EXCLUSIVE: Simonson on "X-Factor: Forever"

In September of 1963, comic book history was made when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's "The X-Men" #1 hit stores. In the pages of that seminal Marvel Comics issue, readers were introduced to Cyclops, the Beast, Iceman Angel and Marvel Girl, the original student body of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. 23 years later, writer Bob Layton and artist Jackson Guice would reassemble the original X-Men for a new series titled "X-Factor."

In July of 1986, writer Louise Simonson took over "X-Factor" and began a five year run that would introduce and establish some of the more prominent elements of X-Men mythology, such as the arch-villain Apocalypse and Warren Worthington's transformation from Angel to the blue skinned Archangel.

In March of 2010, Simonson will return to the original X-Men character once again with the five issue "X-Factor: Forever" mini-series, featuring art by Dan Panosian. CBR News spoke with Simonson about the project which is set in an alternate Marvel Universe and picks up where her original "X-Factor" run left off.

CBR News: How did "X-Factor: Forever" come about and what was it that drew you to the assignment?

Louise Simonson: Mark Paniccia asked me if I'd be interested in doing an "X-Factor: Forever" miniseries, picking up after the end of "X-Factor" #64. That was my last issue before I left Marvel to do "Superman: Man of Steel" over at DC.

I thought the idea was interesting, but [I felt that] that I'd better re-read my old "X-Factor" comics before I committed. It had been awhile since I wrote that book and, while I remembered the characters vividly, the details on the stories were kinda hazy.

Kinda? Heck, there was a lot of material that I'd totally forgotten I'd included. It had been a few years.

As I re-read those early "X-Factor" comics, I realized that, beginning with Paul Smith's issues, I had been setting up a major storyline. Circumstances had intervened, but the set-up was clearly present. I began to get excited. Maybe I could do that story after all - but with a slightly different twist. So I told Mark that yes, if he liked the story I proposed, I would love to write "X-Factor: Forever."

It's been about 18 years since you last wrote "X-Factor." What's it like coming back to these characters after so many years? What makes them still compelling to you after all this time?

I know the characters, at least as they were when I left them. I understand who they are - what they value, what motivates them. I know what they want. I get them.

Writing them again is a lot of fun - like visiting with old friends. These characters are "retro," in that they're heroic. Sure they're tortured and flawed, but they try to use the powers they've been given to protect the weak and make the world a better place. Even though, sometimes, it's hard to know what's right and what's wrong in an imperfect world.

They're also publicly known, living openly as mutants for all to see. Their celebrity - or notoriety - is a constant backdrop to their lives. Non-mutant New Yorkers may see them as super-powered superstars, but, despite who they are and what they can do, their concerns aren't that different from our own.

There's a saying of Japanese origin I love - "The peg that sticks up gets hammered." Well, that's X-Factor for you, living openly as mutants in a monolithic ship in lower Manhattan. And it's my job - the writer's job - to hammer them.

So the events that surround them - and the situations they encounter - are always dramatic. And in this miniseries, in particular, they are cosmic!

"X-Factor: Forever" will pick up immediately after the events of 1991's "X-Factor" #64. For those of us who may need our memory refreshed and those of us who haven't had a chance to read those issues, how does the world of "X-Factor: Forever" differ from the present day Marvel Universe? What was going on back then?

That world is different from present day Marvel in a lot of ways, since what's happened in present day continuity doesn't exist for these characters in this timeline. The original X-Men are still together, though all have been transformed by events in their continuity. Those events shook them, but, now, all are beginning to get their acts together.

Jean remains troubled by memories that aren't hers and the occasional manifestation of Phoenix or Goblin Queen personas . The infant Christopher hasn't been infected by the transmode virus by Apocalypse or carried off into the future. Cable isn't Christopher, returned. The Phalanx story and the "Age of Apocalypse" don't exist. The future, beyond "X-Factor" #64, hasn't happened. It's a blank slate.

What can you tell us about the group dynamic and status quo when thew new mini-series begins?

Returning from a space adventure involving the Celestials, X-Factor's Ship - originally a Celestial information gathering artifact appropriated by the immortal villain Apocalypse - has landed upright, a towering monolith on the site of the destroyed X-Factor building in lower Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson River. Ship has begun to experience a few minor malfunctions.

X-Factor continue, for good or ill, as publically known mutants. They have offered the press photo-ops in exchange for a modicum of privacy. Even though they live in New York, they can't make an outside move without someone snapping their picture.

Scott/Cyclops has a baby son, Christopher, by his dead wife Madelyne Pryor - who became the Goblin Queen. For those who don't remember, Maddy was a clone of Jean Gray, created by the villain Mr. Sinister. She died during "Inferno."

Most mutants don't begin to manifest powers until adolescence, but the infant, Christopher, can already project a protective force field - a variation on Jean's telekinetic shield power. When Jean and the baby use their powers at the same time, because of their relationship, their powers repel each other.

