X-POSITION: The Beginning ...

Thu, May 31st, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
George A. Tramountanas, Staff Writer

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The Marvel Universe is a big place. How big? Well, if you consider the fact that the publisher's Distinguished Competition only has 52 "multiverses" while Marvel has at least 616, it becomes clear that the number of entertaining adventures occurring at any one time seems infinite.

However, with so many things going on, it's possible a lot of exciting events may escape your notice. You could be reading about escapades in outer space in "Annihilation," but miss the fact that the Hulk is bringing a well-deserved smackdown to several heroes in "World War Hulk." And while the aftereffects of Civil War are still reverberating in many books, lots of Marvel characters are still dealing with the fallout from Captain America's death. Amidst all of this, one could almost forget about the mutants and their dilemma.

What dilemma?

Well, that's why we at CBR are here in a brand new feature: X-POSITION. Over the next several months, big things will be occurring in the X-Universe. How big? Remember that "616" number I threw out there? Bigger, which will then lead to something huge this fall.

"X-Men" #200 Cover by David Finch

So, to help all you readers prepare for said event, CBR will be posting a weekly feature with various members of Marvel's hard-working X-group. It's an opportunity to clarify moments from your favorite books and to ask those X-related questions that keep you up at night - like, whose hair is greener? Polaris' or She-Hulk's?

Okay, maybe not that question. But if you have a reasonable query that you'd like answered, shoot me an email with the subject line "X-Position" and I'll do my best to get it in front of the right X-team member. You never know who might drop in to give a response!

So, back to the dilemma I mentioned earlier. For those who aren't "in the know," Marvel's mutants have had to deal with many problems over that last few years. It all started when the Scarlet Witch went a tad insane with her chaos magic mutant powers and recreated the world so homo superiors were the dominant species. After realizing her mistake, she undid her magic and uttered the words, "No more mutants."

Prior to that moment, Marvel's mutants numbered in the millions. While unable to get rid of mutants entirely, the Scarlet Witch reduced this population to a couple hundred. And, as if this wasn't bad enough though, the true tragedy of this event became clear recently in "X-Men Annual" #1 (written by Mike Carey), where it was revealed that the X-gene no longer exists. In other words, there is no possibility for anyone to give birth to a homo superior.

This brings us to "X-Men: Endangered Species," a one-shot coming this June which will then lead into a 17-part back-up story that kicks off in "X-Men" #200. To help explain a bit about this project - and to get this feature started off on the right foot - we have two X-editors (Andy Schmidt and Nick Lowe) joining us, as well as X-Men Group Editor Axel Alonso. Let's get this X-Position started!

Story continues below

"Endangered Species" Chatper 1 "Endangered Species" Chapter 1, Page 1
To begin with, our readers might be a bit curious about who you are and what you do. For example. how is Axel's job different from the editing Andy and Nick do? And are there any other X-editors you'd like to point out?

Axel Alonso: As Group Editor, the buck ends with me, so I have spent the last few months focusing on the "big picture": assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the line, poring over old stories and taking a good look at characters who I see lots of potential in - like, say, Cable or Bishop or Forge. I convene weekly meetings with my crew - Nick, Andy, assistant editors Will Panzo and Daniel Ketchum, and our special consultant C.B. Cebulski - stress-testing current storylines, brainstorming new ones, and, most of all, honing down our event.

Andy Schmidt: We're a big group now, that's for sure.

Nick Lowe: Speak for yourself, Andy. I've been working out.

Andy Schmidt: Shut it, Lowe. Also in the office and working on selected X-Men related projects is the recently acquired (from Tom Brevoort's office, where I also came from) Aubrey Sitterson.

It sounds like a simple structure, but there's a lot of give and take. Some projects Axel gets more involved in than others, and some he hardly looks at. It's nice that we all get along and trust one another to do good work. Axel's primary focus of late has been on the road ahead. Nick and I have been working hard with him and the writers on those plans, as well as running the books as they currently exist. And then there are all the non-X-books that we edit.

"Endangered Species" Chapter 1,
Pages 2 & 3
Sounds like a lot of work! Back to those X-books which keep you so busy, each one seems to have its own unique "flavor." If you wouldn't mind, could you tell our readers what you like best about the following titles and why they should give that book a try?

ASTONISHING X-MEN (Written by Joss Whedon, Art by John Cassaday)

AA: Come back to us in early 2008 and ask us the same question. We've planned a big event that will reorganize the X-Men Universe in early 2008 and streamline the titles. Come 2008, each X-Men title will clearly stake out its own turf.

