill and Kitty Pryde," Benids joked, saying his Tumblr Ask box was teaming with queries about the pair.

According to Bendis, the X-Men have a cosmic itch that needs to be scratched every so often, and on the heels of his own "Trial of Jean Grey" story, the time came again as Humphries' romance storyline grew. "But I didn't just want to do a 'Trial of Jean Grey' sequel. I wanted to do something new if we were going to go back out there," he added.

The question of fallout from this event came up, and both writers promised that not all the characters in this event would land back in the place they started - or the books they started in. And the new status quo that is achieved by "The Black Vortex" will roll right into Marvel's incoming "Secret Wars" event.

Both writers said that while there is a fun component to a crossover between the Guardians and X-Men teams - Rocket Raccoon and Iceman as a pairing in particular on that front - the tone of the series would turn dark as it went along. Bendis said the theme shared between the two franchises is characters having to rely on their teammates in order to survive in life, and that idea will be front and center as the story develops.

How Cosmic Enhancement will impact the characters came up as well, with Bendis saying that taking super genius Hank McCoy and giving him knowledge of a cosmic, universal nature will change him in profound ways moving forward past the event.

As questions opened up from the press, the relationship between Quill and Pryde being such a huge selling point for fans came up in terms of whether that response changed how they are approaching the story. "It doesn't alter what we do with it," Bendis said. "We have to tell the stories that the characters dictate to us, but when there's a response like this it makes me happy...when you write relationship stuff, you're revealing things about yourself in there...and when you put your ass out there a little bit, you want people to respond favorably to it and not go 'Eww!' That inspires us to go forward, but I don't think we'd stop if we weren't getting this response."

The way the younger "All-New" X-Men will take the changes of the event came up, and Bendis said while the kids are less experienced, they have heard about what happens to them in the future in terms of space exploration. "Jean Grey damn well knows what happens to her when she grows up. She knows EVERYTHING," he said. "But others are on a path - like Beast - of desperately looking for knowledge and power. And just because this power is offered, it doesn't mean every character will have a horrible price to pay. Some will get a power up. So the X-Men are coming at it young and raw."

McGuinness' use of a heavy Jim Starlin influence on the cosmic redesigns came up, and the writers said they were pleasantly surprised by what he did to change the face of their characters. "He knows the history of the cosmic stuff, and so while that wasn't something we threw at him...it was such an amazing fit right off the bat. You could see the electricity jumping off these designs," Humphries said. Bendis said that he wants to focus on the character side of cosmic and work more intimacy into the story, but McGuinness' Kirby-like energy pushed him to make the story bigger and bombastic at the same time. "What a gift to be given those designs before you start scripting...it reminds you to have a lot of fun with it."

In particular, the notes from McGuinnness on Drax becoming a version of Thanos, whom he hates more than anyone, caused a lot of discussion amongst the writers, but they didn't use every bit of info on the design sheet when writing. "Which ones stayed and which ones went, you'll have to see when you read it," Humphries said.

Bendis returned to the connection between the Guardians and X-Men in that they're both outsiders. "Of course they'd get along. There's a connection of spirit there. They're oddballs. Even the Guardians are the oddballs of the universe...these characters see themselves as outsiders looking in and unique. Sometimes it's great to be unique, and sometimes it's fucking depressing to be unique," he said.

Returning to Sorrentino's art, Bendis compared working with the stylist to working with Alex Maleev, David Mack and Bill Sienkiewicz. "It's an interesting mash-up of writing better and getting the hell out of the way...I have no idea how he approaches [design] and when the artwork comes back it's not at all what you thought it was going to be, but it's exciting," the writer explained. "You're trying to write into their world. I don't want them drawing my world." Bendis added that the pair have already locked down their next Marvel project, which he promised is totally different than their "X-Men" or "Black Vortex" work.

The pop culture phenomenon that is "Guardians of the Galaxy" was asked after with Humphries saying he's heard from "Legendary Star-Lord" readers who were not traditional comic readers but came to the series - as well as "Guardians" proper and "Rocket Raccoon" because of the movie - and have stuck with it. As far as how that impacts "The Black Vortex," he said they're playing "fast and loose" with the property to change it and challenge it. "I know that people like what they saw in the movie and they were ecstatic to find more that they could read without having to wait for the sequel."

Bendis has been giving out "Guardians" comics to friends of his 12-year-old daughter who are amazed that they can not only get more of the characters but more of them for free from the guy down the street. "It's not just a rehash of the movie. It's new stuff," he said of the draw to the comics and "The Black Vortex" series which is combining the new franchise with the ever-popular X-Men. "It's exciting and kind of an honor to be delivering that to readers who want it," he said.

Asked what their personal "Black Vortex" soundtrack would be, Humphries said that the soundtrack to "2001: A Space Odyssey" worked while Bendis offered up a reference for German death metal.

"Guardians of the Galaxy & X-Men: The Black Vortex Alpha" #1 arrives in February from Marvel Comics.

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