Scott has asked Jean to marry him, but Jean has refused since she's having trouble integrating the confusing and terrible memories left her by the out-of-control Phoenix entity - a being that once impersonated her and became a destroyer of planets - and the Goblin Queen, who tried to sacrifice her own son. Though Jean is no longer telepathic, she's beginning to have low-level telepathic flashes. Because this seems linked to the Phoenix persona, she's not quite sure how to react. Jean is also troubled because both of her "clones" became evil. She fears that this happened because the original is badly flawed. Despite the baby's origin, Jean loves little Christopher, who is the son of her genes, if not the child of her body.

Warren/Archangel, no longer the sunny Angel, has begun to accept his own transformation by Apocalypse into a blue-skinned living weapon. He has begun to master his dark emotions and exert control over his lethal wings.

The super-intelligent Hank/ Beast is blue and furry, agile, and stronger than ever. He misses being able to pass as human, is tired of being stared at because of his physical differentness, and hides his discomfort behind a joking exterior.

Bobby/Iceman's powers have increased to the point where, without his power damper belt, his ability could go dangerously out of control. In the past, he'd seen himself as second rate, but, as he matures, he's beginning to accept his own strength.

The villain Apocalypse continues to monitor the activities of X-Factor and Ship, as well as the other mutants on Earth.

Apocalypse's Hellhound, the transformed Caliban, has been stalking the Marauders who murdered his people, the Morlocks. Sabretooth is Caliban's final target. But Sabretooth wants nothing more than to finish off Archangel.

What can you tell us about the plot of "X-Factor: Forever?"

The Celestials have begun to keep a sharp eye on evolving humankind. Apocalypse believes he knows why, and that mutantkind has a desperate and pervasive problem that puts humanity, itself, at risk of extinction. The arrival of a Celestial poses a deadly threat, and X-Factor and Apocalypse - deadly enemies - must join forces to prove humanity's worthiness before the colossus can use his vast power to destroy the Earth.

You and Jackson Guice co-created Apocalypse in "X-Factor" #6. What is it like coming back and writing the character again, now that he's become such an important part of the X-Men mythos?

It's really fun to write Apocalypse again. Especially since Apocalypse's own agenda - to create stressors that will drive humanity to evolve quickly and reach the next level - homo superior - may be the very thing that will doom it to extinction. (Oops! Poor Apocalypse. It seemed like a good idea at the time.)

What can you tell me about the supporting cast of "X-Factor: Forever?"

The mutant kids - Rusty, Skids, Rictor, Artie, Leach, and Boom-Boom - whom X-Factor rescued, are off at several different schools, now, so they're out of the story.

Iceman, Beast, and Archangel are involved in relationships.

Iceman is dating Opal Tanaka, whom he just rescued from the clutches of her Japanese gangster grandfather.

Beast has a sometimes-volatile relationship with the reporter, Trish Tilby, who is about to return from assignment in India.

Archangel has a burgeoning friendship with the police officer Charlotte Jones and her eight-year-old son Timmy.

The people who make up New York City are so diverse, with so much attitude, that the city itself becomes a supporting character. No city on Earth has a larger personality.

What's it like working with Dan Panosian? What do you feel he brings to the book as an artist?

So far, I've seen fantastic character drawings, great designs for new costume, a really cool cover, and a very neat first page. Can't wait for the double-page splash to follow! I can already tell this story is going to write like a dream.

Dan is the kind of artist whose work I most admire. He's intelligent and intuitive. He draws beautifully. He cartoons magnificently. His paintings are terrific. His characters have gesture and attitude. They're not generic. They act! Dan also creates real and lively environments. He thinks about what the story needs and how best to tell it. His work has a modern vibe.

We're doing "X-Factor: Forever" Marvel-style, so Dan is drawing from a plot which I then script. This should give him considerable latitude in storytelling and page layouts, which, in turn, should showcase his considerable abilities. The art is going to be fantastic!

In "X-Men: Forever" Chris Claremont has enjoyed the freedom to take the series in a number of unexpected and surprising directions, like killing off Wolverine. Are you enjoying similar creative freedom with "X-Factor: Forever?"

Yep. It's one of the things that drew me to the project. Doing a story that creates an alternate timeline has huge advantages. It takes place in it's own universe, so, given the editor's approval. I can do anything I want. Nobody will be mandating crossovers or telling me I can't use characters because they're off in space. I don't have to worry about messing up somebody else's continuity. It provides for a great deal of creative freedom. This is something I hope to take full advantage of.

I know I'm going to hear the question, "Is this really, exactly, what you would have done if you'd continued with "X-Factor" eighteen years ago?" The answer is...of course not. Or not exactly. There have been a lot of stories involving these characters in the last eighteen years, and I'd want to avoid re-telling any of them.

Also, since I have the freedom of my own timeline here, I don't have to be concerned for anybody's continuity but my own. That's always a consideration when you're playing in a communal sandbox. You don't want to break someone else's toys.

That said, elements of what I'm doing in "X-Factor: Forever" would definitely have appeared in [what would have been] future "X-Factor" continuity. But now the repercussions will be bigger and more dramatic. Putting them in this fresh, no-holds-barred context is, for me, part of the fun.

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