That said, right now "Astonishing" is the big blockbuster X-Men book. It's an easy pick-up for new readers and isn't dependent on the rest of the X-Books, so if you only want to read one X-Book, this is the one for you. But, come on, who wants to read only one X-Book? While "Astonishing" is in continuity, the less-than-monthly shipping schedule keeps its effects from being shown on the rest of the X-books. But that'll change as Joss and John wrap up their run.

X-FACTOR (Written by Peter David)

AS: Peter David and I conceived "X-Factor" as a film noir detective book that happens to feature super-powered characters. If you like "The Maltese Falcon" or "Blade Runner," this is the book for you.

"Endangered Species" Chapter 1,
Pages 4 & 5
X-MEN (Written by Mike Carey)

AS: This is the odd-ball team of "X-Men." Not that they're wacky or zany, but they're an eclectic mix of characters. "X-Men" is sort of the antidote to "Astonishing X-Men" (should you feel like you need one, and why would you?). There are a lot of new villains and new ideas thrown at the reader with every issue and Chris Bachalo and Humberto Ramos' art is an entirely different flavor from any other book's style.

UNCANNY X-MEN (Written by Ed Brubaker)

NL: This is the flagship X-Men book. It's the one with the history. This is the one that builds on the continuity and, thanks to the skill of Ed Brubaker, Billy Tan and Salvador Larroca, brings you new and cool stories every month.

NEW X-MEN (Written by Craig Kyle and Chris Yost)

"New X-Men" #31, Page 27 "New X-Men" #39, Page 4
NL: This may be a book about kids, but it ain't a kids' book. There are no punches pulled in this no-holds-barred intense-fest. The kids are put through a ringer month in and month out, and it is shaping them to be very fierce warriors. In fact, what these kids go through makes what the regular X-Men go through look like a cakewalk a lot of times. They are the future of the X-Men, and the future looks pretty great -provided they live to see it.

I hope they live to see it - the New X-Men are one of my favorite teen teams!

So now that we've talked about the teams, let's get to the reason for this feature - "Endangered Species." This begins with a one-shot and then is followed by a 17-part back-up story running through "X-Men," "Uncanny X-Men," "New X-Men," and "X-Factor." I have a lot of questions about this, as do the fans. You guys ready?

AS: Shoot.

Okay. First, "Endangered Species" is obviously an outcome of M-Day, when Scarlet Witch uttered those three little words, "No more mutants." How long after House of M did the idea for this event come about?

AA: The idea of doing a big X-Men crossover goes back about a year-and-a-half, just as Ed Brubaker and Mike Carey were planning out their runs. We mostly nailed down an inciting incident - a shot-heard-round-the-world moment - that would start the event. We didn't nail down details until I came in as Group Editor almost a year later, and we immediately convened an X-Men summit to hammer out the specifics of the story. The story that we decided to tell - there was never any doubt in my mind that it was the story we had to tell.

"New X-Men" #39, Pages 6 and 13
Of course, we realized that part of the challenge of telling this story was teeing it up. We had to hammer home the scope of the predicament that mutants face today: that they are an endangered species - that there is no cycle of life and death. Every time they bury one of their kind, they are one step closer to extinction. Clearly, if there were ever a time for mutants to reassess their priorities, to look for answers in faith or science or a bottle, to form alliances that they'd have never previously considered, or to just go plain crazy, it's now.

Makes sense. As I'm sure you're aware, there seems to have been quite a few crossovers as of late. While "Endangered Species" does sound story-driven, is there ever the concern that the fans might look at it as "just another crossover?" And did the "head honchos" at Marvel request a crossover in X-Universe?

AA: Like I said, no. It was homegrown in the X-office, with each editor and writer making a major contribution.

AS: And this homegrown, story-driven aspect is the best defense against folks thinking "it's just another cross over." And, "Endangered Species" isn't a crossover proper. It doesn't interrupt the stories in any of the four books. It's an added (at no extra charge) 8-page back up feature. If you're reading "New X-Men" only, you can just keep reading that and you won't miss a thing. But if you want to follow "Endangered Species," and I hope you will, then it runs for free in the back of the four books. That's 32 extra pages of story each month at no additional cost! That's a pretty big deal, I think.

NL: The event that "Endangered Species" leads into is the classic-style crossover, but we'll talk more about that in the coming weeks.

I'm sure are readers are looking forward to that! So, what do you feel makes a successful crossover experience as opposed to a forgettable one?

"Uncanny X-Men" #482, Pages 14 & 15
AA: A story with heart and stones that's well-executed.

AS: For me, it's all about the characters. I think you can have a successful crossover with smaller characters. How do these characters change and evolve during the events of your story? Ultimately, if I'm not engaged by the characters on the page, nothing else will matter.

