The past several months have been an intense time for the X-Men. During the crossover storyline “Second Coming,” the time-hopping X-Man known as Cable returned to the present with his foster daughter, the teenage mutant Hope, who many believed to be a messiah for mutantkind. That's because Hope was the only new mutant born after the Scarlet Witch lost her grip on sanity and used her powers to rewrite reality in the Marvel Universe, in the course reducing the ranks of mutantkind to about 200 people. At the end of “Second Coming,” the X-Men's faith in Hope was rewarded when the young girl was able to use her mysterious mutant abilities to help destroy a massive cybernetic threat to mutantkind and apparently trigger the evolution of five new mutants.
So after a few bleak years, things are starting to look up for the X-Men. They're still focusing on protecting their people and the island community Utopia in San Francisco Bay, but they're also working harder to protect humanity again. With this new era comes new challenges, threats, and dangers. In the current arc of “Uncanny X-Men” writers Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen are chronicling the X-Men's exploits in this new era together. This April, though, Gillen will become the sole writer of the title. CBR News spoke with him about his plans for the book, and check Marvel.com for an interview with editor Nick Lowe on "Uncanny's" new direction.
Gillen has been dabbling in the X-Universe for some time. Before joining Fraction as co-writer of “Uncanny X-Men” he wrote stories for various X-related one-shots and anthologies as well as penning the series “S.W.O.R.D.,” which focused on the Sentient Wold Observation and Response Department, a secret alien defense and relations agency that debuted in “Astonishing X-Men.” Recently, Gillen kicked off the ongoing series “Generation Hope,” which follows the exploits of Hope and the five new mutants she activated at the end of “Second Coming.” So the writer is extremely excited to begin his run as the sole the writer of the flagship book in the X-Men franchise.
“I feel awesome. Being the sole write of 'Uncanny X-Men' is both a responsibility and an exciting challenge,” Gillen told CBR News. “It's a mixture of trying to make a book that's fundamentally about the future and for the future, and understanding the import of all the stuff you're building upon; the idea that there's this enormous creation that generations have put all their fears, hopes, and ideas into and now you're the custodian of that. It's such a big stage and you can do so much with it. So I want to make state-of-the-art super hero comic books. It's going to be great.”
Fraction is passing the “Uncanny X-Men” torch to Gillen in much the same way writer Ed Brubaker handed it to him in 2008. The two collaborated on the book for a short time and then Fraction began his run as the book's sole writer. Gillen and Fraction began their collaboration on “Uncanny X-Men” with the second chapter of the book's current arc, "Quarantine," in stores now, and when that arc wraps Gillen will become the book's sole writer.
“This is a book where continuity matters. And when I say continuity I don't mean in making sure the character's got the right hat in the flashback. I mean the continuity in terms of the flow of it,” Gillen explained. “This is an ongoing book and while I have my own style, interests, and obsessions the idea of making it flow in an interesting way is important to me. It's easier because the fact that I was writing the book with Matt means the character arcs are my arcs as well. When I took over 'Thor,' I wanted to make sure that the stuff that I was doing was in key with the stuff that [previous writer J. Michael Straczynski] had done previously, before segueing naturally towards where I was taking it, and then elegantly dropping it where Matt took over.”
Gillen's first solo “Uncanny X-Men” issue is the special #534.1, which features art by Carlos Pacheco (“Ultimate Thor”). “It takes place immediately after 'Quarantine' and before my next arc. It's a stand alone issue, but it sets up stuff for the arc I'm planning after that and for stuff I'm planning to do later. We wanted it to be a single issue where people could just get up to speed with what the X-Men are right now. In the issue, I'm picking up the facts that Magneto is on Utopia and the X-Men have hired PR rep Kate Kildare, which Matt showed back in issue #528,” Gillen said. “I thought the idea of doing something about Magneto's public image was interesting. That's the big perennial issue with mutants. Everyone hates them. We talk about trying to involve the press to mitigate against that. So one of the key parts of the point one issue is essentially Kate and Magneto facing off and arguing about this. There's a confrontation involving what Magneto is and what she wants him to be – and at the same time there's a super hero tale going on in the other dovetailing plot. There's an enormous threat to San Francisco in the form of this destructive device and the X-Men are trying to find it before it goes off. So we've got an immediate threat being juxtaposed with this long term threat.”
The events of "Uncanny X-Men" #534.1 come about because of Magneto's activities in the recent "X-Men: Legacy" arc "Fables of the
Reconstruction," which saw the Master of Magnetism join a team of X-Men in helping to rebuild some San Francisco buildings that were damaged during "Second Coming." “That was public enough to get camera phone shots,” Gillen explained. “So there's a magazine story that's about to happen and Kate stomps on it and says, 'You've got to give this magazine an exclusive on Magneto or they're going to run with a very negative story.' Kate has got the worst job in the world, as Matt wrote in that initial scene with her where she says, 'I'm going to need overtime. Lots and lots of overtime.'”
Over the course of his career as a super villain, Magneto did many horrible things. So different people are enraged by his presence in the X-Men for different reasons. Gillen feels though that the act that most people are still upset and disgusted by is Magneto's assault on New York City, which happened in writer Grant Morrison and artist Phil Jimenez's 2004 “New X-Men” storyline, “Planet X.”
