Kieron Gillen: 'My Entire X-MEN Run Has Built Towards AvX'


Since closing down the old Uncanny X-Men volume post-X-Men: Schism and starting a new one in late 2011, series writer Kieron Gillen hasn't slowed the pace. The book has been coming out twice as a month, and been darting through storylines and villains at a pace somewhere roughly the opposite of "decompression."

The X-Men will, quite naturally, be heavily involved in this spring's Avengers vs. X-Men event series, but the team that stuck with Cyclops in Utopia still has a lot to get to before then — including the remainder of the current "Tabula Rasa" arc and a team-up with, who else, the Avengers.

Newsarama caught up with Gillen over email for an in-depth discussion of how Avengers vs. X-Men affects Uncanny X-Men (quite heavily, it turns out), working with multiple artists on the book, and the inspiration behind recent storylines.

Marvel Reveals X-MEN Covers
Marvel Reveals X-MEN Covers

Newsarama: Kieron, to start off let's talk a bit about what's coming in the very near future — Avengers vs. X-Men. Though you're not one of the co-writers of the main series, you're writing the flagship book of the second half of the Avengers vs. X-Men equation (with hints seen already in last month's Uncanny #5 in the scene between Cap and Cyclops), so it's an easy guess that you're pretty heavily involved. How would you characterize Uncanny X-Men's role in the overall story? And how direct of a lead-in is the Uncanny story that precedes it, which features members of the Avengers?

Kieron Gillen: I'll be entirely candid here: my entire run has been conceived in order to build towards AvX. I knew that was coming, and I wanted to do everything I could to increase its importance for it. You get people saying how they hate their favorite books derailed for a crossover, and I wanted to avoid that. AvX is the logical endpoint of huge chunks of what I'm doing. I sort of call the process "Steering into a crossover." I've done it with most of my Marvel work — in that if you know something enormous is on the horizon, your story best veer in its direction otherwise it ends up feeling false when you do a story which does tie in. If you're writing a shared universe book, you want it to help the book rather than hurt it.


I smiled when a lot of people picked up on that beat in Uncanny #5. Mostly because it's always good when people do notice something, but at least partially because... well, I've been doing subtle stuff building towards AvX ever since I started writing Uncanny (and Generation Hope, for that matter). In retrospect, if people go back to #534.1 and read through it all, I think people will see it. I also think if people read the whole run once AvX is completed, they'll see a lot more. I'm a structural writer, and I foreshadow pretty much everything. With hindsight lines that appear innocuous, with a second look, will be revealed as anything but.

So, yes, it's no accident that final arc is a team-up to defeat a string of world-level threats. It's about seeing them together one final time before it all goes bad. It's also about delineating the fundamental difference between the two groups. And part of me is always trying to at assume some people are only reading my book. I even try to assume that people have only read my book ever, so may not even be aware who the Avengers are. In that case, if they're going to go to war shortly, I want to introduce them into the narrative before it happens.

How important is it for Uncanny? It really can't be more important, both for my own run and the book as a whole. I basically see myself as having taken over writing a show in season five of a HBO drama. So everything I've built in my own run, plus everything that's been done in the book for years previously, comes to its head here.


Nrama: Speaking of coordination, the current "Tabula Rasa" arc picks up directly from the "Dark Angel Saga" in Uncanny X-Force. It's interesting, because when reading that story, that element did seem ripe for a follow-up even if it wasn't immediately clear where that would be. How does something like that develop? Is it the kind of thing where you're all clued into each other plans, and you keyed into that as something you'd like to explore?

Gillen: It was the X-Summit when we were finalising the post-Schism plans, and Jason and me had the epic thumb-war session to decide who got who. Rick was laying out his plans for the final stretch of the (genuinely astoundingly great) "Dark Angel Saga," and talked about the creation of the region. He basically wanted to create a new Savage-Land-esque region. The idea immediately excited me, and we started rambling off various ideas for the time-dilation effects, depending on how long it actually took to operate. At one point we were playing with the idea of it lasting for a week, so it could have multiple Day/Night cycles and have a kind of epic-fantasy equilibrium between the People Of The Night and the People Of The Day. There were lots of different possibilities, and we picked the ones we liked best and ran with it. I actually think I suggested the name, which makes the fact I constantly misspell it all the more embarrassing.

Basically, Rick tweaked stuff in his script to foreshadow the things I've wanted to do in mine, and vice versa. You'll see some of the aliens I use debut in X-Force if you pay close attention. We had to work the timeline particularly hard to make it all fit — eagle-eyed people will have worked out that my arc happens the second Psylocke dumps amnesiac Angel back at X-Force's cave, then runs off to basically try and tidy up the mess. Which is why she's so tired, obv.

Nrama: To stay on the Psylocke subject, you're using her in a much more integral role than you have in the past. Obviously, it's a natural choice given her part in the X-Force story, but what have you liked about exploring that character further — and her interactions with the rest of the team?

Gillen: Using her actually has a couple of useful, contradictory reasons. For people who read X-Force, they're in the position they know that Psylocke is lying — so you get a sort of dramatic irony response from the book. For the people who don't read X-Force, they basically take position of the X-Men trying to decode the mystery, and Magneto's probing of Psylocke provides particularly natural exposition.

