Marvel Comics' X-Men were assembled to show the world that humans and super powered mutants can co-exist peacefully. They demonstrate that every day by protecting a world that fears and hates them. What happens, though, when that fear and hatred gets out of control and the forces of anti-mutant extremism become so powerful that they begin locking up mutants and actively exterminating them?
That's the situation facing America-based mutants in Marvel's Ultimate Universe. Their current predicament arose when a high tech attack on the United States by the forces of Reed Richards' Children of Tomorrow wiped out much of the U.S. government and an anti-mutant terrorist named William Stryker Jr. was able to download his consciousness into the U.S. government's elite fleet of Nimrod Sentinel robots.
In the chaotic aftermath of the attack on the United States, Striker's robots and several anti-mutant militias were able to seize control of the Southwest region of the U.S. and began exterminating and imprisoning the mutant populations of those states. All hope is not lost, however. In "Ultimate Comics X-Men" #14 writer Brian Wood and artist Paco Medina kicked off a story that sent four of his young cast members into the Southwest on a mission to liberate mutants and unite them in an army to fight back against the forces that would oppress and kill them. CBR News spoke with Wood about the story, which ties into the current linewide Ultimate event, "Divided We Fall."
CBR News: So Brian, you recently completed work on "DMZ," your creator-owned series for Vertigo, a series where militia style armies played a significant role. Now in "Ultimate Comics X-Men" #14, the first part of your "Divided We Fall" storyline, you kicked off an arc where militias will also play a role. Was this a coincidence or an intentional choice on your part? What is it about militia armies that make them interesting for you to write about?
Brian Wood: Well, the situation in "Ultimate Comics X-Men" already existed -- the divided America, the militia, etc., so that wasn't something I created but it was something of a happy accident. Maybe that's part of why Marvel asked me to take over the book? Either way, it's definitely what you would call "in my wheelhouse" but at the same time it requires such a different approach than what I did on "DMZ," both in terms of tone and the fact it takes place in a superhero world. Different rules apply.
Militias in general are just something that's always fascinated me, and I think fascinates everyone, the public at large. Ruby Ridge, Waco, the mindset that drove Tim McVeigh to do what he did. The open resistance to authority, even if you don't agree with it, which most don't, it's hard not to pay attention.
In issue #14 Kitty Pryde led Iceman, Rogue, and Wolverine's son, Jimmy Hudson, into the militia controlled Southwest United States on a mission to form a resistance movement to combat mutant oppression. The issue also offered some insight into what's driving Kitty to undertake this mission. It's pretty clear she's fed up with all the hate and violence that's been directed towards mutants lately, but it also feels like just below the surface there might be some guilt motivating her actions. Is that correct? Does Kitty genuinely feel like she may have made the situation for mutants worse by "killing" Stryker and opening the door for him to upload his consciousness into the Nimrod Sentinels?
I think she may be getting there. At this point in the story I don't think she's aware of what Stryker is doing. She knows she killed him, sure, but all she knows of the southwest states is that they are carrying on with Stryker's vision, not that his consciousness is kicking around. She still has to connect all those dots. But I think the biggest thing driving her is shame at her lack of action, of hiding in the ground, and after seeing the President just give up, she realizes no one out there is going to help them. Things have really gotten that bad, and now there's not even the thin layer of protection left, that of the rule of law, that will protect mutants from the mob.
You also got to do some character work on the other four leads in this issue as well, including Jimmy Hudson. Of the four, Jimmy seems to be having the biggest trouble stomaching his anger over the hatred the X-Men see in issue #14. Why is this? Why can't Jimmy shrug things off and think "We'll make a difference later" like the rest of his friends? Is it because of Kitty? Or something else?
He struggles with wanting to be the alpha dog, especially around the women, and balancing that with his growing feelings for Kitty. He's young -- they're all really young -- and so are slaves to their emotions in a way that adults aren't, who have learned how to handle themselves better. In that respect, Kitty is wise beyond her years.
Iceman (Bobby) stays quiet because he's worried about his friend Johnny Storm, but Rogue is also quiet too. Can you talk a little bit about what's running through her mind? What's guiding her right now? Her religious faith? A faith in Kitty's leadership abilities? Both? Or neither?
Rogue is tricky -- she is so complex, and has a recent past so tied into some complex story lines I've inherited, that I'm taking a little time to deal with that, and focusing more on Kitty for the time being. But right now, Rogue is a mess. She hears voices, is incredibly conflicted, and probably doesn't really know what she wants. She feels loyal to the group, and is committed to the mission, though. There's some significant Rogue story points coming in the next couple issues, however, that'll start to take us down the road. Even though my main focus is on Kitty, and it's her journey that's driving the narrative, Rogue will see some steady character development as well, albeit of a different sort.
