As we wrote earlier this morning in a special edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed, in 2001, Marvel completely revamped their line of X-Men and X-Men related comic books. The new line was led by Grant Morrison's New X-Men, but it also included some rather "out there" fare like Peter Milligan and Mike Allred's X-Force revamp and The Brotherhood, a series about mutant terrorists which lasted for nine issues.
At the time, Marvel promoted the series in the solicitations like this:
A MESSAGE FROM THE FRONTLINES: "Perhaps you think you know us. That costumed charlatans such as Magneto and his ilk are representative of our people. You are wrong. We are your neighbors. Your co-workers. The homeless you callously step over on your way to your safe, meaningless jobs. We will not announce ourselves with bright red uniforms or gloating public pronouncements. We will simply strike. When you see your streets run scarlet with blood, and your cities aflame, you will know your time is at an end. "You have taken our homes from us. Our families. Our future. You despoil the world we were meant to inherit, plundering the resources that rightfully belong to our children. No more... from this day forward, The Brotherhood declares open war on humanity. Its end will not come until the power to govern rests in our hands. Or until you are, once and for all, extinct."
THE CREATORS: Who is X? We don't know what his or her real name is, but we do know that he or she is writing one heck of an intense comic book! Joining this secret scribe is Essad Ribic, whose fine pencil work has been seen recently in CABLE and X-MEN 2000. And dig that wild cover by Bill Sienkiewicz!
As Marvel explained at the time, we often make decisions about a comic book based on the creative team before we even read the comic book itself, and this way, the story in the comic book would have to stand on its own. You couldn't make any decisions based on who was writing the book since you didn't know who was writing the book!
Marvel really hyped up the mystery of "Writer X" at the time and the true identity of the writer behind the pseudonym has been kept a secret ever since (Joe Quesada used to have to decline to reveal who Writer X was in seemingly every other reader chat he did around 2002-2003). That is, it has been kept a secret until today, as Writer X finally comes clean in an interview with CBR!
Brian Cronin: So, open things up for us.
Writer X: First, I'd like to say... I am Howard Mackie and I was WRITER-X. That felt good. I haven't ever said that.
BC: Hah! Okay, so who came up with the idea for Writer X?
Howard Mackie: The idea of Writer-X was ALL me! I pitched it to my editor, Mark Powers. He loved it. The EIC loved it. And off we went.
BC: Had you worked with Mark before? I thought he might have been one of your editors on Mutant X towards the end of that series, but I just saw that he was not.
HM: I had known Mark for years. He started out at Marvel as a high school intern-- I think. Maybe it was college. Then he was the assistant editor on a few projects I'd worked on. I honestly cannot remember if he edited me on only actual books before The Brotherhood.
BC: I don't BELIEVE so, but that makes sense, then, that you guys had that other connection.
HM: Wait! Maybe some of the Age of Apocalypse stuff I wrote. Yes. I believe so [Presumably Howard is referring to X-Men Chronicles and Age of Apocalypse: The Chosen, two series he did set in the Age of Apocalypse. Kelly Corvese and Jaye Gardner were listed as the editors on those projects – BC] Anyway, I knew Mark to be a talented and good guy, so I wanted to work with him.
BC: Was Marvel looking for proposals for their revamped X-line at the time? Or was this something that you just went ahead on your own with?
HM: I really don't remember if they were. I just had this idea... and really pushed for it. It was a type of stress relief valve for me. It probably was approved because they knew that if they didn’t, I would have just kept talking about the overarching theme every time I came to the office.
BC: The overarching theme of the project or the concept of Writer X in general?
BC: Hah! Fair enough.
HM: The Writer-X theme was really what I was exploring.
BC: And what did you think was so interesting about the Writer-X theme?
HM: I felt that comics had become too driven by a cult of personality at the time. I will not name names, but I felt that there were magazines-- the internet was not as much of a force at that time-- who propelled some writers to stardom. Some I felt deserved it. Others...
BC: That had been the case for a while, though, hadn't it? Like the early 1990s stuff, with the Image creators and Marvel giving McFarlane his own Spider-Man title and Jim Lee his own X-Men title.
HM: Yes... Image started it all, but then we had the wave of British writers (by the way... I am a HUGE fan of many of them) ... and some of the superstar writers were not actual sales successes. The point for me was to see if a book-- without a big name-- could succeed on merit alone.
BC: When you pitched The Brotherhood, did you know you were done on Amazing Spider-Man and Mutant X? Or were you still on either of those two titles?
HM: I think when I pitched it... I was still under contract to Marvel. The timing is all a little fuzzy for me.
BC: It's interesting, though, that you mention British writers because The Brotherhood launched along with the revamped X-line in 2001, which included high profile projects by two very famous British comic book writers -- Grant Morrison and Peter Milligan.
HM: Yes... and that led to a lot of guesses as to WHO Writer-X could be. I loved seeing all the names bandied about regarding the identity of Writer-X.
BC: It was also around Brian Michael Bendis' start at Marvel, which led to a number of guesses for him, as well.
HM: Bendis, Quesada, I think I once read Gaiman... it kind of made one of my points.
BC: To be fair, though, there were also plenty of guesses of you.
HM: Yes...there were. But it would be things like, "It's so terrible it HAS to be Mackie." Placing that alongside guesses of Gaiman, Bendis, etc...
HM: It also turned X into a minor celebrity at the time. All very funny.
BC: Yeah, Writer X was definitely a cause celebre at the time!
HM: Oh yes... I really tried to inhabit the role.
BC: Did you find yourself trying to alter your writing style at all? To live up to the role of "X"?
HM: If you look at the book-- and I haven't in 17 years-- it was a different type of book for me. I think I'd do a better job today, but... who wouldn't?
BC: Oh, it was definitely much different from your other stuff
BC: What's interesting, though, is that your POV character is a teen from Brooklyn, which is where you’re from!
HM: Yup... go figure. That SHOULD have been the giveaway.
HM: I JUST found the original plot to issue #1 in a file. I'm going to have to read it. I am also noticing that I created a Writer X AOL e-mail address. We were committed.
BC: Do you recall a deluge of emails at the time? I’m sure 80% of them were just “What is your real name?”
HM: I do remember the mail. I just got a FB message the other day from someone asking me if I was X.