First announced last month, Marvel's "Season One" line of original graphic novels aims to reach beyond the traditional comic book shop audience and get fresh stories in the hands of folks new to comics.
The first crop arrives in early 2012, with books focusing on the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Spider-Man and Daredevil — some of Marvel's most well-known characters, and all ones who have received wider recognition due to movies, TV shows and video games. The twist is that these books are set within the established continuity of the Marvel Universe, taking decades-old concepts and placing them in a modern context.
The format itself is an unusual one for Marvel. Though the company has a rich history with graphic novels dating back to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Silver Surfer in 1978, it's become extremely rare for them to release material in the format without first putting out single issues. The Season One books clock in at 136 pages, with a cover price of $24.99.
X-Men: Season One is scheduled for March 2012, and revisits the original lineup of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman and Angel — mentored by Professor X, of course — through the contemporary interpretation of writer Dennis Hopeless (Lovestruck, Marvel's upcoming Legion of Monsters) and artist Jamie McKelvie (Phonogram, Generation Hope). Beyond the old-school X-roster, the book's also got antagonists in the form of Magneto, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and the Sentinels.
Newsarama spoke via email with Hopeless and McKelvie about working in the original graphic novel format, attracting non-traditional comic book readers, their love for the original team and the undeniable appeal of Unus the Untouchable. And while you're reading, check out seven pages of exclusive X-Men: Season One interior art from McKelvie.Newsarama: Dennis, X-Men: Season One, like all the Season One books, are in the original graphic novel format. In what ways does writing a 136-page one-shot story affect your approach?
Dennis Hopeless: Our story is actually split into somewhat self-contained chapters. I wrote it just like I would a miniseries.
I guess I took the "Season One" thing literally because it's structured a lot like a short television series. One story told in 5 episodes.
Nrama: Jamie, similar question for you — from your perspective as an artist, does the format change your strategy at all? And what makes it ideal for attracting new readers, as is the goal of the Season One books?
Jamie McKelvie: Not really that much different — although I spent a lot of time at the beginning of the project working on the look of the characters, because I'm going to have to happy with them for a whole book's worth of pages!
For new readers, it's a nice solid chunk of story, taking in the early adventures of the original crew, learning how to work together, how to live together... it's a great story in itself but it'll hopefully also provide a springboard into the current comics for anyone wanting to check them out.Nrama: Dennis, since you yourself are new to Marvel, is it pretty easy for you to write for a wider audience?
Hopeless: Wow, I dunno. I think the project itself makes it easier to write for new readers.
Continuity can be intimidating to the uninitiated. But these stories take place before most of the continuity happened. The reader doesn't need to have read anything else when they pick up a Season One book. As far as they're concerned, this is Marvel Universe day one.
I'm an X-Men fan, so I have plenty of that history rolling around in my head. But all I had to re-read for research was those first few Stan and Jack issues. Our story takes place in and around that handful of early X-Men stories.
Nrama: This is your first time writing the X-Men. You noted that you're a fan — what do you like about the team?
Hopeless: I'm a lifer. I can't remember not loving the X-Men.
It's just such a great premise. You have mutant teenagers trying to figure themselves out in a world that hates and fears them. And a rich bald mindreader who thinks he can change the world by training kids to be freedom fighters. That's brilliant.
I love writing the original five as teenagers. They're all messed up in such interesting ways. They trip over their own feet and hurt each other's feelings and fall in love every ten minutes. Just like we all did. But these are X-Men, so afterward they have to go out and fight Magneto.Nrama: So do you see any similarities between the themes you're working with in X-Men: Season One and any of your past work?
Hopeless: It's so hard to talk about theme without sounding like a tool. So bear with me.
I tend to write about the challenge of growing up. As a kid, I thought that at some point you get old and transform into an adult. But the older I get, the more I realize that never happens. You just fake it the best you can and hope nobody calls you out.
Life is a process and we all stumble trying to get from one stage of it to the next, everyone moving at their own pace.
X-Men: Season One is about five kids trying to grow up into superheroes.
Nrama: On the other hand, Jamie, you've drawn a fair amount of X-Men comics in recent years. This is focused on the original five, though. How much of a fan are you of that lineup? And what's your take on the classic X-Men costume designs? They obviously have a timeless element to them, as they've been returned to (in one form or another) many times throughout X-history.
McKelvie: Oh, I love the original gang. It's great fun to put my little spin on them visually. Each character is so distinctive and has their own personality that just begs to be brought out in the drawing.
