The Marvel Universe may a place of fantastic super powers and heroic do-gooders, but it's meant to mirror on our own reality. In keeping with that line of thinking, just like in real life, money makes the mutant-populated world go round. And in the current "Quarantine" arc of "Uncanny X-Men," both are colliding with explosive and dangerous results. In this week's chapter of the storyline, writer Kieron Gillen begins his run as co-writer of the book with Matt Fraction. CBR News spoke with Gillen about the arc and his and Fraction's upcoming plans for the series.
In part one of "Quarantine," a super flu pandemic erupted on the X-Men's island home of Utopia, forcing Scott Summers to place the island under lockdown. The Sublime Corporation took advantage of the chaos to introduce San Francisco to a new version of the X-Men; a group of five normal humans granted super powers by exposure to the company's experiments in bio-technology. The company's larger scheme is to eventually sell this power-creating technology on the open market, thereby rendering mutants irrelevant by giving super powers to anyone with a large enough bank account.
"The relationship between the Sublime Corporation and the anti-mutant entity Sublime isn't as simple as it may seem," Gillen told CBR News. "What's going on is a philosophy, directly inspired by Sublime. I've never asked what Matt was thinking when he originally came up with the idea of the Sublime Corporation, but corporate utopianism was an idea that we've talked about. There's also the idea that once somebody puts an idea into the wild, it mutates and people find their own use for it. The people of the Sublime Corporation are kind of acolytes of Sublime and his U-Men theories; the idea that there is a third species and all that kind of stuff. They've taken that and run with it in a completely different direction. Instead of doing the religious thing, they're doing the capitalism thing.
"There's an upcoming bit in 'Uncanny' #532, where the head of the Sublime Corporation talks about how mutantkind is the world's greatest untapped natural resource. And what does a good capitalist do when they find a resource? They exploit it. That's at the core of what the Sublime Corporation does,"Gillen continued. "They're not mutant haters, though. That's the interesting thing. They generally like mutants. They think everyone should be one. The core fear about mutantkind isn't that mutants are weird. It's that you're obsolete. That's why people hate mutants. They hate mutants because of what they mean to humans. You're now second rate. Essentially you're genetic detritus. The dream which the Sublime Corporation is selling and hopes to make a lot of money off of is, 'No it's okay. You're fine. You can have what is essentially genetic Viagra to help you become part of this whole new breed.' That's what the Sublime Corporation is up to. And of course, that's not something that tends to go well."
To help ease their scheme through any roadblocks it may encounter, the Sublime Corporation will begin an active marketing campaign for their coming product. "The media is a large element of this story. One thing that makes Greg Land a really good artist for this arc is the fact that he draws these incredibly beautiful and perfect people. Image and presentation are important ideas in this story and it makes his art particularly useful. The Sublime Corporation is selling the dream of the X-Men. So when we do these kinds of things, it's all very media-friendly imagery," Gillen remarked. "One of the things Matt introduced in the last arc was the X-Men hiring a PR firm. I think that's a brilliant idea. If you're talking about things like fear and hate, you're often talking about things like media manipulation. The X-Men's relationship with the media is just interesting. It's sort of telling that the climax of this story happens at the gala launch of the Sublime Corporation's product. It's like the inverse of an Iron Man plot, if Stark's invention was part of a crazy lunatic's scheme. So it's quite a fun flip on Iron Man's techno utopianism."
The bulk of the X-Men may be sidelined by the flu epidemic on Utopia, but there will still be an X-team in the field, ready to oppose the Sublime Corporation's scheme and defend San Francisco. In issue #530, an X-Men team came together composed of mutants who were not on Utopia when it went under quarantine, a team consisting of Angel, Northstar, Pixie, Dazzler and Storm.
"I think the idea that the X-Men would have to pull together this scratch team of mutants who just happen to be in San Francisco is lots of fun. That allows us to have a team which is awkwardly thrust into this situation and grows closer because of it. Assembling this team and seeing how they work has been splendid," Gillen said. "Northstar and Dazzler are people who teamed together previously, and obviously there's been a Dazzler-Pixie story in the background as well. When you get all three of them together 'chatty' is a good way of putting it," Gillen laughed. "What you get from Storm, here, is that in a perverse way, she likes that this situation is a lot less complicated than some of the things she's had to deal with lately. This is an X-Men team with a simple and definite mandate; to defend San Francisco, and that's exactly what they're going to do."
