With Marvel’s Merry Mutants now officially whisked away to the “Age of X-Man” – an alternate reality utopia where mutants are the dominant species and the X-Men are a humanitarian aid team – the event’s masterminds writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler are about to launch the alt-reality line’s flagship limited-series, Marvelous X-Men.
Following a very different team of mutants (though it’s comprised of some familiar faces), Marvelous X-Men explores the question of what there is to fight in a world where the struggle is seemingly over.
Speaking to Nadler and Thompson ahead of Marvelous X-Men #1’s February 6 release, Newsarama discovered what lies at the heart of this alternate X-team, and what’s at stake in a world where Xavier’s dream has come true – even if not how he imagined.
Newsarama: Zac and Lonnie, let’s start with the basics. What can you tell us about the Marvelous X-Men and how they fit into “Age of X-Man”?
Lonnie Nadler: Marvelous X-Men is the flagship X-title of the “Age of X-Man” event. It leads the charge and sets the stage for all the other miniseries as well as for the utopia itself.
The book follows the peaceful exploits of the core X-Men team, and unlike the past when they were always literally fighting for change, they now find themselves with everything they’ve ever wanted. So the question is, who do the X-Men become in an (almost) perfect world? And what are they willing to give up to keep their perfect world?
As things kick off in the first issue, we see the new X-Men as relief workers and emergency responders in a world largely devoid of physical conflict. As you can imagine, things progress, their peaceful way of life becomes interrupted by a bizarre mass movement, which in turn threatens to overthrow this life they worked so hard to build.
Zac Thompson: The Marvelous X-Men is also the first team of X-Men that see themselves as individuals first and foremost. In this new world they meet for mission briefings and democratically discuss how to get involved, along with the risk assessment involved then they decide if they want to be involved.
We wanted to ensure that if certain members didn’t believe in joining the mission, that they’d be free to stay home and do as they please. Although they are still a team at the forefront of combating the threats within this world, it’s in a much different way than we’ve seen before.
Nrama: You’ve been spending a lot of time with the X-Men recently. What’s it like now tackling an X-team book?
Nadler: It was a bit of a struggle at first. Very quickly Zac and I realized that by and large, our comic books up to this point have taken place from a singular vantage point, following a singular character. Because we were so used to really diving into the psychology of one individual character over the course of a story. So having to somehow fit eight or more perspectives into one book as well as having them interact with one another was a new challenge for us.
While it was daunting at first, it was really just a matter of switching the way our brains think about narrative. It became less about individual psychology and more about human connectedness, communication, and difference of opinion and using those as tools to inform how our issues would unfold. In this way melodrama becomes very important.
I think the toughest thing about a team book is always trying to make sure nobody feels left behind or forgotten about so that became a big goal for us early on. We wanted to make sure every single one of these characters felt as important as the others, regardless of their legacy. For example, Magneto is obviously a character with a lot more history and depth than someone like Nature Girl simply because he’s been around longer. But we never want anyone to feel that on the page. They are both equally vital parts of this team, and each brings something unique that the other never could.
Thompson: To build on what Lonnie’s saying, we definitely wanted to ensure that every member of the team had a moment across the series. We also wanted to ensure that we got to spend a little bit of time inside the head of every team member.
We used Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force as an example of how to write a team book with action really well while also giving everyone a moment for themselves. It was paramount that every individual member of the team had something to do, and that we considered their perspective in every scene.
It wasn’t easy at first because accounting for eight characters can be a huge task, but we challenged ourselves to look at the team books we love most and dissect why they work so well. Once we figured out our own unique way of doing it, writing the team became second nature.
Nrama: On that note, what can you tell us about the team’s roster?
Nadler: The roster consists of X-Man, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Nature Girl, Magneto, Storm, Nature Girl, Colossus, and X-23. They’re all slightly different than how we’ve come to know them in the past, and yet they remain the same at their core. This is world where they’ve been through an incredible amount of strife to get where they are and as a result they want to protect it at all costs.