The fact the emotional connection is so strong is something that really attracted to me. Being involved in the destruction of a town is a huge thing, and I wanted to dwell on how that actually impacts her. Since destruction is so common in superhero comics, we can end up skating over what it really means, but I wanted to put her face to face with the family of the people in the town and bring it home.

I also love playing with a character with a secret — and someone with power over her, in the form of Magneto. That's just great drama. Power, responsibility, corruption, ends-justifying-means, etc. These are all stuff that's bubbling under the surface with the book. 

Uncanny X-Men

#8 cover.

Nrama: In six issues of the new Uncanny X-Men, you've had three artists, with the main two being, as was the plan all along, Carlos Pacheco and Greg Land. Both artists complement each other well, but definitely have different strengths and character to their work — when writing a book like Uncanny X-Men, how much are you able to tailor things to an artist's specific "voice" on each arc?

Gillen: In terms of how I approached the story, I'm always writing to the artists' strength. I've worked with Greg a lot now, so I've had a lot of experience in trying to write so he can do his hyper-glamourous figures look. With Carlos I'd only done one issue — the .1, my first — but I could take what I saw worked well in that and tried to elaborate.

In terms of actually picking the story content, no, I haven't done that. When I was conceiving the issues between launch and AvX, the actual final decisions on artists were in flux. I think it was actually Greg on the first arc and Nick Bradshaw on the second one. I was thinking more about the larger structure leading towards AvX. You couldn't have done these three stories in any other order and have worked in the same way.

That said, the arcs have shaken down well in terms of playing to the strengths. In Greg's arc we move into individual character vignettes, taking this large team into smaller groups, which is something he does particularly well. In Carlos' arcs, it's been this large team of heroes against large groups of enemies, something which is absolutely one of his strongest points. With the third arc, we even turn the volume up some more by having the Avengers there for their final interaction before AvX.


Nrama: Going back a month or so, the Phalanx one-shot issue really stuck with me — given how rarely the Phalanx has been used in recent years, it seemed perhaps like you might have had that take in your head for a while (now obviously having the opportunity to use it, as writer of Uncanny X-Men). Is that at all close to being accurate?

Gillen: Actually, no. Completely the opposite, in fact. Editor Nick Lowe called me and said something like “Hey, you British gentleman! That Brandon Peterson was available for an issue, and I thought it may be fun to do a one off story in Uncanny #4? Maybe with the Phalanx? Brandon does an awesome Phalanx. Oh — I need to know by tomorrow if you want to do it. Toodles!”

So I sat and had a think, and for 10 hours it was “No. I haven't a story here.” And I was about to mail him and tell him no, when the whole thing downloaded and I realized I had another script to write. The core of it was the very pure idea of "What if E.T. called home and no-one was there." And if E.T. ate Eliott too, as well. I was thinking of the Ted Hughes' The Iron Man book a little as well.

Pretentious (and inaccurately) I think of the issue as the leitmotif for my whole run. In the small story, you can see the whole picture. It's certainly the tightest example of how I'm using the villains in my post-relaunch issues. As in, I'm exploring them as a compare and contrast with the current situation of mutantkind, and as dark possible futures. This is the first time I've explicitly mentioned this, but every primary antagonist they meet is the last member of another species. The Phalanx is driven mad by the loneliness. The Savage and the Immortal Man are dual custodians of a people's past, fighting over what really matters. Sinister is a new species of one person — which of course simultaneously also makes him the last. And as readers of S.W.O.R.D. will know, UNIT is a very friendly ends-justify-the-means final-artifact-of-a-long-dead-people, with an ethical calculus that justifies infinite genocides to achieve their aim. When I'm writing about the villains, I'm really using it to explore the question of mutantkind and their current position as a species on the cusp of annihilation, and where that can drive you.

They're also useful for fights. Big ol' fights. Honestly, there's punching. It's not just metaphors. There's often metaphors you can punch, which are the best kind of metaphors. 


X-Men #9 cover.

Nrama: A lot of Marvel titles have been double-shipping frequently, and it looks like Uncanny is on essentially a twice-monthly schedule, if not officially. How has that affected your approach? (Other than the obvious factor of giving you more pages to write each month.) Are you looking at it maybe as a chance to give some ideas a little more room to breathe? Has it changed your sense of pacing at all?

Gillen: Heh. Once again, entirely the opposite. Since I knew AvX lay ahead, I knew that with the double-shipping I'd get 10 issues before the crossover hit. The crossover, as I said earlier, is such an enormous thing that it's going to fundamentally change the sort of stories it's possible to tell. So I knew that I had this space to basically let the Extinction Team exist. And I basically wanted to tell a year's worth of stories in it. So rather than the 4-issue arcs I was writing before the relaunch, I aimed at three-issue arcs. The second arc expanded to four issues — I'd written it for three, but due to the density of subplots, it sat better in four. And the final arc, I compressed down to two with every technique I could think of, which makes it incredibly punchy. Issue #9 may be my favorite “traditional” X-men issue of the run, actually. #4 is my favorite generally, but that was so leftfield, I'm not sure I can count it. The #9-#10 arc is about a jailbreak from the Peak, and in #9 alone five different alien invasions are defeated. Hypercomics are go!

And then there's AvX, when even more things explode, both literally and metaphorically. Funtimes ahead, basically. 

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