Marvel Comics' X-Men franchise follows the exploits of homo superior, people granted super powers and other bizarre mutations when they reach adulthood. The various X-books have always been about the wondrous, exciting, strange and often terrifying nature of change, but in 2001 that became even more pronounced with the launch of writer Grant Morrison's "New X-Men" series. Over the course of 43 issues, the acclaimed writer introduced new relationships and dynamics, plus plenty of bizarre new mutants, many of whom would become fan favorites like Beak.
It's been 11 years since Morrison's final "New X-Men" issue, but the mark he made on Marvel's mutants is still being felt today -- even though the Marvel Universe has been destroyed. That's partly because on Battleworld, the sole remaining setting of the Marvel Universe thanks to the cataclysmic events that kicked off the current "Secret Wars" event, there's a domain called Mutopia populated by many of the characters and concepts from Morrison's "New X-Men."
In their new "Secret Wars" series "E is for Extinction," named after the first arc of Morrison's run, writers Chris Burnham and Dennis Culver and artist Ramon Villalobos take readers deep inside the domain, where Magneto -- and not Charles Xavier -- is in charge of the Xavier Institute.
CBR News spoke with the creators about the series, Magneto's role in it, the daunting challenge of reimagining the characters Morrison co-created, and the joys of a collaboration where all the creators involved have experience as both writers and artists.
CBR News: "E is For Extinction" revisits and puts a new spin on some of the ideas and characters Grant Morrison and his collaborators introduced and explored as part of their "New X-Men" run. That makes your series seem like it would be both a daunting and fun task. What made you guys want to take this assignment?
Chris Burnham: I had a great time working with [editor] Katie Kubert on Batman and thought it would be great fun to work with her on some of Grant's best toys. But boy, daunting is right!
Dennis Culver: Burnham asked me to co-write the series with him and I couldn't pass up the chance to work with him and Ramon who I'm currently working with on "Romero Muerte" for "Dark Horse Presents."
Ramon Villalobos: I don't even think I finished reading the e-mail from Katie Kubert asking me if I wanted to do the book before I wrote her back saying I absolutely wanted to do it. It's nerve wracking because it means so much to me. That Morrison run is hands down my favorite X-Men stuff and I would have never imagined I'd even have a chance to touch it for real. To say I am an artist who got to draw Beak is the coolest thing.
Let's talk about life in "Mutopia," the setting for "E is For Extinction." What's it like there for the average mutant and human? From what I've read it sounds like, compared to nearby Battleworld domains like the Sentinel Territories, mutants have things pretty good here, correct?
Culver: Yes, you are correct. As the name implies, Mutopia is a perfect mutant society where mutants and humans coexist.
Burnham: At least it appears that way on the surface.
Ramon, what's your sense of the world? How big a part did you want it to play in setting the tone and mood of the story you're bringing to life? How much do you focus on settings versus character?
Villalobos: For mutants I like to think that life is like a really rad A$AP Rocky or Kanye West music video, but with mutants. They're all cool and they're all having fun because they rule.
Yeah, I think I'm stronger when I attempt to tackle character work first and foremost. My favorite scenes in the book are the quieter ones for sure. It's a lot of fun to draw people punching each other, but I live in the moments where it's just Emma and Scott talking alone and feeling worried and insecure, but comfortable and happy together. I'm not great at that stuff but it's my favorite.
We know that Doom, the god of Battleworld, does not hold mutants in high regard. What kind of role do the larger politics of Battleworld play in "E is For Extinction?"
Burnham: Seemingly less than zero, but as the story unfolds you will see the potential repercussions if things are allowed to continue on their present course.
Culver: And this isn't the regular 616 [Marvel Universe] so anything can happen.
Let's move on to what I'm certain is part of the draw of writing "E is for Extinction," the characters you'll have access to including both the classic X-Men and the mutants Morrison and his collaborators introduced. That's quite a big cast to draw from. How big is the core cast of "E is For Extinction?
Culver: The core cast is pretty much the same as the core cast from Grant's run with a few surprises thrown in.
Burnham: But we had no room for Fantomex, sadly. [Frowns]
One character we know plays a significant role in "E is for Extinction" is Magneto. What can you tell us about the Master of Magnetism's role and outlook in your series when it begins?
