The Marvel Universe is a well defended place. Even the smallest scale threats are likely to attract the attention of a multitude of solo super heroes and teams, while large threats will certainly be challenged by one, if not all three of the Marvel U's premier super teams: The X-Men, The Avengers or the Fantastic Four. With so many super heroes on the job, it's safe to assume that the disappearance of one super team wouldn't affect the others, right? Wrong! In fact, there's an almost symbiotic relationship between Marvel's top three teams, one which will become quite clear when the crossover event "Age of X" begins.
In "Age of X," writer Mike Carey and a team of artists take readers to a universe where Marvel history has unfolded in a drastically different manner. In this world, a fierce anti-mutant coalition seized power early on and used their authority to prevent the X-Men from forming. In CBR's current feature, THE AGE OF X COMMUNIQUES, Carey shows just how different certain X-characters have become. Marvel has also released "Historical Log" teaser images showing some of the pivotal events in this changed history. In the fifth and final log, readers were given a glimpse of what this alternate history has done to the Avengers. They're still the group that comes together to face threats too large for any one hero, but in this reality, they're only concerned with one threat. That's because the "Age of X" Avengers are government sponsored mutant hunters.
This March, writer Simon Spurrier ("X-Men: Curse of the Mutants-Smoke and Blood," "Gutsville") and artist Khoi Pham send this decidedly different team of Avengers into action when they kick off the two issue "Age of X Universe" miniseries. CBR News spoke with Spurrier about his cast of characters and plans for the series.
CBR News: Simon, before we start, I need to point out that in a lot of ways, the "Age of X" event is a mystery story, so you may be limited in what you can say about "Age of X Universe," correct?
Simon Spurrier: The "Age of X" event -- as many of you now know -- is a beautifully grimy creature chained to a big shiny question mark -- Here be Enigmas, my friends, so I indeed have to be a little careful with what I say. I promise to be as open and honest as I can -- without spoiling too much spoily spoileriness. Deal?
Deal. A lot of your work with Britain's "2000 AD" has involved stories set in dystopian future worlds. How much fun was it to help create a dystopian alternate Marvel Universe in "Age of X Universe?"
Huge fun! What's fascinating (and already I'm picking my words with care!) is that in certain respects, the "Age of X" is absolutely not dystopian at all. It's a world in which things have happened very differently than we're used to in the mainstream Marvel U. For some of the characters -- and I'm saying nothing about who or why -- frankly, that's made the world a better place. For others, most pointedly the mutant population, it's a living nightmare.
As for the notion of world building, that's also been a giggle. When I first started writing comics for "2000 AD," I was convinced a lot of the joy of my job came from creating new worlds, original characters and novel situations, and I still think there's something privileged about that level of unrestrained invention. But I'm learning there's something equally as fun -- moreso, in some cases -- in concentrating one's creativity under more delineated conditions.
After all, if the characters and places you're playing with are already established, as they are in the mainstream Marvel U,then all your batshit inventive energy and narrative insight must by necessity be used in cleverer ways -- more deliberately tailor-made, you know?
All of which means that something like the "Age of X" saga is basically the best of both worlds, recognizable characters who come fully-loaded with readers' expectations and preconceptions, but twisted in completely unusual and utterly unrestrained ways. It has been, oh yes, wild.
One of the most interesting aspects of "Age of X Universe" has got to be your cast of characters, so let's talk a little bit about them. Front and center in the historical log promo image, we have what appears to be this reality's version of Captain America. What can you tell us about this Cap? Is this Steve Rogers? How does he reconcile being a Sentinel of Liberty and anenforcer for a police state style government?
I think I'm allowed to say: it is indeed Steve Rogers.
As for rationalizing why he does what he does, that's something I'll leave him to explain for himself. All I'd say is that history is littered with good people doing terrible things and terrible people doing good things. It's very difficult, when you're down on the front line, to make value judgments. Am I a force for good or for bad? Some people agonize over it and ultimately can't handle the not knowing. They tend to make terrible soldiers. Others respond by surrendering all responsibility and saying "I just do what I'm told." They're the ones history tends to vilify. Steve is neither of those.
What he is, and how he deals with it, forms a key thread of this tale.
Standing next to Cap is a woman clad in black who looks to be this world's Spider-Woman. Is that correct? And if so, how similar and how different is she to the Spider-Woman of the main Marvel Universe?
Her name is Redback. I'm saying nothing more, because neither would she.
On the other side of Cap in the promo image is the Invisible Woman. We know, thanks another "Age of X" Historical Log, that Sue Richards warned her husband against harboring a mutant, who would go on to harm Franklin and lead to the FF's arrest. I imagine this incident is why Sue is on the Avengers. Is there anything else you can say about her motivations? Is she angry over what happened to her son and looking for payback? Is she hoping that working for the Avengers will get her family a lighter sentence?
Yeah, again -- I have to remain annoyingly vague.
You've all seen the relevant Historical Log, so you know Sue is "responsible" for bringing about the arrest of the Fantastic Four. You also know what Sue's like as a person, so you can imagine she's tormented by what's happened. For all that, she's a smart woman. She knows, despite all the heartache, that she acted rationally. A mutant harmed her child, and even though it was just an accident, she couldn't allow it to happen again.
Does that make her a good mother? A bad wife? A mutant-hater? A self-hater? All of the above? All these conflicts are churning around inside her, and if you go back to what I was saying earlier with regard to Cap -- about soldiers rationalizing their actions -- then Sue is very definitely in the first camp. She agonizes over everything.
Accordingly, she has a huge role to play in this version of the Avengers, both as its moral conscience, its engine of self control, and, well, as one of its most powerful members.
