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INTERVIEW: Marc Guggenheim Will Keep X-Men Gold ‘Light and Fun’

by  in CBR Exclusives, Comic News Comment
INTERVIEW: Marc Guggenheim Will Keep X-Men Gold ‘Light and Fun’

For the past several years, Marvel Comics’ X-Men have had their hands full combating large-scale threats to mutantkind’s very existence. When you’re battling those kinds of existential crises, it can be hard to focus on making the world a better place for the humans that fear and hate you. So the X-Men have frequently had to distance themselves from or temporarily set aside the dream of their founder Charles Xavier; proving that man and mutants can co-exist by using their powers to protect and defend the world.

That all changes this April with the launch of the “ResurrXion” line of books, including the new twice-monthly ongoing series “X-Men Gold,” by writer Marc Guggenheim — the executive producer of The CW’s “Arrow” and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” and a comic book writer who made his Marvel debut back in 2006 with the “Civil War” arc of “Wolverine” — and artist Ardian Syaf, formerly of DC Comics titles including “Superman.” “X-Men Gold” finds Kitty Pryde returning to the team she grew up with, now as the group’s leader, as she works to mutantkind into an all-new age of high-profile superheroics.

CBR spoke with Guggenheim about the book’s direction and keeping things “relatively light and fun” (at least at first, Kitty’s leadership position, the initial threats his X-Men will face and how they’ll interact more with the larger Marvel Universe than they have in quite some time. Plus, CBR has the first look at the covers to May’s “X-Men Gold” #3 and #4, both by Syaf.

"X-Men Gold" #3 cover

EXCLUSIVE: “X-Men Gold” #3 cover by Ardian Syaf.

CBR: Marc, looking at the line up for “X-Men Gold,” Kitty Pryde is on a team with her former best friend in Rachel Grey, an older version of a father figure from her youth in Old Man Logan, an ex-boyfriend in Colossus, and two close friends she pretty much grew up with in Nightcrawler and Storm. So at first glance it seems in terms of team dynamic this would be a nice homecoming for her, but is that necessarily the case?

Marc Guggenheim: It is. It’s certainly complicated, particularly with respect to Peter, and some of my favorite moments from the first issue relate to their history together, but overall it’s a very empowering homecoming. Kitty is the “kid who made good.” She’s the apprentice who’s returning to become the master.

This relates to my goal of keeping the book — for the time being at least — relatively light and fun. The complexities that arise from the composition of the team aren’t dark and hand wringing-y. They’re meant to be really fun. If I can get you at least chuckling once an issue, that would be wonderful.

So, if you’ll pardon a bad joke, they’re the X-Men and not the Angst-Men?

Exactly. I think the X-Men have always had a certain amount of angst, but the thing that I’m trying to calibrate with “Gold” is not making the angst the driving force of the stories. I kind of feel like for the longest time — and I’m really using “E For Extinction” as the sort of jumping off point — that the X-Men have had a lot of angst, which was appropriate because ever since “E For Extinction,” the X-Men have been sort of fighting for their very existence, always facing some version of extinction.

I think one of the great things about ResurrXion — and one of the reasons it’s so aptly titled — is that the X-Men coming out of “IvX” have a new lease on life. The existential threats that they were facing have been tabled for the time being and that’s allowing the X-Men to look to the future in a way that they haven’t been able to in a very long time. We hit this point pretty hard in X-Men Prime.

Kitty Pryde is returning to the X-Men in a leadership role. What made you want to cast her in this position?

It started with a great love of Kitty. My first X-Men issue that I read was #139, which was the “Welcome to the X-Men, Kitty Pryde – Hope You Survive the Experience” issue. From the moment I was offered the gig, I knew I wanted to return Kitty to the team if the character was available. But then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized there was an opportunity to do more than scratch a nostalgic itch. I realized I had the chance to tell a very classic story: the story of the apprentice who becomes the master. To me, her becoming the leader of the team was the ultimate realization of that arc.

When I pitched it, I wasn’t so sure how people at Marvel would respond, and to my delight, that was the thing about my take that excited and energized everyone the most. It certainly energized me because it’s been a lot of fun to write Kitty as someone calling the shots. She’s really proving on the job that she’s learned a lot over her many years of being a member of the X-Men.

"X-Men Gold" #4 cover

EXCLUSIVE: “X-Men Gold” #4 cover by Ardian Syaf

Is she going to feel some of the weight and darkness that some of the other prominent X-Men leaders have wrestled with like Cyclops and Storm?

Eventually I would love to get to that point. I’m intentionally avoiding that right now because, like I said, I tonally want to start the book off on a lighter and more hopeful note.

But you’re right: It is true that Storm and Cyclops have met with very challenging moral ends. It’s something we’ll definitely be dealing a bit with when it comes to Storm, but it’s more on Storm’s side of the equation than on Kitty’s. It would be really nice to cast that particular shadow on Kitty eventually, but before I cast shadows, I want to get some sunlight in there.

Another interesting dynamic that occurred to while looking at your line up is you have two characters that hail from nightmarish possible futures in Old Man Logan and Rachel Grey. What’s it like bouncing those two characters off of each other?

I’ve got an idea for a really cool scene between Logan and Rachel, but the right moment to have that scene hasn’t happened yet. The scene I have in mind does speak directly to the fact they both come from futures that just happen to both be lousy. What is it about the future that in any iteration, it always looks crappy? I want to get a little meta (but not too meta) about it, but I haven’t had a chance to fit that in just yet.

