In comics, there are rare occurrences where the meeting of writer, artist and characters are just obviously a perfect fit. How's this for one: prolific X-Men scribe Chris Claremont, known for developing the title's female characters during his 17-year-run on Uncanny X-Men and beyond, paired with legendary Italian illustrator Milo Manara, distinguished for decades for his deft renderings of attractive females, on a comic called X-Women. It's such a no-brainer, you might wonder why it hasn't happened earlier.
Well, it's been in the works for a while. The project was first announced in March 2006 as part of an expansion of the agreement between Marvel Comics and Italy's Panini, who handle most of Marvel's publishing in Europe. Claremont informs via email that he started work on the project in 2005, and Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada has given periodic updates in various press outlets on the Manara's progress. The book came out in black-and-white this past fall in Italy under the name "X-Men: Ragazze In Fuga"—which roughly translates to "Girls on the Run."
This July, the project is set for a domestic release, with colors by Dave Stewart, under the streamlined title of X-Women, a 48-page one-shot.
"I think this will be a tremendous treat for comics readers, whether they are X-Men fans, or not," Claremont writes. "The art is gorgeous, of a type rarely seen in the states."
Manara has worked in American mainstream comics before, illustrating the "Desire" chapter of 2003's The Sandman: Endless Nights graphic novel. Work on this project started when Panini approached Marvel about working with Manara, and there might be more collaborations in the future.
"I don't think you've seen the last of the Manara Marvel stuff," hints X-Women editor Nick Lowe.
The pages seen thus far highlight impressive detail, exotic locales, and, yep, plenty of good looking ladies. Specifically, Psylocke, Storm, Rogue and Kitty Pryde, who the plot finds in Madripoor, looking for a kidnapped Rachel Summers. Rather than taking place at a specific point in X-Men history, Claremont clarifies that the story takes place "in it's own continuity," drawing on his canon but not pegged between any particular issues.
Like the idea for the book itself, it was a rather simple decision to choose which of the many female X-Men characters to use.
"I chose the ones that I thought would be most fun, and that Milo would enjoy drawing," Claremont writes, adding that working with Manara was "an utter delight."
"Getting pages from him was a thrill, as I never knew what to expect next," he writes.
Having worked with the X-Men for so many years—dating back to 1975—and essentially establishing the iconic depictions of the characters featured in X-Women, Claremont says that he's still learning new things about both the characters and his own writing.
"Each story presents new challenges," he writes. "I always look for the element that is unique to each story and character, and grow in each endeavor. Writing is always about personal growth and exploration."
The only element of X-Women that might not be so natural is Manara's background. With a reputation built on comics widely considered "erotic" and dealing with themes like bondage and voyeurism, it's at least a little surprising to see Manara drawing mainstream Marvel superhero characters. But Lowe downplays any possible controversy, equating it to how the more adult, creator-owned work of writers like Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar not conflicting with their general audience Marvel work.
"We knew that this project wasn’t going to cross any of those lines," Lowe writes. "What Milo does in his own time is his own business. And have you seen the stuff that Bendis does in Powers? Did you read Kick-Ass? And we let them do all kinds of Marvel books."