By Ben Morse
When Avengers Vs. X-Men explodes, few players will be more crucial to the proceedings than the young mutant “messiah” Hope Summers. As the drums of war beat toward AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #0 on 28, we will spend this week looking at all aspects of Hope in order to get you set for the biggest super hero conflict of all-time!
While Cable—with the help of writers like Duane Swierczynski—may have raised Hope through her childhood, once she returned to the present and saw her father figure fall, she needed new guardians. Cyclops has been less successful than he may like in that role, but Kieron Gillen and James Asmus, the men who kicked off and continued the GENERATION HOPE series respectively, have had a more profound influence.
We spoke with Asmus and Gillen—the latter of whom also writes Hope as part of UNCANNY X-MEN—about how Hope has matured, what lies at the core of her value system, and more as she prepares for Avengers Vs. X-Men.
Marvel.com: Neither of you got to actually write Hope until after she had been through the traumatic childhood and young adulthood as well as the experiences of Second Coming. As readers/outside observers, what did you make of the character’s journey up to that point?
Kieron Gillen: Well, for the early part of it she was very small. And then Jamie McKelvie gave her a fashionable haircut, and as so often happens when Jamie McKelvie gets involved with you, it all went downhill for her.
To state the bloody obvious, she's had it hard. None of the futures she's lived through have been in any way pleasant. She's survived in some genuinely vile worlds, been chased through time and ended up coming back to Earth onto to have her Dad die in front of her. To be honest, she'd have every right to curl up in a ball and having a good old cry for the next 24 issues.
When I started writing her that was the core of it for me. Why didn't she?
James Asmus: I thought Hope's childhood was a fascinating balance of horror and humanization. Seeing all the danger and deprivation she grew up with, I became deeply intrigued with her character. Particularly, what would such an upbringing do to a person's fundamental view of the world? I think she can't help but be guarded and a little utilitarian after coming of age in post-apocalyptic war zones. But I love that they always found the sweetness and emotion in her as well. It kept her relatable in her hopes and fears and longings. And essentially, that's what we want to do in Marvel comics: take things all recognize and relate to and smash it together with death-dealing cyborgs from the future! Or an equally exciting equivalent.
Marvel.com: What kind of influence do you feel Cable had on Hope and how did that figure into your own handling of the character?
Kieron Gillen: Everything, really. He's her role model. He's everything that she believes someone should be. “What would Cable do?” is her magnetic north, and one of the constants I kept under her characterization. I also didn't make that explicit, because part of Cable's influence is not talking about it. I took 12 issues before she admitted any of this to her peers, by which point they were mostly convinced she was just insane.
James Asmus: He became her father. And like a lot of fathers, Cable wasn't always great at expressing his feelings, so he'd show it in the ways that he could. Only, while in our world a dad might throw a ball around or teach you to drive, Cable taught Hope how to fire insanely large weapons and beat up a squad of guys twice your size. So for Hope, paramilitary activities are as warm and fuzzy emotional touchstones as a hearty Thanksgiving would be for normal people.
Marvel.com: Aside from Cable, who have been the biggest influences on Hope?
Kieron Gillen: Bishop, in a solely negative sense. The cast of people she met in her time-travelling—that breadth of experience is something which she falls back on a lot. In the present time, Scott and Logan. X-Force were the first mutants she'd have remembered meeting, so Logan's filed with that. And Scott is someone she pulls against as much as she pushes with. I occasionally think that she agrees with Scott, but wishes that she didn't.
Oh—and the ticking clock that's in her head, in every cell of her body, in the smallest part of her soul. Her fiery albatross, if you will.
James Asmus: I like to think that—though she'd refuse to admit it—Cyclops has become a significant influence for her. Hope lost her father almost as soon as she made it to the present day Marvel Universe. So even though she had heard a great deal about the world she now lives in, she's needed her fellow X-Men to actually get integrated and really start to understand her new world.
As for the tight-knit young mutants she runs with in Generation Hope, I think each one has brought something different out of our Mutant Messiah. If anyone really gets into Hope's head and makes her think a little differently, it would have to be Laurie, aka Transonic. Kieron did a great job of setting Laurie up as an intellectual and philosophical person—in stark contrast to Hope's more gung-ho, rough-and-tumble tendencies.
