By Marc Strom
A new class of mutants enter Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters this June with the debut of UNCANNY X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, courtesy of writer Scott Gray and artist Roger Cruz.
"UNCANNY X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is set in the early days of the X-Men's second generation, shortly after their first big adventure when they saved the universe from the M'Kraan Crystal in UNCANNY X-MEN #107-108," Gray tells us. "It's a rich period of the group's history to explore—all the characters are still new to each other, and struggling to function as a team. They've got a lot to learn!"
Going back to this period in the team's history allows Gray to tell stories utilizing some of his favorite X-Men.
"I honestly love every single one of these characters," enthuses Gray. "When [editor] Nate Cosby offered me this title, I felt like I'd won the lottery. I'm looking forward to exploring the troubled relationship between Cyclops and Phoenix—what do you do when your girlfriend turns into a goddess, and an angry goddess to boot?
"Banshee is another [favorite]—he and Moira MacTaggert never got much screen-time back in the day, so I'd like to show their fiery, but fun, relationship as it develops. And then there's Storm, living in the country of her birth, but finding it a totally alien experience. And Colossus—okay, I could be here all day. Gotta pace myself."
Gray's series follows the end of the original X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, which chronicled the original team's adventures. And while the tone of that series will continue to the next, Gray says it will also contain a number of differences.
"[Writer] Jeff Parker did a brilliant job with the original FIRST CLASS series, and his approach will certainly be an influence," Gray admits. "But I think it's important to separate the two X-Men eras with a new
approach—the color, excitement and humor will all still be there, but this is a very different team of mutants. They aren't a bunch of American teenagers bouncing off each other; they're all adults, facing a strange new life in a brand new country.
"All of them have had to deal with great personal losses in their pasts. The second generation X-Men operate in a larger, darker, more dangerous world than the first, and I want to reflect that in the tone of the series. But that doesn't mean we can't provide the wacky from time to time—hands up who remembers IRON FIST #15, when Storm got an egg salad makeover?"
Artist Roger Cruz will help lend a degree of continuity between the two series as well, and Gray couldn't be happier with his collaborator.
"I'm over the moon that Roger Cruz is staying on as artist—I've loved his work for years," the writer exclaims. "He can juggle multiple-figure scenes with ease, has a lively, expressive style and his action sequences just leap off the page. He's the perfect X-artist!"
Also like its predecessor, the new title will fill in the holes of the X-Men's past while remaining accessible to new readers of any streak.
"UNCANNY X-MEN: FIRST CLASS will welcome new readers that are just discovering the X-World, but also respect the past—and future—of the team," Gray elaborates. "This won't be a study in X-Men history but it'll definitely be part of the official X-continuity."
Fans will also get to see their favorite mutants interact with a number of other characters from the rest of Marveldom.
"The X-Men usually play in their own little corner of the Marvel Universe, so a lot of the first meetings between them and other heroes were never shown," explains Gray. "Now they will be! The opening storyline reveals their first encounter with the Inhumans. The X-Men are pretty isolated, but the Inhumans could hold a master class in seclusion. So what happens when the two groups meet? Let's just say that things start fairly well, then get a little rough and ultimately wind up in absolute disaster."
As for villains, Gray says he'll add a number of new threats for the X-Men as well as incorporating classic opponents.
"I very much want to add to the X-Men's rogues gallery," confesses Gray. "I don't think I'd be doing my job if I didn't bring something new to the table. I've got some specific ideas on new types of threats for the X-Men to face. Stay tuned for the Knights of Hykon, an alien menace that won't be the usual invasion-of-Earth scenario. In fact they've already had a major impact on the X-Men's lives, and when Cyclops finds out how, he's not gonna be a happy bunny.
"Oh, and there's one X-villain I really want to resurrect—someone who hasn't been seen in a long time, but who has a very strong emotional tie to one of the X-Men. And that's all I can say, 'cause I'd like it to be a surprise!"
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