Dr. Nemesis. Madison Jeffries. Kavita Rao. Danger.
Not the most well-known names in the X-Men world, but important ones nonetheless. They're the folks who comprise the X-Club — a concept introduced during Matt Fraction's run on Uncanny X-Men — a group of super-scientists based on Utopia who use the power of science to better the cause of mutantkind and the world.
As this week's X-Men: Regenesis one-shot makes clear, the X-Club is remaining on the mutant sanctuary post-X-Men: Schism, and sticking with Cyclops. That's where things pick up in the December-debuting X-Club miniseries, a five-issue story from writer Simon Spurrier and artist Paul Davidson, who previously worked with the characters in the 2010 one-shot X-Men: Blind Science.
Newsarama talked in-depth with Spurrier via email about the series, reuniting with Davidson, what makes the X-Club unique and the "awesomesauce" nature of the cast that he's hoping the world at large will soon realize.
Newsarama: Simon, you've been working steadily in the X-corner of the Marvel Universe for the last few years, but it's fair to say that X-Club is maybe your highest-profile X-Men book yet. It's also obviously a bit of an unconventional choice for a miniseries — what can you share about how the ball got rolling on this project? Was it an extension of wanting to do more with the core of characters, who you've got a bit of history with?
Simon Spurrier: Yeah, it’s something I’ve been toying with ever since I first got the chance to play with the group in Blind Science. Until that point I don’t think I’d given much thought to the potential they represented: I figured Nemesis & Co. for a fun-but-functional response to the practicalities of the "Utopia" storyline. The more isolated/independent the X-Men became, the more problems they’d need to be able to solve themselves. Having a dedicated science department was a no-brainer from that perspective. If it’s good enough for Star Trek, right?
But when Blind Science came along I took the time to get properly acquainted with these characters, and to really think about their role: both as “in-story” elements and as potential doses of awesomesauce to ladle lovingly onto the fans. What I discovered, of course, was that there’s nothing “merely functional” about their role in the X-Verse. From the outset [Matt] Fraction gave us a colorful pack of personalities, complimentary skills and juxtaposing interests. Like all the most fascinating families they have the means to be wonderfully dysfunctional, but when they’re all pulling together they’re more than the sum of their parts. Better yet, the foundations were already in place to build upwards and outwards: whether it’s making the most of Nemesis’s suffer-no-fools snark, or exploring Kavita’s guilty backstory, or whatever. Blind Science opened my eyes to just what a unique little group we had on our hands, and just how many incredible stories they have to tell. I’ve been agitating to get something longer off the ground ever since.
Frankly, the economic timing hasn’t always been on our side. Miniseries are becoming an increasingly rare treat, so attempting to pitch a serial featuring brain-melting concepts like extra-orbital engineering, quantum mechanics, genetic eco-catastrophe and post-organic psychology has sometimes felt like a Sisyphean task. Thankfully my excellent editor Dan Ketchum has kept his keenness-dial at 11 throughout, and the trick all along has been to craft a story which doesn’t surrender to technobabble, doesn’t get-by on sci-fi gimmicks, and instead introduces all these Kirby-krackle-tastic ideas in exciting and characterful ways. It’s not “there now follows a treatise on Superstring theory”, it’s “Behold! The Awesome Power Of Science!”
In the end it all fell together. I’d been noodling-about with some new ideas between other jobs, and when I finally got around to writing them up Herr Ketchum dug the result. It helped that we could incorporate and riff-off the Regenesis arc, so whilst the serial is primarily concerned with its own themes it also sits as an organic part of the wider picture, and should contribute several Altered States to the end-picture.
Nrama: You can't really talk about an upcoming (or current) X-book at this point without mentioning Schism and Regenesis — Schism is even mentioned in the solicitation for the first issue. How significant is that backdrop to X-Club? And since we've seen Danger in promotional images standing with Cyclops, is it safe to assume that the entire X-Club is on Scott's side?
