X-Writers talk "Messiah CompleX"

CBR News spoke this week with creators Ed Brubaker, Mike Carey, Peter David, Craig Kyle and Chris Yost and X-Office editors Nick Lowe and Axel Alonso about Marvel Comics' latest crossover event, "Messiah CompleX." A congested David admitted to being "doped up on Nyquil," prompting Yost to quip, "That's how I write all my 'X-Men' comics. The Grant Morrison way, it's in the intro to his Omnibus."

Nick Lowe kicked the conversation by setting the stage for the hotly anticipated crossover. "A couple years ago, at the end of 'House of M,' Wanda Maximoff, aka the Scarlet Witch, uttered three words, 'No more mutants,' and with those words, 98% of mutants lost their powers and no more humans gain mutant powers," said Lowe. "In the very first issue of 'Messiah Complex,' you see the first new mutant since 'House of M.'"

The implications of this new mutant baby attract the attention of not only the X-Men, but also Mr. Sinister and his Marauders, and the mutant-hating Purifier groups introduced in the pages of "New X-Men." "It's all a race to find out who this mutant is, and what importance it holds," Low said.

"This possible mutant birth is like the shot heard round the world that galvanizes all these groups into action," interjected Axel Alonso. "You've got very clear interest groups with very clear agendas, fighting over something that they're still trying to quantify in their mind. Is this baby a mutant? Does it represent hope? If so, does it represent hope for the future, or possibly the opposite, might it represent the oncoming apocalypse? There's a leap of faith involved for everyone involved."

Alonso said the crossover will be accessible to old and new fans alike, citing his own recent indoctrination into the X-Universe as a case in point. "I wasn't an 'X-Men' fan as a kid, I was more of a 'Hulk' guy or a 'Spider-Man' guy," Alonso explained. "I went into this with a very objective mind, talking with creators, reading seminal work, and relying on my guides to get a handle on what was going on, and I feel like we've come up with a really focused story. It doesn't just feel like a bunch of people running around punching each other."

Alonso believes "Civil War" owes much of its success to a clear presentation of the stakes involved, and because the characters "were fighting over something that cut to the core of who they were." The X-team believes the same can be said about "Messiah Complex." "It forces people to look inside and figure out what they believe, how they feel about themselves, how they feel about God, at the end of the day," Alonso said. "It recalibrates the X-men universe in a very meaningful way."

Indeed, when it came to concerns of new-reader friendliness, the creators joked that they used Axel Alonso as a gauge. "As a newcomer to the X-universe, if he can understand it, anybody can." They also made a conscious decision to have four distinct camps, and forcing the characters to align themselves with one or the other of those: "Save the baby," "Control the baby," "Kill the baby" and "Eat the baby."

"Characters will be revealed slowly, and a large part of it is who they're aligned with," Peter David said. "If you come in as a cold reader, you're going to know a little bit about that character from who they're hanging with and the decisions they go through."

Craig Kyle and Chris Yost took a bit of ribbing for following the old editorial edict of including a caption with a character's name and power every time a new character appears in an issue. They entered the X-Office in the wake of "House of M" and are excited at the opportunity for the young cast of "New X-Men" to interact with the X-Men A-listers. "We love these kids," Kyle said. "There are some that we absolutely detested when we started, and have really grown to love, and it's just great to see these guys actually stepping up with the old guys, and showing how cool they are. Being fan of the kids in the X-Universe, it's one of the many fanboy dreams I've had come true."

Ed Brubaker said his work on "Messiah CompleX" has been the most fun he's had writing the characters since "Deadly Genesis." Brubaker also suggested that Nick Lowe's tendency to compare it to the X-Men events of the '90s might be a bit misleading. "I can see what he means, it has that feel of that kind of crazy insanity with a ton a of characters all interacting," Brubaker said, "but I think the main difference in what we're doing, the actual purpose of why we're doing it feels more clear to me, and I think it reads a lot smoother."

Brubaker likened writing "Messiah CompleX" to working in a television writers' room, and felt he was an old hand at major multi-author comics crossovers after spending years in the "Batman" office at DC Comics. "One of my mental problems as a writer is, if I'm not the only person writing a character or a group of characters, it's hard for me to push that out of my head sometimes when I write," Brubaker admitted. "And when you write the 'X-men,' you kind of have to just write your X-men and not worry too much about what everyone else is doing. So it was really interesting to actually do this, because I think it opened my eyes to the way everybody else views their books, and helped me feel like I had a better handle on it than I thought I maybe did."

Mike Carey said one thing that sets this crossover apart from most others is that it's been two years in the making. "At the first ever creative retreat I went to at Marvel, we were already talking about the possibility of doing this," Carey said. "We've all been planting seeds for a year and a half, we've all been making sure that the characters are in the right positions thematically. When it happens, so much of it is going to seem inevitable, it's going to be like all the dominoes in a line all falling over. So there's a kind of organic quality to this that you don't often see in a crossover event."

Peter David is the only one of the current X-writers that was actually writing an X-book in the '90s, when mutant crossovers were rampant, and he agreed there were a number of key differences between "Messiah CompleX" and the mutant crossover formula of the previous decade. "In those days, we would approach a crossover in the spirit of, 'It's been four to six months, it's time to do a crossover,' with the same degree of enthusiasm as the Dunkin' Donuts baker announcing, 'Time to make the donuts,'" David quipped, explaining that he and his fellow creators in the '90s X-office did the best they could at the time, but still felt that the process at the time was decidedly arbitrary.

David went on to characterize the '90s X-Men events as disruptive. "It was one of the main reasons that I resigned off of 'X-Factor' at the time, because trying to write an ongoing serial and having it disrupted every four to six months for a crossover, it's kind of like trying to have sex while 1,800 people are screaming in your ear," the writer said. But David had more than ample notice that "Messiah CompleX" was coming down the pike, and that will show in the final product. "I had plenty of time to plot my storyline, and not only was I going to be able to have the current storyline that I was working on end clean with 'X-Factor' #24, but I was able to start laying groundwork for the storylines that were leading into the crossover, so that it all flowed directly out of what I was doing."

David, who classifies the X-books as science fiction, asserted that the best sci-fi stories are those with real-world resonance, and the writer firmly believes there are few things more relevant today than the plight of endangered species. "Whether it's looking at pictures of polar bears standing on rapidly decreasing ice flows going, 'What the hell?' Or if we're looking at the fact that between global warming and lunatics trying to get their hands on nuclear fission, the human race may not be long for this world," David said. "Doing a story that on the one hand addresses the concept of fighting for your very survival, and on the other hand introduces the notion that there is hope, I think can be very uplifting. Hope that stems from takings serious action, hope that stems from faith, hope that stems from the sheer core of humanity."

Because the creators had so much advanced notice that the crossover was coming, Mike Carey said it gave all the books a kind of focus. "Although 'Messiah CompleX' does have a cast of thousands, it ultimately refines down to a clash of wills between a few core characters. And I think everybody came away from that creative retreat really happy with what the crossover meant to their book and their characters, and really looking forward to writing it."

As to whether readers can read just one or two of the X-titles and still follow the story of "Messiah CompleX," fans can rest assured that every chapter of the 13-part story will be clearly numbered, and each issue will begin with a recap page catching readers up on the story to date. "This literally changes every book, there's not a single book coming out of this that doesn't have a major shakeup in their cast, in their entire modus operandi," said Nick Lowe.

Finally, the X-creators let it slip that not all of the current titles will still be around by the time "Messiah CompleX" is over.


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