Back in the 1990s, the mutants of the Marvel Universe were protected by the time traveling mutant Cable and his elite team of operatives known as X-Force. These days, mutants may be on the brink of extinction, but Cable and X-Force are still fighting for their people -- they've just chosen very different paths.
Cable has time-jumped into the future, where he can protect what he believes to be a mutant messiah; a baby girl, the first mutant born since M-Day, the vast depowering of the world's mutants. The current incarnation of X-Force has remained in the present day, where they've been tasked by Cyclops to clandestinely and permanently "eliminate" any serious threats to the remaining mutant populace.
Those divergent paths will collide in 2009, in "X-Force/Cable: Messiah War," a seven-part crossover between the ongoing "X-Force" and "Cable" series. The event kicks off in March with the "X-Force/Cable Messiah War Prologue" by writers Chris Yost & Craig Kyle with artwork by Mike Choi and Sonia Oback. CBR News spoke with Yost, Kyle and Choi about the project.
It was the 2007 X-Men storyline "Messiah CompleX" that began the story of the first mutant baby born since M-Day and set Cable and X-Force off on their current paths. "Messiah War" is meant to serve as the second major act in the ongoing story of the mutant baby. "This is the middle chapter of what I think will be a major three-part saga, which will continue to define and redefine the X-Universe moving forward," Craig Kyle told CBR News. "The nice thing for us is that we get to show the next big moment in this story line."
The outbreak of "Messiah War" catches completely off guard the protagonists of "X-Force," a title that Kyle and Yost also write. "We've got a really tight series of stories unfolding in our book. We've got a big arc that we're playing to which will be 30-some issues," Kyle revealed. "We'll have these big stories that build to it but this war kind of falls on our team from out of nowhere and we play to the shock of that. I think our fans will kind of get that through the experiences of our heroes, because they're about as unprepared for this as the people reading the book."
X-Force isn't just physically and mentally unprepared for "Messiah War," they're also unprepared for the emotional battery that awaits them. "This couldn't have come at a worse time," Chris Yost said. "Things are really bad. Then a full on war is dropped into their lap."
It should come as no surprise to regular readers of "X-Force" or fans of Kyle and Yost's "New X-Men" that X-Force finds themselves under the gun in "Messiah War." The writers love stacking the deck against their heroes. "When we started assembling the final roster of X-Force, we knew we had a team that was going to face threats that would be better suited for the Avengers or a fully fleshed out X-Men team, where everyone has a power that you can use in various different ways," Kyle explained. "But these guys have limited abilities and in many ways they overlap, so they just don't have the wide breath of powers that would help you succeed in these extraordinary challenges. We like the guys that are unprepared because then, when it gets bad, they're really up the creek. So yes, the problems X-Force is facing here continue to expand beyond their comfort zone or their ability to manage. This is a desperate time for our heroes."
Added Yost, "The bottom line in this story to us is that it's the end of the world and the end of your species and you've got a knife-- deal with it!"
"Messiah War Prologue" finds Cyclops finally discovering where and when in the future Cable and his mutant messiah charge are hiding, and sending X-Force to retrieve them. "Ever since Bishop has come back in the pages of 'Cable,' Cyclops has been very worried," Yost said, referring to the fact that Bishop wants to kill the messiah baby because he believes she'll grow up to kill a million people, leading to mutants being put in concentration camps. "It's time travel. Cable could have come back one second later. Why didn't he? From the word go, Cyclops's faith has been tested on a daily basis. Every single day Cable didn't come back with that baby all he could think was, 'something has gone horribly wrong.' So sending in X-Force is his last ditch effort to try and save the day."
Kyle added, "The other great thing is, as we've done with every issue of 'X-Force' so far, we're trying to go back to classic stories of the '80s and a little of the '90s as we're seeding all the characters and storylines. So this is again reaching back to what we thought was really exciting and I know the X-Office and ['Cable' writer] Duane [Swierczynski] think it's exciting. So there's a lot of great stuff that's going to be in there. It's not just a continuation of a story. It involves the larger X-Universe and its history. So I think the long time fans are going to have a lot to be excited about."
