Fridays on CBR mean Jeanine's In Charge.
That's right! This week, CBR's regular feature MARVEL A-I-C: AXEL-IN-CHARGE welcomes special Marvel Editorial guest Jeanine Schaefer alongside writer Brian Wood for a dissection of the just-released "X-Men" #1!
An editor with across the comics landscape, Schaefer has marked her time at Marvel with forays into the fan favorite corners of the X-Universe. Aside from the new all-female "X-Men," the editor has also brought to print the adventures of "Daken: Dark Wolverine," "X-Treme X-Men," "X-23" and many more. On the freelance side of the equation, Wood is a writer who needs little introduction thanks both to his acclaimed creator-owned works like "DMZ" and "The Massive" as well as recent Marvel runs on "Ultimate Comics X-Men" and "Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha and Omega."
This week, the long-simmering new "X-Men" title finally hit the stands after over a year of planning from Schaefer and Wood. The high profile team consists of the most recognizable women from the franchise including Storm, Rogue, Psylocke and Jubilee. With the first issue – as drawn by Olivier Coipel – finally on the stands, the pair jumped into the "In Charge" seat to discuss their own personal histories with the X-Men, recount the early days of plotting the new book, share the secret of how the new villain came into being and explain why Omega Sentinel was the final piece that brought the book all together. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Guys, thanks for stepping in to A-i-C this week, and congrats on "X-Men" #1 being a real comic book and not just something we're talking about online anymore!
Jeanine Schaefer: I couldn't sleep [Tuesday] night I was so excited.
Brian Wood: Oh, I slept pretty well. [Laughter] It's been a long week because of this and other things. But I was thinking about this, and Jeanine, remember when I took that vacation last summer? I remember calling you from my vacation and planning this book. It's been that long.
Schaefer: It's kind of crazy.
Wood: So it is extremely nice to be able to talk about something that actually exists and that other people have seen.
Well, before we get into some of the specifics of issue #1, I wanted to ask you guys about your own histories with the X-Men. Brian, you worked on an iteration of "Generation X" years ago before your current run with the mutants, so I have always assumed you read the book maybe going back to Claremont's run. And Jeanine, without any specific evidence, I'm betting you were a '90s "X-Men" animated series fan. Am I wrong here?
Wood: Actually, the first X-Men book I ever read was "Generation X," and I went there following Chris Bachelo from his Vertigo work. So I came into it at that point and came in following that sensibility. I think that's why my preference has sort of stayed with the younger X-Men. I still have a real affection for Jubilee.
Schaefer: You are totally right. I loved the cartoon when I was a kid. Everything about it completely spoke to me. And I had a couple of friends who were into comics, and so I ventured into a comic shop and picked up a random issue of "Uncanny X-Men." I literally had no idea what was going on in it, but I started reading and loved it. Again, because of the cartoon probably, Jubilee is a huge character for me too. Also, I'm from Long Island, and there are LOTS of malls on Long Island. So a mallrat who got superpowers and was adopted by the X-Men? I was like, "Yes. This is the best thing I've ever read in my life."
Wood: [Laughs] Yeah, that's all real local references for you, right?
Did you have hoop earrings and a yellow leather jacket too?
Schaefer: I am wearing hoop earrings at this very moment! [Laughter] It is happening.
Wood: I was talking to someone recently, and I think her look really holds up. If you take out the Terminator X sunglasses, that style still works.
Schaefer:Totally. Kathryn Immonen and Phil Noto were updating her look a little bit for the "Wolverine In Japan"/Jubilee mini series, and we were talking about it and saying, "You can't get rid of that coat. Trench coats are awesome. We can't get rid of it!" We ended up updating the trench coat to make it a little more modern, but everything else from the cute little track jacket to the big earrings to the pink sunglasses stayed the same. It's just perfect. Jubille fan hour is what this interview has turned into. [Laughter]
Well, for a long time that character was really the entry point into the entire X-Men franchise. And Brian, you mention the younger X-Men being your favorite. There are a number of different themes to tap into with these characters, but are you guys most drawn to the coming of age idea?
Wood: I feel like that's really at its core what it means to me – those youthful, coming of age identity themes. The X-Men is very much tied into the idea of youth in a way where that's where I automatically go when I think up ideas for stories or books I want to write. X-Men stuff naturally gravitates to that side of it. I can appreciate the stuff that came before like the Claremont soap opera stuff. I just think, "Why can't we have both?" The youth stuff and the soap opera stuff at the same time.
Schaefer: Part of being a kid is that dramatic idea. Everyone is either a hero or a villain. Every romance is the great romance. Everything you do is the biggest tragedy or the greatest love story, and I think that's what you get in the X-Men. And let's not deny the power of Gambit and Rogue, either. [Laughter] Especially coming from the cartoon.
