Season One

Tuesday Q&A: Dennis Hopeless

This writer on the rise prepares for a double dip into the Marvel Universe with X-Men: Season One and Legion of Monsters!

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By Chris Arrant

With the rate he’s going in comics, writer Dennis Hopeless needs to look into a name change.

In addition to the X-MEN: SEASON ONE graphic novel coming in March of next year from Hopeless and artist Jamie McKelvie, the writer will also team with Juan Doe on the LEGION OF MONSTERS limited series beginning this October. While the two groups of protagonists might seem worlds apart, they’re both separate from human society and feared by the world-at-large, themes Hopeless will explore in each project.

Hopeless opens up with Marvel.com about both series’ origins and goes into detail about monsters and mutants.

LEGION OF MONSTERS #1 cover by Juan Doe

Marvel.com: What can you tell us about the LEGION OF MONSTERS series?

Dennis Hopeless: I'm going to sound like a crazy person here. No getting around it.

The Legion of Monsters [is a group of] monster cops sworn to protect and serve Monster Metropolis; it's a big job and they're just barely holding it together. But as the series starts, something is threatening to bring the whole thing crashing down around them. The Legion's one shot at saving their city means swallowing pride and teaming up with Elsa Bloodstone.

So, yeah, it's monster cops and a monster hunter fighting monsters for the good of all monster kind.

Marvel.com: Can you tell us about their team dynamic?

Dennis Hopeless: To belabor my cop show analogy, Elsa is the pushy F.B.I. agent. For the moment, she and the locals are working toward the same goals. But it's not a friendly partnership and they sure as hell don't trust one another.

Elsa was born and raised to hate, hunt and kill monsters. She's much more comfortable with that arrangement.

Marvel.com: This motley crew most recently popped up in the pages of FRANKENCASTLE. Was that story a precursor to what’s coming up here?

Dennis Hopeless: Very much so. The Legion of Monsters protecting an underground Monster Metropolis beneath New York City—all of that comes straight out of [writer] Rick Remender's [FRANKENCASTLE]. I loved that book.

We've taken that awesome premise and extrapolated from it. What happens to this crowded monster city once the monsters in it are no longer united against a common enemy? How do you protect a whole city from itself?

Monster cops.

LEGION OF MONSTERS #2 cover by Juan Doe

Marvel.com:  You’re partnering with hyper-stylized artist Juan Doe. What’s it like working with him to make this book a reality?

Dennis Hopeless: I couldn't be more excited about what Juan's doing. He completely gets what's fun and cool about smashing these genres together. Honestly, I'm just trying to make the story live up to all that pretty Juan's putting down.

Marvel.com:  You’ve come into Marvel like a blur, doing the graphic novel X-MEN: SEASON ONE and LEGION OF MONSTERS. How’d you get from Point A—your indie work—to Point B—The House of Ideas?

Dennis Hopeless: I've written something like 900 pages of indie comics in the last six years. Of that, one [limited series], a graphic novel and a short story have been published. But I got better with every script and I did end up with a nice stack of drawn and lettered samples. So once I got up the nerve to start sending stuff to editors, I was able to cobble together a collection of pretty good scenes. I printed some of those up and sent them off to a handful of editors whose books I like.

Then nothing happened. For like a year. By the time [Marvel editor] Alejandro Arbona emailed me back in March, I'd completely given up on hearing back. So much so that my first thought when I read his e-mail was that someone was playing a joke.

Turns out editors really do read the stuff you send them, it just takes a while. Once Alejandro got around to reading my samples, I guess he liked them and asked me if I wanted to start pitching.

LEGION OF MONSTERS was the first thing he had me pitch. X-MEN: SEASON ONE was the second.

Marvel.com:  Speaking of X-MEN: SEASON ONE, it seems like a rewarding yet challenging book to tackle. Can you tell us your thought process was when the idea for the book was brought up to you?

X-MEN: SEASON ONE preview art by Jamie McKelvie

Dennis Hopeless: My first thought was that the key to the book is the X-Men as teenagers.

These are the very first X-Men. Everything is brand new. It's an experiment and no one knows if it will work out. These are kids who just recently found out the world hates and fear them. Now all of a sudden they've been shipped off to live with a weird bald guy who is training them to be super heroes.

There's a lot of drama there. It's what made the concept so interesting 50 years ago and it's what this book had to be about. The challenge was finding a new story within the old one that hits all the right beats without stepping on the original.

Marvel.com: Once you heard about it, did your approach pop into your mind right away or did it take some time to have all the pieces fall into place?

Dennis Hopeless: It honestly took me a minute to wrap my head around the concept. My first couple outlines didn't fly because the plots kept butting up against existing continuity.

How do you write an origin story that doesn't rehash, change or contradict? There's 50 years of history there. But eventually I started thinking of it as co-writing the origin with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. That helped a lot.

There's only one story. It's the story of five teenagers coming to terms with their mutation, bonding as a team and learning how to be heroes. Stan and Jack told a version of that story in the first few X-MEN issues. We're telling another version by focusing on different moments from that same time in these characters lives.

It's a new perspective on a familiar tale.

Marvel.com: Modern readers haven’t seen the original team together in almost twenty years, going back to the original X-FACTOR days. What intrigues you the most about their chemistry and bonds?

X-MEN: SEASON ONE preview art by Jamie McKelvie

Dennis Hopeless: I think the four boys and one Jean is a really interesting dynamic; especially with them still being so young. We all know how things shake out, but it's been fun playing around with the early stages of those relationships.

I also like exploring Xavier's relationship with each of his students. X-MEN: SEASON ONE takes place early enough that Charles is still trying to earn their trust. Some of the X-Men are quicker to buy into his vision than others and at this point, none of them are 100% comfortable trusting anyone.

Marvel.com: In addition to being about each other, it’s also about who they’re up against. What familiar foes will we be seeing in this graphic novel?

Dennis Hopeless: I had a good time cherry-picking classic X-Men villains. We've got Magneto—of course—The Blob back when he led a gang of carnies, Unus the Untouchable and a couple other big ones.

It's a very character-driven story, so we shot for iconic with the fights.

Marvel.com: This sounds like a good chance to sit down with a big stack of X-Men comics. Can you tell us your research process for this book?

Dennis Hopeless: I'm still new to this so calling what I did "research" is funny.

The biggest thing was rereading Stan Lee's entire run a couple of times. Our whole story takes place between panels of those issues so I had to really know them. My notes from that eventually became our plot outline.

I also tracked down Jeff Parker's X-MEN: FIRST CLASS and Joe Casey's X-MEN: CHILDREN OF THE ATOM. X-MEN: SEASON ONE is a different animal obviously, but both of those series are great. It was interesting to read other writers' takes on the original five.

X-MEN: SEASON ONE preview art by Jamie McKelvie

Beyond that, I read a lot of Internet bios. The word continuity takes on new meaning after you've gone through Jean Grey's Wikipedia entry.

Marvel.com: For this project, artist Jamie McKelvie is drawing your story. He’s drawn the X-Men before, but not in this classic era. How does having him affect your vision of what this comic should be?

Dennis Hopeless: I knew Jamie was drawing the book when I pitched it so I'm not sure what I'd have done differently for another artist. But Jamie's perfect for this story.

He gets so much emotion out of the quiet character moments. The "acting" is just spot on. He makes talking heads fun to read, then comes right back and nails the crazy action sequences. It's a difficult balance and he strikes it so well.

Check back on Marvel.com later this week for more on LEGION OF MONSTERS with artist Juan Doe

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