ONE TO WATCH: James Asmus Part 1 - "Generation Hope"

Wed, November 23rd, 2011 at 10:58am PST

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer
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James Asmus' run on "Generation Hope" makes him ONE TO WATCH

The X-Men have been involved in some pretty epic stories over the past several years. They relocated to San Francisco, had to contend with Norman Osborn's attempt to create his own twisted version of the team, and even defended their new home against a full scale vampire invasion. Each of these larger tales has generated smaller stories about how these events impacted individual characters. Writer James Asmus began his comics writing career with these short character driven pieces.

He then moved onto larger stories like the recent three part "Escape From the Negative Zone" storyline which ran through this year's "Uncanny X-Men," "Steve Rogers: Super Soldier," and "Namor: The First Mutant," Annuals. Now Asmus, a veteran playwright and comedian, is about to move into the big time. His first issue as the new writer of the X-Men spin-off series, "Generation Hope," hits stores on November 16th and in December he'll team up with Ed Brubaker as the new co-writer of "Captain America and Bucky."

CBR News recently spoke with Asmus about his plans for both books and his career in theater and comedy. Today in part one of our two part conversation we talk in-depth with the writer about "Generation Hope," his first ongoing comic series.

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CBR News: James, after several years of writing stories for anthologies and one-shots, how does it feel to finally be given your first ongoing series with "Generation Hope?"

James Asmus: I assumed it would never happen! So I was completely delighted and excited when the offer came about. Plus, "Generation Hope" was one of the few books I was buying as a fan every month. So a bit more of a challenge to be given the book because I've been holding it to a high standard in my mind. Knowing that I'm now the guy responsible for not ruining it now is kind of hard. [Laughs]

I'm really excited about it, though, and I have a lot of ideas. So at this point I'm just thrilled and can't wait to get the book into people's hands.

"Generation Hope" marks the first ongoing series for Asmus

What can you tell us about the transition between you and Kieron Gillen as writers? Will you be picking up many of the plot threads he set up or will you be moving in a different direction?

I was definitely interested in what Kieron intended and finding out what sort of things he had been setting up but didn't get to tackle yet. Luckily, before I even got to ask, he graciously wrote up a letter for me about his thoughts on the characters and some of his intentions that maybe weren't explicit on the page. He's a gentleman that way!

Still, Kieron wrapped up a lot of stuff in his "Schism" issues, but he had cooked up so much in the book that there's still a lot to play with. The actual ending of his last script had a line that basically teased a problem and told me, as the new writer, to deal with it. [Laughs] That moment really made me laugh out loud and at the same time feel very welcome.

As for plot threads I'm running with, I can say that I'll be tackling the long-simmering threat of some Gen Hope kids turning on their leader. I know the X-Men have a grand tradition of plot threads that stay hanging for decades [Laughs], but we're in the age of instant gratification! So that's all going to come to a head pretty quickly. But I'm really excited about the way that we're doing it.

Speaking of Hope, you wrote her before as part of the "Escape From the Negative Zone" story line. How does it feel to revisit her in a book where she's the leader of her own team?

It certainly gives me a chance to develop her character a little bit more! Hope Summers is a character that I love and find incredibly intriguing. Some people don't like that the character can be bratty, or, I'd say, belligerent. She is and probably always will be a bit bull-headed, it's her nature. But I'm interested in exploring other sides of her character and giving people more reasons to care about her. So I'm looking to tease out that balance and give you more of an understanding of what's driving her and some of her emotional vulnerabilities as well.

Let's talk about the rest of your younger cast of characters: Gabriel (Velocidad), Teon (Primal), Laurie (Transonic) and Kenji (Zero). What do you find most interesting about these characters?

When these characters were first introduced they all seem to have pretty simple and almost archetypical power sets. Then Kieron really introduced great wrinkles for each of these characters. Gabriel, their super fast guy, is not moving quickly but accelerating himself through time. So he's essentially burning away his life every time he tries to use his powers. To me, that really forces you to consider -- is every fight one worth shaving down your lifetime? I'm sure the answer's "no," but then where do you draw the line?

Teon's ability (hyper-processing instincts which determine the most efficient and beneficial outcome) made him seem like a typical feral tough guy at first. But some of Kieron's applications for this, and the fun turns that he's made already, are inspiring. He's definitely the most challenging character for me. It's essentially saying as a writer that you have to come up with most efficient, but maybe not necessarily logical way to solve everything. That's like writing a character that's supposed to be the funniest person in the world, [Laughs]. It sets the audience up to think, "Okay. Everything you say better be brilliantly hilarious." There's a weird pressure.

Asmus is enjoying the complex cast handed to him by original writer Kieron Gillen

While there are some unanswered questions around Laurie's powers, I'm more intrigued by some aspects of her personality. She's not necessarily the smartest person, but she is the most intellectually dedicated person. That just feels rare to me, in comics. Most characters are either average, or an off-the-chart genius. Plus, her thoughtfulness and considerate nature makes her a really, really great foil for Hope.

