Marvel's Plan to Unify the X-Titles In the Face of a SCHISM
Marvel X-Office Talks SCHISM and Beyond
Schism #5 cover.You may have noticed: Marvel publishes a lot of X-Men comics. Since the 1980s, it’s consistently been one of the busiest components of their publishing line, with several spinoff titles and various iterations of the main team.
Heck, right now, Marvel is publishing four monthly X-Men titles featuring different versions of the core concept — Uncanny X-Men, X-Men: Legacy, X-Men and Astonishing X-Men — and a new one, Wolverine and the X-Men, is coming in October. That’s not even mentioning the various satellite books featuring the larger mutant world, including titles like breakout hit Uncanny X-Force and the always unique X-Factor. Needless to say, the editors that comprise Marvel’s X-Men office — senior editor Nick Lowe, plus Jeanine Schaefer, Jordan D. White, Jody LeHeup, Sebastian Girner and Daniel Ketchum — are busy people. With X-Men: Schism #1 in stores this week and writers Kieron Gillen and Jason Aaron spearheading the subsequent “X-Men: Regenesis” launch this fall, Newsarama got the X-Office's attention for a frank and free-wheeling group interview delving into everything from the double-edged sword of promoting story developments far in advance, favorite X-Men video games, the impact of X-Men: First Class and some hints of what’s to come. It's part of a week-long series of Marvel interviews on various websites (check out Marvel.com’s interview with “the Brevoort office”). Newsarama: Hello to the X-Office! I've gathered you all here today to… well, to talk about comic books. To start things off, I wanted to gauge some opinions about an issue that's been generation discussion in the industry lately. There seems to be a small bit of backlash against getting too much information to readers too soon, with some longing for the days when you essentially didn't know what was in a comic book until you picked it up on the stands. Now we live in a world where readers know what's coming after X-Men: Schism a full month before issue #1 is even out. So from the editorial perspective, do you folks have any strong opinions on the topic? Is it just sort of the inevitable way the comic book business has evolved?
#1 cover.Nick Lowe: I completely hate all the information that goes around before comics come out. Hate it. It drives me insane. The problem is that if you don’t do it, you sell tens of thousands of copies less than if you do give the information. It’s an unfortunate truth of the comic book market, but not just comics. Movies are the same. Trailers and press give away so much of the story of movies. And even when people like J.J. Abrams try to not do that with a movie like Super 8 the studios get nervous because numbers are looking down. Jeanine Schaefer: And even when it does work — look at something like Inception — Lowe: Really, Jeanine? Inception again? Can we have one conversation where you don’t mention it? Schaefer: Absolutely not. Now shush. The Inception people were super tight-lipped about what it was about and the movie crushed the box office. But the common reaction in Hollywood was, “Oh, this is a fluke.” Because for as much as people say they don’t want info, their dollars say they do, and we have to use the tools we’re given. Lowe: And I get it, these things are expensive and people are careful with their money and want to know what they’re getting. But know this, there are still surprises coming and we haven’t revealed everything. Jordan D. White: I agree in many ways — I do enjoy going in clean to stories whenever possible — but on the other hand, if a story is good, it will still be enjoyable to read even if you know where it’s going. Yes — going into Schism, if you read solicits, you know that Cyclops and Wolverine are going to have a break-up, but reading the series gives you the experience of going through it, not just the knowledge that it exists. Still… yeah, it would be nice to not have to give things away. Jody LeHeup: Yeah, I hate it, too. I find it to be very troubling and I don’t think the movie trailer analogy quite covers it. Movie trailers (when done well) don’t spoil the story so much as give you a glimpse at some of the scenes and scenarios contained within, the look of the film, hints at story conflicts but never the resolutions to them. Often people go to movies because the want to “see what happens.” With comics it’s different because we’re already selling the next thing based on how the previous thing is resolved before the previous thing is even out. And that’s a problem in my mind. It takes a lot of wind out of the emotional stakes that we along with the creators work so hard to set up. It’s a real trick to figure out a solution for that too because of the vicious cycle relationship between our readers and the way we market our books. Once we start marketing by spoiling story, readers come to expect and rely on spoilery announcements so it would be very difficult to stop doing. Not impossible, though. I’m confident there’s a better way to do things and I don’t think we should stop trying to find out what that is.
