With the release of the second X-Men movie just a few months away, excitement over the premier mutants in comic books is at a high and Marvel Comics is making sure fans are satisfied. One of the new series that is part of that initiative is "X-Men: Ronin," the alternate universe X-Men series that takes familiar faces and names, placing them in a world that is brought to life by writer J. Torres, of "Days Like That" fame, utilizing some Japanese Manga stylistic elements to give the series a unique feel.
"'X-Men: Ronin' is a five-issue miniseries scheduled for a biweekly release starting the first week of March," explains Torres. "A number of Marvel titles, including most of the X-Books from the looks of it, are going biweekly in the spring. I'm not sure if there is a name for this 'event' but it all seems to lead up to Free Comic Book and the release of 'X-Men 2.'
"Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops and Jean Grey are the X-Men at the beginning of the story but other mutants join them as things progress. The main antagonist is a new Hellfire Club comprised of mutant telepaths and psychics, with Emma Frost featuring prominently in their story. There is also a police force called the Hanshi, which is led by Sunfire and Silver Samurai with various other mutants in their ranks."
If you're wondering how Torres got involved with this project, it's simple- the right connections and love for the characters. "C.B. Cebulski was the original publisher/editor of one of my creator-owned projects, 'Sidekicks.' When he was later recruited by Marvel he eventually called on me to do some writing for him over there. My first assignment for him was actually a short story starring Jean Grey, illustrated by my 'Sidekicks' collaborator Takeshi Miyazawa, which eventually ended up in 'X-Men Unlimited #42' (released February 27). How could a recurring X-Men fan like me turn down any of these gigs?
"I guess the original X-Men have always been my favorites, and in the story Cyclops and Jean are pretty much center stage. Ice Man is in there, too, but he's on the other team and causing trouble. Unfortunately, Beast and Angel may only end up in cameos towards the end of the miniseries, but if I get the chance to do more with this thing they'll definitely have bigger parts next time around."
Since the Marvel "Mangaverse" wasn't one that Torres created, he realized he couldn't create this new team of X-Men exactly as he wanted to, but that didn't stop him from including some of his own desires with what he perceived as the natural direction of the series. "Well, I inherited the main cast, had previously set up characterizations/relationships to stick to and a little bit of continuity to follow, but I was allowed to pretty much add almost anyone I wanted to the story. Almost. One the things I had fun doing was switching up some characters' usual roles as hero or villain, and I was also able to bring some people out of limbo or back from the dead. I almost hate to admit it, but I was like a big geek playing some X-Men RPG with this."
One major challenge that faced Torres was making this X-Men story feel different than past tales and giving it elements that make it feel like it needs to be told. "Ay, there's the rub! I was basically asked to continue what was set up in the Mangaverse miniseries and the 'X-Men: Equinox' one shot. But the way I looked at it, this was like an X-Men Elseworlds. Or maybe I should say 'What If?' You know the characters, you may even recognize the set up or certain elements therein, but the real fun comes with the tweaked setting, some twists in the plot, the alternate reality of it all. So, in this alternate reality, we sort of have 'What If the X-Men lived in Japan 2099?' Or something like that…
"The way I tried to approach the story, both non-X-Men and X-Men fans alike should be able to pick it up, get into the action and get the gist of the characters without any prior knowledge of X-Men continuity or the previous Mangaverse material. Even if you're 100% new to the X-Men, you'll still see a story about two competing clans of super humans fighting for recruits, territory and power in a kind of futuristic take on Feudal Japan. And if you happen to be versed in X-Men lore, then you get manga/anime versions of some favorite characters and a fun alternate reality twist on their stories, plus a couple of nods and winks along the way."
Of course, this is a comic book and there needs to be a visual side to this project, which is supplied by Makoto Nakatsuka, someone whom Torres can't help but praise. "He puts the manga in Mangaverse for us, really. We're talking about a very popular and successful Japanese comic creator here and we're quite lucky to be working with someone of his caliber and stature. And he's an X-Men fan, too! He not only brings his artistic manga sensibilities but also various cultural elements to the project and a love of the characters and their history. Talk about perfect for this book."
Despite the enthusiasm of the creators involved, there are some fans who would dismiss "X-Men: Ronin" as just another American comic book that is trying to ape the Japanese style of comics, this time using a corporate symbol to attract readers. "I'm not sure there's anything you can say to someone who would dismiss a story that way and not even bother taking a look at the comic before passing it up," responds Torres to such comments. "But as for what makes it worth reading, as I've mentioned we think it's a cool alternate reality, East meets West, take on the X-Men. For comic book readers who enjoy series like 'Ultimate X-Men,' 'Exiles,' 'Mutant X,' as well as the aforementioned 'What If' and Elseworlds, we think you'll dig the action, adventure and romance we put our manga-fied mutants through.
"As always the most exciting part for me is seeing the finished product. There's nothing like seeing a story you wrote end up as sequential art. I can't think of a greater thrill for a writer/comic geek, you know? And in this case, I get to play with some characters I've loved since childhood and see them drawn up in a style that I'm also a fan of."