SPOILER WARNING: The following contains spoilers for "Uncanny X-Men" #508, on sale now.
Throughout their history, Marvel's X-Men have tangled with queens of many colors. Emma Frost, the White Queen, was a regular opponent of the team before she joined the ranks of the X-Men proper. They also battled the vampiric Black Queen, who is currently a threat to the clandestine X-Force. Recently, a new queen has been engaging in sinister machinations against the X-Men. Her name is the Red Queen, and her plans kicked into high gear in "Uncanny X-Men" #508 by writer Matt Fraction and artist Greg Land, in stores now.
CBR News spoke with Fraction about the Red Queen and her scheme, which involves the return of a fan-favorite X-Man; as well as the writer's future plans for "Uncanny," which involve the introduction of a new team of "Dark X-Men."
For the past several months, the Red Queen has been a mysterious figure in "Uncanny X-Men." At first, readers didn't even know her true identity, but then at the end of Fraction's first story arc, Cyclops caught a glimpse of the Queen and recognized her as his deceased ex-wife, Madelyn Pryor.
"Poor Maddy is still dead," Fraction told CBR News, addressing fan speculation. "I think she was consumed by the Red Queen. Nobody said Maddy was coming back. The Red Queen is back and Maddy is dead."
The Red Queen began a recruitment drive to put together a team of female villains to assist her in her master plan against the X-Men, and in "Uncanny" #508, she sent her completed Sisterhood of Mutants on its first mission. There were a number of reasons why Fraction had the Red Queen choose the particular villains that make up the Sisterhood's ranks. "I like the Wyngarde girls. I like that they're these completely sociopathic, super powered telepaths who hate each other. And I liked their father [the deceased X-Men villain known as Mastermind] as well," Fraction explained. "With Chimera, I just thought it would be cool to see both Greg [Land] and Terry [Dodson, the other regular artist on 'Uncanny'] draw her, and her weird psychic dragons are fun. Spiral and Lady Deathstrike were chosen for strategic reasons, to get them back on the board. Deathstrike had been destroyed in the 'Messiah CompleX' storyline.
"Also, this is part of a continuing initiative of bringing more women into the series," Fraction continued. "They're all powerful women and exciting characters. They all have unique power sets and can pose a challenge to the big guys in the X-men."
The Red Queen also has her own unique set of powers, but Fraction revealed that she's more resourceful than she is powerful. "There's a reason why the Red Queen needs these particular women. She's gathered a very potent band of telepaths and psychically gifted people for a reason. So the Queen is gifted with magical abilities but she needs some heavy duty telepathy and such to pull off what she wants to pull off."
Readers got a hint of what the Red Queen wants to pull off when she and her Sisterhood engaged in a magical ritual at the end of "Uncanny" #508. "More about that will be revealed in issue #509," Fraction said. "There's a reason why it's taken ten issues to get the Queen ready and set up how and why she's trying to get rid of the X-Men."
The result of the ritual performed by the Red Queen and the Sisterhood appeared to have returned the spirit of Psylocke to her original body, which had been deceased. Also known as Betsy Braddock, Psyclocke hadn't been seen in the pages of "Uncanny X-Men" for several years, and Fraction wanted to bring her back to the title for a number of reasons. "It's also part of that initiative to bring in more strong and powerful female characters. That's really been our agenda," Fraction said. "Plus Psylocke is great. She's got a rich and complicated history and she provided stuff that no one else on the team had in terms of character, power set, and the complications her return brings about. Those complications made for an intriguing problem and I've got a lot of affection for the character. When she first came into 'Uncanny' was sort of my prime era of reading the book as a fan."
As Fraction mentioned, Psylocke brings with her a complicated back-story that involves switching bodies with a Japanese woman named Kwannon, a death, a resurrection, and a stint protecting alternate realities with her former teammates the Exiles. "Our mission with her is really to simplify as much as possible," Fraction said. "We're trying to bring her back in a way that satisfies people who know who she is and where she's been, but at the same time present this character to people who don't have any idea of who she is. Without blowing where the rest of the arc is going things become clearer in issue #509. She is a very important canary in the coal mine. She's a test run if you will. What they do with Psylocke, they want to do to someone else."
