Inside the DAWN OF X Brain Trust with X-FORCE, NEW MUTANTS, EXCALIBUR, WOLVERINE Writers

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Credit: Pepe Larraz/Marte Gracia (Marvel Comics)
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A new age for mutantkind is here with "Dawn of X". With the stage set by House of X and Powers of X, this week's X-Men #1 ushered in the new era - and it continues as the line expands with New Mutants, X-Force, Excalibur, Wolverine, X-Corp, and more.

As this new era begins, the writers behind four of those titles - Tini Howard (Excalibur), Benjamin Percy (X-Force), and Benjamin Percy (X-Force, Wolverine) - sat down with Newsarama to talk about their books and how they were each personally inducted into Hickman's proverbial Silent Council.

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Newsarama: You three were among the first readers of JonHickman's new vision for the X-Men and some of you worked on some pre-House of X Powers of X X-Men stories. Can you describe your own personal journeys taking all of this in and going from pre-Hickman into this new era?

Benjamin Percy: I first got the call from Hickman about X-Force in October of last year. We came together for a summit in January. We had been talking about this for a long time and we are way ahead of the game.

So the exciting thing about this, in part, is not just that it's never been a better time to be a mutant - Hickman has created a garden with a thousand years of storytelling in it. It's also the fact that we are truly a team, a mutant council, and we're writing these individual series but we are all on. We are in email contact, phone contact or on the boards or in the boardroom over and over and over again. And as a result of that, like you will understand that you can read these series on their own or you can read them all together. It's one unified narrative.

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Ed Brisson: It was exciting, because I was writing a bunch of X-Men stuff leading into this, It was an interesting thing to be writing Uncanny X-Men and X-Force, and then Hickman comes and throws a grenade into all of it. Having to figure out what the new paradigm is going forward. But it has made a completely exciting, it's what I explained that it's a look at these new relationships [the X-Men] are having and playing around with them.

Tini Howard: When Hickman reached out to me, I had just started having a lot of Marvel work come out and I remember Ed and some people I talked to about it were like, “sometimes when that happens you'll start getting people who will like email you their story ideas and stuff.” So I got an email from an address that I didn't recognize. It was like titled like “X-Men Ideas” or something like that. It was a wall of text. I was like, “who is this lunatic?” I read it and I was like, “Oh, I've been reading this lunatic's work for years. Oh my God.” It was very exciting.

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I read the take and I was like, “yeah, I'm all in.” Instantly, I knew where my story would fit in and what I wanted to do. It didn't spring from my head fully formed. But Jonathan asked me to bring in a pitch and I didn't really. I brought in an essay where I was like, “I don't really know what I want to do, but here's what this makes me feel. And here's where I think this can go and here's who I want to do it.” Apocalypse was the person that was really centered on originally.

And the other really cool thing was that when I came in like that, Jonathan responded to that. He wasn't like, “nice essay, but where's the punching?” It was like, “here's my essay about this culture you've built.” And he was like, “yeah, cool. Okay.” And we built it from my favorite place to build stories, which is a philosophical question of “what do we do with them now.” Not just “what would be cool to see them do,” but “what do they need? What do they archetypally do for people and how do we manipulate that as storytellers?” Those big storytelling questions are all stuff I've really gotten to do here in this iteration of the X-Men.

Nrama: Plus, Hickman seems like a guy that loves an essay.

Howard: Yeah. He doesn't mind essays.

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Nrama: So to build on that, Tini, Betsy's taking over the Captain Britain mantle with Excalibur and it's finally happening in main continuity. What's the throughline you found for it to be a legitimate progression for the Betsy Braddock we first met in those old Captain Britain UK stories?

Howard: I think the Braddocks are an awesome family. I have really built a lot of the story around the Braddocks as a unit.

So it's not just the Betsy show, we're not ignoring who Brian is and who Brian has been and some other members of the Braddock family. In a real way, the Braddocks are like the Starks of this story. They're a family unit and we'll see them and follow them. And that's part of the story. It is not the story of shoving Brian Braddock in a drawer, getting Betsy the amulet, and putting them on stage. It is the story of a family, some of whom are mutant and some of whom are not, during a time of mutant ascension. And I think people will be really pleased. This is a story that elevates and celebrates the entire Braddock family.

The Captain Britain mythos, themes and the long history of Excalibur as a book of magic and light and love.

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Nrama: Do you have plans to do UK cons and signings in relation specifically to Excalibur?

Howard: So the joke that I've made is that for the books I’ve done, Death's Head and Excalibur now, that I've never even been to the UK. So if anyone is like, “Hey, why is she writing this stuff? She's not even English.” My response is: invite me to your beautiful country and say that to my face!

I absolutely think that I should probably travel to some of these places I'm writing about and see them in the flesh. What a great idea that you've had.

Nrama: Well now it's out in the world, so we'll see what happens.

Howard: Manifest it.

Nrama: Alright so, Ed, at the "Dawn of X" panel during New York Comic Con, we got the idea that the "New Mutants" name means a little bit more than we first thought. It's not just about a new, young class of mutants, but about a welcoming party to modern mutant society. How would you frame that in terms of how it fits into the larger narrative of what you and Hickman are doing?

