Famed crooner Tony Bennett is known for singing about how he left his heart in San Francisco, and the cast of Marvel Comics' "Uncanny X-Men" are starting to see what he means. In issue #500, in stores now, the mutant team relocated to the City by the Bay. CBR News spoke with co-writer Matt Fraction about what he and Ed Brubaker have planned for the book.
Fraction and Brubaker wanted to get the X-Men out of New York, and San Francisco's long history of tolerance and acceptance made it the perfect new home for the team. "One thing we wanted to play with was, 'What if the X-Men lived somewhere where they weren't feared and hated and they're instead celebrated and embraced?'" Fraction told CBR News. "San Francisco honors and celebrates diverse cultures and there are few more unique and diverse than the X-Men. When the fires of anti-Mutant hysteria get restoked, the city continues to embrace them and when the rest of the world starts to turn against the X-Men their new home stays with them.
"The move to San Francisco also fits with where the Marvel Universe has been going lately," Fraction continued. "Plus there's a giant Dreaming Celestial standing in Golden Gate Park."
San Francisco's many distinctive neighborhoods and their inhabitants are going to become an important part of "Uncanny X-Men" in the coming months. "San Francisco is really a new team member in a lot of ways," Fraction said. "The flavor of the city, its history, the people, the really diverse ethnic groups, cultures, and religions are going to influence the book. I'm doing a Colossus story that takes place in the old Russian neighborhoods. Colossus goes out one night looking for some home cooking, finds it and gets tied into a big adventure. It's the kind of story we couldn't do when he lived in a mansion in upstate New York."
In "Uncanny X-men" #500, readers got their first glimpse of the X-Men's new base of operations, which is located in an area just outside of San Francisco known as the Marin Headlands. "The Marin Headlands is a gift from our editor Axel Alonso, who is a San Francisco kid through and through," Fraction said. "It's basically an area of old military bases built into the mountains of Marin. They were gun batteries and observation posts during the second World War and they're still there. It's also one of the most beautiful locales on Earth; it's home to spectacular sunsets and incredible views. It's a beautiful piece of land right there overlooking the bay."
The X-Men's new headquarters is a building that can serve many purposes. "It's a lot of different stuff; an embassy, a sanctuary, a community center, a school, and a museum. It's a cultural headquarters but it's also a secret superhero headquarters since it's ten times as big underground than it is above," Fraction explained. "There's very much a public face that's manifested through the building, which as you'll see in issue #501 they come to call Graymalkin."
The X-Men's new base has a public face but it's also a building designed to protect its inhabitants from any siege attempts. "Inevitably the X-Men are going to have to walk it like they've been talking it," Fraction stated. "There's not many mutants left and as these waves of anti-mutant hysteria build, like you'll see start to happen in issue #504, people start knocking on their door saying, 'I need help. These guys burned down my house.'"
The X-Men's move to San Francisco means they'll be rubbing elbows regularly with people in the city's infrastructure, like the police and local politicians. Recent issues of "Uncanny" have shown the city's mayor assisting the X-Men with their set up in San Francisco. The Mayor is a character who first appeared in issues #6-7 of Fraction's previous series, "The Order." "We wanted to use someone like the current Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, who's young and well aware of the polycultural city he's on top of," Fraction explained. "Our Mayor is definitely optimistic and based on what little we've seen of her it may be easy to assume that she's naieve, but when she goes into crisis mode she really shines. She becomes quite confidant and capable and absolutely the right person for the job."
Warren Worthington III --aka Angel -- was instrumental in the X-Men's move to San Francisco, having used his wealth, political connections, and good looks to help expedite things. But in a recent issue of "X-Force," Angel was transformed back to the blue skinned, metal winged Archangel. Future issues of "Uncanny" will explore Angel's transformation and the many other ways, X-Force -- Cyclops's secret team of mutant "wetwork" operatives -- affects the dynamic of the core X-Men group. "The stuff with Angel and Archangel is happening at the same time," Fraction said. "We're going to start to see the ways in which having dual memberships in these teams affects people. The weight of these secrets will get very heavy very fast."
The existence of X-Force will impact all of the members who serve in both teams, especially current X-Men leader Cyclops, who sends X-Force on their missions. "It's not a thing that comes lightly to Scott. He's an intractably good man. He's the steward and the shepherd; the Mutant Moses trying to lead his people out of certain doom and he's going to lead them out however he has to," Fraction said. "He's not a killer or a soldier but this is who he's been trained to be his entire life. The sort of slow and sad realization he's going to come to is that in a lot ways Professor Xavier was right in terms of whom Scott needs to be. His whole life has been training for what he is now."
