It's been a turbulent year for the student and faculty of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, the Marvel Universe's premier training school for young mutants. In that year the school, the students and their teachers -- better known as the X-Men -- have all been attacked multiple times. Many of them will be looking forward to taking some time off this February when the current semester comes to an end in "Wolverine & the X-Men" #42, which also marks the end of the current volume and writer Jason Aaron's run on the book.
School isn't out for summer though. This March, writer Jason Latour and newly minted Marvel exclusive artist Mahmud Asrar will kick off a new volume of "Wolverine & the X-Men" which chronicles the exploits of the super powered students and teachers caught up in the chaos that is summer semester at the Jean Grey School. CBR News spoke with Latour and Asrar about their plans for the book's All-New Marvel NOW! relaunch.
CBR News: Jason, you worked with outgoing "Wolverine & the X-Men" writer Jason Aaron on the "Wolverine: Japan's Most Wanted" Infinite Comic. How does it feel to be following in Jason's footsteps with this new volume? And how does it feel to return to Wolverine? Which aspects of his personality are you interested in exploring in this new volume of "Wolverine & the X-Men?"
Jason Latour: For my part I'm trying to go my own way.
When there were only one set of footsteps it was because I was being strangled off my feet by Jason Aaron's hydra beard. No, my dirty little secret is that I actually have a lot of respect for Jason as both a person and a writer. It's not lost on me that filling his shoes really is a monumental task. But he's been so cool about the whole thing, completely available to answer all my dumb questions and give me feedback and even encouragement, that it's really eased my mind. Turns out the guy isn't a Hitler clone under that beard after all.
Mahmud and I have our own methods, and they're probably going to respond a little differently to the changes. To that point, one of the biggest changes that we're dealing with in this series is a new status quo for Wolverine. Up to now it's all began and ended with Logan. It's his strength this school is built on the back of. His reputation for being the unkillable badass has been their insurance policy. His desire to see Xavier's dream continued, to see his own past atoned for has kept them driving forward. But now Logan is mortal, and for the first time he's being forced to take stock of what he's built. He's realizing that what he saw as a school could, in the wrong hands, become a factory for the next Cyclops or Dark Phoenix or Apocalypse or Weapon X. So a big question we'll be asking is who can he trust to guide the next generation of X-Men? To protect and mold them into the heroes they need to be? Just what is his legacy?
Mahmud, earlier this year you did an arc on "Ultimate Comics X-Men" and when we talked about that you mentioned you grew up with the X-Men. How does it feel to be given a chance to draw the adventures of the Marvel Universe incarnation of the team? What other elements of the book made this new volume of "Wolverine & X-Men" an appealing assignment for you?
Mahmud Asrar: Even though I don't have favorite characters anymore I have always had a soft spot for Wolverine so I was quite eager when I was offered this gig. I've always enjoyed the school aspect of the X-Men's history. In that sense what's special to me about working on this project is that it's mostly a roster of new mutants in a school for gifted youngsters. So in a way it's a chance for me to be a part of the X-history by being remembered alongside these characters.
Jason, what do you feel Mahmud brings to the book as an artist? And Mahmud, which elements of Jason's scripts do you appreciate the most?
Latour: Even a cursory glance shows you that Mahmud is clearly an omega-level art mutant. He has all the qualities you'd look for in a classic top flight X-Men artist. His work is dynamic and enthusiastic, in firm possession of both a bold, clean design sense and a refined subtlety. Yet as accomplished as he clearly is, what excites me the most is that you can see he's not done growing. We have no real idea what his potential is. I really don't see a ceiling. Listen -- you have no idea how crazy not being unable to say anything bad about him drives me.
Asrar: I feel Jason is very thorough without being verbose or boring. I think it's not easy to handle such a big cast with precision like that. Most important to me is that Jason himself is a very talented artist in the first place. The results of his abilities as an artist translate into his scripts with visÄ±ally interesting subject matter. This is all for the benefit of the storytelling of course. However, him being such an a good artist does make me anxious about what I do. I guess that's a good thing as it pushes me to do better work.