Marvel.com: Growing up somewhat removed from the traditional mutant race as we know it, how do you think Hope may have a different view on the issues surrounding it than most other characters?
Kieron Gillen: Definitely. That she, as I said earlier, had this expanse of experience makes her completely different to a standard mutant. I wrote her early on in GENERATION HOPE as someone who just didn't get mutant prejudice; she took the position that prejudice is the problem and people are basically the same. We should protect everyone, not worry about the genetic stuff.
And then in issue #9 she sees a kid kill himself rather than become a mutant and realizes that it's a little bit more complicated than that.
James Asmus: Hope has never experienced a full and thriving mutant race. In the future and in the present, the few remaining mutants have constantly been on the brink of extinction. So unfortunately, when she's hearing promises and hopes for a "return" of the mutant race, Hope may not be prepared for the fact that things will never be easy for mutantkind. I also think that [because of] Hope's experience in the harsh future of her childhood, the present day feels cushy for her. She can't tolerate much whining or fear from her team when the hot showers, warm beds, and relatively large number of fellow mutants on Utopia are a dream-come-true compared to her earlier life on the run.
Marvel.com: How do you see and how did you write Hope’s attitude to being the “Mutant Messiah?”
Kieron Gillen: This is the underlying characterization of my run on GENERATION HOPE. She just entirely embraced it, to a scary degree. Which is strange in and of itself, because you'd think the response would be to chafe against it. The reason she didn't—which she eventually confesses—is that the man she saw as her dad died for her. He—and others—died because they believed she was this messiah. If she isn't the Messiah, her dad died for nothing. In other words, she has to be this messiah or it'll be more than she could bear.
Even after that admission, it's something that drives her. To make her life worthwhile, she has to pull this off. However, it's also balanced with a sense of responsibility. Scott was avoiding telling her all the details about Phoenix because he thought in her grief-ridden state she could go Dark Phoenix [or] could kill herself rather than risk going Dark Phoenix. And she probably would. When Logan basically said that if it all goes bad he'll be the one who probably has to kill her, her response wasn't horror. It was to tell him to do it, and not worry about making it easy on her. Just don't risk anyone dying.
Conflicted girl, our Hope.
James Asmus: Kieron wrote a wonderful scene that I used as the core of how I think about Hope's feelings on the subject. Essentially, as shocking or unlikely as it feels to Hope that she may be some sort of messiah, her beloved father sacrificed his life to ensure she grew up to become just that. And because of that, Hope has to believe it's true. Because she couldn't handle the idea that the man she loves most in the world sacrificed himself for nothing.
Marvel.com: How did being part of the Lights change Hope? How did being leader of her own team versus a child learning from Cable affect her?
Kieron Gillen: Returning to something I said earlier, she saw Cable as her role model. So when put in a position of power, she ends up acting a little like Cable. She goes straight into training them to survive. She also put some of her own worries onto them. If she's worrying about being the leader, she can stop thinking about her own concerns and worry about them.
She swiftly learned it's not always that easy. They're not kids like she was. They're people. She's learned the hurt of failing people and having people fail you. She's not someone who deals with weakness particularly easy, so that's [shaken] her up enormously. But eventually? It's changed her by being able to actually open up a bit more. It's allowed her to explore parts of herself. It's even let her be something approaching a bit of a normal girl occasionally, if only for an afternoon or a movie.
James Asmus: I think it's been an experience of learning just how hard it is to truly be a good leader. She learned how to survive, and she learned how to fight. But on the run with her father, Hope never before had the chance to learn people. Leading the Lights has been Hope's crash course on recognizing and weighing the emotions and lives of other people. What seems like the best strategy in theory may not hold up to the needs and realities of the other human beings—or mutants—whose lives are affected. That, at least, is a lesson I wanted to confront her with head-on before she's thrust into the center of the Marvel Universe with such high stakes riding on her choices.
Marvel.com: Why do Hope and Cyclops clash? What is at the root of their conflicts? Deep down, does Hope have a problem with Scott?