Spurrier: Safe to assume they’re all still nominally based on Utopia, yes. I tend to think that’s got a lot more to do with practicality, resources, and the specific personality traits of these characters rather than any sense of taking sides. With the exception of Danger, these guys are science-botherers first, participants in the politics of mutantkind second.
For instance: you’d probably find Kavita Rao sees herself primarily as a biological guardian of the mutant race, and therefore doesn’t need to align herself according to factions within it. Madison Jeffries has always had a tendency to live in his own tinkerer’s bubble rather than getting too involved in “people stuff”, but (as we’ll learn) he currently has bigger and weirder preoccupations to deal with anyway. And Nemesis? He’d probably say the squabbles of idiots in spandex are a million miles beneath him.
He’d be lying, but that’s what he’d say.
Nrama: The main cast of X-Club are, naturally, not the most well-known Marvel characters out there. Though that may seem like a disadvantage due to being a tougher sell to a larger audience, is it actually an advantage as well, because you have more latitude with these characters than you would with marquee names that appear in several books?
Spurrier: In a sense, yeah. From my perspective the more important aspect is that – as a result of Blind Science and the Smoke and Blood one-shot – I’ve got an accidental brand-association with the team, which makes the whole project feel very personal. Getting permission to end the story with some lasting changes to the status quo only strengthens that feeling of creative significance.
As regards the familiarity (or otherwise) of the main characters to the readers, I think you have to weigh the rough with the smooth. Certainly anyone who’s followed the big X titles over the past couple years will know of the science team, and hence be aware of a) how much fun they can be, and b) their importance to the X-Men. Generally we see these guys on the sidelines, desperately dealing with science-catastrophes of the most brain-melting flavor, in support of the Punching/Zapping main players. This series simply wonders what happens when the Science Catastrophes take centre stage. What if the “main players” were suddenly the support-crew? What if the brain-melting was sustained, twisty, relentless and cosmic, and what if the Punching/Zapping was an integral part of the concept-barrage? That, to me, sounds like a book which contains all the elements dear to the heart of the Main X-title Reader, but at one and the same time isn’t quite like anything else on the shelves at the moment.
In other words: I like to think the “who?” factor can be weighed against the “that… is… awesome” factor.
Nrama: Getting into the specifics of the cast, which looks to be comprised of Dr. Nemesis, Madison Jeffries, Kavita Rao and Danger — you've written them before, so obviously you've got an affinity for the group. What do you like about the team? Certainly, they occupy a unique space within not only the X-Men, but the Marvel Universe in general.
Spurrier: Yeah, it’s a curious niche, when you think about it… The Marvel- is positively frothing with all these SuperScience types (many of whom appear to know their ranking in the “world’s smartest person” table, which I always think is pretty funny. Maybe Time prints an updated list every year?), but the X-Verse has always had slightly different parameters and priorities than the wider picture. X-scientists need to not only be brilliant and incisive and razor-minded, but must also take a vested interest in the Mutants’ place in the world. They need to be capable of negotiating extreme biological and cosmic chaos, of reconciling “non-science” with conventional lab work, of being flexible enough to deal with some of the weirdest conceivable threats, and – above all else – to think differently.
Plus they need the capacity to Kick Ass.
I can’t rant enough about how perfectly the personalities in this team riff against one another. You’ve got a soulful geneticist who once tried to exterminate the mutant race, now struggling to find her place – and her redemption – in the last remnants of the species. You’ve got an intuitive tech-manipulator who’d be one of the most earth-shatteringly powerful mutants alive if he wasn’t so busy fiddling with junk, feeling alienated and generally being spacey. You’ve got a godlike A.I. descended from a glorified holodeck, who could probably wipe-out the last vestiges of mutantkind in a lazy afternoon if the coding which passes for her emotions hadn’t made her so fiercely loyal to the X-Men. Aaaaand, everyone’s favorite, you’ve got a self-evolved polyglot supergenius with a penchant for killing Nazis, whose principal mutant power is to Assume You’re An Idiot.
They are, and I cannot stress this enough, brilliant.
Nrama: At the same time, can readers expect to see any of the higher-profile X-Men characters show up at all in the series?