“Magneto has done many terrible things but the biggest and most public thing he did in recent memory was New York. Of course we as readers know he didn't do that," Gillen laughed. "That was actually an impostor, but the public doesn't know that. As far as they know Magneto is the guy who did that horrific thing to New York. You could write a whole graphic novel about stuff Magneto did or didn't do. That's why I'm kind of focusing on New York, as a singular example of the larger problem. So if Kate and the X-Men can sell this they can probably sell most things.
“It's a hard sell though, and I don't want to spoil the comic, but Kate has her theories on how you can do it. Essentially this story involves the question of, what is PR? What is propaganda? Magneto takes a Machiavellian approach to things and wonders why people shouldn't be scared of him. He feels if they're scared they won't try anything. He says, 'Machiavelli said it's better to be feared than loved.' Then Kate reminds him, 'No, Machiavelli argued that the best position is to be both feared and loved.' So these are charged and interesting issues.”
Examining Magneto's membership in the X-Men also allowed Gillen the chance to comment on the current goals of the group. “The idea of the X-Men at the moment is that, with 'Second Coming' over, they've won their war. Now it's a question of can they win the peace? During their wartime standing, Scott had to do some difficult and questionable things. Now they're having to do something else," Gillen said. "Can the X-Men actually make all hang this together? The main reason Magneto is working with them is that Scott has managed to do what he never did, which is unite the mutant race. That's a huge thing. Now the question is, can he keep that together? That's where a lot of stories can come from. The theme of many of my arcs will go back to the 'Quarantine' story I did with Matt. The X-Men are trying to make a community. So what do you need to build a community? What do you need to build this mutant facility and make it work?”
The mandate of Marvel's “Point One” initiative is to create single issues that serve as both an introduction to a series and establish upcoming storylines, which is why Gillen chose to make Magneto the central figure in the point one issue of “Uncanny X-Men.” “As a tiny statement of where the X-Men are right now, it sums up a lot. They work on a public stage. Everyone knows who they are. There's not many of them and the idea of Magneto operating publicly with the X-Men, who are now a public organization, working from a set place where everyone can find them, is a fun way to introduce readers to the status quo of the book. Even people who don't read comics know who Magneto is. If they've watched the films, they even know his philosophy – in fact, I don't think there's another supervillain in the whole of comics who you could say that about. That alone makes him a compelling character to focus on for an introduction story. I want to be able to hand this issue to my mum and know that she'd be interested in the questions and the actions,” Gillen said. “The X-Men are a really interesting device for talking about the idea of public and private lives, reputation, and how mutants react to the world. They feed very, very easily into the media-saturated times we live in. As a guy who's worked as a journalist and been involved in this kind of stuff, it's interesting to do that and feed that into the super hero genre and see what happens.”
April also marks the beginning of Gillen's first solo “Uncanny X-Men” arc. “One of the things I want to do, and I don't know how much people will notice, is to make it a little more arc-focused than it has been. I like the idea, though, that there would be essentially two major arcs of 'Uncanny X-Men' a year. Imagine it as if there were two movies a year, which would naturally mean there's more ties between them. So I want each arc to make an individual statement, but also comment on the previous arc, set up the threat of the next arc, and the long term. So look for that kind of long term planning,” Gillen said. “Plus, since the X-Men have such a big cast, I want to make each arc concentrate a bit more on specific characters. So my first story is primarily about Kitty and Colossus. There will of course be stuff with characters like Emma, Scott, and Logan, but in each arc there's real, meaningful character development, they face the trouble, and then they take something away from it. They learn something. So there will be a real character change every arc.
“I also want to do interstitial issues in between the big stuff,” Gillen continued. “With those I can focus on subplots that don't really fit the theme of the major arc. The point one issue would be a good example of that. That story would not support an arc and we don't want to stretch sub plots out and confuse you as to what the arc is really about. So in between the big stories if I have space I'll try to take an issue to look at some things I really want to explore.”
Gillen's first solo arc begins in “Uncanny X-Men” #535. It's called “Breaking Point” and spotlights the tumultuous romance of Colossus and Kitty Pryde. In 2001's “Uncanny X-Men” #390, it appeared that Colossus sacrificed himself to obtain a cure for the lethal mutant killing plague known as the Legacy Virus. In 2004's “Astonishing X-Men” #4, Kitty and Colossus were reunited when the team discovered that Colossus had been resurrected by an alien known as Ord. The reunion was sweet but it would not last. Just four years later in the “Astonishing X-Men” storyline “Unstoppable,” the X-Men would travel to Ord's home planet, Breakworld, where they discovered a plot to destroy the Earth by firing a giant bullet at it. Kitty becomes trapped in the bullet, but was able to use her phasing powers to turn the bullet intangible and protect Earth. She remained trapped in the bullet until just last year when Magneto used his powers to draw the bullet back to Earth and shatter it. Pryde was liberated , but her reunion with Colossus was bittersweet because she was trapped in an intangible state.
