The “Age of X-Man” may seem like a utopia to some, but for others it can be a nightmare. And all it could take to turn you into a mutant outlaw - a target of the, well, sex police known as Department X - is falling in love.
In Age of X-Man: X-Tremists, writer Leah Williams and artist Georges Jeanty will explore what happens when forbidden romance occurs between the people whose job is to prevent sexual and romantic relationships.
Focusing in on a romance between Psylocke and Blob - two mutants with very different experiences in the Age of X-Man – X-Tremists will deal with the ramifications of a utopia forced to exist without love.
Ahead of X-Tremists #1's release this Wednesday, Newsarama spoke with Williams about how a mutant utopia can exist without one of the X-Men’s core melodramatic tenets (romantic intrigue … natch), and how mutants find each other in the most unlikely places.
Newsarama: Leah, let’s start with the basics. What can you tell us about X-Tremists and its place in “Age of X-Man”?
Leah Williams: “Age of X-Man” is a utopian mutant society where all love is forbidden. Nate Grey had a tumultuous upbringing, so his vision of utopia removes the family unit from life entirely - including the removal of everything preceding the formation of one. Love, dating, queer identity, even a basic knowledge of sex acts or reproduction - he’s wiped these things from conscious memory to create a real, functioning utopia, meaning, the vast majority of its inhabitants are genuinely and blissfully unaware of turmoil.
“X-tremists” is the pejorative term that the rebels use for Department X, who are the secret police prosecuting infractions in this world. Up to and including intimacy violations. X-Tremists is a miniseries that answers the question of what’s lost when we take love, sexuality, and family away.
Nrama: You’ve got quite a line-up for this team. How’d you pick these particular characters and what brings them together?
Williams: I wanted characters who would be coming into this already having experiences of forbidden or unconventional love, including queer identity. They don’t form Department X of their own volition, as everything and everyone’s roles in “Age of X-Man” were assigned to them by Nate Grey in curating his utopia, so while canonically it’s his fault for putting a gay French-Canadian anarchist on his horny cop gestapo; that’s conflict of interest is what's by design. I picked these team members because I saw them as the ones who we could really, really have a lot of fun with once they start f&@$ing s#%t up.
Nrama: What are the X-Tremists up against here?
Williams: You’ll see Department X portrayed as villains in the other "Age of X-Man" books, and it’s because they are. What they’re doing is unconscionable. But they’re good people, and what they’re up against is the fabric of this alternate reality - which we start to see unraveling in Issue 1 when they encounter a variable that the “Age of X-Man” world is totally unprepared for.
Nrama: The solicitation for X-Tremists #1 mentions the team fighting “love,” while later solicits mention “forbidden romance” between Psylocke and Blob. What’s going on with this new twist on the old idea of star-crossed mutant romance?
Williams: It’s not actually new twist, I’d say! Just a straightforward forbidden romance. They prosecute intimacy violations by day, but come together in their off-hours in a real and authentic way. Fred’s personality is different in "Age of X-Man" because this utopian society produces conditions that would change a lot about how he, specifically, interacts with the world - and they think they’ve been in "Age of X-Man" for three years. He’s a softer, kinder, Blob and Betsy is aloof, beautiful, and far-removed. She’s feeling emotionally adrift, and his warmth and openness is what draws her in.
Nrama: You’re working with Georges Jeanty on X-Tremists. What’s it like teaming up with an artist like Georges?
Williams: Oh, it was absolutely thrilling to find out we’d be working together on this. This is a difficult story to tell in terms of sensitive subjects, and being paired with Georges has been amazing. The way he draws each member of Department X is so loving and beautiful that I’ve squealed about things like cheekbones and "purple hair porn” because he nails it every time.
Nrama: What’s your favorite thing he’s drawn for X-Tremists so far?
Williams: I can’t list specific panels without spoiling major events, but in general my favorite aspect of working with Georges is how he adds a really rich cinematography to this story - the way he breaks down emotional beats and knows how to add stillness and reflection on a character’s face, the way he teases out nuance in their expressions, the lushness to the scenery - it’s all breathtakingly beautiful.
Nrama: 2019 is shaping up to be the year of the X-Men. What makes the X-Men the perfect superheroes for this moment?
Williams: “Age of X-Man” is perfect in particular because its larger themes are specifically about exploring why assimilation is not equality. Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler are the brilliant architects of this event (and writers of Marvelous X-Men, AoXM’s main title!) and they have purposefully created the perfect sandbox to explore questions of intersectionality within the mutant metaphor. Not only that, but they and the X-office editors deliberately recruited a roster of diverse creators to help flesh it out. “Age of X-Man” is action-packed catharsis.
Nrama: “Age of X-Man” is not a sequel to “Age of Apocalypse,” but something of a spiritual successor. How does it feel being a part of that kind of storytelling tradition?
Williams: It does feel like I’m participating in something grand and rarified - this many people working within the same world can be unwieldy for some projects, but not with us. Writers, artists, and editors - everyone has been amazingly helpful and excited about what we’re doing. We check in with each other, ask questions about what’s happening in each other’s books, ask permission to use a character from someone else’s team, etc, all to ensure that readers get a cohesive world-building experience across the books. We believe in what we’re doing.
Right now, as we’re passing the halfway mark in terms of scripts turned in for these miniseries, we’re looking around at each other like “…I don’t want this to end.” It feels like a sad, sweet, summer camp farewell.
Nrama: Bottom line, what should fans know going into X-Tremists? What makes this story a must-read for X-Fans?
Williams: Each issue focuses on a different Department X team member - I have a strong team and I wanted to spotlight them as individuals while we move forward through the story, to give fans more airtime with their faves and to use multiple POV’s to enrich the story.
This miniseries is also gonna hurt. It’s a difficult story to tell by nature, because of the role Department X was assigned in this utopian society without their choosing. They didn’t sign up for this, and X-tremists is about the consequences of trying to force heroes into a reality they would never consciously comply with. X-tremists is not about reveling in erasure, it’s about doing justice to how violently relieved Bobby’s gonna feel when he finally wakes up in this alternate reality and the kind of ice-cold anger he’d have once he sees that not only did Nate Grey put him on the secret police, but imagined an armband on him.
Every issue of X-tremists brings pain and catharsis, increasingly, until we end with a bombastic, jubilant, grand finale.