X-Men #17 cover.Nrama: For the last year and a half or so, they've been a lot of talk from Marvel — and palpable efforts, like the adjectiveless X-Men series — about getting the X-Men further integrated into the greater Marvel Universe, and this looks to be happening even further post-Schism. Which kind of prompts an obvious question, yet one I'm curious about: Why haven't the X-Men been more involved in the MU mix? (To use a five-year old example, thinking about something like Civil War, which was a huge Marvel affair that the X-Men mostly sat out.) Has it been a conscious decision or did things just kind of work out that way? Lowe: There were lots of factors. For something like Civil War, it came down to the fact that Joss Whedon and John Cassaday were coming to the climax of their amazing run on Astonishing X-Men. We didn’t want to interrupt that story that Joss and John had invested so much time and energy in for the sake of interacting with the big crossover. It was usually that sort of thing going on that kept us separate. We had big plans of our own that we thought more important than getting too involved in big Avengers stories. This reintegration is definitely a conscious decision that is part of a big master plan that involves world domination and flying sharks with bazookas strapped to their backs. Sebastian Girner: Shark Bazookas? Have you been stealing from my idea-book again, Lowe!? Lowe: Maybe. recorded a cover of it. Ketchum: While X-Men video games and cartoons are near and dear to my heart, I’ve always been particularly fond of action figures. Ten-year-old Daniel Ketchum definitely spent many an afternoon writing scripts for his X-Men action figures to act out!
cover.Nrama: Let's look at a few titles specifically. Havok, Polaris and Rachel Grey all look to be returning soon in X-Men: Legacy. Fans have been asking about their status for a while — what goes into the planning of something like that? Is it there an element of "OK, it's probably time to put these players back on the board" or is it just waiting for a writer (in this case Mike Carey) to have a story that works organically? Ketchum: Really, it’s different in each case, for each different character we’re looking to revive. It can be a matter of timing, or waiting for a writer to bring a cool idea to the table, or just a particular fondness for a character and a desire to see them running around the books again (Mockingbird! Doug Ramsey! The Walrus?).
But in the case of Havok, Polaris and Rachel Grey, it started with Rachel. In the early planning stages of the X-Men event "Age of X," Mike Carey proposed bringing in Jean Grey as a core member of the cast. But in discussing the idea further, we realized that this could be an awesome way to bring our wayward Starjammers back into the mix.So, rather than Jean, our Phoenix character became Rachel. It was the more interesting story: we had a mystery that lasted not just for the duration of "Age of X," but also for the issues that followed. And not only that, but this route yields so much more story: Mike Carey has an excuse to write an adventure set in outer space, and the return of these characters provides fuel for stories in the other X-Books in the coming year.
#15 cover.Nrama: It's probably fair to say that Uncanny X-Force has been the biggest breakout hit of the X-line in the past year. Other than the quality of the book — because, unfortunately, comics history is filled with a lot of great comics that don't quite find an audience — what do you think it is about the series that's resonated so much with fans? LeHeup: I think it’s a number of things. Not only do you have a team of the baddest badasses in the MU, a killer high concept and one of the best creative teams working in comics today, you’ve also got a book with a lot of heart. Rick Remender’s never lost sight of the fact that these aren't killing machines. They’re people. And they’re very affected by every life they’re forced to take. We put the X-Force team through the moral wringer on a monthly basis in order to draw out the pain that these guys go through and I don’t think the book would be as resonant with fans without seeing the emotional toll their actions take on them. I think it also helps that we keep such a break-neck pace on the book. We want readers to feel like they’ve really gotten their money’s worth every month by giving them as much story as we can. Finally, I think we’ve cultivated an atmosphere of real excitement in the sense that UXF is not a book that is afraid of taking risks. Whether from a story standpoint or an art standpoint. It’s a super hero book with teeth and we aim to keep it that way.