Part of the reason Gillen is having so much fun working with the his patchwork X-Men team is because it allows both him and Fraction to focus on characters who they feel could use some more time in the spotlight. "That's currently the biggest problem with 'Uncanny X-Men.' You have this extremely large cast. The setting of Utopia, though, means that we've got a small stage, so there's always a question of who can you give that much coverage to. We have to make sure the characters get meaningful appearances, too. I don't think it's fair to just have somebody show up in the background and use their power. It's fun, but that's not what makes this the X-Men," Gillen remarked. "What makes the X-Men special is having these spotlights. The next arc we're planning to do is primarily about Kitty and Peter. Kitty is currently involved in another plot, but this next story gets to the heart of a different matter. It allows us to move people forward and backward into the choir or taking the lead melody. Plus, the high command of Utopia are almost always going to play a significant role in our stories. That's because Utopia is the future of the X-Men. They're a model society. So the people in charge of Utopia right now are going to be shaping it. You've got to balance all of those things."
While the current group of X-Men is contending with the corporate malfeasance of the Sublime Corporation, another evil at the other end of the economic spectrum is growing. In part one of "Quarantine," The Collective Man, a Communist mutant from China, launched a brutal campaign to take control of organized crime in San Francisco.
"I don't know if this was Matt's original intention, but now that we're writing this story it's very much become about these two villains with extreme economic ideologies. It gives an element of balance to the plot. Plus, it's loud and brash and strikingly hyperbolic; like an advertisement, in that sense. It's also got an element of balance to it in that we take on different sorts of things. It's like, 'Here's one extreme. Here's another,'" Gillen stated. "And of course, dovetailing all of that is the third plot with Emma, Kitty, Fantomex and Sebastian Shaw, which is essentially away from economics. It's much more on the personal level; emotional exploitation is probably the best way to describe what that story is all about.
"I would say the main plot of this arc involves Sublime. It's definitely got the attention of all the X-Men. So that's what drives the plot in 'Quarantine.' Emma and Shaw are kind of off to the side, and as their story unfolds, it becomes dramatically more obvious how it ties into the main plot of 'Quarantine'," Gillen explained. "The Collective Man story is sort of a sub-plot. So I would say the Sublime story is the main plot. The others work orchestrally and provide harmony, to use my usual music metaphors. There's also a big fight, which is always good with the genre."
Gillen obviously couldn't reveal the outcome of "Quarantine," but hinted that the events of the arc may lead the currently active team to reunite again later in 2011. "I think the fact that the San Francisco scratch team works so well tells me that there's a good chance those five characters will get back together again," Gillen revealed. "The fact that they were forced together and it worked as easily as it did has them thinking that this is something useful and might be worth preserving."
Gillen also had to be cryptic when discussing Marvel's recent "Do you fear what you've become?" teaser ad showing Cyclops dressed in Magneto's armor. "That's interesting, isn't it? There appears to be a major story on the horizon, and if you look at things, Cyclops has been forced into some awkward decisions. In some ways, it's worrying that Magneto so happily follows Scott, now. What does that say about you when one of your advisors is this world famous ex-mutant terrorist? So that image says Scott has a lot of be frightened about, doesn't it?" Gillen remarked. "I think that image says exactly what people are thinking and worrying about. It's a good look, though. If I had the choice, I'd definitely wear a cape and a red suit of armor."
"Uncanny X-Men" #531, Gillen's first issue, may hit stores today, but the writer has been working with Matt Fraction on the book for the past several months and is excited to finally see what fans make of his work on the series. "2011 will hopefully be an enthralling year for 'Uncanny X-Men' fans. There will be high stakes enormity in what's coming through. That's a definite element in the stories we're doing now, but the stories we're coming to will feature plenty of emotional high stakes and what I like from a superhero comic."