Writing a team book is a challenge in that it forces a scribe to come up with interesting plot points and circumstances that give each member an opportunity to shine. This is a tricky proposition when you have a team composed of six individuals, but try imagining a group that's two hundred strong and growing. In light of Cyclops' declaration that all mutants on Utopia are X-Men, this is the situation that writer Matt Fraction deals with as he writes Marvel's "Uncanny X-Men."
From the emails we received this past week for X-POSITION, it appears readers feel Fraction is faring well in this challenge. And with a cast as large as that in "Uncanny," it seems it was easy to think up thought-provoking questions for our guest, as I received a (virtual) ton of letters. So without further ado, let's dive right in while the names of every mutant on Utopia are fresh in Fraction's mind...
Gavin J. starts off our week with a teaspoon of praise and a tablespoon of questions. Sounds like the makings of a good X-POSITION, don't you think?
I wanted to take a moment to say how much I've been enjoying "Uncanny X-Men" since "Manifest Destiny" and Utopia's restructuring. The idea of the mutant race becoming more than a civil rights conflict and turning into a community banding together for survival has been fascinating to watch. Cyclops' mission is clearly different than Xavier's dream. It's been incredibly entertaining to watch Cyclops (a character I used to loath) become such a unifying figure.
I found the "Utopia" arc to be most compelling, with the analogies made between Proposition X and attempts to vote on and ban same-sex marriage. I'm always struck with how well the X-Men speak as a metaphor for minority civil rights issues. My questions:
1) Given that the X-Men are representative of almost all of the mutant population, wouldn't it make sense for the X-Men leaders to establish government liaisons and PR teams to deal with public perceptions and clear up the despicable policy issues attached to Osborn's storming of San Francisco?
Hey Gavin, these are great questions. So first off, thanks for that, and thanks for the kind words. Weirdly enough, we had the Prop X thing in the works long before I was aware of Prop 8 in California...same as in "Invincible Iron Man" where we did a thing about kids with backpacks running coordinated terror attacks on major cities and crippling them, five months before Mumbai (you try to come up with some fictional horror and then the world catches up to you). And, yeah, Xavier had a dream - Scott has a mission. That's been the root of everything since "Uncanny X-Men" #500 (or the end of Messiah CompleX," really). Anyway, let's tear into it...
You're right on the money, here. As "Nation X" resolves and the mutants that come out of "Second Coming" come out of it, we'll see the light of the Heroic Age cast on our fabulous freakshow in precisely those ways. I've already set up a PR-for-the-super-powered-character back in "The Order," as a matter of fact, and she'll be arriving during our new arc, which might be called "The Five Lights" or "Black Swans" (I keep trying to find a place that title will work, dammit), or maybe it'll be called something else entirely. But, yes, the X-Men will fight public perception (amongst other things) and come - if you'll pardon the phrase - out of the darkness and into the daylight.
2) Emma Frost seemed like a very capable - and at times, inspirational - leader during the her Dark X-Men's brief run. What differences in leadership style would you say she has with the man she shares a bed with? What do you think her overall motivation is when she's in a leadership role, and will she take a more direct leadership role in the future?
Boy, she did, didn't she? I think there's a confidence vs. experience differential at play - Emma runs her game like she's been marshaling armies all her life, whereas Scott - who actually has - probably has to tamp down his sense of surprise whenever someone does what he says. That, to me, is one of the things that make them a great couple: together they've got what the other one needs so very badly.
Emma's motivations are as they've always been: protect and train her fellow mutants. And God help you if you get in her way.
Coming ahead, I think we're seeing trust and maturity between Scott and Emma enrich and deepen; surely that will beget more responsibility. The fun of it comes when you take a terminal rule-breaker like Emma and smash her into by-the-book Scott...
3) There have been a lot of new additions to the X-fold (Namor, Magneto, Cloak and Dagger) that seem both radically different and too good to be true. What inspired you to bring these characters around to Cyclops' way of thinking? For example, what does Namor seek to gain from working with the X-Men? Does he see it as a fulfilling an IOU in his agreement with Frost? Or has Atlantis' struggles made him more sympathetic with mutantkind's problems?
