Image from Uncanny X-Men: First ClassThis weekend at WonderCon 2009 in San Francisco, Marvel Comics announced the launch of Uncanny X-Men: First Class. Written by Fin Fang Four writer Scott Gray with artwork provided by First Class mainstay, Roger Cruz, the next generation of students begin their journey at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. To be clear, this new monthly is not a frame by frame reiteration of the beginning of the “All-New, All Different” X-Men—this modern, all-ages book acts as a contemporary bridge to some of Marvel’s most popular characters.
Newsarama contacted Scott Gray to talk about his involvement with the book as well as his love for the characters and his longtime love affair with all things Marvel.
Newsarama: First things first, you've been working on the Fin Fang Four--how did you get involved with Uncanny X-Men: First Class?
Scott Gray: I think it’s all down to the one-and-only Roger Langridge, my partner-in-crime on Fin Fang Four. Marvel editor Nate Cosby got Roger to write some Captain America stories for the Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes title, and I think they noticed me crying in the corner, clutching my tattered old FOOM badge. So Nate took pity, let me write some Cap stories too, and one day happened to ask if I knew anything about the X-Men. And then I jumped up and down and started shouting “Unglaublich!” over and over again until he let me write this comic. That’s how you get work at Marvel, folks.
NRAMA: Where does this new monthly pick up?
Image from Uncanny X-Men: First ClassSG: We’re kicking off just after the X-Men get back from their M’Kraan Crystal adventure shown in Uncanny #107-#108. It’s still pretty much early days for the X-Men – they don’t know one another terribly well, and are still bumping into each other in the Danger Room. They haven’t gelled as a team yet. It’s a really interesting period for the group – friendships are still forming, but trust can be a fragile thing…
NRAMA: Set in the 'All New, All Different' era--which X-Men are featured in this new book?
SG: We’ve got the best of the best! Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Banshee and… wait for it… Phoenix!!!
NRAMA: Will Cyclops’s role be similar to what it was originally?
SG: Yes, Cyclops is still the glue that’s holding the team together, with nary a “thank you” thrown in his direction. I love Cyclops. He was my favorite character back when I read Uncanny as a boy. He was one of the gang in the original X-Men, but he’s the new team’s drill sergeant. He’s taken on the role Xavier used to play, so he’s nowhere near as close to them as he was with the old crowd. I think he’s one of the strongest Marvel characters around and deserves some serious R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
NRAMA: How will these new stories differ from the stories of the past? Have superhero comics changed that much in the past 30 years?
SG: If they have, it’s to their cost. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel here, folks. I’ve been editing a Fantastic Four reprint title at Panini Comics UK for a few years. It’s presented the Lee/Kirby FF run regularly from issue #1. Guess what? 21st Century kids love them! They’re busy, funny, dramatic, colorful and, above all, imaginative. So were the Uncanny X-Men comics of the 1970s, and my aim is to make Uncanny X-Men: First Class worthy of association with that groundbreaking run. I was eating, breathing and sleeping X-Men when Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and John Byrne were producing the comic. I want the next generation of readers to get just as addicted to UX: FC.
The visuals are being provided by the superlative Roger Cruz, who has as fresh and modern an art style as they come. All I’ve seen so far is the opening collection of his covers, but they are beeeeautiful. I can’t wait to see him sink his teeth into this group of X-Men!
NRAMA: How difficult is it to modernize these iconic concepts – or is it?
Image from Uncanny X-Men: First ClassSG: I really don’t think the second generation X-Men need any modernizing at all – they’re still the yardstick that all other super-teams are measured by. Visually, the X-Men have changed very little over the years, and with good reason – Dave Cockrum was one of comics’ greatest costume designers. The X-Men’s look has sometimes gone sailing off in new directions, but it always seems to float back to Cockrum Land in the end. Did anyone ever improve on Storm’s original outfit? Naahhh!
There will be a few cosmetic changes, like modern hairstyles, clothing, cars and mobile phones. Jimmy Carter won’t be president. Cerebro might be on Twitter. But that’s about it.
NRAMA: What sorts of threats will these X-Men be facing early on in the series?
SG: The Knights of Hykon are coming!!! Who are they, you ask? A brand-new threat to Planet Earth, and one that may be impossible to overcome. The Knights are so powerful, their mere presence has already had a huge, unrevealed impact on the X-Men’s lives, and they haven’t even set foot on Earth yet! When Cyclops finds out what they’ve done, he’s gonna see even more red than usual…
But for openers, we’re going to be revealing the first encounter between the X-Men and the Inhumans! What happens when two groups of superhumans, both highly secretive and suspicious of the outside world, meet for the first time? Let’s just say it involves a ritual, a trial and a really big fight…
NRAMA: In your view, how important is it for mainstream comics to have kid-friendly approachable material that isn't burdened by the weight of more than 40 years of continuity?
SG: It’s vital that comics publishers welcome new, young readers wherever and whenever they can – this is an art-form, not some select little fan club. But continuity doesn’t have to be a dirty word, or a burden – a rich past can be an added bonus for a character. The world’s longest-running science fiction TV series, Doctor Who, was resurrected in Britain a few years ago. It had 26 years’ worth of history behind it. The new series embraced its past but always made sure that it was presented with clarity, and the kids fell absolutely head-over-heels for it. Children love complex fictional worlds, be they Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or the Marvel Universe. Just don’t expect them to be able to mind-read!
NRAMA: For readers who aren't familiar with your work in the industry, would you care to talk a little bit about your background in comics?
SG: I’ve loved comics all my life. I started writing and drawing them in New Zealand fanzines, and began submitting work to Marvel UK. I got work writing scripts for the comic strip that ran in Doctor Who Magazine in the early 90s, and promptly packed my bags and moved to England. I wrote the Doctor Who strip regularly for about eight or nine years (graphic novel reprints available at all good comic, book and online shops, gang), and edited it after I left – which I’m still doing, at Panini UK. I’m also editing most of the Collectors’ Edition reprint line there, which helpfully keeps me up to date on all things Marvel. And then there’s Fin Fang Four and some Marvel Adventures work too.
NRAMA: In your mind, what is the core element that makes the X-Men some of the most prolific comic book characters?
SG: I think if you could boil down the X-Men’s appeal to a simple formula then every comics publisher would have been able to duplicate it. But I suspect one important factor is the gross injustice that the X-Men have to face every day. When you’re young, the world seems to be an insanely unfair place. You have no control over your life, you get yelled at, bullied, and everyone seems to be better off than you. I think kids simply identify with the X-Men more easily than other heroes. The Fantastic Four and Avengers get ticker-tape parades; the X-Men get a brick through their window. Spider-Man deals with the same kind of junk, and kids love him too, of course. But no matter how bad things get, the X-Men pick themselves up and go on fighting the good fight, and that’s what makes them real heroes. Yeah!