For the past several years, the mutant heroes of Marvel Comics' X-Men have been fighting a battle to keep mutantkind from going extinct. It was a battle the X-Men's leader Cyclops was determined to win, and in the final issue of "Avengers Vs X-Men," he managed to achieve his goal as the mutant messiah Hope Summers used the power of the cosmic entity known as the Phoenix to reignite the viability of the mutant race.
Victory had its costs, though. Disagreements over the role of the next generation of mutants split the X-Men into separate factions; one led by Cyclops, the other by Wolverine, and in the post-AvX landscape, one of those factions is leaderless due to Cyclops' actions while possessed by the "Dark" side of the Phoenix entity. The X-Man murdered Charles Xavier, the X-Men's founder and a man who was like a father to Cyclops, resulting in his current incarceration.
Now, the X-Men are at a crossroads, faced with the questions of how to deal with the new mutants that are emerging all over the globe and who will lead them with their founder dead and his chosen successor imprisoned.
Writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Stuart Immonen will begin to answer these questions this November when they expand the Marvel NOW! initiative with the launch of "All-New X-Men." They'll also raise several more tough questions, including how the X-Men deal with the arrival of their five teenage founding members who have been mysteriously transported from the past to the present day Marvel U and perhaps even more potentially troubling, why are they here? To get the full scoop on what readers have to look forward to, CBR News spoke with Bendis about his plans for the series, which is now the flagship title in the X-Men line.
The idea of transporting the original teenage X-Men to the future is one that's been floating around Marvel for a while now, and it was the chance to tell that story which initially drew Bendis to "All-New X-Men." "There was this idea at Marvel retreats called 'Days of Future Now,'" Bendis told CBR News. "It was literally the idea that the original X-Men would come here, to what would be their 'Days of Future Past,' and it would be horrifying and startling for them to see what the X-Universe had turned in to. I loved this idea, but I was on the 'Avengers' books. It never stuck to the wall and just as a fan I wanted someone to write it so I could read it. It never happened, though.
"A year or two ago, we were making our plans for 'Avengers Vs. X-Men' here at my house and it occurred to me that maybe I should leave 'Avengers' after 'Avengers Vs. X-Men,' because it seemed like it was time and I had enough time to wrap everything up," Bendis continued. "Then Tom Brevoort and Axel Alonso said, 'You should come to X-Men and do that story you keep whining about.' I was like, 'All right. I'm doing X-Men.'
"What's always been scary about doing those books is having a unique point of view on the X-Men. I don't want to do a version of Chris Claremont's run, or a version of Grant Morrison's run. The whole time I was at Marvel, a good friend of mine had been writing X-Men and doing it very well. I thought if I ever came aboard X-Men, I would really have to have a unique point of view. This is it."
Having a unique take on the X-Men concept didn't make the prospect of taking over the flagship X-Book any less intimidating, however. "I've been an X-Men fan as long as I can read, so this is very daunting. But it was put out there, and then it became clear that it was going to be me and Stuart Immonen, that's what I needed, because what I have in mind harkens back to 'Ultimate Spider-Man' more than it does to Avengers," Bendis said. "I want to do a very emotional, young and idealistic book, and Stuart brings that. So I thought, 'All right -- this will work.'
"We have worked together before successfully; both on 'Ultimate Spider-Man' and 'New Avengers,' so I know how to write for him, and he knows how to bring it. He is bringing it ,too. He's doing work that's very similar to what he did on 'Ultimate Spider-Man,' which was very expressive character work and very dynamic action sequences." Bendis continued. "I should also put a shout out to our colorist Marte Gracia who's bringing it as well. I've never worked with him before, but he's doing an amazing job coloring Stuart's work. And the always amazing Wade von Grawbadger is on inks."
Another reason Bendis was glad to be collaborating with Immonen again is the artist's ability to draw a large and diverse cast of characters, especially since "All-New X-Men's" status as the flagship book in the X-Line means the series will feature a host of characters from across the X-Men universe.
