By Brett White
After over a decade breaking records in the Avengers and Spider-Man corners of the Marvel Universe, Brian Bendis sets his sights on the X-Men with a concept so high it could touch Asteroid M.
ALL-NEW X-MEN—kicking off in November as part of Marvel NOW!—matches up Bendis and artist Stuart Immonen with the original five X-Men, plucked from their present—our past—and dropped in the middle of our present—their nightmarish future. The time-displaced cast includes Jean Grey, who has become an even greater object of fan affection since her adult counterpart’s death in 2004. How will past-Jean going to react to the numerous insane details of her life?
While Brian Bendis did write the three little words—“No more mutants”—that set the Children of the Atom on the path they still walk to this day, this series marks his debut as writer of a Marvel Universe X-Men comic book. Bendis, a lifelong fan of the X-Men, wants to fully integrate the sometimes-segregated mutants in with the rest of Marvel.
And he also knows exactly how this premise will affect the time stream, so continuity nuts can sit back, log off of Twitter and just chill out already.
We spoke with the writer about this concept’s origin, working with Stuart and much more. How much more? Well, Maggott gets mentioned…
Marvel.com: Did Avengers Vs. X-Men lead to this new series, or is ALL-NEW X-MEN something that’s been in your head for a long time?
|The original X-Men|
Brian Bendis: Avengers Vs. X-Men led to it. It was an idea that had been floating around the X-Office for a while and I’m still unclear where exactly it percolated. I’m a big fan of these kinds of stories, "Pleasantville" or "Peggy Sue got Married," where a character faces the truth about themselves and what their life can mean versus what it does mean. They’re very interesting stories and the idea of the original X-Men seeing what the X-Men turned into is absolutely fascinating to me. When I first heard about it I was interested, but it never really stuck the landing or came about. I’d asked about it often, as a fan though, but it never found its home.
When we first did the AvX retreat here at my house, we were sitting outside talking after we finished and I said “I guess I should bail off of Avengers when this is done since I’ve been on it longer than anyone’s ever been on it and eventually I’ll have to leave.” Better to leave now than people going “Ugh, leave.” I wanted to make sure I left on a high note and then slowly the idea of everyone leaving their books began to percolate. I don’t want to put too much importance on it, but it created a domino effect where I was leaving Avengers and someone had to take it, so then they’re leaving their book and someone needs to take that, etc. Everyone has this opportunity to start this new part of their career with a strong take on a new book and with that comes Marvel NOW! It’s very exciting, especially to those of us who’ve locked in big gigs early on.
Axel, Tom and everyone were at my house and told me if I was interested I should go to X-Men. I said I’d go if no one is doing the "Days of Future Now" [idea, as it was called back then]. At the time it was only me and Jeph Loeb who were interested in it and Loeb already had other commitments. Before AvX I was already [going to be] the writer of X-Men and it was interesting to write these characters in such dire straits. I knew that no matter how crazy it got during AvX that I’d be handling the fallout, which is always the best part.
|The original X-Men|
Brian Bendis: My X-Men fan level is exactly the same as my levels for Spider-Man and the Avengers. I’ve been reading them religiously and I probably have more issues and trades of X-Men than anything else in my collection. [I was tweeting] about what I’ve taken from the X-Men and what I love. It’s the same thing as with the Avengers: on their best day they’re a family. They're a family bound together by their desire to preach tolerance and acceptance through action. That’s what it was always about and when you’re taking over a book like this you tend to step back and go, “What’s the X-Men about?” So I tweeted that and then I was flooded with hundreds and hundreds of people expressing similar ideas, sharing their memories or just having a good time with it. One guy had said “I’ve learned that if you have claws, you can pretty much do anything you want.”
When I took over Avengers it was really about this meeting we had at Marvel where we were going over all the books and decided to focus on, at its core, what is this book about.
Marvel.com: That’s interesting because you’ve mentioned the original title of ALL-NEW X-MEN was going to be “Days of Future Now” which, of course, relates to the classic X-Men story “Days of Future Past.” If you look at the status quo that the X-Men are in now compared to that of the 60’s, we’re living in the post-apocalyptic future comparatively.
Brian Bendis: There’s a line in my script, I think Bobby says it: “We used to remember ‘Days of Future Past’ being this mutant apocalypse, and on some level, other than the Jean Grey School, this is worse than what we thought it was going to be.”
Marvel.com: What do you think the main turning point was that set them down this road?
Brian Bendis: I don’t think there’s any one turning point. I think the fact that they’re involved in a civil war that, even with AvX going on, hasn’t quite come to a head. They’re a divided people. It reminds of the early days of the
Marvel.com: I think it's safe to say that Jean Grey's return to the Marvel Universe, even as a teenager, could be the most anticipated part of ALL-NEW X-MEN. Jean's been dead for around eight years now our time, and the last time she came back from the dead Cyclops left his wife Madelyne Pryor immediately to be with Jean again. Is Jean’s return this time going to cause something similar or bring any huge changes to the status quo?
|Jean Grey and the original X-Men|
Brian Bendis: Yes, all five of them coming here create a new status quo. Even the simplest one, being Bobby discovering that he grows up to be rather normal, is a shock. It alters you. Jean coming back now is unlike Jean coming back before. This isn’t a reincarnated Jean, this isn’t a clone; this is Jean. She is coming here wide-eyed, but you also have to remember she’s coming into a world where she’s died. [It wasn’t] a great death, and I don’t want to spoil anything for AvX but she’s witnessed some things about her friends and loved ones that will make her feel wonderful, but also shock her to her very core and change all of her relationships. I’m thrilled and one of the biggest gets of bringing back the original five is that we get Jean. We’re not getting a version of Jean, we’re getting the real thing. She’s going to witness what has happened to the X-Men and what she’ll do to try and change that, especially at a time when maybe her powers aren’t at their fullest yet.