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Brisson: Well, I think that within the larger narrative, Krakoa is supposed to be this perfect site, it's a great place for the mutants to be in. And I think a lot of the newer mutants are younger. They're closer to that moment where they came into being mutants and felt like outsiders. Then finally, you have this place where they belong. So they just want to share it, you know? They think that where they live is a great place and they want everyone to take part in it. In a lot of ways, it's a hopeful book. There's a lot of hope and there's a lot of excitement. Everyone's happy for a little bit, you know? But obviously, it's X-Men, so not always.

Nrama: Those are famous last words in X-Men comics.

Brisson: I think it's an interesting way that we can introduce some new mutants, but also bring back some of the younger mutants that we haven't seen for awhile. I think it's just going to be a lot of fun and a great way to see them kind of just going door-to-door and being like, “Hey, have you heard the good word about Krakoa?”

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Nrama: Are you saying that you may be creating a lot of new mutants?

Brisson: I'm not saying that. I want to be cautious. I don't want to say that, though there are maybe one or two new characters coming onto the table. I think that we have like 16,000 X-Men or however many there are. So we don't want to just keep adding, you know, we want to really develop -

Howard: We can bring back so many now.

Brisson: Yeah and in the New Mutants work we're going to try and just focus a little bit on some of the younger mutants that don't necessarily have the spotlight very often.

We're going to kind of recontextualize their powers a little bit. Mondo, for example, right away Mondo can interact with Krakoa it can almost become like part of Krakoa in a way that others can't. So we're going to be doing some kind of fun stuff and re-examine how the powers work.

Percy: Cypher, Gold Balls.

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Brisson: Right. Cypher and Gold Balls.

Nrama: Yeah, I guess with everything that's been happening in terms of recontextualizing power sets it’s like, “well the idea is already out there. Now, how do we make it cooler?” which is great.

Brisson: Exactly. And hopefully a lot of characters get spotlight. Glob, I'm still working on. My number one Marvel character, you know.

Nrama: Cool. And so we know that Sunspot's looking to bring Cannonball back to the fold and the Starjammers are going to get involved. Can you tell us a little bit more about that arc?

Brisson: First of all, we just today renamed them the Spacejammers.

Nrama: Oh really?

Brisson: Not at all. [laughs]

I can't say too much because mostly that's sort of Jonathan stuff, but it's largely that you know, Cannonball's Bobby’s best buddy, right? And he's out in the Shi'ar Empire so he wants to - it's another like, you know, “Dude, you gotta come to Krakoa, it's amazing.” And so they hitch a ride with the Starjammers out to the Shi'ar Empire and the Starjammers get up to pirate shenanigans and really sort of screw over the New Mutants' plans. And so it's three issues of them trying to fight their way through the Shi'ar Empire. Beyond that, it's mostly Jonathan doing it, so I don't want to spoil his stuff.

Nrama: So to confirm, Michael Jordan is not joining this arc.

Brisson: No [laughs] But it ends in a basketball tournament.

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Nrama: Corsair's new fling is Lola Bunny, is that what you're saying? Got it. I've already sent that off, so that's published.

Brisson: I love it. Okay.

Percy: This is actually livestreaming, Ed.

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Nrama: And so Ben, you're doing X-Force the same time you're doing Wolverine. Those two seem on the surface to be the most brutal books of "Dawn of X." Was that the intent or is that just a happy accident to have some synergy there?

Percy: You know, my heart is a twisting ball of centipedes and worms. So I’m just the guy to take on this poisonous job. And these are dirty, gritty, noir-soaked books and you see that reflected in the art of Joshua Cassara, who is really bringing a rough line and a shadow-soaked atmosphere to the page. I'm really excited to share his work with the world.

Nrama: You had mentioned about the kind of dichotomy between the head and the fist of X-Force. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Percy:So here you have an intelligence unit. Here you have a field unit, a wetwork unit. With the paradigm shift that's occurred with mutant sovereignty declaring X-Force is no longer a black ops team, X-Force is a branch of government. X-Force is the mutant CIA. And in the last page of X-Force #1, there is something monumental that happens.

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Something that will ripple across the whole line, something that will make it very clear why X-Force is necessary.

The mutants are now the 1%. And though there are all of these seeming allies, these treaty nations who have jumped on board with them, not everyone behind the scenes is happy about what's happening. And it's a time for deniable operations.

Nrama: So is X-Force going to be operating a lot more in the public eye? Are they still going to be operating as black ops?

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Percy: This is a black ops, this is a deniable operation. They're going to be working behind the scenes. And Xavier will know about what they're doing, but he'll sort of turn his back on it because there are some morally compromising decisions that are made.

Nrama: Does the rest of the Quiet Council know about them?

Percy: Yes. Just think about banana republic stuff that might happen. You think about blackmail, you think about manipulation, assassination. There's a lot of trouble ahead but, and the only thing you can really expect from X-Force is the unexpected. You have this big team roster, right? And some of these issues are going to hone in on one character. Some will be about the whole cabal. Some people are going to be allied, some people are going to be rubbing up against each other. Some people might walk away because they're so upset at what's happening.

But the ultimate thing that they need to consider, and Beast is sometimes the person making these decisions, is the greatest good for the greatest number of mutants.

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