"X-Men Noir," launched last December by Marvel Comics last winter, delivered some real heat to the cold winter months as the alternate universe crime tale transported readers to the 1930s where Captain Logan is a bootlegger, Charles Xavier is a wayward thinking psychiatrist and Eric Magnus is the Chief of Detectives in the NYPD Homicide Department.
The series proved to be a critical success for the House of Ideas and as a result, Marvel introduced a second four-issue series, "X-Men Noir: Mark of Cain," Thursday at San Diego Comic-Con at the Mondo Marvel Panel.
The original creative team of writer Fred Van Lente and artist Dennis Calero are returning for the sequel and CBR News caught up with them for some insight into what's to come from the former students of the Xavier School for Exceptionally Wayward Youth.
CBR News: Take us back to when the first "X-Men Noir" series was in its infancy. What was it about the concept that you thought would make it something worth exploring in a series?
Dennis Calero: It's a genre and a setting that boils everything down to the bone. It's about life, death, sacrifice and crime. It's both complex and horrifyingly simple and placing traditionally very bright and untarnished characters in that setting is always exciting.
Were you surprised by the eventual response from readers and retailers?
DC: We were incredibly gratified that comic readers and retailers embraced something that in a lot of ways was the antithesis of what's been popular in comics these days. And this wasn't just the regular characters with a thin patina of grime on their mugs. Marvel really let us make these guys are own, to make them bad, even the good ones...
The positive response confirmed to me that a lot of stuff we thought the readers would respond to were valid. And we'll try to push it farther this time around.
Any thoughts to why readers like to see popular characters like Wolverine and the rest of the X-Men in alternate (and out-of-continuity) universes?
DC: Well, it's the best of both worlds, isn't it? It's a familiar flavor but in a new way, which people always seem to feel is the ideal way to go.
Did you have a favorite character or plot element?
Fred Van Lente: I do like the original Angel a lot. His backstory, as an expert on everything, that he grew up in prison and was trained as a kid by master criminals, and now uses those skills to fight the good fight, makes him a lot of fun. If only there was a way to integrate him into the modern Marvel U, but that Warren Worthington III guy is hogging his name...
DC: My favorite character is one that we're currently working with.
With a subtitle like "Mark of Cain" is it safe to say Cain Marko will be playing a major role in this sequel?
FVL: Subtle, right?
What makes him an intriguing villain?
FVL: There are no genuine villains and no professional heroes in the dark world of Marvel Noir, just characters of varying striations of gray. Cain Marko, as we established in the original "X-Men Noir," is one of the inmates who trained Thomas Halloway, the Angel, in fighting in Welfare Pen as a youth, so Angel feels very indebted to him. In many ways, Angel feels like Cain is the man responsible for keeping him alive all this time, through all his harrowing adventures.
At the close of the first X-Men Noir series, lives were lost. Will those losses affect the main characters in the sequel?
DC: Well, certainly if for no other reason that those characters' non-presence, ha!
Having characters die was our way of saying that the white gloves were off. Don't think you know what will happen, who will live or die, because you don't.
How much time has passed between the conclusion of the first series and the beginning of the sequel?
FVL: A month or so. Renegade psychiatrist Charles Xavier, the infamous 'Professor of Crime,' has been released from prison for the simple reason that anyone who can testify against him is dead.
Meanwhile, the X-Noir posse is on the lam from nearly single-handedly burning down New York City. Angel, Logan and Cyclops are in Madripoor, where Cain Marko has been working as a mercenary. Marko recruits our anti-heroes for an once-in-a-lifetime score, stealing a priceless gem from the Temple-Tomb of Cyttorak.
When Marko double-crosses them, however, and winds up dead - crushed, as if by the legendary 'Juggernut,' said to protect the treasures of Cyttorak - Angel is on the case to find the murderer and recover the gem.
And all the clues seem to lead to Marko's half-brother, Charles Xavier, who is working in the prison of Genosha Bay, run by icy taskmistress Emma Frost. He seems to be training an All-New, All-Different team of 'X' Men.
There's this German acrobat, you see, and a big Russian bruiser, and this Kenyan lady who's an expert thief...
Will there be another backup text story this time around like "The Sentinels"?
FVL: There will be a backup, but whether it is text or comics I'm not 100 per cent certain at present.
Fred, what do you love about Dennis' art style?
My favorite thing about Dennis is that he started out in the biz as a colorist, so all of his pages and panels are laid out with very specific colors in mind, and the resulting page is so moody and atmospheric and beautiful because he knows exactly what he wants from his lighting, that interplay between light and dark that's so important to any series with 'Noir' in the title.
Likewise, Dennis, what makes Fred a great storyteller?
DC: Fred understands his characters but he neither lets the plot warp them into people that aren't compelling, or, conversely, let what I call the 'fetishism' of character distort the plot. Character and plot, as any good storyteller knows, is one thing. And Fred knows it.
I know it's early but any plans for a third series? Would you jump at the chance for a third?
DC: Fred has more experience than anyone, as you can see on "Zombies," in taking 'old' ideas and making them new. There are no current plans, but I think if we continue to be given the same freedom to create and explore as we have been on "X-Men Noir" I and II, then there's another 799,998 stories to tell in the naked city.
Finally, can you share details on whatever other projects you are working on?
DC: I'm illustrating "Martian Chronicles" and well as writing and drawing my own story for Marvel.com
FVL: Mary Jane and The Chameleon return in "Amazing Spider-Man" #602 in August, my first official storyline as a 'Webhead,' with some incredible art by Barry Kitson.
And now that Thor's been exiled from Asgard, who better to fill his shoes than the Lion of Olympus? Herc takes up the hammer beginning in "Incredible Hercules" #132, also on sale in August, by me, Greg Pak and Reilly Brown.
And let us not forget me and Ryan Dunlavey's "Action Philosophers" Omnibus, with the whole series finally collected with four brand new stories, which debuts just in time for the Christmas shopping season in November.
"X-Men Noir: Mark of Cain" launches in December.