Fraction and Gillen Explain It All (THOR, JOURNEY, X-MEN)
Fraction and Gillen Explain It All
Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen were both in the comic book news quite a bit last week due to announcements concerning their Marvel Comics work — Fraction’s leaving Thor in April to start a new ongoing called The Mighty Thor, Gillen’s picking up the old numbering as the series returns to its original title of Journey Into Mystery, and Fraction’s abdicating his co-writing duties on Uncanny X-Men, leaving Gillen as the sole writer.
That creates a whole lot of stuff worth talking about, so Newsarama shoveled a bunch of questions at the writers, who in turn gamely answered them.
Newsarama: Matt, Kieron, a lot of news concerning the two of you this past week so let's try our best to cover it all. First, there's the peaceful transfer of power on Uncanny X-Men. Was it always the plan for Matt to move on after a few issues of co-writing and Kieron to take over, solo-style?
Matt Fraction: I think the quickest way to make god laugh is to tout your serious earthman plans but once Fear Itself came into my life it became clear that I had too much on my hands. Salvador [Larroca] on Iron Man is an unstoppable monster, I had the two Thor arcs happening at once, to feed both Pasqual [Ferry] on the end of adjectiveless-Thor and get Olivier going on The Mighty Thor, I had Fear Itself and all of its ancillary matters... and then X-Men which, more often than not, demands attention being paid to two or three arcs at once... anyway I needed help. Having just come out of “Second Coming,” it was, to my sadness, Uncanny’s time to hop off the merry-go-round that is my schedule. And since Kegels — that's my new nickname for Kieron Gillen that I just came up with, "Kegels” — and I had worked so much on “The Five Lights” and we'd been chatting about his plans for Generation Hope it just made the most and easiest sense. So… yeah. Not really planned — as he can attest to as I'd been planting all sorts of seeds to deal with in the next couple years that he now either has to adopt as his own or sweep off into the dark corner of the X-office where all the dangling threads go… but it could not have gone to a better, more gifted, more perfectly-suited writer than Kieron. It was a thrill and an honor to take the book through Hope's return; now I can't wait to read what he does with it.
Kieron Gillen: As Matt says, one thing lead to another in an incredibly smooth way. If we overlook the nickname "Kegels" and the night of the knife, where I stalked the Marvel Headquarters clothed only in the blood of my enemies, there was nothing unnatural or disturbing about it at all.
Nrama: Matt — in three years of Uncanny, you participated in major crossovers, brought significant change to the team's status quo and utilized captions introducing each character that were both amusing and informative. Now that your run is ending, how do you look back at your time on the comic as a whole? Do you think you've pretty much said all you had to say about the X-Men at this point, or are you looking forward to getting a chance with the characters again in the future? (I know they're a part of Fear Itself, so it looks like you're not saying goodbye to them completely at this point.)
Fraction: Uncanny X-Men is the toughest job you'll ever love.
And I don't think it's possible to be done saying all you can say with these characters.
Nrama: Kieron — obviously you were already a co-writer on the comic, so I'm guessing it won't be too abrupt of a throwing-out-baby-with-bathwater shift coming in April. But now that the book is solely your own, what can kind of changes might readers notice going forward? Will you be sticking with the large, rotating cast? It looks like we'll be revisiting S.W.O.R.D. — is that something you had been hoping for a chance to get to? And can we expect those character caption boxes to stick around? (I liked the Namor/snotty one in #531, not sure which one of you was responsible for that one.) Oh, and how do you respond to your Phonogram collaborator Jamie McKelvie dubbing you the "new Chris Claremont"?
Gillen: It'll directly build on everything Matt's set up and the whole mutant status quo. Fundamentally, with Second Coming, they won a war against the traditional puritanical eliminationist foes. Now, they've got the mutant community basically united, living in one place and trying to build a functioning society for the 21st centruy. They won the war. Can they win the peace. The question of what may be acceptable as a war-time decision versus what can work in an ongoing community comes into sharp focus. That's basically where we are now.
With the cast, what I'm going to try and do is keep a slightly tighter focus on characters for an arc. I'll still jump at a chance of any cameo of anyone on the island, but on an arc by arc basis, it's going to focus tighter on a few characters. So the 534.1 is primarily about Magneto and his relationship with the world and the X-Men. Breaking Point is primarily about Kitty and Colossus, their relationship, Kitty's intangibility and that whole area. The sub-plots setting up future plots will be there, but step back a little. The metaphor I'm thinking of is that imagine if they two or three X-Men movies a year. Each one will actually have a tight, closed loop of emotional development, while still setting up and teasing the future movies. That's what I'm going to try and do - with interstitial issues between the larger arcs to explore plots that wouldn't support a full arc, and would in fact confuse the arc if we /did/ bring it in.