The thing that most intrigues me about Kenji is that he's an artist whose body has become his medium. I'm actually a big fan and follower of contemporary art. With Kenji, it's pretty obvious that he's got a darker streak in him. But you don't expect a fine artist to scream towards the sky about his vengeance on Reed Richards or something. [Laughs] So someone who'd go into a dark room to fashion a sculpture or a painting becomes a very different internal landscape for a comic book antagonist.

It sounds like you have a complex group of adolescent characters, but they're not the only cast members in "Generation Hope." When your run begins the team adds its first adult member in the form of Sebastian Shaw. What led to Shaw becoming part of the book?

I didn't want to introduce new characters right when I started off. I wanted to advance a few existing plots and create a some new complications before we started introducing new mutants.

Basically, the mission of "Generation Hope" has been to find and stabilize new mutants as they appear, and offer them a home. Then the idea came up that Shaw's mutant signature is unaccounted for. So when Hope is looking around for new mutants she would see this and misunderstand it to be a new mutant activating.

But, of course, once we started to bat around the idea of the Gen Hope kids coming into contact with Shaw, we realized all of the intriguing and fantastic stories that could come out of keeping him on this team.

When we last saw Shaw at the end of the "Quarantine" arc of "Uncanny X-Men" Emma Frost had wiped his mind, so he was almost a pleasant and sort of simple guy. What can you tell us about his personality when the kids of "Generation Hope" first run into him?

When we find him now he's primarily a person in need. He essentially came into this world scared and confused with nothing. So I think that's made him a lower status and more vulnerable seeming character than we're used to. Also, since we last saw him he's fallen in with the wrong crowd. So, at the same time, you'll see him exhibiting some anti-social behavior. [Laughs] The real question is, if that's his first influence, how much is that going to set him back down the wrong path? Or can Gen Hope recalibrate him into something better?

We imagine another challenge that kids will have to deal with is getting the rest of the Utopia-based X-Men to accept Shaw as a member of their team.

Exactly. Emma Frost has made no secret of her misgivings about Hope in the first place. So now seeing Hope spend her time around one of the biggest emblems of awfulness in Emma's life will only provoke more animosity between the two.

Also, Cyclops isn't happy about it either because Shaw is one of the main people responsible for turning Jean Grey into Dark Phoenix. As everyone is getting more and more scared about Hope and getting concerned about her being a red head who occasionally catches on fire there's deep, deep discomfort about seeing her spend time with Shaw.

Asmus and artist Ibraim Roberson are collaboration for the second time with the series

Their initial adventure with Shaw is in the cast of Generation Hope's immediate future. Let's talk about what awaits them in the near future. Generation Hope is still a fairly young team and as such don't really have a rogues' gallery. Are you interested in establishing one for them?

I would love to. This first storyline with Shaw is the first time I invented an antagonist for the Marvel Universe that I haven't killed at the end of a story. [Laughs] And I had a lot of fun writing him, so my brain has already been cooking on a couple other ways too advance and develop some characters as threats. I'd love to create some genuine rivalries between characters.

We've talked quite a bit about story and character, but let's move on to visuals. You've worked with a variety of artists over your career, but if my research is correct your run on "Generation Hope" marks the first time you've worked with the same artist twice, right?

Yes! Artist Ibraim Roberson and I worked together on the "Steve Rogers: Super Soldier Annual." It's great writing with an understanding of his strengths and what he does with some of my impulses and language. It gives me a greater sense of security in knowing that whatever I'm thinking or saying will now translate. Especially because there have been a lot of times in the past where I'm writing a script before we even know who the artist is going to be. (Sad face)

This was a delight because Ibraim has some excellent skill sets. His art creates a sense of realism with the characters and has a grounded strength that really gives you a sense of physical space and weight. His characters truly seem to exist, which I think lends greater emotion and tension to his art.

We know you're just beginning your run on "Generation Hope," but have you thought about your long term plans for the series? If your work resonates with fans would you be interested in sticking with this series and its characters for the long haul?

I would absolutely love for this to take hold and be able to build up something! It would be an amazing opportunity to really grow these characters and write them in the most transformative time in a person's life, their teenage years. I have endless ideas that I'd like to see them go through. Particularly, things that are very human and challenges that we all have. I would love to be putting that out there for teenagers who are going through the same thing -- and for us old folks who still read comics to get back in touch with that crazy and emotional period in our lives.

These kids are hormonal. They don't know who they are yet and things are exploding all around them! You can't get a better platform to make comic books than that.

I'm insanely delighted to be part of this book however long my run goes. "Generation Hope" feels like a distillation of the kinds of books I was excited about when I first got into comics, and I'm really having the time of my life diving in and getting to create stories for that. Anyone who likes teen hero books should absolutely check out "Generation Hope." I think anyone who likes humor and emotion mixed in with their super hero books should check out "Generation Hope." Anyone who likes mutant stories should check out "Generation Hope." Basically I'm saying anyone who's not dead inside should check out "Generation Hope. [Laughs]

Check back soon for part two of our interview with Asmus where we discuss his background in comedy and theater and his upcoming co-writing stint on "Captain America & Bucky."

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TAGS:  one to watch, marvel comics, generation hope, james asmus, escape from the negative zone

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