Marc Guggenheim says he has read X-Men titles since Kitty Pryde joined "Uncanny X-Men" back in 1980 in #129. And no one could be more excited to helm the newest X-team post-Messiah CompleX than he.
The team is "Young X-Men," from the keyboard of Guggenheim and the drawing board of Yanick Paquette, with the new series debuting in April.
In a candid interview, the Marvel exclusive writer revealed to CBR News his lineup (Cyclops, Dust, Rockslide, Blindfold, Wolf Cub and two new characters named Ink and Greymalkin), the focus of his first arc being the formation of a new Brotherhood of Evils Mutant, the fact that up until he started writing #2, the book was slated to be called "New Mutants" and that his team would be "the last group of X-Men."
"I was in New York for a Spidey summit and I swung by the Marvel office and made all of my little stops," explained Guggenheim, who is also a co-writer on "Amazing Spider-Man."
"[X-Men editor] Axel [Alonso] and I also had to talk about an X-project that he wanted me to do that was going to spin out of 'Messiah Complex,' not really spin out, but something to launch out off 'Messiah Complex.' And we were discussing it and he is showing the master launch schedule and there was a title on the chart that immediately jumped out at me that said, 'Writer, TBD' and the title was 'New Mutants.' And I'm like, 'I want to be TBD.' And he said, 'Don't you want to talk about the thing that I want to talk you about?' And I said, 'Well, it's not like I'm not intrigued by that, but you know, this is 'New Mutants,' man.
"We started talking about and I sort of pitched something to Axel of the top of my head and he liked it and then I got in touch with Nick Lowe, who is the editor for the book, and he really liked it. And I came up with a couple of other concepts. It sort of just kept developing and eventually, it evolved into what we are calling 'Young X-Men.'"
For those who have yet to read "X-Men" #207 and the conclusion of the "Messiah CompleX" storyline you may want to skip ahead because Guggenheim set up "Young X-Men" based on the knowledge gained by following the 13-issue X-book crossover.
"After 'Messiah Complex,' there are no X-Men. The X-Men have disbanded and there is no new generation of mutants coming," said Guggenheim. "So Cyclops basically takes it upon himself to rebuild the X-Men for the final time, this is the last group of X-Men. The title of first arc will be 'Final Genesis,' sort of a tip of the hat to 'Giant Size X-Men' #1, which was 'Second Genesis,' even the title of 'X-Factor' Vol. 1, #1, which was 'Third Genesis.' So this is 'Final Genesis' and what's cool about it is you will be seeing a lot of familiar faces but I will also sprinkle in a couple of new faces, as well."
Asked how he would introduce his roster for "Young X-Men," Guggenheim cited two writers he worked with closely over at DC during the death of Bart Allen storyline in "The Flash: Fastest Man Alive" that tied into "Lightning Saga" in the pages of "Justice League of America" and "Justice Society of America."
"The first issue actually begins with a flash-forward. 'Young X-Men' #1 is intended to be a tip of a hat to the first half of 'Giant Size X-Men' #1, where Professor X is going around, rounding people up, I also wanted there to be a heavy dose of action right out the gate. So, the only way to do that was to start off with the team fully formed," explained Guggenheim. "The team is fully formed by the end of #1 however, à la Brad Meltzer, the team will evolve and change. One of things that we reveal in the flash-forward is that one of the Young X-Men is going to be killed. So we end the flash-forward with someone being killed but you don't know who it is. So as you meet all the team members, you have to think, is this the person who is going to die? When are we going to catch up with the future essentially?"
He continued, "The approach I am taking, because the book started out as 'New Mutants,' is to take a page out of Geoff Johns' play book in that he re-launched 'Teen Titans' and did an amazing job with that by combining the New Teen Titans with the old school Teen Titans. I wanted to do the same thing with 'New Mutants' so we will be getting Cannonball, Magma, Karma, Sunspot and Dani Moonstar all playing pivotal roles in the first arc."
Those names we know, but what about the new guys?
"The lineup we see at the end of the first issue is Cyclops, Dust from New X-Men, Rockslide, Blindfold, Wolf Cub and a new character named Ink," revealed Guggenheim.
"Greymalkin makes an appearance in the first issue but doesn't become a part of the team until later in the arc," he teased.
In describing the team's makeup, Guggenheim said it starts at the top with its leader, Cyclops.
And despite the optic-blasting Scott Summers being viewed in many ways as the quintessential X-Man – having been a mainstay in the X-books since the launch of the concept in 1963 with "The X-Men" #1 – Guggenheim said you may not even recognize this version of him.
"I don't want to reveal some of the surprises that I have for Cyclops," said Guggenheim. "But you have never seen this version of Cyclops before. You have never seen this side of him.
"I'll tell you at the end of the first issue, Cyclops reveals that he is not just forming this new group of X-Men because that is what he does. He is forming it because there is a new Brotherhood of Evils Mutants. And so there whole mission is to take down the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants."
"Here's the big difference between the book I am writing now and the [Chris] Claremont days. Back in the Claremont days, the mutants were hunted and feared but generally speaking, they enjoyed being the X-Men," continued Guggenheim. "There was baseball games and handball in the Danger Room. It was a much lighter time. Coming out of 'Messiah CompleX,' things are much, much, much darker.
"Like I said, Cyclops isn't forming this group of 'X-Men' because that's what he does. It's coming out of this new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants so, it's very serious. One of the things that Axel and I originally talked about is that this should be a battle-hardened group of kids. This not your father's New Mutants. It's a much darker world that they live in."
Beyond Cyclops, the team is made up four recruits who are known, if not yet overly used, commodities in the X-books and two newcomers. Guggenheim also wanted to ensure balance, not only in gender, but in race and ethnicity too.