In "Uncanny X-Men" #500, Cyclops and his fellow X-Men battled their oldest foe, Magneto, who was given a suit created by the amoral geneticist the High Evolutionary that replicated the mutant abilities stripped from him by his daughter the Scarlet Witch. Magneto seemed to relish having the suit, attacking the X-Men with an angry gusto he hadn't exhibited in years. "Because of how heavy things had been in storylines like 'Messiah Complex' and 'Divided We Stand' we wanted to write a fun, self-contained, special-effects laden adventure story. And part of that meant writing Magneto like how he was in the early days of 'Uncanny X-Men," Fraction said. "But that was also a gag and stunt which he used to flummox and distract the X-Men while the High Evolutionary and Kingo Sunen [A member of the Eternals who currently believes he's a Japanese filmmaker] were lobotomizing the Dreaming Celestial. Later, we see Magneto with the High Evolutionary he's much more the character we know, a lion in winter."
Fraction has great affinity for the character of Kingo Sunen, but the Eternal won't be appearing in "Uncanny" again for awhile. However, Magneto and the High Evolutionary's mysterious partnership will continue to be one of the book's central plot threads. "Its nature will be revealed," Fraction teased. "We'll learn why the two came together. And why they're working together."
Another character that manipulated the X-Men in "Uncanny" #500 was the mysterious Simon Trask, whose surname means he's connected to the family that designed the mutant killing Sentinels. Like Magneto and the High Evolutionary, Trask's enigmatic agenda will be an ongoing story thread. "He's a long range seed," Fraction said. "That stuff is going to develop for the next few years. We've got a real road map we're driving on and it's pretty exciting. It gives us the opportunity to do detailed foreshadowing like this."
The adversaries in the X-Men's immediate future appeared on the final pages of "Uncanny X-Men" #500. They're known as the Hellfire Cult and the X-Men will have their first encounter with them in "Uncanny X-Men" #501, the next chapter in the current "SFX" storyline. The Hellfire Cult appears to be an anti-mutant hate group who wear the helmets of the soldiers employed by the Hellfire Club, a Clandestine group whose inner circle is composed of power hungry mutants. This left many to wonder why would mutants be running an anti-mutant hate group, but there's definitely more going on than meets the eye in the final scene of "Uncanny" #500; especially since Fraction revealed the man driving the Hellfire Cult van and ordering it's members into battle is the emotion controlling mutant known as Empath. "San Francisco is an awful big city and the X-men weren't the first mutants there," Fraction remarked.
Things won't get any better for the cast of "Uncanny X-Men" once their clash with the Hellfire Cult concludes, because waiting in the wings to take them on is the new Sisterhood of Evil Mutants. "They pop up immediately after the 'SFX' arc," Fraction confirmed. "In the months ahead we're going to watch their membership grow and you'll get hints about their agenda."
"Uncanny X-Men" features a revolving door of guest-stars, but is based around a core group of heroes. "The core is Scott, Emma, Wolverine, Storm, Angel, Beast and Nightcrawler. Your main guys are here but then as we extend out from there people can come and go," Fraction explained. "We didn't want to get ourselves trapped and not able to tell a Nightcrawler story because he's in another book. So part of the idea of having everyone live in the big city is that everyone lives in the big city and readers aren't going, 'Jesus how big is that mansion?' Everybody is here and they're going to rotate in and rotate out as we need them. So it's fun because where else do we get to write every character we want to write and not have our hands tied?"
Fraction and co-writer Ed Brubaker will each write different arcs of "Uncanny," with Fraction penning the current "SFX" arc. Artist Greg Land draws "SFX" while Terry Dodson brings to life the arc that begins in "Uncanny X-Men" #504. The two artists will also rotate in and out between arcs, and each of them will work with both Fraction and Brubaker.
The X-Men's move to San Francisco isn't the only big change in the heroes' future. When Marvel's current "Secret Invasion" storyline wraps up, big changes will rock the Marvel Universe, ones that will even affect the cast of "Uncanny X-Men." "Even though they moved out of New York we're going to start to see the X-Men tying into the Marvel Universe in ways they haven't for quite awhile," Fraction promised.
The X-Men's impending dip into the deeper end of the main Marvel U means Fraction and Brubaker are going out of their way to make "Uncanny X-Men" a book that satisfies both veteran fans as well as new readers. "I'm having the time of my life writing this book," Fraction remarked. "We hope issue #500 was a place where people came in. We're trying to write inclusively instead of exclusively and bring in as many new readers as we can. So this is a great jumping on point for new people."