When an idea is ingrained in people's minds, it's difficult to change perceptions. If the first comic book you ever read and loved was "Avengers" #1, it might be challenging to view an Avengers team without Thor, Iron Man, or Wasp as being equally fantastic. Even more difficult, perhaps, would be reading the same book with an entirely different premise. Well, if you think changing your reading mindset sounds tricky, just imagine being the writer tasked with making those changes.
This was the challenge facing Peter David when he began his stint on the latest incarnation of Marvel's "X-Factor." The writer had a popular run on the title back in 1991, when the team was a salaried group working for the government. So to revisit the team in 2005, change the membership, and place the group in a noir setting probably seemed like a somewhat daunting task. However, David has managed to succeed and brought "X-Factor" to new heights of popularity.
This October, the book reaches its milestone fiftieth issue. Much has happened and changed since "X-Factor" #1, so CBR News contacted David (also known as PAD) to discuss all that's happened in this special X-POSITION X-TRA. In addition, we chatted about a couple of special moments, including a special relationship that recently came to light.
CBR: Let's go back to the "Madrox" miniseries, which kicked off this latest incarnation of "X-Factor." Did that come about from a desire to revisit the character? Or did the Marvel approach you to revive the character?
PETER DAVID: It was entirely [editor] Andy Schmidt's doing. He literally willed the miniseries into existence. I don't know how he did it, really (if he had blackmail pictures of Quesada or what). But one day he approached me and said, "What would you think of bringing back Madrox and have him be a noir-esque detective?"
It sounded like a deliriously off-the-wall idea to me. I said, "Sure. Sounds great." I signed on and it just took off from there, especially with Pablo [Raimondi's] terrific pencils on the book.
Was "Madrox" always viewed as a way to "test the waters" for a new X-Factor series?
Yes. That was always the plan - that it was to serve as a back-door pilot for a revived "X-Factor" series.
Your previous run was much loved, but with this current run, you took the team in a very different direction. Fans have loved what you've done, but was there a concern - on your behalf or Marvel's - that this new series would be too different? In other words, did the temptation exist to give fans what they were familiar with?
No, not really. As I said, Andy had a vision for "Madrox," and that in turn informed the concept for the ongoing series. It never occurred to me to do a 180 and say, "Let's go for humor!"
The team has gone through many changes since issue #1 - they've changed settings, added and lost members. I would argue they've gone through more changes in 45 issues than most superhero teams go through in 100. How do you decide when to make these changes? Do you bring in characters to serve a story you have in mind? Is it all part of a long-term vision you have for the title? Or is it merely experimenting to see what entertains?
Some of the changes have been a matter of rolling with the punches. For instance, our original concept was that they were the protectors of Mutant Town, this seedy section of the city where all these low-rent mutants live in a self-made ghetto for mutual protection. Before we even got out the gate...bam! We got hit with M-Day. Suddenly, there's no more mutants in Mutant Town.
There went our concept, but the series was already a go. So we had to come up with ways to continue to make Mutant Town relevant, which I did until finally I couldn't come up with any more. So I blew the place up and had them move out. Then, as a result of "Messiah CompleX," we lost both Layla and Rahne. So I brought in Darwin and Longshot, first because I thought they'd be interesting, and second, because they were available.
Basically, yeah, I come up with stuff, see what works, what doesn't work, and go from there. But I don't plan long term because, frankly, the mutant-verse is too volatile a place to assume that I'm going to be able to build on a status quo.
While the team is still a detective agency, they've had to deal with such elements such as larger-than-life missions ("Messiah CompleX"), alien invasions, and time-travel. Do you still feel the book qualifies as "noir?" Where do you feel is the line between sci-fi and noir?
You have to keep something in mind with the noir aspects of this book: it's noir as envisioned by Madrox, which is sort of akin to hard-boiled detective as it was envisioned by Remington Steel, who was constantly quoting movies and movie plots for inspiration. Jamie's not living in a noir world so much as that he's endeavoring to create one around him wherever he is.
Noir films are filled with sex and ambiguity and people who have uncertain motivations. Someone who has as much trouble making decisions as Madrox embraces that philosophy. Of course, that's an extreme vision of the world, and it's not always really like that. As for where the line is: there is no line. You can't tell me that "Blade Runner" isn't noir.
