Defending the Earth can be a pretty big job, so imagine what it must be like defending thousands of Earths! This task is performed every month by the stars of Marvel Comics' "Exiles." CBR News spoke with "Exiles" writer Chris Claremont about upcoming storylines and some of the big changes in store for the reality hopping heroes.
"Exiles" #90 was Claremont's first issue and hit stores in January, but he had been working on the series some time before that. "In reality all of this was supposed to happen a year ago, but for various reasons it didn't," Claremont told CBR News. "In a sense the first five issue story with Sue and Wolverine, we we're going to get started on it a year ago and it has evolved considerably since then."
Claremont's first "Exiles" story arc "Enemy of the Stars" ("Exiles" #92 is the third part of this arc and hits stores today, March 21st), which is being illustrated by Paul Pelletier, sends the team to an alternate Earth terrorized by the forces of the Hand and Hydra and their leaders Susan Richards and Wolverine. "Basically, the first story is an essential 'Exiles' story that has the primary purpose of introducing Psylocke to the team and the book," Claremont explained. "The very real thing she has to deal with in the story is the moral implications. Is what they're doing right? Is what they're doing an appropriate thing to do? In this arc, the conundrum they're faced with is that the computer tells them the logical way to resolve this world's problems is to kill Reed Richards, but that means killing a hero and a father; killing the defender of the world and letting villains go free. The downside is if you don't kill him, the villains will escape into the Multiverse. It turns out there's a far more important and significant reason why Reed has to be kept alive, which you don't find out till the end of the arc."
In addition to tackling a moral quandary, the "Enemy of the Stars" arc will force Psylocke into a very emotional confrontation with an old enemy. "The other problem for her is the third member of the villainous troika, Slaymaster," Claremont said. "By the end of issue #94 she comes face-to-face with the man, who when she last saw him on Earth, blinded her, tore out her eyes and damn near killed her. The only reason that doesn't happen here is because he has no idea that she's Betsy Braddock. He doesn't know this Asian person but when he finds out, it's a nightmare for her because she never beat him before. She doesn't know if she can beat him this time and he's the guy who stole her eyes. She's discovering that even though she's a superhero she can get scared like everybody else."
Clayton Henry illustrates Claremont's next "Exiles" story arc which runs from issues #95-99 and takes the team to a world where two of the biggest names in the Marvel Universe have switched roles. "It's a world where: What if Victor Von Doom was the hero who founded the Fantastic Four and Reed Richards was the cursed, misshapen creature who fled into the underworld? They've been fighting ever since," Claremont explained. "Essentially you have a world that Doom has remade in his own image and he wants to expand. He's discovered that the Exiles' Crystal Palace exists. Also, Spidey 2099 meets Gwen Stacy on this world and nature takes its course.
"Betsy stays behind. She doesn't go on the mission to this world and visitors show up. Things get very strange at the Crystal Palace."
The visitors to the Crystal Palace might help to usher in some of the changes coming "Exiles" way. "What we'll be doing from issues #95-99 is essentially setting the stage, laying the ground work, and doing the preparation for the post- #100 status quo," Claremont stated. "The idea, as Axel Alonso sort of expressed, is here we have a series that's lasted 100 issues, which is a rare enough achievement in and of itself. It's maintained fairly solid sales all along. So the idea, the hope and the intent with us sort of restructuring the world, the concept and everything about the book, is to see if we can kick it up a notch or two and move it from mid list towards a much wider audience.
"In the same sense, one of the things that we're looking at is the idea of going much more deeply into the nature of Cross-Time; of time and the universe as our guys understand it and they're stuck with defending it. I think what we're hoping to do is broaden and deepen the concept, the characters and their role."
Claremont feels that the Exiles specific role makes them one of the more interesting teams in the Marvel Universe. "From my perspective, the other forty odd titles in the Marvel cannon are all about one planet, usually about one country on one planet, and one of almost an infinite number of dimensions," Claremont stated. "'Exiles' deals with everything else. So in a very real sense the 'Exiles' characters face risks, characters and adversaries that are on a much more significant level and scope. The worst that can happen in 'X-Men' or 'Avengers' is the Earth gets knocked around a little , maybe the U.S. or the Shi'ar get bounced around a bit but Exiles deals with dimensions. So, we think anyway, it's a much more important and significant arena to play in. We just have to convince everybody else."