His name may be in the title, but "Wolverine & the X-Men" is an ensemble book that focuses on the students and faculty of the Jean Grey School, but I understand the cast will be a little bit smaller, is that correct? Which students will you focus on initially? And why did you want to reduce the class size? Can you explain where the other kids are at?
Latour: As we've seen, this first year or so of the Jean Grey School has been a hard road. As a result we'll begin with a lot of the teachers and students sitting on the the edge of their seats just waiting for the bell to ring -- for a break, for a reprieve. Some of them even want to quit. With summer in session many of them have. Those that are left are the ones who basically have nowhere to go.
So with that in mind, center of those left are Quire, Evan and Idie. Kids who are among the most potentially powerful and dangerous mutants alive.These kids are the core of Logan's first class. His legacy. In them we could be witnessing the growth of the next GREAT team of X-Men, or the creation of the biggest threats the Marvel U will ever see. Everything we're planning, the adventures, the threats, will put that to the test.
I understand that one student will have a graduation of sorts and actually become a teacher, and that's Quentin Quire. So let's talk a little bit about him. What's your sense of the character and why did you want to make him a teacher? How does that change his role in the series and his dynamic with Wolverine?
Latour: Well, in Jason Aaron's hands we've seen Quentin slowly mature. All he ever wanted was to be important, to feel like his life mattered, to be loved, because deep down he's afraid that none of that is true. As he's grown closer to his classmates he's starting to realize he can't always force the world into a shape that suits him; that what he wants is impossible without other people.
So as we begin this series he's reluctantly gone along with a probationary promotion to the position of graduate teaching assistant. He's still very torn about his place in the world and learning that he one day becomes The Phoenix and a full fledged member of the future X-Men as a result of "Battle of the Atom" has done nothing to squelch those feelings. It's increasingly difficult for him to wrap his head around the idea that some day he gets all the power and status he's always wanted, and yet he still seems to follow the flock. You couple his struggle to live up to these new expectations with a very dark and important secret about the Phoenix and the future that he's keeping from everyone and slowly but surely some potentially dangerous cracks are forming in Quentin's self image.
Mahmud, who is Quentin to you as an artist? Which of his qualities do you really want to capture in your depiction of the character?
Asrar: In most, if not all, books I've worked on, the heroes were usually all about their physical abilities. Quentin, despite his powers, is all about his character and attitude. His cunning and intelligence. This in itself makes him a very interesting character to work on. So in that sense I'd like to convey his snobbish and sarcastic behavior. What'll add more fun to the mix is his change of role in the school. He'll definitely make things entertaining for me and hopefully with the readers.
Quentin isn't the only new staff member we'll see when this new volume of "Wolverine & the X-Men" begins. Fantomex will also be joining the school's staff. What can you tell us about his role in the book? What do you feel he adds to the series.
Latour: Fantomex is, maybe somewhat surprisingly, Logan's first choice to step into an open teaching position. As violent as he's been, he's shown again and again that he does know the cost of that violence, that he understands what it means to be raised a weapon. That stands in stark contrast to Cyclops and the puritanical fervor of Xavier's dream turned toxic that Logan fears most.
Bringing Fantomex on board gives Logan hope that in his absence there will be someone who can do the dirty work and leave it at the office, but it doesn't change the fact that they have a very messy history. A history not likely forgotten by anyone anytime soon, least of all by Fantomex himself.
Who are some of the other established Jean Grey faculty members you plan on spotlighting in this new volume of "Wolverine & the X-Men?" Are there any teachers you're especially interested in exploring?
Latour: Storm is a pretty integral part of this story. If anyone knows what Xavier's legacy means it's her, and she will stay on as headmistress. But with Logan weakened, Ororo finds herself in a position that we've seen break X-Men leaders past in two. The lengths she'll go to in order to protect the school is a fear she and Logan share, and it will bring out possibly the best and worst of her. She's ready and able to do whatever it takes to protect these kids but, as someone who loves her, is that something Logan wants for her? Does he have any say in it? Should he?