First off, I wanted to create a line-up we'd not seen before. It's so easy to get pulled into the Classic Claremont Gravity Well with X-Men - I mean, understandably; it was the guy's life's work, and it's pretty titanic as far as runs go, y'know? Anyway, shaking things up is important; not just constantly revisiting or revamping or retelling the classics of the X-canon is always a concern. Not that we're always successful in not doing that or anything, but that's kind of a good goal to have. Changing up and creating an X-team (or "teams," really) we've not seen before, or don't really think of as X-Men, was interesting to me.
Everybody's got their reasons, but none are as fun as Namor. First off, he likes blondes, and if he can't have Sue Storm, he'll chase after Emma. Second, they have their mutual Faustian pact (as outlined in the "Uncanny X-Men" Annual last year). Don't think the lid is on that particular pot, either. And lastly...well, Namor's already seen a genocide and neglect inflicted on Atlantis. He's already seen what kind of cruelty the surface world is capable of over those that share half his heritage; when he sees the surface world moving towards those with whom he shares the other half...it's time to act. He has his and Atlantis' interests first and foremost in his mind, but that's maybe not the sole focus of his altruism.
I can't wait for you guys to see him in the upcoming year. He's a completely volatile and unpredictable variable in the "X" equation.
4) Finally, does Cyclops view being forced to leave their newly-established Marin headquarters as a failure? It seems a little disappointing, as it was the one time and place mutantkind was overtly accepted within overall society. Is the move to Utopia something Cyclops considers a permanent one, or does the group eventually think it will be able to return to San Francisco proper? Will we be seeing more of Mayor Sinclair from time to time?
One man's failure is another tactical retreat; that said, we're not done with San Francisco or the Marin headlands, and they're not done with us. "Nation X," "X-Men: Second Coming," and the aforementioned following arc will tell the tale, starting with "Uncanny" #526.
Asher was curious about a recent addition to Utopia, and wondered how long this character is going to stick around before he's voted off the island.
I love the interpretation of Magneto you're giving us, but it seems like he is one of the X-characters most subject to "rebooting" into generic evil. That has made me leery of believing the direction you're taking with him. So I'm wondering: how do you make a previously "villainous" character change sides in a convincing manner? How many of the decisions regarding this version of Magneto is yours, and how much is editorial fiat? And - while you may not answer this - I have to ask: has Magneto actually switched sides at all?
Well, I hope by dropping to his knees and giving his helmet to Cyclops we show him...not necessarily "changing" sides, but rather finding a new side he'd never believed existed before. He's discovered something else, beyond the Manichean. Then spending seven issues with people not being comfortable with him being a good guy or being non-threatening leads him to perform this amazing feat by way of asking for forgiveness might suggest he's turned over a new leaf...
I have no interest in writing the old switcheroo routine; it's been done, and it's been done better than I could ever do it. What we've never seen is a Magneto in awe of Scott Summer's accomplishments in unifying mutantkind, and he's come offering his support and wisdom in a consigliere-kind of capacity. A chief of staff, a senior advisor...an old man that admires what a young man has done, and rather than resent him for it, he recognizes and respects the accomplishment. And wants to help.
If Magneto falls from whatever state of grace he may find for himself, it won't be because he, mwah-ha-ha, had it in for the X-Men all along! Because again - it's not only been done before, but it's been done beautifully, and I don't want to retread that.
This take on Magneto has been mine. Mayyyyybe it was Ed's - I know we both agreed very early on that issue #500 was going to set up his ultimate return, that #500 had to be a Magneto story. The idea of Magneto-as-Tom-Hagen was mine.
And I don't want to say there's no such thing as "editorial fiat," but at the same time, that's not really how the office works.
And for those that are curious, Merriam Webster defines Manichean as: 1) a believer in a syncretistic religious dualism originating in Persia in the third century A.D. and teaching the release of the spirit from matter through asceticism; 2) a believer in religious or philosophical dualism.
