FAN EXPO: X-Men's Destiny Panel

The hopes and dreams of more than a few Canadian comics fans were raised at the start of Marvel's "X-Men's Destiny" panel Friday at the Fan Expo in Toronto with a teaser image featuring the classic lineup of Canadian superteam Alpha Flight, but the next slide crushed such hopes with another presentation of Steve McNiven art which showed the team bloodied and beaten in "New Avengers" with a caption that simply read "Still dead."

This was how Marvel announced a new "Weapon X: First Class" mini series featuring Wolverine, Sabertooth and a host of other Canadian anti-heroes, and while attendees laughed at the fake out, the news and jokes continued to roll along including details on the future of "Uncanny X-Men" and a number of new minis coming down the pipe this fall.

Marvel writer and talent scout C.B. Cebulski (the upcoming "X-Infernus" series) and editor John Barber ("Wolverine Origins") took the dais along writers Matt Fraction ("Uncanny X-Men") and Peter David ("X-Factor"). The panel kicked off with the announcement of many books with various ties to the characters of the X-universe. In addition to "Weapon X: First Class" which will be written by Marc Sumerak ("Power Pack") with art from Mark Robinson and Tim Seeley (both formerly of Devil's Due's "G.I. Joe" line) and covers by Michael Ryan, November will see a four-issue "X-Men/Spider-Man" series by writer Christos Gage ("Avengers: The Initiative") and Italian Artist Mario Alberti as well as "X-Men: Kingbreaker" by writer Chris Yost which will serve as a follow up to Yost's "Emperor Vulcan" series and as a lead in to February's "War of the Kings" event, which will be drawn by Tom Raney.

Other projects discussed at the panel included the "X-Infernus" series returning Magik to the X-Universe in December, although no artist has been named for the book, and it was revealed that Darkhawk will retrun in the pages of "Nova" with issue #17, although Cebulski promised the character was still a member of his "Loners" team.

When the question and answer period started, a fan asked for specifics on the "Spider-Man/X-Men" series, Cebulski noted that it would "span the generations between certain time periods in X-Men history and Spider-Man lore to show some connections" but will include "no rewriting of history."

David promised that Layla Miller would eventually return to the pages of "X-Factor" saying that the timing of her return "will be completely unexpected but come at the best possible time for what's going on with the team."

Before long, discussing swung "Uncanny X-Men" both in terms of its future story lines and its place within the broader X-Men line. When a fan asked, "Are we going to see some really trippy far out shit in 'Uncanny'?" Fraction's response was simply "Yup." After the laughter died down, the audience prodded the writer into revealing upcoming trippy elements including the fact that "Pixie has hallucinogenic dust on her wings" and that "Scott has a hotel in his head where he keeps memories of every woman he's ever been attracted to."

He also said that the only thing he's had trouble getting into the book since taking over with co-writer Ed Brubaker was the inclusion of "mildly retarded Nazi super soldiers in Argentina" but since he dialed some of the elements back, the characters will be included. When even David was shocked by the idea, Fraction simply explained that the characters are part of a secret military mutation experiment that has been going on since the 1940s with the gene pool getting smaller and smaller and copies of copies of copies of the Nazi soldiers being created. "They're like old Betamax tapes," he said.

Issue #504 starts the story arc "Lovelorn" which deals with Colossus' heartbreak over losing Kitty Pryde as well as how exactly Cyclops keeps secrets from Emma including the creation of the new X-Force team. On the former point, Fraction said that bringing Kitty Pryde back in any way beyond memory for the foreseeable future dishonors Joss Whedon's last "Astonishing X-Men" arc.

The difference between "Uncanny" and "Astonishing" since they now share the same (or at least a very similar) cast was brought up by one fan prompting a lengthy chat on the subject. Fraction explained that while "Astonishing" is a book that focuses on adventures that take place within a smaller timeframe (despite the time it takes for the issues to be released), "Uncanny" is "the hub of the soap opera" which will be much more tied in to the other books from "X-Force" to "Wolverine."

"That's one of the reasons we wanted to get rid of this idea of the blue team and the gold team or whatever - to kind of introduce this ensemble book where characters can just show up and go away again," he added saying that "if 'Astonishing' is the X-Men movie, 'Uncanny' is the X-Men TV show."

Returns were also a major theme of discussion with Barber noting that while "Wolverine Origins" will shift towards San Francisco so that the book will line up continuity wise with "Uncanny," the villain Romulus would return within the next year. Fraction also said there had been some discussion about whether or not Apocalypse would return to the X-books, but no definite plans have been made. What will definitely be happening is the introduction of Rogue into the cast of "X-Men: Legacy" as part of Professor Xavier's arc, but as Cebulski said, "he's going to be approaching individuals he feel he's wronged, and Rogue is included in that." Professor X will also show up in "Uncanny" at one point, although his appearance in San Francisco will not go smoothly.

When asked by a fan whether or not there are any standing criteria for X-Men stories in order for them to be greenlit, the panelists all discussed the challenges that heavy continuity creates for making wild ideas work within the broader context of the characters. Fraction explained that his original idea of "Punisher War Journal" involved killing Frank Castle or perhaps making him more of a villain to be replaced by a new Punisher who would be tied to the Stanford tragedy in "Civil War" and convinced that superheroes were to be hunted down. While the idea didn't work, it was taken seriously by editorial as a viable option for a story, which surprised Fraction as a new writer to Marvel.

David explained that many of the broader stories for the characters came from a process of give and take, which could roll out over months of planning or happen at the last minute on accident, and he offered an example of the latter by relating how he came up with the idea for tearing the adamantium off of Wolverine as a joke. "[The other writers at the summit] started going on and on, and I was the one person at the table screaming 'This is the most asinine idea I have ever heard' and it was my idea! And they went and freaking did it, and it continues to have reverberations to this day."

As the panel wrapped, a slight tease came out when a fan asked about a possible resurrection for Jean Grey. Cebulski cryptically stated that "There's some characters who want to try something like that" within the X-Universe today.

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