Roger Stern - Working with Dave Cockrum, One Last Time

Stern on X-Men: Odd Men Out

In July, the Marvel Comics is going a little old school with the release of X-Men: Odd Men Out, which features two never-before-seen stories starring a bevy of X-Men and the New Mutants. The first story featuring Professor Xavier and SHIELD Agent Fred Duncan was written by Roger Stern close to 20 years ago; the second story, penned by Michael Higgins, features a post-Inferno cast of New Mutants facing off against The Mad Thinker. Artwork for both stories has been provided by industry legend, the late Dave Cockrum.

Newsarama was fortunate enough to get a hold of Roger Stern to talk about his past involvement with this piece; about changes in the industry; and possible future projects he’d like to write.

Newsarama: X-Men: Odd Men Out has an…older story written by you and drawn by the late Dave Cockrum -- Xavier and Fred Duncan play key roles. What else can you tell us about the story?

Roger Stern: "Older?" You might say that. Even though it's seeing print for the first time, I wrote "Odd Men Out" sixteen … no, nearly seventeen years ago. Except for one page.

Yeah, lost story might be a better description. A page of my original script was misplaced during the intervening years, and Marvel's Mark Beazley had me re-write that page just a few weeks ago. (Let's see if readers can guess which page it is.)

"Odd Men Out" is a brief history of the X-Men and Professor Xavier up until that point in time. But at heart, it's a story about two old friends -- Xavier and former FBI Agent Duncan -- who haven't talked in years, catching up with one another.

NRAMA: How did you get involved in this project originally?

RS: Oh, that's a story in itself! It all began back in 1991, shortly after the second X-Men title was launched. John Byrne had briefly wound up scripting both X-Men and Uncanny –Men, over stories plotted and penciled by Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio. And around that time, John and I were talking over the phone about this and that -- as we often did in the days before email was commonplace -- and he mentioned that both of the books were running a bit behind schedule. Well, more than just a bit, and he talked me into offering my services to the then X-Men editors. So, I made a call, suggested a story, and was assigned to write it.

And when the pages showed up for me to script, I was jazzed to discover that the penciler was Dave Cockrum. I only wish I'd known in advance that Dave was going to draw the story; I would have figured out some way to include scenes of Nightcrawler having a sword fight … Dave always loved stuff like that.

Anyway, I scripted Dave's pencils, turned the story in, and was paid. And that was the last I heard of it.

I should have followed up on that. But not long afterward, I became very busy with The Death of Superman. (You might have heard about that. It was in all the papers.)

NRAMA: You really made your mark on the Avengers and Amazing Spider-Man when Chris Claremont was doing his thing on the Uncanny X-Men--how much different would the world be today if the two of you had changed roles?

RS: I can't imagine that ever would have happened. When I left my editorial job and started writing Spider-Man, Chris had already been writing the uncanny X-Men for -- what? -- about five years. Granted, I'd been his editor for two of those years, but if you a have a popular, moderately successful title -- which Uncanny was at the time -- what are you going to do? Stick with the writer who's been building momentum for half-a-decade, or bring in the new kid? Not too hard to decide, is it?

NRAMA: Are there characters in today's sandbox at Marvel that you'd like to sink your teeth into?

RS: But of course! Spider-Man, especially, is currently more accessible that he's been in decades. Which makes writing a new story for him even more fun.

NRAMA: Do you prefer encapsulated one-offs or epic multi-issue stories when you're scripting?

RS: No preference. I like 'em both. It's good to have some variety in your writing … and your reading. To paraphrase Len Wein, you can't run off on galactic quests forever … every once in a while, you have to come home, check the mail, water the plants, and have your head handed to you by the Absorbing Man.

NRAMA: Do you think the nature of today's market caters to one type of storytelling more than the other?

RS: Somewhat. But it doesn't have to be that way. Longer story arcs have become more of the norm, mostly because they can easily be collected into trade paperbacks. But publishers can just as easily collect a series of single-issue stories into a trade. Prose publishers do that with short stories all the time.

NRAMA: Back to X-Men: Odd Men Out - how does it feel to have something you worked on with the legendary Dave Cockrum get its due?

RS: Surprised and delighted. The X-Men wouldn't exist in their current form, if not for Dave. I just wish he were still around to see this issue. I miss him always.

I do hope that readers will take note of when my story was written. It was designed to fit into either of the X-Men comics during their 1992 runs. That's why Scott and Jean are dressed the way they are, and why the overview of the X-Men's history doesn't cover anything that's happened since then.

Despite the fact that it was written in an earlier decade, the story still has plenty to say to today's audience. It should remind readers of a lot of things they may have forgotten. And there's an important subtext -- of the government trampling the Constitution in the name of national security -- that is even more relevant today than it was then ... unfortunately.

NRAMA: Wrapping things up, what other projects do you have on the horizon?

RS: I've plotted an issue of Amazing Spider-Man that Lee Weeks is currently penciling. And I'm talking to editors about the possibility of more projects.

NRAMA: If you could return to a monthly project at Marvel -- that no one is doing at the moment -- what would it be?

RS: Oh, there are so many characters that would be fun to write. Just off the top of my head…Machine Man…Ulysses Bloodstone…and Doctor Strange is currently without a title of his own, isn't he? Of course, for all we know, they may already be spoken for.

We'll just have to wait and see

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