I figured that since I had to look it up anyway, I'd spare you the search. Knowledge is fun!
And on the topic of Magneto, Joshua Hetherington (and a few other X-fans) was wondering about the limits of Erik's powers.
1) I'm a little bit confused. Magneto can't keep Utopia floating, yet he can allegedly grab a massive bullet light years away that gets more dense as it flies through the depths of space. This is a bullet that has been travelling in space since before 'Messiah CompleX,' which was almost two years ago. Reed Richards and Tony Stark couldn't figure out a solution, but this option was available? It seems...sketchy.
Well, I think you've misread the book a little bit and you're making some presumptions; let me see if I can get your suspension of disbelief back on track some. As was stated in the scene with the X-club, he could, theoretically, keep it floating, but only if that's all he does all the time. The power drain is constant and to counter it, he'd have to constantly be recharging the batteries, as it were. But he needs to eat, sleep, and do something that isn't just crank his power to ten 24-7. So it's not a can't, it's more of a shouldn't, or couldn't for very long. It'd be fruitless and ultimately just exhaust him.
And Magneto knew where the bullet was; he'd seen it; he knew where to look. And the power-rebooting process he underwent in space augmented him with a depth of ability he'd lacked for a long time. That it happened close to where Kitty passed, that his magnetic awareness, as it were, was revitalized close to her...I mean, that might have had something to do with it.
Mags had it all over Reed and Tony in this case; but if you don't buy that the old man (who used to be an even older man but then wasn't and was good, then evil, then good, then dead, then alive, then dead, then alive but in space and can control magnetism) can bring back a giant, airless, foodless and waterless (Seriously! I should've asked Joss when I had him on the phone - WHAT HAS KITTY BEEN EATING!?!) hollow ghost bullet containing a ghostly girl from deep space, but the man who can stretch his body like silly putty (that got his powers by stealing a rocket and going into near-earth orbit with his college buddy, girlfriend, and her brother) and the billionaire with the billion dollar suit of armor (that used to have transistors and magnets in his chest after stepping on a Vietcong landmine, was then a teenager, then an adult, then infused with a living techbridge that tied him to his armor, then erased his entire brain) couldn't find her...well, when you put it like that, it's a fair cop. Admittedly, when the issue is framed in those terms, I have trouble buying it too.
In all seriousness, though, you're assuming that Magneto is going to hop up and skip and dance if he successfully brings Kitty home. There's no value in what Magneto's doing if it isn't a sacrifice for him to do. If it was easy, it'd be an empty gesture. This is not easy. This comes with a price. Keep reading.
2) Will we be seeing X-Man (Nate Grey) appear in "Uncanny X-Men" after 'Second Coming?'
He's a great character. Keep reading.
Nicholas Marinelli does plan to keep reading, but he wants to make sure you'll keep writing. What can you tell him?
1) After "X-Men: Second Coming" ends, will you still be writing "Uncanny X-Men?" It seems you might have a lot going on with "Thor" and "Invincible Iron Man" as well - is it tricky to juggle three titles?
Unless you know something I don't. I'd like to keep on "Uncanny" for a while yet; I've only gotten about halfway through the story I set out to tell. And apparently people are digging it; they told me at the last editorial retreat that the book hit the top ten last month, so it feels like people are finding "Uncanny" anew. After something like "Second Coming," hopefully even more folks will find it.
It's not that tricky as they're all so wildly different. It's a bit like cross-training for me. No one muscle group gets more attention than another. I don't know if that makes sense or not - like, if I was doing "Uncanny X-Men," "Avengers, and "Other Avengers"...yeah, that might get tricky. But my three books are pretty divergent and pretty different from one another. The workload itself isn't tricky at all.
2) Are we ever going to see Colossus' tattoo?
I don't think we should. Just hints of it. I think it should be for him and Kitty. Is that weird?
Sounds fine to me, but if it's a tattoo of Psylocke in a bikini, Pete's gonna have some splainin' to do...