"In trying to come up with the team line-up you want a good mix of things," explained Guggenheim. "I had my pick of a lot of different mutants. For one thing, I wanted to keep the team small and manageable. That was a big priority of mine. I didn't want so many characters that you couldn't keep track of them.
"I also wanted, in keeping with the traditions of 'Giant Size X-Men,' wanted to keep the group diverse, both racially and ethnically. I also wanted a good variety in terms of gender. I didn't want an old boys' club.
"One of the first characters I picked was Rockslide because I love having a big bruiser on the team but I also love the character of Santo. His sense of humor really meshes with the stuff that is in my wheelhouse as a writer. So he was one of my first picks.
"Blindfold is a character, who, well, I wanted a strong estrogen representation on the team and I thought she was the most interesting in terms of a completely unexplored background. So there's a cool, blank canvas with her. There are some plans for revelations in future arcs that will make you re-think her completely. It will get everybody going into their back issue bins and pulling out all of her other appearances. I have this really cool idea that will leave you completely re-interpreting everything she has ever said since her introduction.
"Wolf Cub poses the most unique challenge. I really believe that there are no bad characters just ineffectual execution and I think Wolf Cub hasn't always been the coolest character but has a chance to be the coolest character. So I am trying to re-invent Wolf Cub as a really young Wolverine. We meet him and he has a new sense of purpose. And he's got a new forward momentum, so that's pretty exciting. Trying to take this character and make him a fan favorite.
"And there's Dust. Wanted a female character but again, in keeping with the ethnic diversity and the racial diversity and the cultural diversity, I really wanted a Muslim character on the team. In today's political climate, that's really, really interesting. In today's political climate, it's an exciting and cool thing to do.
"There's a new character named Ink. First of all, I want to clarify for people who will scratch their heads and go, wait a second, how can there be a new mutant, I thought since M Day there are none. I just want to point out that for the purposes of the message boards that the rule is there are no new mutants, who manifest their powers. There are no new mutants that are being born. Ink is someone whose powers pre-existed M Day whether or not it was publicly known.
"When Ink gets a new tattoo, he gets a new power. If he gets a bio-hazard symbol on his palm, when he touches you with that palm, he makes you sick. If he gets wings tattooed on his back, he can fly. What's cool about him, from a visual standpoint, is he's constantly evolving as we give him more and more tattoos. But as a result, his powers are also constantly evolving. He's a lot of fun. I am really proud of him as a character. He really comes from a shady background. When we meet him, he's getting into trouble with the law. He's not exactly a guy you would expect to have on a team and certainly not on a team of superheroes. He is very corruptible.
"There's also a mysterious figure, who appears on the cover named Greymalkin. And I can't talk too much about him because I want to preserve the mystery of that character for a bit. He is a mutant too but he is not exactly all what he seems.
Guggenheim said for the first arc, anyways, as far as his team is concerned, they are the X-Men.
"Marvel will still be publishing adjectiveless 'X-Men' and 'Uncanny X-Men' and there is going to be teams in there, so I can't say too much on who's ending up where but all I can say, for the first arc, as far as these characters are concerned, they are the X-Men," said Guggenheim.
While the X-Men, in any form or title, are a well-established Marvel franchise, Guggenheim said a reader doesn't need to know 45 years of the team's lore to enjoy the book. And that's the beauty of a new title with a new #1.
"Absolutely, there is less baggage and less continuity," said Guggenheim. "I think Joss Whedon really hit the sweet spot in terms of he wrote an X-Men book that was very new-reader accessible. It wasn't bogged down in continuity, but at the same time, in every issue had tips of the hat to long-standing X-Men continuity. It just wasn't continuity that was dependent on reading 20 years worth of comics. I am sort of trying to do the same thing where. I have been reading the X-titles since the early 1980s. My first issue was when Kitty Pryde joined the X-Men. So I have been with the X-Men as long as Kitty has.
"And I copy from the best. I take a play out of Joss' playbook in the form off, I come to the project with a wealth of knowledge about the history of the X-Men but I am trying not to cram that down people's throats. Or at the least, I am not trying to make that required reading. It's meant to be new-reader friendly. I don't want it to feel like a spin-off title. I want to it to stand on its own. 'Young Avengers' is the inspiration there. You don't feel like you are reading an 'Avengers' spin-off title, you feel like you are reading a title that stands on its own merits."
Guggenheim has big plans for "Young X-Men." Not to mention long-term plans.
And he warns readers to follow the book closely from the outset because some breadcrumbs left as early as #1 won't be enjoyed until his second-year of story telling.
"There are seeds sewn in the first issue, certainly the first two issues that I won't get a chance to pay off until the book's second year," teased Guggenheim. "I am really taking a long-term approach to plotting out the book. Creating the long-running storylines that kept me coming back month after month after month as a kid."
Guggenheim is also keeping busy at Marvel as one of four writers sharing the duties on "Amazing Spider-Man," the others being Dan Slott, Bob Gale and Zeb Wells.
"I am very, very happy with the two books that I am doing on a regular basis for Marvel right now. I couldn't have planned it out better if I tried," said Guggenheim. "I've got Spider-Man and I've got the X-Men. I have been reading 'X-Men' for 20 years now. It's a different fanboy wish fulfillment than writing 'Amazing Spider-Man.' In some ways, it's bigger. It's great. I am trying to write the best tribute I can to all the 'X-Men' books I read that really made me love comics. And that's really exciting. "
If the two Marvel books aren't enough, check out the Guggenheim co-created TV series, "Eli Stone," which debuts on ABC on Thursday, January 31 right after the "Lost" Season 4 premiere.
And once the writers' strike ends, Guggenheim will recommence his work on the "Green Lantern" screenplay he is writing with Greg Berlanti ("Dirty Sexy Money") and Michael Green ("Heroes").