#42 cover.Nrama: Astonishing X-Men has obviously gone through changes since its inception, and it's currently rotating arcs with Daniel Way/Jason Pearson and Christos Gage/Juan Bobillo. How would you characterize that book's identity at this point? Lowe: It is still the place to go for a concise X-Men stories by top-notch and out-of-the-ordinary creative teams that aren’t beholden to tons of continuity (X-Men or Marvel U in general). They are still part of continuity, of course, but you don’t need to read them all to understand what’s going on. The rotating creative teams was a fun idea that came about and we wanted to play with. There are some big things coming in the months following the last of the Gage/Bobillo issues!
cover.Ketchum: I think one of X-Factor's strengths is that it has a very strong identity of its own. Peter David has done a terrific job crafting a unique tone and mission statement for the book. But in a post-Schism X-Universe, we’ve discovered some natural ties between the core X-Books and X-Factor that we’re only too excited to explore. Expect Jamie Madrox and his team to take a definitive side in the Cyclops/Wolverine split! Nrama: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have been on New Mutants for a little bit now. Currently the team's mission is about taking care of "unfinished business" but it looks like that may be sidetracked a bit with the Fear Itself tie-in. Will they get back to that agenda afterwards? And since they're a team of X-Men at this point (and not really "new" anymore), what's the logic of calling the book New Mutants, other than that's a well-known name to fans?
Schaefer: Knowing where Wolverine is at any given time (both spatially and series-wise) is a good chunk of my job. We took pretty great pains to figure out how he managed to participate in three different missions over the course of Fear Itself — if you look at all of the books he’s in, we put in event markers to indicate when each book is taking place in relation to the others.
cover.We also want to make sure that big events in Wolverine’s life line up for readers who are following him around — so even though he’s off having his own year-long story in his eponymous book, we’ll come up for a breather and realign with Uncanny and Schism. Again, just to give you guys a signpost that you’re following the right trail and we’re not leading you off a cliff!
Nrama: X-23 and Daken: Dark Wolverine crossed over recently, but it looks like for the near future those books, along with the Wolverine solo title, are on very separate paths. Will this remain the status quo for a while, or might the events of Schism and "ReGenesis" bring in the Wolverine corner of the X-verse a little tighter?
Schaefer: It’s funny that just as Logan is stepping up, his kids (kid and kid/genetic twin?) need to step back a bit. X-23 will always be skirting the edges of the X-Men, sometimes crossing paths and sometimes going out into the maze with nothing but a ball of string in the form of one character or another. Gambit, for example, has been a great tether for her as she went literally soul-searching around the globe — he was able to call Wolverine in when things got a little hairy in Paris and he’s helping her work on her sense of humor (and looks fine as hell doing it, let me tell you!).
Daken, too, has deliberately taken a step back from Logan in order to make himself his own man. But really, it’s all about Wolverine when you get down to it, isn’t it? For both of them, right? They’re both trying to define themselves out from under his shadow, but their orbits keep spiraling closer and closer until they clash and spin apart again.
It’s precisely because of this that the events of Schism and "ReGenesis" will definitely have a huge impact on all three books, but probably not in the way you think — I know, I know, we always say that! Listen, I want so badly to tell you about all the awesomeness but I don’t want to spoil too much! I wanna do this up Inception-style. Callback! What!
Nrama: Wolverine: The Best There Is definitely holds a unique book in the X-Men line. As it's approaching the end of its initial 12-part arc, is there a plan to continue beyond that at this point?
Girner: The current story and creative team will be wrapped by Issue # 12. What will happen beyond that is something we can’t really talk about yet, but stay posted for sure.
Nrama: I'll leave with this: Obviously the next few X-months (and beyond) are going to be dominated by Schism and "ReGenesis," but if you folks had to choose a book from the X-office that may be overlooked that readers really should check out, what it would be?FACEBOOK and TWITTER!