Richard Terrones has been following one of the other X-books (as all good X-fans should) and had a question about something surprising he read:
With the revelation in "New Mutants" #10 that Cyclops is looking for a new leader of the X-Men, are you planning to address this in "Uncanny?" Will this become even more relevant soon?
It's actually gonna be Zebby himself in a metafictional conceit that'll make your hair curl. Hope is back! And she's a dude! A dude named Zeb! Uh-oh - spoilers.
WhitePhoenix sent in a lot of warm, kind words. Feel free to wrap them around yourself like a blankie as you answer his queries...
I'm a fairly huge fan of your writing and the recent direction of "Uncanny X-Men." I know that some fans may have given you some guff, but I personally enjoy how many items you try to juggle at once. I find the set-up to be engaging and, quite frankly, very inviting (even if things don't always turn out the way I hoped.)
Eh, I've only dealt with really amazing, kind, and gracious fans. A lot of that is because I don't go looking for that stuff online. My contact tends to be at shows, and the folks I encounter at those shows tend to want to meet me rather than stab my eyes out or tell me I'm ruining everything or whatever. I dunno, if people don't hate what you're doing on "Uncanny X-Men," you're doing "Uncanny X-Men" wrong. So I'm glad you dig the multiple plotline thing. I hope to keep getting better at it as I go.
(I got the idea from Denny O'Neil's book about writing comics. There's a bit about how Paul Levitz used to juggle his "Legion" stories; that was the starting point. I digress.)
Allow me to explain my praises in one statement: OH MY STARS AND FREAKIN' GARTERS!
Honestly, I'm truly envious of your position as the writer of the flagship title of the X-Men universe, but I also would hate to be in your position as a lot really rests on your shoulders. With all that in mind, here are my questions:
1) Since you've got such a huge cast of characters on one island, do you find it hard to make each character you write feel like an individual?
I try to do enough planning ahead of time so that each chunk of story has a divergent enough cast to avoid that; whether that comes through on the page or not isn't up for me to decide or declare, but that's the idea anyway...
You can tell the characters I have the toughest time with if they're not around much. I feel like I only recently plugged into what makes Storm work, so, like, she'll be around more in the future. Iceman is another. I have a lot of Bobby coming up because I feel like I finally understood him; I could articulate what interests me about him - I finally heard his voice. I mean, that's what anybody writing a team book does anyway, I'm just doing it with all the toys on the table at once rather than selecting who I sit down with. If, uh, that makes sense...eating buffet style rather than a la carte.
2) Have you ever written a character saying or doing something, and then eventually regretted it or wished it had panned out differently?
Yes. I think I blew Professor X's reaction to Magneto returning. I just...I knew what I wanted to do with it and I didn't stick the landing. I wanted, with that story, to see Scott and the Professor both having unexpected reactions to Magneto's unexpected gesture. I wanted everybody to be twisted and turned and thrown off their game and to act in ways we'd not seen precisely. Just throw everyone out of their comfort zone, have their responses be as human and unexpected to each other as to themselves.
I thought it would be really fascinating and heart-rending to see Professor X be wrong - just for a second, just in the heat of a single moment, for just that split damn second - to have that be his own wake-up call that his dream is over, or that it's at least over for now. And I really don't think it landed. It's hard - it was a brutal scene to write. I did more drafts on that issue than almost anything else I've done because it was so tough.
In the final analysis, I don't think I pulled it off. I'll be looking to redeem myself with Prof. X in the upcoming arc; trying to get the poor guy written right seems the least I can do...!
3) If you could have just one mutant character in "Uncanny" that's not currently in your huge ensemble, who would it be?
My son loves elephants, so I'd take Mammomax back from the grave. (Mammmommmaxx? Mammothomaxium? The mathamam? However you spelled the dude with the elephant's head's name.) I'd take that guy in a cheap ploy for cool dad points.
Junnun Quazi sent in our final email of the day. He's trying to view the X-Men's future in his crystal ball, but everything looks a bit fuzzy. Can you help clear things up?
1) In the past, it has been stated that the X-writers and editors look at the X-Men as an army with Cyclops as its General. How will this change with the end of "X-Men: Second Coming?" Do you still plan to keep the X-Men as an army with one General, or change them again into something new with Hope's arrival?