Standing next to Sue is a character you've written before -- Ghost Rider. What's it like coming back to him? Is this Dan Ketch or Johnny Blaze, and why is Ghost Rider, who normally handles mystical threats, concerned with the "Mutant Menace" of this world?
It's Johnny. I can't say much more than that for reasons which will become obvious quite early-on during issue one.
Next to Ghost Rider is a suit of Iron Man armor. Is there someone wearing the armor or is it a drone? What can you tell us about the person in control of the suit?
Here's a teaser for ya -- there is indeed a human being inside that suit. It's not Rocky Rhodes, or anyone named Hammer or Stane or Osborne. It's exactly who you'd expect.
Except, sorry. Tony Stark has been dead for years. [Laughs]
In the back, we have what looks to be a heavily scarred Incredible Hulk. I don't know what's more scary -- the fact that something or someone was able to give the Hulk scars or how angry the Hulk might become because of an attack like that. What can you tell us about the physical and mental states of the Hulk in this series?
This is a case of parallel history, I suppose. This Hulk looks -- and even acts -- pretty familiar to all of us Marvel-U fans, but his origin story is slightly different. I can't say more than that, but you can be sure of learning the truth, and you can be sure that Doctor Bruce Banner will play a very, very important role in the events of this story.
There's a scene in issue one, for instance, in which he, um, makes friends with a character who's very sadly missed from the pages of the X-Men.
How would you describe the dynamic amongst the Avengers of the "Age of X" world? Do these characters necessarily get along?
Do they get along? [Laughs] No. Two things to remember:
1 - Team stories are, and have always been, just as much about the internal conflicts, the squabbles and the differences of opinion, as they are about the communal effort to overcome this or that obstacle. That's especially true in a grim reality with the sorts of heavy-duty themes we're playing with in "Age of X."
2 - One of the recurring motifs throughout this event is unity -- or, rather, disunity. The mutants are struggling to survive despite having no serious history of cooperation or organization. Equally, the Avengers is a newly formed group. All these weird and superpowered guys have been off doing their thing for years, solo. Suddenly, they've been brought together with a shared goal, and it's going to take a lot of hard work to find some common ground.
Whose perspective is the story told from and over how much time does the series unfold?
The series is about a group of free-thinking warriors being tasked with something immense, controversial and deadly. It's about each of them rising to the challenge -- or not -- in very different ways. It's about conscience and guilt and responsibility. It's about death. Lots and lots and lots of death. Narratively speaking, we're witnessing events through the eyes of Steve Rogers: Captain America. But it's about his team as much as it's about him.
The central conflict unfolds over the course of several days, but thanks to the miracle of cutaway sequences, we'll be dipping decades into the past, and even a little into the future. There's a neat framing conceit which "locates" our story very clearly in the framework Mike has created in the main title.
Who are the antagonists of "Age of X: Universe?" In your mind, what made these characters good foils for the Avengers?
"Antagonists?" That's a very difficult question to answer. I'll tip the first domino by reminding you that these guys are working as enforcers of Anti-Mutant legislation, so it's a no-brainer that there will be plenty of gorgeous, mutie-mangling action.
Like all the best thrillers, though, the One True Enemy takes a little longer to identify.
Who are some of the other important supporting players in this series?
My lips are sealed. Which is more than can be said for our supporting players. One of whose lips were blown off long ago, one of whose lips have been replaced by Adamantium tusks and one of whose lips are more commonly seen above a black t-shirt bearing a toothy, bony logo.
Expect to see a lot of familiar faces -- some of whom you haven't seen in a long, long time. And don't expect all of them to survive.
What's it like working with Khoi Pham? What do you feel he brings to the book as an artist?
A beautiful clarity of line, a gorgeous penchant for shadows, and the sorts of dynamic action poses most artists would give their calloused little fingers for. Given the gritty vibe of the series, and some of the downright unpleasant things I've pumped into the script, I couldn't ask for more than a master of clear-yet-moody-as-hell imagery.
How would you describe the tone of "Age of X Universe?" It seems like this series could be pretty grim, but it also seems like the setting affords you the opportunity to use some black humor and satire. Is that correct?
In appropriate doses, yeah. Too much despair and darkness will eject readers from a story just as quick as relentless silliness or smarm, so the trick is to choose an overall mood -- in this case "Increasingly Traumatic Acts Of Violence" -- and then weave the tone of individual moments around it: peaks and troughs on an ever-growing tide.
Any final thoughts you would like to share about "Age of X Universe?"
Loads. But I'm totally not allowed to. I will say this: bring a box of tissues. I mean, yeah, you can use it to mop up your tears if you have to -- you massive sissy -- but mostly it's so you don't get too much blood on your hands while you read.
Finally any other work, comic related or other wise, that fans of your work should keep an eye out for?
Oooh, loads. I spent a huge portion of 2010 holed-up, writing projects which won't be published until this year, so I'll hopefully be a bit more visible throughout 2011. By now you'll be used to me being infuriatingly vague, so once again I'm prevented from going into too much detail. I have a creator owned serial being released by the ghost of Wildstorm, two -- count 'em -- Massive Online Events loaded-and-ready-to-fire with Avatar and hopefully more juicy stuff with Marvel. I'm a massive Twitter fan, so that's usually the place to keep an eye out for announcements, rumors and general brainfarting. Seek ye @sispurrier, oh brave procrastinator.
One thing I am allowed to talk about, 'cos it's mine, all mine, is "Numbercruncher": a delightfully insane creator owned series with PJ Holden. There's a preview and an explanation right here.