The book has had several huge moments. Let's quickly talk about two - the first of which is the Siryn/Madrox baby. Did you have the end result planned from the moment she got pregnant? What other possibilities did you consider? And did the reveal "shock" fans in the way you hoped it would?
From the moment she got pregnant? No. I had a couple of ideas in mind, but nothing definitive. When "Messiah CompleX" came along, though, I knew that we couldn't have Siryn give birth. Or, at the very least, the baby couldn't stay around. Having another baby running around who might be a mutant would dilute the impact of MCX. And I thought, "What to do? What to do?"
I came up with various ideas and hated them all. And the idea hit me while I was at the San Diego Comic-Con. I have no idea what triggered it, but it suddenly just popped into my head: that panel of Madrox absorbing the infant. And I chased down Andy and said, "I got it, I got it," and told him. And Andy's eyes widened and he said, "Oh my God, that is **so** fucked up." And then he signed off on it.
And then Andy left and one editor after another would show up on the book, and each one had to sign off on the concept. And every single one said, "Wow, that is **so** fucked up." So considering the reaction I got from editor after editor, yeah, I think it hit the fans pretty much the way I expected it to. With all the speculation about what was going to happen on various computer boards, I think one person figured it out. The rest came up with all the notions I'd rejected.
The second huge moment is the one that occurred in the most recent issue - the Rictor/Shatterstar kiss. When did the idea for this moment originate?
You know how fans are always complaining that Marvel never listens to them? Usually when I listen, I then wind up doing the exact opposite. In this case, though, one of the most asked questions I got was, "Since Rictor has a history with Shatterstar, are you going to bring Shatterstar back and explore the relationship that's been hinted at for years?" And I thought, "Y'know what? Why not?"
In previous works of mine I've explored gay relationships. I know it's potentially a hot button issue. When I introduced Andy Jones into "Supergirl," I was deluged with letters from people declaring she was an insult to lesbians everywhere. A year later my work on that title won an award from GLAAD, so I've learned to trust my instincts in these matters. So I figured, what the hell, why not bring Shatterstar back? But the first test of any character in X-Factor is: will they look good in a trenchcoat and Fedora?
So we did some redesign work on Shatterstar so he'd fit in with the tone of the book. As for their relationship, I really had three options: 1) I could continue to play coy. 2) I could contradict it. 3) Or I could build on it. In light of such anti-gay activities as Prop 8, option 1 seemed kind of insulting and out-of-touch. Option 2 seemed gutless (what, was I so weirded out by the notion that I would feel the need to toss out what previous writers had done?). On that basis alone, option 3 seemed the way to go.
What was the reaction from Marvel when you pitched the idea? Were there concerns, and if so, what were they?
No concerns whatsoever. It didn't get flagged, didn't get protests from within. The feeling was that it flowed naturally from all the trackwork laid by previous writers. If anyone had any objections, I sure didn't hear about it. And if anyone from upper management had objections, it wouldn't have happened, so take from that what you will.
The way you declared Shatterstar and Rictor's feelings for one another was a very "in your face" moment. Wiccan and Hulking, who are a gay Marvel Universe couple, haven't actually been shown kissing - at least, not to my knowledge. Why did you decide to reveal their connection this way? And was there a concern about the kiss appearing exploitative?
It literally never occurred to me. I put it on the last page because, from a dramatic and storytelling view, that was where to place it. If you read the story, you know that Shatterstar was mind-controlled through the entirety of it. He doesn't break free until the very end, and that's the natural place for it to occur: when he's flooded with relief that he didn't kill Rictor and they're reunited.
Putting it in "Previews" as, "This is it! The issue in which the Shatterstar/Rictor relationship finally comes out of the closet!" would be exploitative. Having their faces go toward each other on the last panel and then leave **whether** they were going to kiss as a cliffhanger would be exploitative. But the way I played it? Ridiculous. Honestly, I think it's very odd that anyone would have that attitude.
