By Kiel Phegley
February 4 marks both beginnings and ending for Marvel scribe Jeff Parker.
The first Wednesday of February will be celebrated by fans everywhere as a new chapter in the writer's popular AGENTS OF ATLAS saga with the start of a new ongoing series. At the same time, the date marks the beginning of the end for Parker's fan favorite mutant comics in the aptly-named limited series X-MEN: FIRST CLASS FINALS. We're celebrating with back-to-back features on both books, starting with the graduation adventure of Professor Xavier's original X-Men.
"The series deals a lot with their 'post grad' plans," explains Parker of X-MEN: FIRST CLASS FINALS, noting the first issue's title of "Senior-itis." "I think we naturally phased into where they go from that point if you've ever read the older comics. As they're wondering about it, an invitation in the mail comes from the Brand Corporation for Hank asking him to come on as a research scientist. So he's already got a lead on life, but the one who's suddenly the most rudderless is Scott because he's not actually good at anything other than fighting bad guys. And he admits that. He says, 'All I've ever been good at is being Cyclops.' Luckily, we know from history that that's all he's ever going to do."
Still, like Parker's previous work with artist Roger Cruz exploring the X-Men's collegiate years, FINALS contains equal parts drama and invading villains, pulling in bad guys from all corners of the 1960's era.
"In the first issue, we're touching on some villains we never had in FIRST CLASS but people who've read the old books would have seen, oddball guys like the Living Diamond," Parker says. "Frederick returns—
the guy Scott dropped down a mine shaft in probably the most serious FIRST CLASS story in issue #10. He comes back and is even less pleasant than the first time you saw him.
"And you may see a bit of Magneto in there, as much as I avoided it."
Rounding out the series will be a final string of backup stories by artist Colleen Coover.
"Hers is a multi-part story that's all about Jean and Scott going on a date," Parker teases, noting that the wildly expressive backups and specials will be the element of FIRST CLASS he misses most—well, beyond the chance to spend some time digging into the X-Men characters each month.
"I do feel like I've gotten in their heads some. I wasn't as sympathetic with Cyclops before. A lot of people think he's a lame character because he's brooding all the time, but when you can't take those stupid glasses off your eyes without destroying everything in front of you, it'd get to you after a while. Yet somehow he manages to get all the ladies despite this. I guess it's because they seem to go for brooding, mopey guys—just like in real life.
"I also liked being able to add the Scarlet Witch in more [as] Jean's friend for a while because it just seemed after going back and reading those stories like, 'This would be nice. Jean's always been the only girl, so this would be the only chance to meet another girl she can talk to.' It felt right whether it ever happened or not. Also, I liked giving her broken English. I wished they'd done that more in the 60's, just had her walking around not saying her articles."
Speaking of the strong connection the series had to the actual original X-MEN series, Parker admits that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby already dealt with the X-Men's graduation, although it didn't really seem to count for much.
"It was weird—just a few issues in, they had a graduation issue," he laughs. "I think at the time, Stan and Jack got disenchanted with the idea of playing with the school, even though they came back to it eventually and it kept getting used again. My take on it was that that was a high school equivalency thing. A lot of them were pulled out pretty early—like Bobby was being attacked by rednecks in his hometown. He obviously didn't have time for a lot of school work. I think a lot of readers view that as them finishing high school requirements and beginning college proper. I'm going to stick to that."
All in all, Parker looks back on his time with X-MEN FIRST CLASS as a learning experience:
"A series goes in the direction it's going to go in. I thought I was going to be playing up more sci fi stuff in it, and it would be more serious. But as I got into it, I sort of realized that it filled the valuable role of speaking to youth and lighter stuff. Like, why would they want to keep being X-Men years later if it was always 'Oh! We might die any minute!' or 'What a downer! Another loved one was killed' storylines? So I viewed this as their salad days. This is what they always look back on fondly, and I wanted to show why. It was thrilling, exciting, but when you're young the threats don't seem so dangerous because you feel immortal then.
"I hope [these stories] do hang around in trade form. They're very stand alone, and the stories are kind of timeless in the sense that they were in-between stories or—to use a Kurt Busiek term—'Early Years' stories. I hope people keep giving them to younger readers or just new readers. They're good gateway books."
To say goodbye to FIRST CLASS, be sure to pick up the first issue of FINALS on February 4, and head back here tomorrow for Parker's thoughts on the launch of AGENTS OF ATLAS! Also, you can read past issues of X-MEN: FIRST CLASS right now on Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited!
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