But also in this new world, the team is not everything. Individualism is essential to the way society functions. So while we get the big team moments, we also get a glimpse into their personal lives in a way that we’ve never quite seen before. When the X-Men don’t have to worry about fighting for their lives, they are afforded the ability to better themselves, take up hobbies, and find self-fulfillment. We think this is one of the most interesting aspects of our book and it’s a theme we’ll return to in every issue.
Thompson: That autonomy is essentially what makes the “Age of X-Man” work. It’s what’s moved the entire world into a different place and ultimately what comes to define every team within this shared world.
We wanted to make sure that our X-Men book felt different than anything that came before. Peace has been achieved, and for the first time ever, these mutant revolutionaries don’t have to spend their nights fearing for their lives or planning their fight for the future. It’s allowed some of the members of the team to find new passions in life, while others have become more in touch with their international roots, while Nightcrawler’s become the most famous mutant in the world. It’s clearly worked out better for some than others.
Nrama: What are the Marvelous X-Men up against here?
Nadler: It’s a time of peace. It’s a time of perfection. It’s a time of celebration. For the first time ever, they’re not dealing with Terrigen mists, bigoted politicians, and fighting off super villains trying to take over the world. They spend their days working to combat natural disasters, to save fellow mutants from burning buildings, to help whoever it is that needs help around the world.
That is until something, some new ideological movement begins to form underground in this utopia, and the X-Men find themselves up against something they don’t quite know how to combat now that they’re humanitarians and pacifists.
Thompson: They are up against the very idea of peace and how to maintain it. The book is a dissection of what we become when we’ve won the battle we’ve been fighting our entire lives. The X-Men here have to be more careful about how they get involved in conflicts and they have a lot more reservations about using violence to solve problems.
It’s an entirely different playing field now, and they don’t have the same experience that they used to. They’re not getting rusty per say, they’re just evolving in a different direction. So, when something that threatens this new existence arises, and that threat isn’t inherently violent, what do they do? How do they respond? And will every member of the team feel the same way?
Nrama: Which characters from the team have you each connected with most?
Nadler: I’ve been a huge Nate Grey fan literally for most of my life. The first issue ofX-Man came out when I was six years old and he’s been one of my favorite Marvel characters ever since.
I know a lot of people tend to see him as a ridiculous creation that represents everything that’s wrong with 90s comics, but in my mind he’s a rather tragic character. Nate is from a timeline that no longer exists, and everything he ever knew was taken from him. He had to adapt to a new way of life. He’s one of the most powerful mutants on the planet, if not the most powerful, and because of his powers he sees the world on a fundamentally different level than everyone else. He’s not just seeing what’s in front of him, but sensing all around the world every waking moment. And despite this, most people still think of him as a headstrong kid. If that’s not tragic, I don’t know what is.
I’ve also come to have a real affection for Nature Girl over the past year. Lin has such an interesting power set that gives her a perspective of the world that humans can’t possibly have. She’s so in tune with the Earth and nature that she feels more at home with the trees than she does with other mutants.
Thompson: Lonnie and I are probably the only dudes who have been pushing for a Nate Grey renaissance for a long time. Right back to our first conversations with Marvel, X-Man was a must for us.
But beyond Nate, I’ve found myself completely in love with Storm. She’s such a profoundly powerful and interesting character who’s been through so much, and lead the X-Men through (arguably) the hardest time in mutant history. Colossus is also a character who has really become central to the plot of Marvelous X-Men in a way that I didn’t really anticipate as we were developing the book. Now, he’s my favorite in every scene we write. He sacrificed a lot to be here in this world (as evident by his missing arm) and that’s made his perspective much different than the others.
Nrama: You’ve got Marco Failla on art. What’s he bring to this holy grail of comic book assignments, the X-Men team book?
Nadler: Marco is incredible. We were so excited to get him on this series because it demanded the talents of someone who was detail oriented, had a knack for acting, while also had a style that was a departure from your standard superhero book. Lucky for us Marco checks all the right boxes and more.