Was Disney's first animated Chinese heroine exploitative of Asians? Is the heroine of the upcoming "Princess and the Frog" exploitative of blacks? Or is it simply acknowledging that there's a portion of the audience that hasn't been served by past trends and it's time to be inclusive? Romantic straight fans got Madrox and Layla's kiss on the Boardwalk. So why shouldn't romantic gays get some - you should pardon the expression - face time? Are gay readers somehow less entitled to see two men being openly affectionate than straight readers are for a man and woman? How in the world is parity remotely exploitative? I just don't see it.
We've seen Rictor involved with female characters previously, but with this kiss now out in the open, are Rictor or Shatterstar openly declaring their sexualities? Are they bisexual, gay, or is it up to the reader to determine? Should we bother labeling the relationship? Will this be addressed in the book?
We're actually going to have 900 numbers to phone in. Readers can vote; it'll be really exciting, we think. After that, Marvel fans can vote on whether DC should kill off the new Batwoman.
Seriously, now we're into the realm of: what's coming up next? I simply have no intention of telling you everything that's going to be coming up with their orientation, except to say that it is going to be part of some interesting storylines. I will say this, though: I refuse to let them be defined by their sexuality.
Rictor is still the moody former mutant who believes he's useless and yet keeps happening to save the day; Shatterstar is still a badass warrior. If we don't spend every issue dwelling on the sex life of the straight characters, I'm not sure why anyone thinks we'd feel the need to do so with characters that are gay or, for that matter, bi.
How do you feel about fan reaction to the kiss? Has it been better or worse than imagined?
It's been exactly what I imagined, actually. The vast majority of the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. Some have been genuinely grateful. The word "Finally!" has been heard quite a bit. People have been thanking me. A handful have been uncomfortable with it, and I totally understand that.
The default fan reaction to change of any sort is to be opposed to it. To those who were unaware of the Shatterstar/Rictor subtext all these years, or knew about it but just dismissed it as being stupid, their instant reaction is going to be, "No!" One hopes they'll stick around and see where we're going with it.
One comment going around the internet is the quote made by Shatterstar's creator Rob Liefeld: "As the guy that created, designed and wrote his first dozen appearances, Shatterstar is not gay. Sorry. Can't wait to someday undo this. Seems totally contrived." You don't control the character, but have there been any assurances that this won't be undone?
There is as much assurance as one ever has with a character that one doesn't own, which is to say, none whatsoever. Could someone come in after me and pull the "real" Shatterstar out from a pod at the bottom of Jamaica Bay, complete with pony tail, shoulder pads, and phallic symbol strapped to his back (no, nothing gay there), and declare that Rictor was kissing a Skrull? Sure. I'd like to think they wouldn't, but no one's promised me anything. And if they did, what would that mean?
Let's say I had an assurance from Joe Q himself. And if five years from now, Joe Q has moved on to bigger and better things and Rob is EIC of Marvel, well, so much for Joe's promise. As for how Rictor was presented in the first 1/19th of his existence, well... a lot's happened with him since then. I don't know if Rob was reading any of it, but I'll simply say this: a guy from another dimension running around with swords on his back? That's contrived. People exploring their sexuality? Not so much.
"X-Factor" reaches issue #50 this October. That's quite a milestone in the industry at present. While I'm sure you're pleased, is it surprising at all? Is the book where you thought it'd be (both sales and story-wise) when you began the series?
I'm not where I'd like to be sales-wise. We were doing pretty well for awhile and held on to much of the increased readership after "Messiah CompleX." But then from issues #33 through 37, we pretty much hemorrhaged readership. We've managed to stop the bleeding and now things are starting to turn around. I'm hoping that's a continuing trend.
I'll tell you, though, I think it's kind of bizarre that the only measure of success in a comic book is if it goes on forever. If a TV show runs for five years and then ends, it's considered a hit. If a comic book runs for seven years and ends, fans declare it to be a failure. I'm not sure what's up with that. As for creatively, though: yes, we're exactly where I'd like to be.
As you've already delivered two noteworthy moments in the past year (the kiss and the Madrox baby), should fans be looking for anything big in issue #50? After all, good things come in threes!
It's the conclusion of the current storyline. And we wind up answering one of the major outstanding questions about the series. Something that's going to have people saying, "Oh my God, how did I not see that coming?" And that's nothing compared to the end of the next issue...