"The core cast of our series will change over time because characters come and go and things shift around. Obviously, the original five will be part of this book. We'll also have modern day Cyclops and the characters that originally sided with him, like Magneto. I had a breakthrough with Magneto that I'm so excited about, so he'll be coming up very shortly," Bendis teased. "Plus, you have the staff of the Jean Grey School. We're not focusing on the kids -- the kids are what Jason Aaron's 'Wolverine & the X-Men' is about, more or less. But we'll have Wolverine, Iceman, Storm, Beast, Kitty and quite a few others. We'll have three factions, and all these characters are interacting. It's almost like a Robert Altman movie. Plus, there will also be some new characters that you haven't met before.
"There are some fans that are very, very focused on the original five, and they should be because they're the emotional core of the book, but there are a lot of other characters. A lot of people's favorite characters are going to be front and center right away."
The three separate factions will all have a lot on their mind when the series begins. The aftermath of "Avengers Vs. X-Men" has left Cyclops' followers in disarray, and Wolverine's team is scrambling to find a way to deal with the emergence of new mutants in the world. Writers Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen and Rick Remender will develop some of this aftermath in "Wolverine & the X-Men," "AvX: Consequences" and "Uncanny Avengers," leaving Bendis and Immonen to deal with the fact that there's no leader to fill the void left by Cyclops and Charles Xavier.
"It is a very interesting time in the X-Men universe. Maybe the most interesting time. There are immense possibilities for the characters, for their relationships and for their belief systems. All of that is so much fun to write," Bendis remarked. "You've got all these very profound characters, each feeling a very hard connection to Xavier's legacy and trying to decide what it is that they have to offer to make that legacy come true. Some characters are making very bold and different choices in the way they handle themselves going forward. And some people will be on a search to decide what they want. From there, a lot of stories will interact. Not only in 'All-New X-Men,' but other books as well."
While the present day X-Men struggle with the future of Charles Xavier's legacy, the original five try to make sense of the strange and frightening future they find themselves thrust into in "All-New X-Men" #1. "They're at their rawest and most adolescent. Their eyes are wide open, and they're very excited to be X-Men. They've been thrust into a world, though, where they discover what every one of their decisions meant and what the fall out was," Bendis said "Cyclops has been brought to a world where he murdered Charles Xavier. How would he deal with that? And how does the modern day Scott deal with looking his younger self in the face? How do you tell the young version of yourself, 'Here's how it's going to turn out?'
"Then, of course, the teenaged Jean Grey is a whole other thing. She gets to find out, 'Guess what? You died! A couple of times!' All of this will be dealt with very quickly, because we're dealing with raw nerves," Bendis continued. "These characters are at their most youthful and most exuberant, and they're going to have to grow the fuck up very quickly, one way or another. That's going to affect all of them differently. Each of them will walk away from this with a different agenda."
Since Bendis' initial arc of "All-New X-Men" is about confronting and reconciling your past and present day expectations for yourself, the writer has been thinking a lot about how his own younger self would view his plans for the X-Universe. "So many people online have asked me, 'What would the 12 year old version of you think about what you were doing right now?' Most of the time they mean it as a nice thing, but a few people have said it like, 'Do you think the 12 year old version of you would be able to imagine that you would one day kill Charles Xavier?' I'm going to go on record and say he would think this is all awesome. I think the 12 year old version of me would be more like, 'Oh, no! No hair? It's not going to last?' I've been thinking a lot about that, though. You think you've got it all mapped out in your head and how you would do certain things, but then you look back, and even if things worked out pretty well, you still can't believe where you were and where you are. Writing a book about that with these characters, the most complex characters in all of Marvel, is a real challenge and a real treat."
If "All-New X-Men" was simply a story about the current and original X-Men it would still be an incredibly involved tale. Bendis' title becomes even more intricate, however, once you factor in the actions of the X-Men's adversaries.
