John Barber's Trip to "Nation X"

Wed, January 13th, 2010 at 12:58pm PST | Updated: January 13th, 2010 at 1:43pm

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer
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Mutant brain in a jar Martha Johansson gets some facetime in John Barber's "Nation X" story

The Scarlet Witch's reality warping powers may have diminished the numbers of the Marvel Universe's mutant population, but with 200 mutants worldwide, it can still be hard to keep up with and check in on some of the less famous ones. However, things did get a little easier recently when the X-Men created the island of Utopia and established it as a safe haven for all of mutantkind. Now, the manmade island in the middle of San Francisco Bay is a bustling community filled with mutants, each one with a story to tell.

Every issue of the anthology mini-series "Nation X" features several stories by various creative teams starring these lesser known, but still important mutants. "Nation X" #2 is in stores today, and CBR News spoke with former Marvel editor turned writer John Barber about his story, which stars two characters that debuted during writer Grant Morrison's acclaimed "New X-Men" run.

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CBR News: John, you worked at Marvel for several years, editing books like "X-Force," "Ultimate Spider-Man," and "Marvel Zombies." What made you want to move over to writing, and how did this story in particular come about for you?

Nation XJohn Barber's debut as a Marvel writer is in this week's "Nation X" #2

John Barber: Before I was an editor at Marvel I used to write and draw webcomics. There's a site called moderntales.com, and I was one of the original creators there. The webcomics that I was doing for that site caught the attention of Bill Jemas back when I was first hired by Marvel. I was at Marvel for about five years, and I really enjoyed my time editing. I loved the books I was working on and the people I was working with, but by the end, there was a part of me that wanted to get back to writing, because I'm not that great of an artist [Laughs].

So I talked to Axel Alonso, Joe Quesada, David Bogart and some other people at Marvel. I left on good terms, and I'm still friends with everybody. After I quit, I totally expected to work on creator-owned stuff right out of the gate, and I am working on some of that, but I was lucky enough to pitch for a short story in "Nation X." Nick Lowe, the editor of the series, seemed to like the pitch enough, so we did the story.

How does it feel now that your first Marvel Comic featuring a story written by you is in stores?

This is the first comic I've ever done for a big company, and it's pretty crazy. The characters in my story are Martha Johansson and Quentin Quire from the Grant Morrison run on "New X-Men." I Think back to where I was when those comics were coming out, and the idea that my first Marvel story is writing these two characters is kind of crazy, in a good way. It's very exciting.

What was it that made Martha a compelling character to write about?

When Nick sent the description of what I'd be pitching on, he had a list of characters and Martha Johansson and Quentin Quire were both on the list. I remembered that Quentin was a vapor in a jar somewhere and Martha was pretty much a brain in a jar. I thought putting those two characters into conflict would be a tough story to write. So I pitched a couple of other ideas.

I always like the characters Morrison introduced in "New X-Men," though, and Martha was such a weird and tragic character. She's just a brain in a jar. She can't move and she can only communicate telepathically and I think the last time we saw her, I believe she was being pulled out of a bowling ball bag in Beast's room. So I hoped there was a better life for her than just that.

Quentin Quire is a character who has evolved a bit since his introduction in "New X-Men." What do you feel are his essential character traits?

For me, it's sort of a youthful arrogance. He learns, but he considers himself to the be equal, and in most cases superior, to any of the X-Men. At least, that's my take on him.

Martha takes on Quentin Quire in "Nation X" #2

I thought it would be interesting to see how he reacted to the X-Men's move to Utopia, because that's kind of what he wanted, a mutant nation of his own. He didn't go about that in any reasonable way in "Riot at Xavier's," the story where he was introduced. He was out to prove mutant superiority, though, by separating them from the outside world of humans. So in his twisted mind, he sees Utopia as a bastardization of that.

What can you tell us about the plot and themes of your story? What are Quentin and Martha up to?

Quentin has basically been hanging out in a jar in Beast's room since, I believe, the "Phoenix Endsong" mini-series. In this story, he's pulled himself back together and is mentally back into the state he was in when we saw him in "New X-Men." I'm not discounting the other stories that happened, but he's de-mellowed out. He's had some time to think about things and doesn't want to just relax on a higher plane any more.

There's less than 200 mutants now, and they're living on an island. So he sees the X-Men as having failed the mutant race, and they've stolen his idea of being separate from humanity. So he hatches a plan to sink Utopia, but being arrogant as he is, he decides that if he's going to be a supervillain, he wants a superhero to fight him. He lays out his plan to Martha Johansson, believing that she won't have any way to stop him, but he offers her the chance anyway.

It sounds like this is a fast-paced race-against-time style story?

Very. It's called "7 and1/2," which is the number of minutes Martha has to save the island. So she immediately tries the obvious route to stop Quentin, and when that doesn't work, she keeps trying.

Since this story takes place on Utopia, I imagine you'll have plenty of supporting characters involved in the action.

Yeah. We get a little bit of Iceman, a little bit of Nezhno, and even a little bit of Warpath, which is nice. Since "X-Force" was one of the titles I worked on, I wanted to give Warpath some face time.

Iceman is inadvertently drawn into the battle

What's it like working with artist David Lopez on this story?

It's exciting. One of the funny things is, I actually know most of the creators whose stories appear in "Nation X" #2, but I was really excited when Nick Lowe said David was going to be drawing my story. That's because I've been a fan of his for some time, and it's just amazing to see some of the work he did on this. He's a terrific artist.

John Rausch, our colorist, also did an amazing job. The book looks absolutely spectacular. And I think "Nation X" as a whole is a really great series. Issue #2 has a lot of great stuff in it. So it's worth checking out even if you don't like me [Laughs].

Do you have any other upcoming projects that fans should keep an eye out for?

I've got another Marvel short story lined up that I can't talk about because the project hasn't been announced yet. I've got a limited series at IDW that I also can't talk about and I'm actually premiering a new web comic today. It's called "Outside Infinity" and it's at webcomicsnation.com/thejohnbarber.

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TAGS:  marvel comics, nation-x, john barber, x-men

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