By Ryan Penagos Mutants--particularly the X-Men--have had it too easy for too long. Sure, they've gone through the "Fall of the Mutants," seen clones, resurrected friends and former enemies enter their circles only to see things go horribly awry; they've battled genocidally-minded viruses and are still reeling from the Decimation that followed the "House of M" event. Well, come to think of it, mutantkind may be in worse shape than ever before. And unfortunately, things are only going to get tougher. They're now an Endangered Species. With their new status as rare creatures, Marvel's kicking off a four-month-long story that begins with June's ENDANGERED SPECIES one-shot and continues in 17 back-up stories spanning the four core X-titles: UNCANNY X-MEN, X-MEN, X-FACTOR and NEW X-MEN. The stories will be created by various creative teams, but leading the overall charge--and handling kickoff SPECIES one-shot is current X-MEN writer Mike Carey. For Carey to move forward, though, it's imperative that he look back at what brought Marvel's Merry Mutants to this point. "Since the end of the 'House of M' and Wanda's famous words, 'No more mutants,' the mutant population has been reeling," says editor and X-guru Nick Lowe. "More than 90% of them lost their powers and those that have their powers are in constant danger. Their species is basically dying; there's a finite number left, [about] 200 of their species left. One by one they're slowly dying, until there's no more mutants left." "The other edge to that," adds fellow X-editor Andy Schmidt, "is no mutant birth has occurred since M-Day, since Decimation took place. Every time another one dies, that's it, there's no new mutant coming on. All mutants will be inactivated after that. They are quite literally an endangered species." "I'd say that ENDANGERED SPECIES is a story in which the X-Men are struggling to come to terms with the implications of the Scarlet Witch's edict," says Carey. "They've discovered now that there hasn't been a single mutant birth since M-Day. They are the last generation of homo superior, and they're already way past the point where--if they were an animal species--they would have been red-lined, officially classified as endangered. They're staring at the cold, hard fact of their own extinction. And what we're dramatizing is how the main protagonists in all of the X-books respond to that fact--as well as how the ripples from this terrible truth spread out on all levels to touch a very wide array of people." Whether you've noticed it or not, seeds for SPECIES can be traced back quite a while and really started bubbling up recently. "[X-MEN ANNUAL] was driving home what that started back within the 'House of M,' the beginning of Decimation," notes Lowe "[Exodus] was one other person taking a new look at [the fact that no mutants had been born since "House of M"] because it had been touched on briefly but it hadn't been touched on in a concrete way. Exodus's look into the situation just drove home what they already new." "All of the books are kind of coming together right now," says Schmidt. "Moving forward, we'll make that more and more clear. What Exodus was trying to do and what's going on in X-MEN #200 definitely relates to the fact that there are no more mutants." And it's in X-MEN #200 where the first ENDANGERED SPECIES back-up story appears. From there, it's eight pages of ENDANGERED SPECIES stories, every week for 17 weeks. While most of the creative teams are still hush-hush at the moment, it has been established that Scot Eaton will be one of the main artists, joining Mike Carey, the writer spearheading the project. Aside from writing the one-shot and playing a major role in planning the event, Carey's also handling several of the "chapters." "The stories are structured very much as an individual's quest to find a solution to an intractable and catastrophic situation," notes Carey. "The main protagonist in the stories is Hank McCoy, the Beast--seen here in his role as the X-Men's foremost scientific expert. We see him exploring the parameters of this situation and feeling out possible ways around it. And then we see him increasingly thinking the unthinkable and entertaining very unsettling options--both in terms of the people he approaches and in terms of the experiments he's willing to undertake. And finally we take him to an encounter that he'd hoped to avoid, but that could hold the key to--at the very least--a full understanding of what's at stake and what can still be done. It's kind of a journey to the heart of darkness, in some ways: a very scary, very personal story with a huge emotional weight behind it." "There will be a few big shocks," Lowe explains. "In the first two weeks of ENDANGERED SPECIES, you'll be seeing a major Marvel Universe character that we haven't seen in some time. It's very important to what's going on, but it's not a standard X-Men character. We touched on that in the first two parts of it. Some other huge people we haven't seen in the X-Men universe in several years [show up] as well. One of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe who really isn't seen on planet earth, maybe even some from other dimensions. A familiar face from early in the Astonishing X-Men run." "We really tried to hit everything," adds Schmidt. "The Marvel Universe is so vast, so diverse. We've got incredible magic power, demons from other dimensions, you've got the Beyonder. This is going into the expansive Marvel Universe and trying to track down whatever leads they can and ultimately it will bring them back into the X-Men fold, which will kick off our big act later in the year." Wait? An even bigger act after ENDANGERED SPECIES? Though cryptic, Lowe confirms. "All this is going to lead into a big event that we really can't talk too much about--a huge event in late 2007.This sets a lot of tone for our [late 2007] event and gives you a lot of info for it." We asked Carey if he wanted to add anything to the mix. "Nope. I just want to sit here and waggle my eyebrows mysteriously. It is the prelude to something bigger, that's true. I love stories that keep opening outwards and outwards like nested boxes. That's what we've got here. X-MEN ANNUAL #1 was the first box. The ENDANGERED SPECIES one-off is the second box and the 17 stories are the third. Then there's a fourth still to come..." We'll leave you with that tantalizing bit, but rest assured we'll have more on both Endangered Species and what comes after it here on Marvel.com. For now, check out all our Wizard World LA coverage.