Wood: I could never connect with Gambit. I never saw it.
Schaefer: He's so realistic. What are you talking about? [Laughter]
Talking about a look that never goes out of style, the pink under the head sock is eternal!
Schaefer: Yeah! I guess Brian is not going to be too pleased with my new pitch for Gambit joining "X-Men."
So now that people have been able to read "X-Men" #1, let's talk about how this story was built. Everyone knows that you guys lit upon an all-female team early on, but the story they confront with Sublime coming for aide against his previously unseen sister hits on a bunch of sci-fi/evolutionary ideas. Why was this the story to bring this team into the world with?
Wood: It evolved over so much time in a conversational way, it's hard to point to one moment in time and say, "This is where that came from." I knew I wanted to have a story that would naturally cause these characters to ban together to help themselves or help one of them – which ended up being Jubilee. That seemed very natural and was very much a product of their histories and relationships with each other. And I kind of have a blind spot when it comes to X-Men villains. That's an area for me where I do a lot of research online. I ended up looking at lists of X-Men villains online, and when I saw Sublime, there was something kind of science fictiony cool about him which I liked anyway as a reader, and I felt that tied really well into classic X-Men themes. I wanted this to feel like a classic X-Men story and not in a nostalgic way, but sort of in a core foundational way. I just took it from there, and Jeanine and I talked back and forth an awful lot to work our way into the story. How we got there is a little unclear to me because it came over a lot of conversations.
Schaefer: And I think the little twist you're putting on Sublime too with Arkea as his twin sister brings in all these themes of family. Jubilee is dealing with this baby and come back to who she views has her family right when Sublime is having his family come back to haunt him. I think there are some really great ideas about dealing with the family you're born with versus the one you surround yourself with as you move on in your life. I really liked that, and it made total sense to me.
Wood: I always like sort of closing loops like that with the family thing being a recurrent theme that doubles back on itself.
And Arkea doesn't just show up as an idea, but she attaches herself to Omega Sentinel who we haven't seen in a while. Brian, I'm assuming you didn't just go, "Oh yeah, and I can pull Omega Sentinel out of my back pocket." What was that process like of digging for the pieces that were available to put into play and then making the right combination there?
Wood: I feel like that's the question I always have to ask Jeanine. "What's going on with this character? Who's around? Who's doing something elsewhere?" I try to keep up with what's going on in all the other X-Men books, but it's pretty hard. I don't know how the editors do it.
Schaefer: It's incredibly difficult, but I have tons of e-mails from Brian that are just lists of "What about these four people?" and I'd have to say, "This one works. This one doesn't." He was great with that. Brian, I remember when we were trying to figure out that last piece of the puzzle, and I was sitting at my desk going "Who could this be?" I think I was on that track, but I hadn't gotten there yet. And then you just e-mailed me and said, "Karima. What's going on with her?" That's when everything clicked into place.
Wood: I remember how we really needed a physical character for the X-Men to actually fight. This villain had to be in an actual form. And I just remember clicking around Wikipedia and following X-Men links, taking shots in the dark. I think I found her because we'd talked about using Sentinels as a villain down the road. That's what made me click on her page, and I went, "Oh! Here's a person perfectly suited to be inhabited by a techno virus. And what's she doing now? Oh, she's in a coma. Great!" It was a perfect fit but nothing that had been on my radar. I found her by accident, thank God.
Schaefer: That's the X-Men Wikipedia void you fall down when you're doing this job.
Wood: I fall down that void an awful lot. [Laughter] But it's not quite as bad as the Star Wars Wiki holed I go down, but similar.
Schaefer: I can only imagine.
Every member of the team got a little moment to shine in issue #1, but like you said, Jubilee has very much been the focal character. As the book's gone along, are there characters who have grown on you a bit or who you've found a new angle on?
Wood: It's hard for me not to gravitate towards Jubilee. I get very uncomfortable when I'm writing a character I don't quite have a handle on, so I tend to focus on the ones I do. Like, I did that last year when I was writing this book with Storm. At the beginning, I didn't know what to do with Storm, so I really tried to develop her in a deliberate way, and everyone ended up liking what I did.
Here, I did a similar thing with Rogue. I feel like Rogue has been written every possible way over the history of her life. I was thinking, "What can I even do?" Then really late in the process I came to this idea where I thought she should really latch onto that brawler identity she's had at times and then really amp it up. That's Jeanine's one constant note to me on this. Amp it up. Make it cooler, bigger, badder, more epic. So I'm really hitting it hard with Rogue. You'll see that.
Schaefer: I feel like you're also gravitating towards Rachel and building up a nice head of steam with her.
Wood: Rachel's one I get a lot of feedback on – a lot of comments from readers where they say, "Nothing's been going on with her" or "She hasn't really been developed." There are a lot of different opinions on Rachel, of course. But I take that as an interesting challenge or opportunity. If there are readers who feel she's not being used enough – and I know that's a horrible phrase – maybe there's an opportunity to make a mark.