We really packed these scripts with details and you see how much work Marco put in to make sure it was all there while also adding his own unique flourishes. Every time we see new pages from Marco we get more and more excited and we think people will feel just how much he loves the characters.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Matt Milla who is coloring Marvelous X-Men. Matt came onto the book and immediately understood the 1960s utopia vibe we were going for and as a result he added an incredible amount of moodiness and emotion to Marco’s already tremendous work. It’s been a real dream come true to work in tandem with these guys.
Thompson: Marco has been taking our dense scripts and knocking them out of the park. He’s done a lot of tremendous world building on every single page. He’s really put his stamp on these new versions of the characters and has used his impeccable storytelling skills to elevate our scripts.
Matt Milla’s colours on Marco’s lines make for a tremendous pairing. The two are a dream team and have really created a world that feels different, vibrant, and evokes the elusive wonder of the American Dream.
Nrama: Being such huge fans of Nate Grey, what’s it mean to be spearheading an event like “Age of X-Man”?
Nadler: As soon as we got off the call with Marvel where they told us they liked our pitch for this event and wanted to move forward, Zac and I both knew this was the most important project of our careers to date.
Getting to write and be part of an X-Men event is not something we thought we’d be doing a year ago and so it still doesn’t feel real so it means a hell of a lot to us. We’re so grateful that Marvel would trust us with something like this - and that it revolves around one of my favorite mutants of all time is really just the proverbial icing on the cake. It’s such an honor and we’re so proud of the work we’ve put into this so far.
Thompson: I grew up reading “Age of Apocalypse” so getting trusted with this massive task kinda felt like slipping into a coma.
I can still remember getting off the phone and feeling like I was dreaming. It’s not often that you go from writing five issues of a series like Cable to showrunning an entire universe with your favorite cast of characters at Marvel. Doing that centered around an oft-overlooked character like Nate Grey - it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.
C.B. Cebulski, Jordan White, and everyone at Marvel trusted in our vision, and that will never stop being surreal. We’re putting everything we have into this and really pushing boundaries wherever we can. Somehow we haven’t received a “no” from Marvel yet.
Nrama: What’s next on your mutant agenda? Can we expect more X-Men work in your future?
Nadler: Right now we’re just focusing on making “Age of X-Man” and Marvelous X-Men the best they can possibly be. We want this series to really represent who Zac and I are as storytellers and so all of our efforts for the past six months have gone into this world.
With that said, obviously we hope to continue working with the mutants going forward. I feel very much at home with the X-Men and at Marvel in general, they’ve meant a lot to me throughout my entire life, and so if I can help it, I’ll stick around for as long as they’ll have me.
Thompson: The X-Men have been my life since 1994. Like Lonnie said, we’re putting everything we’ve got into what’s going on right now… but we’ve been with Marvel’s merry mutants almost everyday for the last year and a half so it’s safe to say the X-Men are part of our DNA now. We’ll be fighting for mutant rights until the day we die.
Nrama: Bottom line, what makes Marvelous X-Men a must-read for X-fans?
Nadler: I truly believe this is an X-Men event the likes of which have never been seen before. It’s not like the “Age of Apocalypse”, though it is perhaps a distant cousin. It’s a weird, beautiful world with an underlying darkness that sees the X-Men facing a kind of threat they’ve never come into contact with before.
Without giving too much away, I’ll put it this way: “How do you combat an ideology?”
We tried very hard to create something that was simultaneously fresh and familiar, that was an homage to the past while also reaching toward the future. Whether you’ve been an X-Men fan your entire life or just a casual reader, there’s something in this book for everyone.
Thompson: You’ve never read anything like it.
I know people say that kind of thing all the time, but we really subvert all the classic X-Men tropes in new and interesting ways. It was paramount for us that it felt like both a celebration of X-Men history, and refutation of it at the same time.
I can safely say that it’s not what you’re expecting and people will be talking about the Marvelous X-Men for a long time to come. The eight members of this team will be forever changed by their time as Gods. And you will be too.