Superheroics will be an essential part of “X-Men Gold,” but what about the training of the next generation of mutants? Will that be a part of your book as well?

Yeah, it happens in the background because the book is very much focused on the active X-Men. What I think is very critical about the X-Men’s new status quo is that the mansion is full with students, so the X-Men still have to be teachers as well as heroes. They have to continue to training the next generation of mutants.

So, yes, the younger X-Men will very much be a part of the book. In fact, the students have moments in each of the issues I’ve written so far. At the same time, it’s a little bit of a balancing act, because I want to maintain the focus on our core X-Men.

"X-Men Gold" #1 cover

“X-Men Gold” #1 cover by Ardian Syaf

I think balancing between your core cast and all the fan-favorite supporting characters that are part of their world is sort of the main struggle for any X-Men writer. Because even the mutant characters that might be considered C-list by some are other readers’ favorites. So how has it been balancing all of those things?

I always try very hard to keep some space for non-action moments. I think when you’re able to spend time just with the characters it gives you opportunities to interact more with the students and more with the fan favorite characters.

At the same time, different stories are going to lend themselves to different kinds of characters. So while we’ll always have our core group, Kitty is smart: If she needs a particular power or skill set from other mutants she has no compunctions against bringing them into the field. For example, Rockslide and Armor will help the team in issue #3.

What’s your sense of the X-Men’s rogues’ gallery? Is “X-Men Gold” a book where we’ll see classic foes? New villains? Or both?

I would say both. The first arc features a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. One might think, “Jeez, another Brotherhood of Evil Mutants?” But hopefully I’ve come up with a twist that makes this Brotherhood different from all the other ones that came before it. That team will feature some familiar faces and some new characters.

There are a lot of different things I’m trying to balance in the book. One of them is having new characters and adding new toys to the toy box, while at the same time bringing back characters that people know and love. The Brotherhood is a good example of doing a mixture of those two things.

For me, one of the most interesting aspects about the Brotherhood is the word evil is in their name. A lot of villains see themselves as the heroes of their own story. So to have “evil” as part of their group moniker suggests you’re dealing with a group that wants to take ownership of that word and embrace it. Is that true with this group?

Yeah they really should be called, the Brotherhood of Self-Aware Mutants. No, the truth is in this particular instance the “evil” is very intentionally included. There’s a secret to the team that connects directly to the reason for the word “evil” being in the group’s name.

Ardian Syaf’s art has a feel and flavor that reminds me of some of the past heroic eras of the X-Men. So it seems like he’d be a good fit for what you want to do here. What’s it like working with him?

I’ve got to give all the credit in the world to [Marvel editor] Dan Ketchum. I said to him that putting Ardian on this book was the best bit of casting; of matching an artist to a book.

I think Ardian’s style tells you everything you need to know about what the book’s mission statement is. His art is new and fresh, but it also harkens back to John Byrne and Jim Lee. There’s even a bit of Arthur Adams in there. So his style is very modern, but it also speaks to an aesthetic that draws on the influence of the ’80s and the ’90s.

"X-Men Prime" cover

Ardian Syaf’s cover for March’s “X-Men” one-shot, written by Marc Guggenheim, illustrated by Ken Lashley and setting the stage for much of the “Resurrxion” status quo.

Any further hints and teases you can leave us with about the tone, scope, and scale of your initial stories?

Because we’re double-shipping I’m keeping the arcs pretty short. They’ll be about three to four issues long. I’m really excited about that actually, because it’s made the issues themselves very dense. We’re not really doing any sort of decompression here. We’re telling very tightly compacted and constructed stories, and I’m trying very hard to make sure that each issue has a handful of moments that make that issue really, really special. There’s no sort of filler issues. I want to make sure that with each issue everyone is getting a lot of bang for their buck; that in those 20 pages there’s a lot of great stuff going on.

That structure is also a lot of fun. We’re going to tell a Brotherhood of Evil Mutants story in the first arc and there’s going to be a brand new kind of threat in the second arc. You’re not going to have to wait six months to get a different story. You’ll be getting stories on a much more regular and consistent basis, which I think harkens back to the feel of reading these books back in the ’80s.

In recent years it tends to be very easy to have the X-Men exist in almost their own corner of the Marvel Universe. Will we see some of the larger outside MU trappings in “X-Men Gold?” Will groups like say, S.H.I.E.L.D. or the Avengers, pop up from time to time?

Yes. The whole raison d’etre of the book and the team is that throughout the X-Men’s history they’ve sort of segregated themselves. They were either up in Westchester, or they were on Utopia, or they were in Genosha, or Limbo. They were never in the middle of the action; they always segregated themselves from humankind. What’s so great about Kitty’s plan is that she wants to put the X-Men front and center. They’re going to have relationships and interactions with humans. That’s the only way they’re going to combat the prejudice against mutants. The only way you fight ignorance is with knowledge and interaction.

So, yes, the X-Men are going to be smack-dab in the middle of New York, and as we all know there’s a lot of superheroes and stuff going on in New York. We will be seeing S.H.I.E.L.D. As people who read my last comic know [Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” comic book], I have a great affection for S.H.I.E.L.D. We’ll also be seeing other superheroes as time goes on.

We’ll be crossing paths with some big things happening in the Marvel Universe, as well. That’s really important to what we’re trying to do with “X-Men Gold.” The big mission statement of the book and the team is that the X-Men are interacting with the rest of the Marvel Universe in a way that they really haven’t in a long time.

“X-Men Gold” #1 is scheduled for release on April 5, with “X-Men Gold” #2 following two weeks later.

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