We saw some of the militia controlled areas in "Ultimate Comics X-Men" #14, but overall what are these areas are like in a general sense? In the diner scenes at the end of the issue you have a moment where a cop refuses to do anything about some heavily armed anti-mutant militia men. This suggests that in the militia controlled areas not everyone harbors anti-mutant feelings, and the big problem is that the ones who do have those feelings are heavily armed. Is that correct?
In the case of the cop, it was less that the militia are in control, as
this cop -- and probably a great many like him -- don't see the value in
sticking up for mutants. They probably hate the militia -- who wouldn't? -- but why cross them just for the sake of some lowly mutant is what I imagine the thought process is. So they turn away, ignore it, its not their problem, etc. Which is a horrible thing, both in the story and also in real life, and all too common.
In general though, just what the fractured U.S. is like, this is something
that "Ultimates" writer Sam Humphries has spent some time working out. Sam's got the whole picture of the country sorted out, and even designed the map in issue #14 that details the splits and the seceded states. My focus is solely on the SW states, and basing it off of Nick Spencer's ideas, this is a chunk of land ruled by the Stryker philosophy and backed up by an army of Sentinels. It's lawless, lots of boarded up towns, and with detention camps all over the place. Pretty grim, not too far off from WWII concentration camps.
"Ultimate Comics X-Men" #15 goes on sale August 28, and the solicits suggest Nick Fury plays a part in this story. If I remember correctly, the last time readers saw Nick was in "Ultimate Comics Ultimates" where he was jumping off the side of the helicarrier to avoid the S.H.I.E.L.D. forces that were out to arrest him. Will we get a sense of what Nick has been doing since then? And what's it like writing this character? Is his appearance here just a guest spot? Or will Nick play a regular role in this series moving forward?
Right now it's a guest spot, but one that'll span at least two issues. And due to how closely Sam and I are working on this story, there's other crossover as well, characters appearing, and so on. I'm trying not to give anything away. But as far as what Nick has been up to, Sam'll cover that in the "Ultimates."
In terms of plot and themes what is your final chapter of "Divided We Fall" in issue #15 about? With #16 you begin your tie-in to the "Divided We Fall" follow up, "United We Stand." What can you tell us about the story that begins in that issue?
Well, again, this is a little vague because there are some huge things coming at the end of "United We Stand" (which is issue #18), but Kitty and the crew take on the Stryker forces head on, insurgent-style, revolutionary-style. She's committed to putting at end to the abuses -- the genocide, really, of the mutant species, that nothing's going to stand in her way. The result of that battle -- that's what I'm trying to keep quiet about.
For "United We Stand" and "Divided We Fall" you're working with Carlo Barbieri and Paco Medina, two artists with very similar styles. What do you feel are their individual strengths?
I've only just started to see pages from Carlo -- its been Paco up until now. They're both great, the enthusiasm and the dedication and the talent. One of the most enjoyable things about writing these Marvel books is the chance to work with a whole other world of artists that just were not available to me in the small presses or at Vertigo.
Finally, your immediate plans for "Ultimate Comics X-Men" keep the book focused on your four leads and the action in the Southwest, but can you tell us anything about what happens beyond that? And will we be seeing more of Johnny Storm, who stayed behind in New York to protect the younger mutants? Will we learn his fate soon? And since three of your cast members were very close to the late Peter Parker do you have plans for them to run into or show their reactions to the new Spider-Man, Miles Morales?
Yeah, all of that. I just had a conversation with Brian Bendis about this, so expect something to happen there. You'll find out about Johnny, we'll have some new cast members, 616 characters that have not yet appeared in the Ultimate universe. Karen Grant/Jean Gray and the SEAR will return in the future, and an incredibly complex and touchy new relationship will form between the mutant nation and the government of the US, something that'll drive the story post-event.
That's all vague, I know. But the reality of what I'm doing is pretty huge and paradigm-shifting, something that could never happen in 616. I guess that's the beauty of the Ultimate books. This next chapter in this book is something I'm planning out for the long haul, and will take the mutants to a place they've never been before. After reading Nick's run and writing the issues I have so far, I'm tired of always seeing them beaten down and marginalized. Time to give the mutants a little glory.
"Ultimate Comics X-Men" #15 by Brian Wood and Paco Medina" is on sale August 28th.