Culver: Magneto finds himself in charge of the next generation of mutants and doing a much better job than Xavier ever did.
Burnham: It's a literal Mutopia!
Ramon, who is Magneto to you in this series? Which aspects of his did you really want to capture and bring forward in your art?
Villalobos: Man, to me Magneto is a mixture of like Ian McKellen in that movie and Hugh Hefner. He's kind of a tragic comic figure and the more I draw him the more cartoony he gets. I think at first I thought he was like the Magneto we know as this cool calculating figure who is this Machiavellian ruthless leader, but the further the story goes the more I realized he was more like Magneto as we saw at the end of that Morrison story. He's not nearly as hip or together as he probably would like everyone to believe. He's kinda like a slightly more put together Jim Lahey from "Trailer Park Boys." That kinda makes Cyclops Julian. Wow.
[Laughs] Magneto isn't the only character you're redesigning in "E is for Extinction." It looks like you were able to work on the looks of a variety of characters. What was it like doing character design on this series? Which characters did you enjoy updating/redesigning the most? Were there any characters who proved to be especially difficult?
Villalobos: Yeah, I loved doing all the designs for everyone in this book, to be honest. I'm really into doing kind of street level appropriations of super hero costumes which Quitely and Morrison were ahead of everyone in the game with back in 2001. That awesome Batgirl cool-fashion cosplay-friendly aesthetic is super hot right now and they basically did that 14 years before everyone in a classic way.
But yeah I love adding details to define characters, my Wolverine is this short chubby dude in a leather singlet like he's a retired pro wrestler who is still making towns even though his body aches and that sort of thing. The cool thing is like even that is just pulled from a singlet idea that Quitely drew Wolverine in back in that original run. Angel has my favorite look that's most "me" though. She's got the kneepads and Yeezy Boosts. That's the most fun character to draw for me.
We've talked about characters and the world of "E is for Extinction" so let's start to wrap up by chatting about the action of the series. What sets the events of "E is for Extinction" in motion and what kind of trouble can readers expect?
Culver: Our story hinges on a pivotal moment in Quitely and Morrison's "E is for Extinction" arc going completely wrong and from there our story picks up a few years later where we see the after effects.
Burnham: Ultimately there are two sets of X-Men with competing agendas.
Culver: X vs X!
Ramon, I'm most familiar with your work on "Original Sins" and "What If? Age of Ultron," both of which I thought were incredibly fun, strange, adventure stories. How does the overall look and feel of "E is for Extinction" compared to those two books?
Villalobos: This is definitely a lot more pop if that makes any sense. Ian Herring's colors on it are so bold and in your face that as I went on I started trying to make things match what I thought he'd color it like and it just became a bolder, heavier comic the further it's gone.
Finally, if my research is correct all three of you have experience both writing and drawing comics. It seems like that would make for a fun and pretty interesting collaboration. What was it like working with your fellow creators on this book?
Culver: Well, Chris and I share studio space here in Los Angeles so all of our collaboration boils down to talking things out and plussing each other's ideas.
Burnham: We're literally doing that for this interview right now.
Culver: Working with Ramon concurrently on this and the Dark Horse project has been great fun, I feel like we share a lot of sensibilities and bouncing those off of Chris has made for an interesting soup.
Burnham: Also Ramon and I are both disciples of the Moebius/Quitely school of drawing so it's been very interesting watching him interpret pages.
Villalobos: I love working with artists because they always give me illest visuals to work with. Dennis and I have this super Mexican comic, "Romero Muerte," cooking for "Dark Horse Presents" and I've colored his work before on an Oni Comics project, "Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad," so we go way back and it's been fantastic working with him in this capacity as well. And yeah, Chris and I are from the same general school but he's further along in the game so it's been very cool hearing his feedback on how I can improve.
Burnham: I think we've crafted a pretty interesting story using what Grant and the gang left on the table.
Culver: People are gonna love this one, it's not going where you think!
Villalobos: Thanks to everyone who checks it out. Hope you like it.
"E is for Extinction" #1 goes on sale June 24 from Marvel Comics.