Only the legendary Chris Claremont could take the X-Men beyond forever, and he does so this June along with artist Tom Grummet in "X-Men Forever 2," the second volume of his fan-favorite series starring the mighty mutants of the Marvel Universe.
In 1991, Claremont departed Marvel Comics following "X-Men” #3, effectively bringing to an end a nearly two-decade long run with the merry mutants. However, in June 2009, the release of "X-Men Forever" spawned a brand new Claremont continuity that picked up directly after the writer's final issue on the original title. Released on a biweekly schedule, the ambitious project allowed the creator to tell the X-Men story he wanted to tell all those years ago. "Forever" introduced a number of story points which differed drastically from modern continuity, the biggest of which included sending the clawed Canuck, Wolverine, to that big butcher shop in the sky and the idea of mutant burnout, a theory hinting at the eventual eradication of the entire mutant race. Some of the other major points involved S.H.I.E.L.D.'s new role as team overseer, Nightcrawler and Rogue switching both appearances and powers, and the existence of both an adult and child version of Storm.
The first volume of "Forever" wraps up with issue #24 in May, which completes the series' overarching story involving the mysterious Consortium. "The events of the biweekly issues are building to a crescendo," Claremont told Comic Book Resources. "There is a pause for breath in issue #24 for reasons that will become obvious at the end of issue #23. 'X-Men Forever 2' #1 deals with the repercussions. I hate to say it, but speaking in a measure of cliché, the world as the X-Men know it is about to change fundamentally and - knock wood - forever."
Many of those repercussions tie into the final-page reveal of issue #20, which saw Iron Man/Tony Stark unveiled as the head of the Consortium. Claremont said that this revelation and the events that follow bring into question many of the personal and socio-political relationships in his alternate Marvelverse. but that's all part of the fun and challenge of the series. "The idea with 'Forever' is to try to sustain the idea that this is a visually exciting and characterizationally exciting set of stories, and that in the overall scheme of things they mean something, that they are worth the investment of time and money," he explained. "The challenge, the demand, the hope is that we can create characters and stories that are powerful enough and enticing enough that readers will accept them on their own terms as legitimate and keep coming back for more. Being out of the mainstream and not having to depend on sustaining the core characters, we can throw a number of surprise curves at the reader.
"It's very interesting that we debuted the series last year in concert with the Wolverine movie hitting the screen, and the first thing we did was kill off Wolverine," continued the writer. "I suddenly realized, we've just introduced a major character who is not acting the way you'd expect him to act and there's a movie coming out in May. I wonder if this is getting to be an ominous habit."
Beyond the fallout from the Consortium arc, Claremont hinted at a number of other storylines to come in "Forever 2." Some of these carry over from the previous series, such as the decidedly evil adult Storm - dubbed Perfect Storm - and her takeover of Wakanda. "Dealing with Wakanda means dealing with the other power center that is in the Indian Ocean just north of Madagascar. And what, you ask, is that? Well, that's Genosha. As far as the X-Men are concerned, they left Genosha in a state of extreme disruption at the end of X-Tinction Agenda," said Claremont. "So, Genosha is sort of in chaos, but then who knows how the dust is going to settle. For all we know, the Genegineer or the forces loyal to the Genegineer may have retaken control. They may be back to their own machinations. Or is Genosha in a state of confusion and chaos enough to make it ripe for takeover from a conveniently located central African nation who has recently taken on a new leader with ambitions of her own? Just imagine a United States of Genosha and Wakanda. All that technology and all those potential neo-mutants working for Storm. That could be interesting."
Claremont also teased the return of a certain X-Men villain last seen in this continuity at the end of the Mutant Massacre storyline, Mister Sinister; a visit to the Big Apple, complete with pop-ins by both the Morlocks and the Amazing Spider-Man; and an appearance by the Earth's Mightiest Heroes rather early on in the new series. "Tom [Grummet] has just turned in the first batch of pages, and they look great," he said. "There's a scene where the X-Men are cleaning house, and they look up and there are the Avengers, and they look pissed. The real treat in all this is that the Avengers we're looking at are Hawkeye, the Vision, the Scarlet Witch, Captain America, Quicksilver, the Mighty - he's got a beard - Thor. For a classic comic geek like me, this is whoo-hoo! These are fun guys and gals."
The author also acknowledged plans to continue advancing the various character arcs. Although the cover to issue #1 only features a handful of X-Men, Claremont said that these were just "the five that are safe to show at this point." The writer chose not to unveil any other characters - "I can, but why spoil the fun" - but he freely gave hints on what's to come for those already known.
Both Rogue and Nightcrawler find themselves in rather precarious positions. The southern belle isn't too fond of her new blue fur and pointy ears and the former carnival star now finds himself off balance with a full set of fingers and no tail. Meanwhile, Scott and Jean's relationship also continues to change, possibly to the point of irreparability. Astute readers will also notice from the cover that Kitty Pryde continues to evolve, both physically and emotionally. "The style of her appearance is very reminiscent of Japanese [culture]," said Claremont. "Her hair is Japanese. She's wearing Japanese style boots. There's definitely an evolution going on. There is still some potential between Kitty and Gambit [as a relationship]. Ro is all for it. She thinks Kitty and Gambit is perfect."
Artist Tom Grummet lends his more than capable hands to Claremont in visually representing these stories. The writer praised Grummet's ability to not only convey the subtle character moments, but also his skill at establishing pivotal opening scenes. "What we don't have a lot of anymore is an artist taking the time and trusting his or her creative instinct and talent to generate that core establishing shot and giving the reader a visual point they can anchor to and from which they can spin out and look at all the subsequent associated scenes in a context," Claremont explained. "What you end up with is everything looking very, very generic and non-memorable. That, to me, is sad. You lose the opportunity to do a classic Jack Kirby moment, where you have a news cameraman and a cop down on the street with this huge Kirby-camera on a pedestal looking up at Galactus on top of the Baxter Building. It's been forty odd years, and I still remember that."
Between the return of X-Villains to the appearance of the Avengers, to the ticking death clock looming over every mutant on the planet, there's a lot coming for the X-Men as they head into "Forever 2." Of course, many readers still wonder whether this is exactly the story Claremont planned on telling from the beginning or whether it has evolved and changed over time. When asked, the writer admitted to both. "I hate to say it, but my stock answer is, six of one, half dozen of the other. The idea is that my vision of the X-Men has always been fungible. That's part of the reason why when [editor] Mark Paniccia and I started talking about this, one of the first things we decided, one of the things I was fairly insistent on, was that it takes place today," he said. "It's not 1991. We're not doing a flashback. The day is now. The time is now. The characters are now. The world is now. This is not retrostructure. This is a vision of what is happening within the context of the world we understand and live in. I think it allows for a whole lot of interesting twists and turns evolving up and out of this that never occurred to us in 1991. [In] the United States, the events of the last 10 years alone, have made a substantial difference in the way we approach things."
As mentioned earlier, this has all led to a few major curveballs thrown the readers' way over the course of the original "Forever" series, and from the sound of things, it looks like Claremont still has a few wild pitches left up his sleeves for "Forever 2."
"If anyone wants to come and debate some interesting story points with me at San Diego Comic-Con this summer, you'll have three issues of 'X-Men Forever 2' to argue about, and they'll be exciting," laughed Claremont. "We will definitely get some people pissed off - or thrilled."
“X-Men Forever 2” #1 hits stores June 9, with #2 following two weeks later on June 23.