Spurrier: Absolutely, yeah. From the get-go. We’re going to see how the science team work in conjunction with some of the most powerful mutants on the planet, and how these four oddball geniuses are uniquely positioned to try and save the day when it all goes calamitously wrong.
Nrama: One thing that's definitely intriguing from the brief amount that's been disclosed thus far about X-Club is the emphasis on, well, science. It's a natural for these characters, sure, but how much are you delving into actual science (as opposed to comic book science) with the book? Did it involve a good amount of research?
Spurrier: A fair bit, yeah. As I said above, the real trick is to explore some of the most mind-expanding contemporary science concepts without just battering readers to death with tech-waffle. There’s so much incredible stuff going-on in the world today – genuine melt-your-eyes-and-change-the-way-you-perceive-reality weirdness – which really should be right up there at the top of the conversational agenda. But a lot of people either don’t know about it or don’t want to know about it because of the perception it’s impenetrable, or dull, or that you’d need to wade through volumes of tedious PhD-level detail before even beginning to understand the top layer. This series addresses that in a pretty blunt way: Science is what makes Incredible Things Happen. You don’t have to be an Oxford Professor to get excited by its effects, its possibilities, and often its sheer bizarreness.
Even better than all that, telling these stories in the context of the Marvel Universe – which is jam-packed with beings capable of things we simply can’t do yet in the real world – lets us take a few flights of fancy. Things which are only theoretical to us lowly sapiens suddenly become possible when you’ve got access to the powers and technologies of the X-Men.
I’ll give you an example. Episode 1 revolves around the construction of a “Space Elevator”. The name doesn’t really do it justice – sounds kind of goofy, right? – but it’s a genuine and very-plausible concept which has been around since the 1890s. Put simply, it’s a satellite in orbit above the equator which is connected to the Earth’s surface by a loooooooooong umbilicus. If you can build a space elevator you can send anything up into orbit – supplies, people, vessels – without all the expense and wastage of launching rockets through the atmosphere. Plus you’ve got a constant source of solar energy, a simple means of disposing of nuclear waste, yadda yadda yadda.
But here and now, in 2011, we don’t quite have the tech to build one. We’re so close! We need slightly stronger materials for the tether, we need slightly better calibration, slightly better radiation shielding, and we’re stumped about how to launch it all at once.
But in the X-Verse? In the X-Verse you’ve got Madison Jeffries, who can test-build all of Dr. Nemesis’s novel umbilicus solutions without breaking sweat. You’ve got Danger, whose hardlight simulations and material-manipulations can perfect every part of the process. And then when it’s all ready, you’ve got a former supervillain with a mastery of magnetism who can lift the whole supermassive apparatus into orbit without recourse to a single rocket. Hey presto: Space Elevator.
And that’s just the very, very thin end of the wedge. As we’ll see, the range of crazed-but-theoretically-possible stuff we can access in the Marvel U is a lot broader than that.
Of course, all this stuff is just the color. This serial wouldn’t get pulses pounding if it was only about incredible people performing incredible feats. No: what it’s really about is incredible people having to panic, innovate, and fight like rabid weasels when the aforementioned Incredible Feats go wrong. Or, say, when it turns out someone has had a hidden-agenda all along…
Nrama: And though it's of course still early, what can you say at this point about the nature and scope of the threat that the X-Club takes on in the series? And what makes them the right team to tackle it, as opposed to bringing in some of the heavier hitters?
Spurrier: I basically can’t comment on that — sorry. All will become clear, and there will be several juicy twists along the way.
Nrama: You're paired on the book with Paul Davidson, who illustrated Blind Science. What's it like working with him on these characters again?
Spurrier: It’s a dream. Paul did a spectacular job with Blind Science: communicating everything in a stylish, iconic and above-all dynamic way. For all that this serial is supposedly “about” science, it’s still a Marvel comic: the heart and soul of the thing will always be action and spectacle. Paul can communicate that stuff cleanly and expressively – even in the midst of all the techno/bio/chemo/psycho-strangeness – better than anyone.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!