"Because a lot has changed, you're going to see a lot of famous X-villains in a completely different light. Some will change sides and some will dig their heels in even deeper," Bendis remarked. "A lot of people are going to have some profound changes in their life, based not only on Xavier dying, but having the original X-Men here. Imagine that the original X-Men come here and they do something cool that gets televised. Then, imagine a character who, years ago was completely destroyed by the original X-Men, Jean Grey in particular. Now they're back and there's a chance for a second shot, but it's got to be a good one."
The obstacles and adversaries the cast of "All-New X-Men" will confront come from around the globe and the farthest reaches of space. "The original X-Men coming to the present day will have consequences, and this goes back to something I mentioned in our 'Guardians of the Galaxy' interview. It's my feeling that every one of these space-time continuum abuse acts has a butterfly effect. Sometimes it happens directly to the abusers, and sometimes that effect happen across the galaxy. I may not feel like there's some immediate fallout right here on Earth, but somewhere, something is happening. You know how 'the butterfly flaps its wings and there's a hurricane in Africa?' The Marvel version of that is the original X-Men travel time and have an adventure. Then, across the galaxy, something happens. We're going to discover what that is in both 'All-New X-Men' and 'Guardians of the Galaxy.'"
The "All-New X-Men" will also have to contend with the freshly-emerging mutant population. "You're going to meet some brand new characters, and they're going to be a lot of fun. Coming up with new mutants isn't easy," Bendis stated. "A lot of shit has been done, but I've got a handful of new characters on both sides of the track that I'm very into. I really like Jason Aaron's new Hellfire Club, so they'll be an ongoing concern. Plus, there will be a couple new villains popping out of this as well."
Bendis is coordinating his stories to make sure they mesh with the plans of his fellow X-writers, but his use of the new youthful Hellfire Club and several instructors from the Jean Grey Academy means he'll be keeping particularly close contact with "Wolverine and the X-Men" writer Jason Aaron. "Jason and I will be sharing characters and territory, but anyone who's ever met or talked with Jason knows he's very, very gracious and very, very cool," Bendis stated. "Tonally and thematically, he has a very different thing going on in his book than I do in mine. We're good to go with the characters that we're sharing and the stories that we want to tell. He also has an idea for Jean in his book that is so fantastic, I'm jealous. He thought of it, so he has to do it. It's such a good idea!
"You won't be obligated in any sense to buy everything, but hopefully you'll want to because everyone is doing a fantastic job," Bendis continued. "Everybody else is doing their own thing, but being an Avengers writer for so many years, and with so many of those characters having solo titles and other Avengers titles, it's not hard to maneuver everything so everyone can tell their story. In fact, it's something I take a lot of pride in. Everyone gets to tell their story with as little compromise as possible."
"All-New X-Men" has its fair share of intricacies, so Bendis is focused on guaranteeing sure each installment of his overall story is exciting and emotionally resonant for readers. To make sure that happens, the writer took some extra time to develop his tale and get it going.
"There are a lot of moving parts. I think issue #5 is going to be the one where people go, 'Really?' because some pretty big decisions are going to be made as far as how the X-Men relate to each other and how everything is done going forward. So keep an eye out for that issue to see what the books are going to be like and what kind of stories we're going to do," the writer explained. "I am a Chris Claremont baby, and what he brought to the X-Men was a lot of emotion; a lot of the best kinds of soap opera mixed with real adventure and real stakes. I write very differently from Claremont, but I want to continue in that arena, wholeheartedly. If I can, I want to mix that in with Matt Fraction's sense of humor, because these are very smart characters who are very witty and very self aware.
"The good news is, we are many issues ahead of the curve because we've had a lot of head start -- more than most of the other Marvel NOW! books," Bendis continued. "We've had a lot of time to develop our ideas and iron them out. We are many issues into the run, and it's going to be coming fast and furious for you guys. It's going to be biweekly for the first couple of months. You're going to get a lot of story right away, and it's all beautiful-looking thanks to my artistic collaborators."