Finding Cable is only part of X-Force's mission in "Messiah War." Much of the dramatic tension in the storyline comes when X-Force and Cable finally meet face to face. "The thing I don't think the team is really aware of is that for them, Cable has only been gone a short amount of time. For Cable, though, he's been gone about eight or nine years," Yost explained, "So it's definitely going to be a moment."
"These things are still being hammered out but I think you're going to have different experiences from the characters who know Cable," Kyle remarked. "And it may very well split the team down the middle because they're going to be pushed into situations where it's going to come down to faith. And I wouldn't say that X-Force is going to be a united front when it comes to what are the right and wrong things to do in this situation, especially with pretty much all of mutantkind at stake."
Further complicating matters in "Messiah War" is the fact that when he comes face to face with them, Cable is decidedly less than happy to see X-Force. "They're not welcome and the reunion is not a heartfelt one that's for sure," Kyle confirmed. ""Anything and everything the team was expecting when they get there is completely thrown out once they land and I think that's kind of the whole feel of the series. This thing quickly grows into something they never could have imagined."
For Yost and Kyle, one of the fun things about working on "Messiah War" is the chance to write Cable, a character they find especially compelling. "Cable has been this lone warrior and he took on this burden by himself," Yost explained. "Much like X-Force, he's going to do what it takes to get things done but at the same time his experience of this thing has totally changed. It's because of how long he's been with the baby. He's still this tough, old warrior but now he's raised this little girl and everything has changed for him. It's not this vague thing of, 'Save this baby-Save mutantkind.' To him it's, 'This is my daughter. So I think it's a pretty refreshing take for Cable."
Naturally, Cable's adopted daughter will be another very important character in "Messiah War." "She's about 8-9 years old now so she's making some decisions that are going to affect everything," Yost teased.
"Yeah, and it's a real surprise to X-Force, obviously," added Kyle. "They're coming there to get Cable and the baby and when they get there, they find a little girl. Everything gets more complicated now because you've got this little person in front of you to contend with. And that speaks to the bond Cable has built with this child."
The clashing thoughts and ideologies of X-Force, Cable, and his daughter are big parts of "Messiah War," but Yost and Kyle and their collaborator Duane Swierczynski have included at least one adversary to test their characters' mettle. "Bishop is definitely in there and who's to say who else might show up?' Yost remarked.
"Messiah War" kicks off with "Messiah War Prologue," illustrated by the "X-Force" team of Mike Choi and Sonia Oback. "They really work well with us. Their work on 'Target X' was extraordinary, and the work they've done and are doing now on 'X-Force' is just great," Kyle said. "They really get these characters. They're able to put the gritty and dark elements in there but they're able to keep the characters, especially X-23 and the females, beautiful. Their stuff is so beautiful and the way that Sonia is able to paint these scenes and bring them to life makes her and Mike the perfect package."
Mike Choi, who was recently named one of Marvel's "Young Guns" for 2009, is currently working on character sketches of the "Messiah War" cast to help him nail his number one artistic priority, characterization." "I don't care how many dimensions they have, if the characters aren't believable (not necessarily realistic) then I won't buy the story," Choi told CBR. "So I definitely want to help differentiate the characters as well as I can and show their emotions and states-of-mind as accurately as possible. This is where I think subtlety is extremely important if called for."
Choi feels his depictions of Cable need to radiate a dangerous and just plain bad-ass quality. "I think that his bad-assed-ness has to out-bad-ass every character I've ever drawn, other than perhaps Bishop," Choi remarked. "He's very much Leon in 'The Professional', although I think the relationship between Leon and Mathilda is very different from Nathan and the Messiah baby."