Psylocke wasn't the only established character Fraction brought back in "Uncanny" #508. He also had Wolverine go and recruit former Alpha Flight member Northstar to join the ranks of the X-Men. And like Psylocke, there were a number of reasons why Fraction wanted to make Northstar a cast member in "Uncanny." "With the exception of Surge, who's kind of young and a little inexperienced, they don't really have a lot of speed on the ground and when I wrote the 'SFX' arc and had a guy on a Ducati bike out-racing all of them, I felt if I were Cyclops I'd recognize that as a deficiency. They really needed some speed, so I thought let's bring in Northstar to remedy that," Fraction explained. "So he was a strategic get, but I also like the character a lot. I like the idea of bringing him in and secondarily I like what character says about the book right now."
Fraction finds Northstar especially compelling because of the character's lack of self-doubt. "He's extremely confident in who he is and what he can do. Having someone positive and assertive is kind of nice in a team full of people wracked with angst and self-doubt. And to write a guy who believes in himself supremely is a lot of fun. It's not Namor-like arrogance, it's just Northstar's biggest fan is himself. I think he earns that in this story. He's got a lot of great moments.
"Plus there's a reason why I wanted him to be in the extreme sports milieu when we see him in this issue. It's seems like he'd be an adrenalin junkie and that would be the kind of thing he'd be into. I also want to exploit that and have that, in, of being famous. And I like that he's an unapologetic, out-of-the-closet gay man. That's great to write too."
The return of Psylocke and Northstar are just the initial surprises Fraction has planned for the current "Uncanny" arc. The remainder of the story is packed with action, shocking revelations, and scenes of extreme emotional intensity. "I believe issue #510 is the biggest fight scene I've ever written. It's literally 22 pages of action as the X-Men and the Sisterhood go head to head. It's huge, epic, and was a blast to write," Fraction said. "I don't want to ruin any surprises but the Red Queen is definitely up to something and it will behoove the X-Men to thwart her."
The Sisterhood arc in "Uncanny X-Men" runs through issue #511, and will be followed by a one-off story in issue #512 about Beast and the X-Club, illustrated by Yanick Paquette. "It's a rare pleasure to wake up in the morning to piping hot, minty fresh Yanick Paquette pencils, and I recommend it to anyone who can experience it," Fraction remarked. "In the issue, the X-Club, having built a time machine that goes forward, decide to build one that goes backwards and study the origins of the first mutant birth boom."
Then we're into X-Men/Dark Avengers territory.
Fans are already buzzing about the six-part "X-Men/Dark Avengers" crossover that Matt Fraction is writing, and they became even more excited after the reveal of the story's first cover, "Uncanny X-Men" #513, featuring a new team of "Dark X-Men." "This story is about three teams and the three people leading those teams; Norman Osborn, Scott Summers and Emma Frost," Fraction confirmed.
When fans meet Emma Frost's Dark X-Men, the team is fully formed and was handpicked by Norman Osborn -- with the exception of one member who's been placed on the team at Emma Frost's insistence. Unlike Osborn's Avengers, the majority of his X-Men are in the dark as to his current criminal agenda and believe him to be a reformed villain and hero of the Skrull invasion. "You've got to remember what we as readers know the world doesn't, and what Norman did to the Avengers he's now looking to do with the X-Men," Fraction stated. "There is a profound public crisis and what Norman did worked, so he's thinking why wouldn't it work for the X-Men?"
The ranks of the Dark X-Men include characters with long ties to the X-books like Charles Xavier and Emma Frost, characters with newer ties to the X-Universe like Namor - whose past with Emma was explored in this year's "Uncanny X-Men Annual" -- and characters without strong ties to the X-Books like Cloak and Dagger. "I like Cloak and Dagger a lot as characters and thought this was a great opportunity to put them front and center and give them some great moments to hopefully encourage more people to fall in love with them as characters," Fraction said. "They're loners with dirty records. They've got complicated histories and they're not big fans of being part of any kind of team, especially one that would have them as members. So Norman appeals to their sense of duty and offers to expunge their records and give them a fresh start if they join this team. He really appeals to their sense of wanting to help others and not wanting to run. He understands they're runaways above all else and offers them a home and fresh start."
While Cloak and Dagger may not have an inkling as to Osborn's true agenda, it's unclear what Charles Xavier actually knows. Has the world's most powerful telepath fallen under the spell of Norman Osborn? Or does Charles Xavier's presence on the Dark X-Men mean it's Norman Osborn, and not Cyclops, who has mutantkind's best interests at heart? "When we see Xavier he's calling for calm and begging for a cessation of violence," Fraction hinted. " He sees a perversion of his dream and vision so who better to call for peace amongst the mutant populace than Charles Xavier?"