Costume design was a bit of a balancing act — we're modernizing the story, but at the same time need to keep things in a fairly tight continuity with what's gone before. The original costumes have a lot of charm, but are a product of their time. If I just drew them straight into the book they would look out of place. So we took the strong visual elements Kirby gave them - the colour blocks, the masks - and made some subtle changes to modernize it. Hopefully that means that while they won't look weird, they also won't confuse anyone seeing the original costumes turn up in the main books.Nrama: Dennis, how much of a fan are you of the classic group? Hopeless: It's the perfect team because for them everything is new.
There's no precedent for them to follow. No past X-Men success stories to boost their confidence. For all they know, Xavier might be a crackpot. The whole thing is just an experiment that at this point and I love that uncertainty.
Nrama: Though it is the classic team from the '60s, things are clearly being modernized in the Season One comics. Dennis, what can you discuss about that process? Is it pretty easy to put the original X-Men team and villains in a contemporary context?
Hopeless: Well, we've modernized the setting but the basic continuity hasn't changed at all.
I look at it like this, everything from Stan Lee's run happened just like we remember. I wrote the story to take place in between (and in some cases during) those existing moments. That stuff is bedrock.
The only change is that for our purposes, those things happened yesterday not 50 years ago. The danger room has virtual reality. Xavier has an iPad. The kids use smart phones. It's the same story, we've just wound the clock forward a bit.
It requires the same sort of suspension of disbelief we all use to justify 30-something heroes who were teenagers in 1963.Nrama: Jamie, since these are in-continuity stories, how much interpretation are you able to exert visually? Are things pretty locked in to how they appeared design-wise, or are you able to exert a good amount of your own visual influence? (Will Unus the Untouchable still be in a red bodysuit with the pattern over his crotch?)
McKelvie: Again, it's a balancing act. The general world is modernized — from the Danger Room to the clothes the kids wear — but it's on a case-by-case basis. Magneto's costume design is so strong and iconic, it really doesn't need anything doing to it — I mean, he's still wearing it in the main books now, right? There's a reason for that. But the X-Mansion gets an overhaul, the kids dress like, well, modern kids, and so on.
Nrama: On that same note, can you describe a bit what you're doing to bring things up to speed with the modern day?
McKelvie: Firstly, making the kids look like teenagers you might see on the street today. I think that's really important — as an industry we can be kind of inward-looking at times, and with a book like this, where you're hopefully reaching out to new readers, you need a link to the real world to bring them in. Then you can hit them in the face with the costumes and the powers and so on.
Not literally, of course.Beyond that, just trying to make it look and feel like it could be happening in the real world of today. And hopefully making it cool — those 60s Marvel comics were cool, you know? They were a product of that same pop culture era that made TV like The Avengers (Mrs. Peel!) and The Saint. I want to try to capture a kind of modern version of that.
Nrama: Since the Season One books are in continuity, how much consideration was given to making the story "fit"? And is it a challenge to write a story featuring a major villain like Magneto that wouldn't have affected anything that comes after.
Hopeless: It was a challenge, sure. I obviously couldn't have them defeat Magneto once and for all. But there's plenty of room for more story in between the original issues. We just had to look for the right spots to drop it in and make sure everything fit back together after.
Our story is more about these kids coming together as a team than it is about any one fight.Besides, if you go back and look at those issues, the villains aren't defeated as much as thwarted. The same ones pop up again and again. It's not inconceivable that the X-Men would have fought Magneto or The Blob a couple extra times.
Nrama: Wanted to ask about the use Unus the Untouchable, a definitely Silver Age-y type of character that hasn't seen too much use in the current comics. What do you like about the character, and what inspired you to use him?
Hopeless: Ha. "Unus" is the very first word written at the top of my plot outline. X-Men #8 is incredible.Hank quits the team to become a professional wrestler. His first match is against Unus the Untouchable, a mutant wrestler whose power is that it's impossible to touch him. Hank takes a beating in the ring and before long, The X-Men have to figure out a way to defeat the untouchable menace.
How can you not love that?
On top of me just really liking Unus, that issue marks an important turning point for Hank. It's the first time we see him use science to solve a problem. Up until issue #8, Hank was written more arrogant than intellectual. Basically just a loudmouthed jock. But here we see him use his brilliant mind to solve a problem when his fists fail him. That's huge. It foreshadows everything Hank will become. I had to put it in.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!