Part of that is that I want to make the book as accessible as is possible without short-cutting any of the complexity of character and motivation which is totally key to the X-Men. Matt's character captions were absolutely towards that end. You could pick up any issue and at least know who these enormous cast were and what they did, with a stylistic flourish to make it more than just raw exposition. I had fun writing them (I believe that Namor one was mine), but I'm trying a different sort of approach. Rather than doing it on a panel-by-panel basis, I'm front loading the introductions of the major cast in an intro page for each arc, specifically designed by each artist. So the majority of the key players will be identified, leaving only the secondary characters to be IDed as and when they enter the book, which I'll do via a few methods like... oh, this is totally going into craft nonsense. I'll be telling you what my favourite pencils are next. Suffice to say, I'm hoping that it feels both like something that grows organically from what Matt was doing and simultaneously it's obvious own, pure, aesthetic me-ish statement.
I may get Terry to draw GILLEN IS HERE!!!! in the sky on every panel in 535. That'll do it.
Regarding S.W.O.R.D., I'm actually a little embarrassed they've turned up in the first arc. Obviously, I do love those characters, but to bring characters in from another book by a writer immediately... well, y'know? Just seems wrong. I wouldn't have done it if it wasn't absolutely necessary to tell a story about Kitty and her intangibility. I'd have waited until - oooh - at least the second arc before dragging Brand in and her shoutiness.
And regarding McKelvie, I treat him saying that in the same way I treat everything that dribbles out of his mouth. I ignore it, unless I instead choose to point at him and laugh long and hard. It's as natural a reaction to Jamie as Matt dubbing me "Kegels" is an unnatural one.
(Bless Jamie. He's made of sweetness)
Nrama: Matt, it looks like The Mighty Thor is both a pretty direct continuation of what you're currently doing on Thor, and also a comic designed to be fairly accessible for folks interested in the character due to the movie. Is that a tricky balance to achieve? And how big of a compliment is it to be once again writing a new series launched to coincide with a film, much like Invincible Iron Man #1 back in 2008?
Fraction: It's not terribly difficult, I don't think; nothing is predicated on having read that arc save one detail that's sort of the entire inciting... uh... the inciter... of the first Mighty Thor arc, "The Galactus Seed." It's always crucial to keep in mind that it's gonna be somebody's first comic, so there's a way to artfully lay the pipe that needs to be laid that fulfills the requirements old-timers will have and will answer the questions new folks will bring. It's a first issue in many ways.
And yes, it's a tremendous compliment and vote of confidence.
Nrama: It looks like though you're no longer Uncanny X-Men co-writers, the collaborations between the two of you will continue — how close are you guys working together on the Asgardian side of things with The Mighty Thor and Journey Into Mystery — especially given that JIM (I hope people call it that when speaking the abbreviation out loud, just like the name) is tying in to Fear Itself?
Fraction: Part of The Mighty Thor beginning with a first issue and a first storyline is that it's not tying into Fear Itself — very much, as you brought up, like my Invincible Iron Man ignored Secret Invasion, even though they were published parallel to one another. There's plenty of Thor in Fear Itself; there's plenty of non-crossover Thor and Asgard in The Mighty Thor; what we were missing was the focus on Asgard and its people during FI.
So basically I filled K in on my plans and have tried to stay the hell out of his way.
Gillen: It's generally a good idea, especially on the dance floor. I've decapitated the unwary with these flailing limbs.
It's really what Matt says — Thor's got such a dominant role in Fear Itself, I saw room for all manner of plots and intrigue around it. And when my long term aims are all about plots and intrigue, it's the perfect place to start it. I've basically been describing Journey Into Mystery as Secret Avengers, and The Mighty Thor being Avengers. Our main focus character is Loki, who's a wonderful viewpoint to have on Asgard. You know - being a totally justifiably hated outsider. Looking longer term than just Fear Itself, Matt and me have shared our plans for the major characters, and we've got all sorts of ways for them to elegantly dovetail with one another. I'm trying to make JIM simultaneously complimentary, separate and essential.
Oddly, one of my best friends is called Jim. Now I have two best friends called Jim. Little Jim and JIM, mighty comic book.
Nrama: Kieron, much like returning to S.W.O.R.D. a bit in Uncanny X-Men, you're returning to the Thor-side of things in Journey Into Mystery. It looks like there's two unusual things here — Loki as the star of a comic, and putting these mythological characters in a "black ops" scenario, something in comic books usually reserved for ageless super spies/soldiers (as opposed to ageless Asgardians). How did you arrive at those two concepts? And other than Loki, what other characters play a part in the comic?