And I've gotten a lot better at this recently, but it's really important when writing these big cast books to give them all their screen time. That's so hard, but they all have their legions of fans who are looking for them. And if you shaft them, you're going to hear about it. "Why is this person standing in the background not doing anything?" [Laughs] So it was really important to make sure everybody had a role and was doing something specific and important to the story. That's something I really worked on in these first scripts, which isn't easy when you have seven characters and 20 pages.
I've got to say, we have at least one fan on the message boards who is constantly asking when Pixie will get a moment in the spotlight again. When she showed up in #1, I kept waiting to see if she'd have a line of dialogue, and when she was more a background player, I thought, "Well, I know what the first comment is going to be about this book from that corner of the web."
Wood: I feel there are several of those people. I like Pixie a lot. She didn't make the cut for this cast, but as Jeanine knows, I keep trying to work her into the background. The writers always have some subtle turf war going on with these characters, so I feel if I just keep putting her in the background of the book, eventually I can claim her by default.
Schaefer: And one of the thing that's really hard about the X-Men is that there are so many awesome characters, and every character is someone's favorite character. When you start getting into the talks of "Who do we have?" all you do is say, "Well, that character's awesome. And THAT character's awesome." It's a matter of finding a place for them to fit at any given moment. Maybe that place is them just showing up.
We haven't talked too much about this here, but with the concept driving the book being a cast of all women, I feel like you guys are in a unique position. If you were trying to put together a Justice League team of all women, you'd be having a hell of a time making that work. But with the X-Men, the franchise has a huge well, and it also has a huge female readership. Do you view part of the mission statement of "X-Men" as an outreach one?
Schaefer: 100%, speaking for me. I don't want to speak for Brian. But whenever you want to do something like this, there's a lurking fear of "Oh no, we don't want to scare away the core readership." But the core readership of the X-Men is so diverse that we can put together a team like this, and you can still find someone for every reader to identify with. And I think this is a lineup that will also catch the eye of a reader who's been following other books at other companies or watching the X-Men cartoon or going to see "The Avengers." It's something where you can see yourself on the page, and especially for women, seeing yourself represented on the page will make you go, "I'll pick this up. That looks like me." So for me, that's a huge part of this. I think there are a lot of people who will see themselves in this and want to read it.
Wood: And I also think that despite the book's initial identity as this all-female book – which is still part of its identity – the story itself has total mass appeal. This is not going to turn away a male reader in any way whatsoever. That's always the trick. You've got to walk this line to satisfy both worlds. It's got to be for someone who's read the X-Men their entire life as well as something that's open to a new reader. I think, Jeanine, you said something in the Daily News piece about the book like "All you've got to do is take down the 'No Boys Allowed' sign..."
Schaefer: Yeah! That's really all you need to do.
Wood: It's that simple. Especially with the X-Men, it's got an innate appeal to any gender. All you need is to take the barrier down. You don't need to build anything new.
Lastly, I know that Olivier Coipel was fired up to draw this book, but he's since been tapped to work on the big "Infinity" event, so soon we've got David Lopez and Terry Dodson coming on board for their own stories. How does having that rotation of artists impact the identity of the book over the long term? Are there ways in which you're working with each artist to define what this book is supposed to be visually?
Wood: David I worked with last year, and he's one of those artists where when the art comes in to me as the writer, it all makes perfect sense. With all the artists I work with, I look for the ones whose art feels like the perfect match, and I felt that way with David. Our sensibilities were the same. The tone of my writing fit the tone of his art. So I feel like that's going to be the easiest shift from Olivier. I haven't worked with Terry before. I actually almost worked with Terry years ago when I wrote "Generation X." He was the artist on the book at the time, and it was just this weird fluke that he had to leave right when I came on, which was a bummer because I was a fan of his work all the way back then. So I'm pretty excited to work with him here.
Schaefer: Olivier isn’t drawing "Infinity," actually. Having David and Terry coming in and building a strong team of artists that compliment each other was always our intention. And with both of those guys, just like Olivier, they're so jazzed to work on this book.
Wood: It's like an artist's dream to work on this book. What better book?
Schaefer: Yeah, it's just a classic X-Men book. And when I spoke with all three of these guys, they were saying, "Yes! This is amazing! I can't wait!" I feel like they're all going to be bringing their very best to it, and I'm super excited.
Wood: Me too.
Have some questions for Marvel's AXEL-IN-CHARGE? Please visit the CUP O' Q&A thread in CBR's Marvel Universe forum. It's now the dedicated thread for all connections between Board Members and the Marvel Executive staff that CBR will pull questions for next week's installment of our weekly fan-generated question-and-answer column! Do it to it!