Kieron Gillen: “You got my Dad killed.” She partially blames herself for it, sure, but there's always going to be a bit of that bubbling beneath it, even if she knows it's unfair.
Part of it is just personality clash.
The biggest part is actually that they agree entirely. They both think she's the Mutant Messiah. In fact, they've both bet all their chips on that fact. It's the biggest thing for them both. And since it's so important, well, there's a lot of tension there even with the sligh
James Asmus: Hope and Cyclops are two strong-willed people who feel like their value is in a plan of attack. When the other person doesn't want to listen, they each lose so much of how they define themselves. While that would be annoying enough, Hope resists and resents the feeling that Cyclops is trying to act as her father, a role that she is not looking to fill after losing Cable.
Marvel.com: How is Hope different when she’s with the Extinction Team as opposed to being with the Lights?
Kieron Gillen: She's not the leader. She doesn't have the responsibility, so she's able to be a little more frivolous. Rather than trying to be the adult in a group of teenagers, she's the teenager in a group of adults. And it's worth noting that for all her clashes with Scott, in the field, she's a good soldier. Her dad taught her that, and she knows that means in most situations, you follow orders.
James Asmus: I do think she values being on the front lines of mutantkind's fight with the Extinction Team. It also puts her with people she does respect and lets her experience and understand this world she's trying to save. Meanwhile, the Lights have been the closest she [has] come to actually being a savior to mutantkind. It's been her chance to "ignite" new mutants in hopes of resurrecting their race for the future. And of course, Hope serves as the leader of the Lights, so that has been the place she can really spread her wings and push herself and her team toward whatever she thinks they need to become.
Marvel.com: As writers, to you, what are Hope’s most essential core qualities? What are her values and what is most important to her?
Kieron Gillen: I've touched on this a lot above. She's scary driven. There [are] not many 17-year olds in the Marvel Universe who are as well trained as she is. I mean, she's better trained than, say, Bucky was circa WW2. She's been prepared for something since she [was] a toddler by one of the best soldiers on Earth. She likes practical solutions; she's not someone who leans on her powers when she can do something with her own two hands.
But because she's scary driven it means she often rubs people up the wrong way. In retrospect, she can regret it. In the heat of the moment, her instinct is to go for someone's throat.
But beneath the toughness there's absolutely the vein of typical teenage insecurity. She's a girl dropped in a world she knows very little of. She's spent great chunks of her life with only a single person in it. The very few friends she's had, she's lost in the time stream. There's much of life she doesn't know much about, and is both eager and nervous in exploring. Most of these things don't involve being able to throw knives through people's eyes at 20m. Cable didn't prepare her for everything.
James Asmus: At first blush, Hope is defined by her determination, for better or worse. Her bullish conviction and blunt pursuit of her missions can rub some people the wrong way, but it’s a strength that has kept her alive and inspired more than a few others. I do believe, though, that at her core Hope is driven by a completely selfless desire to make things better. She genuinely wants to save mutants, to live up to her father's hopes for her, and to make a difference in the world. However, I think that unlike a lot of heroes, Hope tries to look at the big picture. And I believe that she would make choices in the short-term that some heroes would not, if she felt it would lead to a greater good. In that sense, you can take a look at Cable's actions in [AVENGERS: X-SANCTION] and see that she's her father's little girl.
Marvel.com: From somewhat outside looking in, what are you expecting from Hope in AvX? What are you most excited to see? And as the guys who have been her most recent caretakers, is there anything you’re afraid of for her?
Kieron Gillen: I'm never anything but afraid for what could lie ahead for Hope. Even the absolute best that could happen could be pretty horrific. Her life's an arrow, aimed at a target. Whether she hits it or misses it almost doesn't matter. Either way, it could be the end of her.
James Asmus: I am looking forward to [a] definitive and life-changing story for Hope. I can't wait to see her completely confront her potential destiny, and to see her transformed by the process. I know that things are absolutely not going to unfold as people may expect and I'm thrilled to read how some of favorite creators are going to unfold it all for us.
As for my fears? I'm not sure if I'm more afraid that she'll have her own heart broken by the events—or if she just might be the destroyer others fear her to be...