Add to the mix that Logan's not quite himself anymore, so keeping him safe is squarely on Storm's shoulders. They're a real team. At the end of the day this school is theirs together, and I'm really interested in showing just how much they mean to and for one another.
Mahmud, we've touched upon Quentin already, but what's your sense of the rest of the cast of "Wolverine & the X-Men?" It seems like the large and diverse nature of the cast would make the series both fun and difficult to draw? Are there any character you especially enjoy drawing? Are there any that were difficult to get a handle on?
Asrar: I can't say I'm not looking forward to drawing some of the more famous X-Men like Storm or Rogue, but from the staff I'm very much enjoying working on Fantomex right now. It is interesting as before this book, I've never drawn him at all. Aside from these I think the whole cast of students will keep me challenged and entertained throughout. These are a very varied group of characters both in terms of their powers and visuals. Eyeboy is tough to draw in those smallerpanels though.
Let's move on from characters to talk about the kinds of stories you'll be telling. Jason, what can you tell us about your initial "Wolverine & the X-Men" story? In terms of plot and themes what is it about?
Latour: I think I've mentioned a lot of the themes above, but as for the plot -- Lets just say that Quire being marked as the Phoenix has not gone unnoticed. The Phoenix clearly has a powerful legacy, and there are a lot of folks who would do anything to grab hold of a piece of it. So his association with it has put him right into the line of fire of a villain who has a strange connection to the Phoenix Force. One unlike any we've seen before. This new villain is going to dangle what seems a very enticing carrot before Quentin, one that is going to divide and unite these characters in some interesting ways. Quentin's probably the last person any of them would leave their fates in the hands of, but it's his decisions that are going to determine the future of these X-Men in a very big way.
We've also got the legacy of Apocalypse at this school in the form of Evan. That's a very important thing to keep in mind and it's very much in play as well. For that triangle of kids -- Evan, Idie and Quentin -- things are going to get very interesting, and very messy.
Mahmud, what can you tell us about the look of these stories? How will it compare to your recent work?
Asrar: It's been a while since I've drawn a team book long term, so I'm looking forward to doing this. Visually I don't consciously make decisions to make a change in my style. It usually comes naturally according to the nature of the content. With this book I hope to incorporate a youthful approach to my art with an animated tint for the lighthearted sequences. Though with Wolverine I feel there'll be gritty sequences thrown in for good measure.
Finally, Jason what kinds of stories will we see in this volume of "Wolverine & the X-Men?" The previous volume featured a variety of genres and tones. Can we expect that same diversity in this new volume? Or are there some specific story types you want to focus in on?
Latour: I think the strength of this book is that the characters are so well defined, yet flexible that you can put them into nearly any sort of story and not lose who they are. So moving forward we hope to do just that. This first arc is not without a good bit of humor but it's going to be an attempt at a character-driven action flick of sorts. Beyond that, we'll see. You can definitely count on a lot of world shaking pathos and romance, action and hopefully some laughs. The challenge for Mahmud and I is to try and find the heart of the book that Jason Aaron and company created, and keep it pumping as we travel down new roads.
Man, I'm just beside myself to work on this book. I've been an X-Men fan since the 5th grade, starting with "Fall of the Mutants." It's pretty much been with me as a constant part of my reading diet ever since. So much so that I've always joked that I'm probably going to walk into traffic thinking about old Simonson "X-Factor" comics someday. So I'm as inspired as I've ever been to work on this book, and approaching it with as much love and care as anything I've ever done. Hopefully that shows.
Asrar: If there's one book you buy every month it's got to be this one.
In all seriousness though, in addition to what Jason said, as a creative team we're aiming to make an X-book that stands out. So with that in mind we're trying to make this book an entertaining one for both old and new readers.
"Wolverine and the X-Men" #1 by Jason Latour and Mahmud Asrar relaunches in March 2014.