Hmm. Man, you guys are asking amazing questions this time out. Way to go, X-Positioners!
(It should be said that George culls, sorts, and sends them to me, so there could actually have been, like, a billion terrible ones...I don't know. But these? The ones sent? Top drawer work, people! Thank you!)
Let's see what I can say without getting too ruin-y as to what comes in "Second Coming." That's the big issue, coming out of "Second Coming." What does a general do when his war is over? Huge. And what Hope's return means...how everyone (that lives!) has to recalibrate what being a mutant means, what their lives could be. Hope's return, and everything around it, is the end of one epoch and the start of another. How the mutants recalibrate within is sort of what Year Three is about.
2) With the May solicitations stating that one of the X-Men will perish, I was wondering how you, as a writer, decide who to kill off? Is the decision merely in terms of furthering the story, or does it encompass character usage and overall popularity?
Well, in this case, it came out of the "Second Coming" editorial retreat. Let me back up for a second and say this: this one, in particular, was a gut punch. It was awful, it hurt, it was sad, depressing...and it makes the story of "Second Coming" impossible to ignore. It pushes "Second Coming" beyond just another "somebody's killing the X-Men" territory and into...well, into something real? Into something with big stakes? And it brings this character's arc to a beautiful, tragic close and pushes the whole of the event - and the whole of mutantkind - forward. They say in writing you have to be ready to kill your darlings, and this was definitely one of those times.
I don't know who first said the character's name, but, stomachache and all, I understood why it was going to happen. So, I mean, from just a brute, technical, level, yes, it furthers the story, but it furthers the story because it has meaning. If, uh, MMaammmoommmaaaaxxxx, died in the issue, in the scene at hand, it would've felt like, well, jeez, those dudes really hated that character and wanted to be done with him; this is someone you know, it's someone we know, it's someone we all love.
I wrote the funeral issue last week and it was just...I dunno. It was sad. You might hate it - some days I do, too - but it's an earned death, a heroic death, and the aftermath was absolutely difficult to have to put down on the page. But there's nothing cheap about it; it propels and complicates and deepens and enrichens. In the way that real loss always does.
Per Mr. Fraction's "thanks" for the great questions, allow me to express my gratitude as well. When you send in terrific queries, you make X-POSITION a bunch of fun for our guests and me. Keep it up!
And now, before we go, it's time for this week's "Behind the X" question, where we get to know our X-writers on a more personal level. Matt, if you don't mind, please tell us...of all the vehicles you've owned (anything from a skateboard to an automobile), which was your favorite and why?
Ummm...I was thirty, I think, when I first bought a car. I had a fixed dollar amount and wanted to buy; it wasn't a lot. I had no idea what I was doing. My wife and I - then my fiancée (is that the one that means the lady? Anyway...) - we were out looking, basically, for the best car we could find for what we had to spend. And nothing we drove felt real - nothing felt like it was made out of steel. They all felt plastic and battery-powered...until we came to a '99 Ford Escort. We sat down, I put it into first (it was a manual!) and "Sister Christian" began to blast out of the stereo. Before we even got it out of the lot on the test drive, we knew this was the car we were going to buy.
So, uh, a '99 'Scort - don't be fooled by the 'Scort I got, I'm still Matty from the block...I guess. Because of "Sister Christian." Because of Night Ranger.
Great - I'm going to have that song stuck in my head all day. Thanks Matt.
As some of you may have heard, "S.W.O.R.D." (the newest series in the X-Universe) is unfortunately coming to a close. And with every ending, there naturally comes questions...lots and lots of questions, hopefully. Well, S.W.O.R.D.'s writer Kieron Gillen thankfully joins us next week to respond to your emails and set your minds at ease.
You wanna play? You know the drill: type up those thought-provoking queries and send them to me just as soon as possible. If you throw an "X-Position" in the subject line, I promise not to toss you in a giant bullet hurtling through space. Ain't that sweet of me? I thought so. See you in seven!