It's the strange dynamic among X-Force team members that Choi finds most interesting. "For the most part, each character has an intimate connection with one or more members of the team that isn't universal throughout the team. This isn't a family; they have very divergent pasts and distinct histories and cross themselves in important places. I think that's very cool," Choi explained. "I also like that none of them really want to be in X-Force except for one member, but all of them believe in it, again, except for one member."
Mike Choi and Sonia Oback are tackling "Prologue" in a different manner different from that of their previous work. "We approached our 'X-Force' run from a standpoint of 'let's maintain an Uncanny X-Men tone, and up the violence,' which I now think was wrong," Choi explained "Once we moved to an attitude of 'let's maintain a MAX tone and then clean it up as much as we're forced to make it a Parental Advisory' in the middle of our second issue, I think it really helped us get into the correct X-Force mindset. It's not just a matter of adding more and more blood, or even just violence for violence's sake, which I hate. Just to put it in a nutshell, it's like the difference between decapitating a person by cutting off their head at the neck, or at the mouth. You can use the same amount of blood, but one's more visceral than the other, not just violent. That's the X-Force way. It can be applied in a very macro way to camera angles, panel layouts, and even pacing. I used to always just approach things in a less-is-more, subtlety-is-best way, and I've learned that sometimes cramming the situation down someone's eye-throat is the best way to do it.
"I eventually want to do a project where I try something new, with a lot of rendering and cross-hatching or even inks," Choi continued. "At the same time though, I'm not sure if this is the best time to try doing something drastically new, time constraints aside. A lot of people like the pencil and coloring style that Sonia and I are working in now, and we want to keep giving them what they want, as opposed to risk losing them in our attempts to try something out for my own amusement."
For Choi, one of the highlights of working on the "Messiah War Prologue" is that it reunites him with frequent collaborators Kyle and Yost. "I love working with Craig and Chris. The four of us, including Sonia, are very close professionally, and we've reached the point where we can almost read each others' minds," he said. "We have carte blanch to add any business we want into the art, knowing that Craig and Chris have the confidence in us that we usually won't change the story and the tone in any way, and even if we do, they in turn at least try to see what we're trying to do and possibly even incorporate it into the story. Sonia and I know that the writing is the number one priority, and that Craig and Chris are excellent writers whose work deserves our utmost respect, but they make us really feel like partners in the story-telling endeavor as a whole, and that's really fun and rewarding, as well as very flattering."
The "X-Force" issues of the "Messiah War" crossover feature the artwork of Clayton Crain, who collaborated with Yost and Kyle on the first "X-Force" arc, "Angels and Demons." "We're excited to have him back as well, and I think he is who everyone thinks off when they think about this version of the series," Craig Kyle said. "What we're currently seeing from Crain is as good as if not better than what he's been doing."
Yost and Kyle are also enjoying the chance to collaborate with Duane Swierczynski on "Messiah War." "'Cable' is a very intimate book. Duane just has a couple of characters and Bishop, the man hunting them. He needs to drive the story and keep it exciting and with such a small cast of characters to work with and that's a real challenge," Kyle remarked. "And we think he's done a tremendous job making the book involving to the reader and keeping his saga interesting and fresh. So I think it's great to take a character like Cable, who Duane has done such a good job with, into our book and to see how he mixes it up with our team. I also think Duane is getting the opportunity to involve a few more toys in his story."
"X-Force/Cable: Messiah War" is a seven-part crossover that involves "X-Force" and "Cable" but it's a story that will have serious repercussions for the entire line of X-books. "It's serious stuff. It's literally the next chapter in the future of the X-Men," Chris Yost said. "What happens here will have ramifications for all the X-Book and potentially even the Marvel Universe."
"There is no moment in the story that will be forgotten or wasn't put in place for the right reasons," Kyle agreed. "I think there will be immediate consequences and there will be sleeping giants that are waiting. Our plan is to set up enough things, that when the fall out does come, people understand why and can go back and see how the seeds were laid for it. So this story is only the beginning of some dark, dark stuff that's coming."
"Messiah War Prologue" goes on sale in March from Marvel Comics.