Why was it decided to tell tale this as a 17-part back-up story? Wouldn't it have been more convenient to do as a miniseries? And which of you lucky editors is coordinating this?

AA: We needed a bridge to our event; a story that would hammer home the fact that mutants stand at the brink of extinction. The scope of the bridge story demanded something more than just a limited series. Since the X-titles were already planned months in advance, we came up with the strategy of telling the story in backups across all the titles. We figured this would send a loud-and-clear message to the fans that this counted. Because like we said, the event that follows is huge: an old-school X-Men crossover that cuts across four titles and creates fundamental change in the X-Men Universe.

AS: As for the workload, we've all been in on the story conferencing for "Endangered Species," but up to this point, the lion's share of the planning and beating out of the story has fallen on my shoulders. Axel, Nick, Daniel and Will have all read the major outline notes that Mike Carey put together and have given feedback, and then I've gone back to Mike with the notes that I think make the most sense. Now that most of that is all done, I've locked in all the artists' schedules and I'm making sure we don't miss a week. I hear that a weekly story can be done.

AA: Andy and Mike did the bulk of the work on this. They put together a three-act structure across the 17 installments that we reviewed and fine-tuned over the course of two to three months. It was not an easy thing to do.

"Uncanny X-Men" #487, Page 8 "Uncanny X-Men" #487, Page 10
I can't imagine. Now, the back-up story is going to be scripted by different writers. Once again, wouldn't a single writer make this more convenient? Why are so many different voices touching this?

AS: Mike Carey is the heavy lifter. He put together the outline for the whole thing and he wanted to have other voices in here. As I said above, it's a story about all mutants, and so we agreed that having a couple of different voices would increase that global feeling. Chris Yost of "New X-Men" and Chris Gage of "World War Hulk: X-Men" are the other two writers lending their skills to the fray.

Great choices! The idea behind "Endangered Species" is a worrisome one for our mutants, but what is the impetus behind the miniseries? What sets the "ticking clock" in motion that the X-Men must find a solution for this problem at this point in time?

AS: As you'll quickly realize in our opening chapters, the Beast has been working on the problem of mutant extinction almost nonstop since the mutant population was nearly obliterated. He's brilliant and as such, it has taken him this long to start hitting dead ends in his research. It's at this point that he must turn to others for help. So, the impetus is that the Beast failed on his own, so now he has to reach out to others for help - and help can come in some very strange places.

Even though the "Endangered Species" story is playing out in the back-up stories, will it be affecting any of the X-books' main storylines?

AS: Not directly. All of the books are dealing with similarly themed stories, but nothing that will require a reader to read all four titles tying into "Endangered Species."

"Uncanny X-Men" #487, Page 14 "Uncanny X-Men" #488
NL: To follow up on Andy's answer, "Uncanny X-Men" is dealing with the reality of the question Beast is trying to answer: What does the inevitable extinction mean to the remaining mutants and the rest of the world? It leads to some scary things and some huge characters (Magneto!) weighing in on the subject. In "X-Men," you deal with the reality of looming extinction, but the focus in this book is on events that lead directly into the big crossover.

In "New X-Men," we're in the middle of the "Search for Magik" storyline for the first couple "Endangered Species" parts. But the issues following "Search…" will deal with the questions facing all of mutant kind in a big way, as well as teeing up a few things for the giant crossover.

Did we mention there's a big classic crossover coming?

In "X-Factor," Jamie and the rest face a foe that will put all the worries of extinction in a very sharp focus. I don't want to say much more about it, but Peter David has some great stuff coming there, folks.

Alright, so all this talk about "no mutant births" has made me curious - will we see what this means to married couples like Peter Parker and Mary Jane, who no longer have to worry about any potential kids being mutants? And what about the Fantastic Four kids and the child of Luke Cage - are they safe from becoming mutants now, too? I see this storyline spreading beyond the X-books...

"X-Factor" #13 "X-Men" #192, Page 12
AS: All in due time. A lot of this is touched on and will play out over the coming months.

In the coming months? Does this have to do with the event this fall? And will that event be an X-event, or will it extend to and involve the Marvel Universe?

AA: It will. It's too soon to comment.

AS: I wish you all could see my big honking grin right now. If only you knew what was coming…

NL: What they said. See you next week!

We're all looking forward to it! Thanks to all of the editors for taking time out of their busy schedules for the launch of X-Position. And readers, you get to play in the sand box, too. Just send in your questions and we'll pass the best along .

Discuss this story here on CBR's X-Books Forum.

 
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