“Since they both went through periods where they grieved over the loss of each other, Kitty and Colossus's relationship has become incredibly intense. Even though they can't touch they're spending a lot of time together. So there's a poignancy and a desperation to it,” Gillen explained. “They're essentially the classic star-crossed lovers in that they can't really catch a break. If they said, 'Hey let's go away for the weekend together,' one of them would probably have been blown up. So that makes things intense. The only times they have been able to touch is when Kitty is in her solidity suit which makes things better, but it's still not like a normal relationship. The X-Men don't really have normal relationships though, do they?
“So with my first arc I wanted to do something with Colossus and Kitty and the solidity suit and what actually happened to her. I thought if we were going to do something about that we're going to have to reveal look at how it happened. It's the only thing which makes sense. She was in a bullet that was fired at the Earth by Breakworld... which means it's going to have to involve Breakworld. What precipitates 'Breaking Point' is that an enormous warship from Breakworld turns up. We haven't seen anything of Breakworld since the end of the story in 'Astonishing.' We saw that their despotic ruler Kruun was deposed and they were trying something else. But what happened then? This story answers that question,” Gillen continued. “Going back to what I was saying about the X-Men building a community, in this story there's the idea of, you acted like this so what kind of responsibility do you have to this culture you changed completely?
"What happened to Breakworld is almost like what happened to mutants themselves. As a culture, everything has changed for them. So this story is everything coming back to haunt the X-Men. It's a tale primarily about love and revenge.”
In the first issue of “Breaking Point,” the X-Men travel into space but the bulk of the four-part arc actually takes place on Earth. Since the story involves an encounter between Earth and an alien race, the cast of Gillen's “S.W.O.R.D.” series will make an appearance. “This is my least favorite thing about the arc. I feel awful about it,” Gillen said, laughing. “My thinking was okay, I want to do some stuff with Kitty and Peter, the solidity suit, and Breakworld. Of course that means the Bullet, and we need Magneto as well because he broke the bullet. So it looks like I need Breakworld. If I need Breakworld, I need S.W.O.R.D. If I need S.W.O.R.D. It looks like I'm writing them into my first arc. It's like, 'Writer brings back canceled book!' It's necessary, though. A story like this would merit at the very least a cameo from Agent Brand, the head of S.W.O.R.D. So Brand is in the arc, being her ever-charming self. Plus there's a cameo by Unit, the robot I introduced in my 'S.W.O.R.D.' series. I like that robot a lot. On the quiet – because Unit only ever does things on the quiet — I've got big plans for him.”
For “Breaking Point,” Gillen will collaborate with artist Terry Dodson, who shares artistic duties on “Uncanny X-Men” with Greg Land. “I've always loved Terry's stuff. Terry's style is well suited towards romance. It's full of character and acting, but also there's a sense of glamor and grace to it. That really works on this story because it's about these big primal emotions. The action is really physical. I like how he draws body language and all the small gestures. They really convey a lot of information,” Gillen said. “That's the thing about this arc. I wanted to write something for Terry to have fun with. He's been on X-Men for quite awhile, but he's often had to do tie-ins, alternating issues and things like that. So I wanted an entire arc of just Terry, written for Terry and all his strengths. It's a visual showcase for him. The first two pages of the first issue kind of show the extremes of it – first, this very romantic, cute scene with Kitty. You turn the page. This splendid, ludicrous piece of hyper-tech superhero glory. That's two sides of Terry, and it's just great to see on the page.”
Gillen's future plans for “Uncanny X-Men” involve tie-ins to both Marvel's upcoming summer event storyline “Fear Itself,” by his former co-writer Matt Fraction, and Gillen's other ongoing X-book “Generation Hope.” “I think it's going to be a really big year for the X-Men in a lot of ways. There's stuff we can't talk about yet, but it's all going to be big and character defining stuff that's been building up for years. You've seen the Cyclops teaser so you know the X-Men have a role to play in 'Fear Itself.' Fear is one of the most fundamental X-Men emotions. They protect a world that fears and hates them. That's part of their raison d'etre. So I think 'Fear Itself' very naturally ties into the X-Men,” the writer stated. “And since I'm writing both 'Uncanny' and “Generation Hope,' it's sort of like what Chris Claremont did when he wrote 'New Mutants' and 'Uncanny X-Men' at the same time. That means they're still very much their own books, but I can tie them together in a very natural way and I can have character arcs dovetail between books. Like, for instance, Kitty will become very involved with 'Generation Hope.' So there will be themes that crossover between the two books. I want to make them feel like this big whole and that's what a shared universe is all about. The fact that I'm writing both books allows me to do really soft and subtle stuff which you couldn't do with multiple writers. It's a really unique challenge.”
Gillen knows there are many creative challenges involved with writing “Uncanny X-Men,” but the writer is ready and determined to meet them. To use a baseball a metaphor, he's excited for his turn at bat and plans on swinging for the fences. “I feel like I've been given this enormous opportunity and I want use it to write the definitive X-Men run of the 21st century," the writer laughed. "I'm not aiming low. I want to be really, really good. I didn't get into this job to be rubbish. The X-Men are such incredible characters . I think we could do really interesting things with them and I can't wait to do those things.”