DC’s Arrow television series is building to the finale of its second season this Wednesday, and showrunner Marc Guggenheim already has plans for his summer break: X-Men. The longtime writer for comics and film is returning to Marvel to write the all-female X-Men title beginning with this summer’s #18. Guggenheim, who has written for Marvel in the past on titles such as Amazing X-Men and Wolverine, is coming back and has big plans for the “major leagues” heroes he has with this team and the history he’s building on.
In August’s X-Men #18, Guggenheim and an as-yet-unnamed artist will follow the team as they’re beckoned into space by Abigail Brand after one of the team’s fiercest adversaries shows up on S.W.O.R.D.’s proverbial doorstep beaten, bruised, and on the run. It’s Deathbird, one-time ruler of the Shi’ar Empire, and star of many of the classic outer space sagas during Chris Claremont’s epic – and fondly remembered by Guggenheim – run.
Newsarama: Doing Arrow seems like a full-time job, and that’s not even counting your other TV projects. How do you fit in taking on an ongoing series like X-Men?
Marc Guggenheim: Full disclosure: I’m currently only signed on for four issues. If people want more, I’ll happily do more.
To really answer your question, I love comics and I love writing them; it’s easy to find the time to do the things you love. While I do have a lot of different projects, they most always take place at separate times. It’s a natural tendency to think everything is written at the same time, but it’s deceptive; a lot of things I’ve written were spread out over a long course of time, so I go from writing a movie to Arrow and then to writing a comic. I’ve learned outlining is my friend; it makes scriptwriting go faster, and you know, I don’t have to spend as much time when it comes to the actual writing since it’s all planned out.
Nrama: This isn’t your first jaunt with an X-Title; you launched Young X-Men back in 2008, and have some shorts with the full-fledged X-Men from time to time. What’s it like coming back, and with well-known names?
Guggenheim: It’s great for me. Yes they’re more well-known, but more so because these are some of the characters I grew up with and fell in love with while reading Uncanny X-Men. Rachel, Psylocke, Storm and Jubilee – I’ve spent decades reading them, and seeing them written by some of my favorite writers. That is the icing on the cake for X-Men here with me. It makes me feel like I’m in the major leagues, and I love hearing the voices of these characters in my head that I’ve been reading for so long.
Nrama: And this isn’t just any team of veteran X-Men – this is the all-female squad initiated by Brian Wood last year. What’s it like having a team that’s all one gender, in this case female?
Guggenheim: One of the things I really love about the X-Men and that side of the Marvel Universe is the fact that all of the female characters are really strong. They’ve all been written over the years, starting with Chris Claremont, without thinking of them as “women characters” but as just characters. One of the great things about X-Men, as Brian has done, is pull together a roster of women and you almost don’t even notice that they all happen to be female when you read it. As a result, it doesn’t feel like a gimmick. If these characters weren’t so strong and 3-dimensional, it might feel like a gimmick – but here it’s not.
Nrama: And just who exactly is your team for this four-issue arc?
Guggenheim: Monet, Psylocke, Storm, Rachel and Jubilee.
Nrama: And they’re not in a vacuum here – except the vacuum of space, as they’re going out into space and into the orbit of S.W.O.R.D. Will Abigail Brand be a part of this?
Guggenheim: Yes, Abigail Brand is the reason I wanted S.W.O.R.D. in the first place; she’s great fun to write. The fact that she’s a woman is an unexpected side effect; she’s a fantastic character that is a perfect piece of the puzzle and she happens to be female.
What I love about Abigail is that she’s somewhat antagonistic to the X-Men. She’s not a normal character, in the sense that you don’t know exactly where her loyalties lie. Her agenda is sometimes mysterious, and she definitely doles out information on a need-to-know basis. I think that makes her an interesting character to write.
Plus, she operates in outer space where this story is.
Nrama: So who or what brings X-Men title out into Abigail Brand’s jurisdiction?
Guggenheim: That’s the question. Basically, what happens is that Deathbird – last seen in X-Men: Kingbreaker back in 2008 – shows up on S.W.O.R.D.’s doorstep, at death’s door. So we’re immediately thrust into a series of mysteries: who’s after her? What’s happened to her? What’s she been up to since X-Men: Kingbreaker? The last we saw her, she was left for dead in the clutches of the Shi’ar Empire. So this arc starts off with a bang, and plunges the X-Men into a series of circumstances out in space looking for answers.
Nrama: Deathbird is a long-time member of the X-Men’s rogues gallery, going all the way back to the 1970s; there was even a brief time where she was almost considered a member. What are your impressions of her?
Guggenheim: That’s the fun thing; Deathbird has been so many things, but one thing that’s always been consistent is that she’s strong. She’s a strong character that has a sense of nobility and formidability that’s awesome. She fits in very well with the X-Men here. I don’t think Deathbird was ever officially considered a member, but I see potential in her because she has her own sense of nobility. She’s definitely someone you can’t push around, and I think that’s a good quality to have in a character.
Nrama: You had a career in comics and film for years, but right now you’re best known for your work as writer and executive producer of the Arrow television series. What have you learned from doing that show for the past two years that you’re bringing specifically here to X-Men?
Guggenheim: One of the things we try to do with Arrow is provide a very strong emotional through-line. Even amidst all of the plots, stunts and pyrotechnics. We’re always trying to locate the story in a character’s journey. And I’m attempting to bring that lesson here to X-Men.
I wanted to do a story that was a nod to “The Brood Saga” and the great X-Men in outer space stories I remember so fondly from Claremont’s run. But at the same time I wanted there to be a very gripping emotional throughline and I located that in Rachel Grey’s character. One of the things I feel that has been underutilizes is the fact that during Claremont’s third run on Uncanny X-Men, the Shi’ar wiped out all of Jean Grey’s family. That struck me as a very interesting emotional territory to cover, as it’s beyond grief; it’s impossible to fathom. The level of anger and thirst for vengeance would not be easily sated, and it’s something I really thought would be ripe storytelling territory.