Gillen: Journey Into Mystery is a team book, but it's a team book on a mission-by-mission basis. Loki normally has to manipulate someone (either by possessing dirt or solving their problems) to helping him. I mean, it's not as if they're going to do it voluntarily. As such, as the favours are gathered and spent, the team changes. However what's key is that almost everyone who passes through it has their lips sealed by the experience, if only because they don't want people to know they were involved. I can easily imagine in thirty issue times almost all of Asgard will have been on a team with Loki at one point, and no-one actually talks about it.
The idea about this approach directly came from my experience on Thor. Some of the stuff which I thought worked best was the political elements — the interaction between Hela, Mephisto and Loki in Siege: Loki, which grew into my last arc, “The Fine Print.” You have all these pantheons in the same universe. How do they interact? What do they want? Not just in war-time, like we see in books like Chaos War, but when things aren't that violent? I had the idea of mashing something like Queen & Country with Sandman. Or Sandmanbaggers, if you want a particularly bad pun.
Perhaps appropriately since it grew from that whole plot, we're looking like people like Tyr, Hela, Mephisto and the Disir being key in the first arc. I want to deal with not just the divine and magical areas, so if you see Beta Ray Bill representing the Cosmic field, I wouldn't be too surprised. And we haven't seen Surtur for a while, have we? I wonder what he's up to. And there's some new characters, because I can't help myself.
I'm not sure if Interpantheonic is a word, but it looks so cute, I can't help myself.
The second concept — Loki as lead — also grew from my previous work with Thor. JIM is a book about mysteries, and the first one we explore is why Loki actually did what he did in Siege. As in, he sacrificed himself to a peril he helped create. What was that all about? The first issue explains all that, and does much to explain what our new, younger, trickster Loki is trying to do now.
Nrama: In the April solicitations, Journey Into Mystery was denoted as a Fear Itself tie-in, but The Mighty Thor was not — will the repercussions of Fear Itself be seen in The Mighty Thor as well, or will that comic be kept mostly separate? (Which would seem to make some sense — relaunching a new series timed to a major motion picture and then immediately having it tie into a bunch of other comic books might send a bit of a mixed message.)
Fraction: The repercussions — and, seriously, they're massive — to Fear Itself will be felt profoundly in The Mighty Thor after Fear Itself. The sequencing goes "Galactus Seed," then Fear Itself, then "Title Redacted Because Tom Brevoort Will Murder Me Otherwise." Exactly like how we did Iron Man, very deliberately to not alienate, confuse, or abuse the good will of new readers the film may bring in.
Nrama: Artist-wise, Kieron, you're re-teaming with Doug Braithwaite on JIM, and Matt, you're working for I believe the first time with Olivier Coipel. From your perspectives, why are they the right illustrators for these comics?
Fraction: Coipel defined Thor for the 21st century... and then Pasqual Ferry trumped him. Now Coipel's out to reclaim the throne. And then P. is back to start the fight over again in our second arc. It's all f*cking fantastic.
Gillen: Doug and me just seemed to work so well with our Thor run. The run was such a crazed rush, I knew I'd grasp the chance to work on something we had a bit more time to consider, and Journey Into Mystery is this. His classical pure-craft is something that's really helping define the book. It's a book, to a lesser or greater degree, about the shadow of history. So a style which really adds to the sense of authenticity adds a lot. These are real mysteries with real solutions with real people in it - just real people who happen to be divine creatures.
Journey Into Mystery also has the greatest Magpies that the world has ever seen.
Nrama: One last question for Matt — "Galactus Seed." Hey, that was in the Avengers #5 timeline. How far back has this story been planned, and should readers try and read the timeline tea leaves further for additional clues?
Fraction: Oh, god. Years. At least two… ? It's been in my head even longer still. Back to when I was doing the one-shots. So… yeah, a while. I like to think ahead.
Nrama: And one more question for Kieron — five comics in April? That's approaching Bendis-esque (Bendis-ian?) levels of productivity. (In fact, looks like he has five titles in April too, so you're tied for the month.) Is it shaping up to be your busiest comic book writing month on record?
Gillen: I’ll have to go through the files to see if there was any month which has more, but five is a serious heft of fine comic product. To be honest, it's more a quirk of scheduling rather than heroic levels of production. I'm ahead on all the books, so they're all safely in the can. I'm really careful with the amount of work I take on, just because as a relatively new writer — compared to guys like Matt and Brian — I'm still finding my limits. I was actually working as a journalist until the end of September, meaning only half-my-time was ever solely on my comic writing. With now a clean schedule, I'm able to push a bit harder and see how much I can actually do without compromising quality. With three ongoing books from Marvel, and a few other commitments elsewhere, I find it unlikely that I'll consider taking on anything else. Not least because my fiancée would dump my sorry ass if I spent any less time with her, and rightly so.