One of the changes that Claremont hopes to implement on "Exiles" is to take the book's unique "What If?" premise even further and look at worlds whose divergent points aren't just caused by events from the Marvel Universe's history. "I'm not interested in doing a story where Spidey turns left instead of right and Gwen Stacy lives instead of dies or whatever," Claremont explained. "Why not just take the fantasy and science fiction and go a couple of big steps further? Let's see if we can invent something that catches the mind and inspires the imagination of the readers and gets them coming back for more.
"We have a book here whose conceptual capability can literally justify anything as far as active concepts, characters and what have you," Claremont continued. "We can create worlds unlike any that the readers have seen before and visions of familiar characters but within the context of those worlds. For example, if you have a world where North America is settled by Vikings and immigrants from Imperial China, what do the Marvel heroes look like? If you had a world that was colonized by India what would the heroes look like then? If Germany won the First World War, were there Nazis? Were there Communists? How does the world of 2007 look in this context?"
Claremont also plans on looking at alternate worlds that aren't defined by different outcomes in World history. "Why does everybody have to be human? Why does everybody have to be mammalian even? We can have other versions and incarnations of the Marvel characters," Claremont stated. "Like a race of people descended from dinosaurs or insects. The idea is that we have a book that mixes science fiction and fantasy in every sense of the word and isn't locked into traditional continuity in the sense that all of our Dr. Doom's have to look alike and all of this has to look like that. Plus we can have unhappy endings."
Another objective Claremont has for the cast of "Exiles" is to give them a life outside of their jobs. "The challenge that 'Exiles' has always faced is that it's limited in the sense that it doesn't have a regular means of integrating with a broader community," Claremont explained. "The guys don't have a malt shop they can go to. No one hangs around, there are no neighbors. They live in a Crystal Palace in the middle of nowhere. So one of our ideas is to broaden their base, their perspectives and their opportunities; to give them a home life and see where it will lead us."
In recent issues of "Exiles" readers have seen there has been one familiar character hanging about and wandering about the Crystal Palace, The Omniversal Guardian, Roma. Her appearances will send the cast of "Exiles" on a collision course with the cast of another Marvel book that Claremont also currently writes. "We have storylines in progress both in 'Exiles' and 'Excalibur' leading into the upcoming 'Exiles/ Excalibur' mini-series, which will have some major repercussions on the whole state and structure of the Cross-Time Universe," Claremont stated. "There's going to be a lot of fairly interesting stuff happening as we get through the summer and into the fall. So, I wouldn't take anything or anyone for granted at this point. They're all on the wall."
The Exiles encounter with Excalibur will lead to shake-ups in the Exiles line-up. Members leave, old friends will return and familiar yet different faces will join. "Nocturne is going back to 'Exiles,'" Claremont said. "There will be some major changes as of the end of 'Excalibur' #24, 'Exiles' #99, and the 'Exiles/Excalibur' mini-series.
"The nice thing about pulling in alternative versions of characters from Cross-Time is while in some cases writer's indulgence may indeed require that, 'No, no this character has to be my version of the character, not the one that's in print now [laughs],'" Claremont continued. "On the other hand it also allows you to be totally different. For example the new Mystique we're bringing in is actually more pronounced like 'Mystic' and its Mystique in her sort of male Basil Rathbone incarnation. This is a variation on the theme; it's a shape-shifter who was married to Irene Adler, and had a daughter Rogue but this one has lived a life as primarily a male character. It allows us to use the character but a totally different take on it."
In addition to assembling a compelling cast of heroes, Claremont also is working hard to put together a fascinating and devious set of adversaries for the Exiles to face. "I think one of the things Editor Mark Paniccia and I are very serious about doing is establishing an ongoing set of A-List villains for 'Exiles,'" Claremont said. "So, they're not just fighting generic or one-off villains on a story by story basis."
Claremont hopes both old fans and new readers will enjoy the stories he and his collaborators are putting together for "Exiles." "We want to give 'Exiles' a more resonant voice, unique unto itself and give the characters, concepts and the realities more of a chance to shine in the market place and among the readers," Claremont said. "The point is, if variety is the spice of life, than this should be the spiciest concoction going simply because we have no restrictions other than the necessity to tell good and exciting stories."