Marvel.com: In your experience writing these five original X-Men, has there been any character that has surprised you? Is there any character in particular to watch out for?
Brian Bendis: Well, every one of the five and I’m not just being coy. There were elements I was very excited about with all of them. I was very excited about Cyclops and Jean. I knew Bobby would be great and I had a whole thing with Hank. I’m excited for Warren to deal with what he’s going to go through, but I can’t talk much about that because of what’s going on in other books, such as UNCANNY X-FORCE and WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN. Warren has been going through a whole thing. Having all five come here to witness [the current Marvel Universe] they’re going to be altered. And even though they’re coming here unified, it’ll be almost impossible for them to stay together once they know what they know.
Marvel.com: The character combinations are going to be fascinating. You’ve also said that there is going to be a bigger cast in the book besides these main five, but their identities are currently under wraps, correct?
Brian Bendis: Yes. Fans of any team but particularly X-Men begin to do detective work to figure out who’s going to be on the team. I’d like to save some surprise for the fans, but know that not everyone is walking out of AvX in one piece. Those who do walk away in one piece will be part of this book. This book isn’t just going to focus on the experiences of the original five but how they change everything in the X-Men universe. There will be a lot of interaction with those who are around to interact with. I’ve already written quite a few issues and Stuart is on his third issue right now and it’s beautiful to look at.
Marvel.com: This is your third time working with artist Stuart Immonen, after ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and NEW AVENGERS.
Brian Bendis: He was my number one choice for the book.
Marvel.com: He’s a very diverse artist and he tends to bring a different energy and style to every book he works on. Can you give us any insight into which Stuart we're getting in ALL-NEW X-MEN?
Brian Bendis: When I thought about who we wanted for this, I thought it would be interesting if Stuart could bring what he brought to ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and NEW AVENGERS in one place together. [He’s using] that youthful exuberance and wide-eyed innocence that he brought to ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and the team energy and power that he brought to NEW AVENGERS all in one book. I was thrilled that he said yes! We’ve worked together quite a lot and I know that sometimes I and other [writers] push him with how much crap he has to draw on the page. He was just coming off FEAR ITSELF. Usually when people come off a big event they just want to draw a single character solo book. I was thrilled he loved the idea [for ALL-NEW X-MEN] so much that he jumped right in. He was one of the first people to hear my take and I was happy to know that he liked it. The book doesn’t have a Kirby-esque quality to it but a dual Immonen quality to it. It’s both of the worlds he has mastered on one page and it seems effortless. Each character has a different body language and texture to them and it’s drawn very well.
|The Avengers by Stuart Immonen|
Marvel.com: I’m excited to see what he’ll be doing with this book. You mentioned his experience with FEAR ITSELF. He drew most of the Marvel Universe there. Will we see the original five’s reactions to the wider Marvel Universe and vice versa?
Brian Bendis: Absolutely, and I know this is a frustrating idea for some, but I think the X-Men deserve to be a part of the Marvel Universe proper as much as humanly possible. I think it’s too easy to marginalize them into their own little corner of the Marvel U much like we usually do with the magic or cosmic [titles], but I think they serve better when they’re all in. When they’re hanging around the Avengers or teaming up with Spider-Man, it just makes the books seem more powerful when the characters are actually a part of the universe. I’ve invested a great deal of my life into the framework of Marvel Universe for the last eight years with Avengers, so I’d like to continue to pursue that from a different angle which the X-Men are going to allow.
Marvel.com: You really made the Marvel Universe more accessible to a wider audience, especially the forgotten bits of it. During your Avengers run you brought characters like Luke Cage, Spider-Woman, and many others into the limelight. Are there any X-Men characters you’re planning to give this treatment to?
Brian Bendis: Yes, but like Avengers, I’m not going to step in front of it and announce it. I’m just going to let it happen and see if anyone agrees with me. With Spider-Woman and Luke Cage, I just slipped them in there and people liked it. I’m going to need to prove it with my writing beforehand. For example, I’m not going to announce “Maggot is now cool!” and expect people to love him. It has to happen in the writing and most of the time it discovers itself in the writing. I didn’t realize Spider-Man and Luke Cage would be funny together until I started writing them together. The same thing is starting to happen with the X-characters and I’m just going to let it come naturally.
|Iceman & Angel|
In regards to accessibility, I’m hoping that this idea, though completely immersed in continuity porn, at its core is five new X-Men coming in and seeing the X-Men through wide eyes. There’s going to be a nice mix of continuity and accessibility. If you know the continuity it’ll all be there but if you’re coming in fresh with the five new X-Men, what fresher eyes could there possibly be? Hopefully, at least, it’s quite a balancing act since it’s literally a cast of hundreds of established characters that have web sites dedicated to them and hardcore fan-bases who have very specific ideas of what the character should or should not do and we’re going to touch on a lot of it.
Marvel.com: You’re also synonymous with these epic, character-defining runs. Your DAREDEVIL run, your record-breaking ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN run that’s still going, and the last eight years on AVEGNERS. Will that be the same case with ALL-NEW X-MEN?
Brian Bendis: I have an idea in front of me that has already given me a notebook full of ideas with which to write. That’s what a good run starts from and it feels really good. If the audience participates accordingly, then I will hunker down for longer. I’m also under contract for a while so I have to write something. I want to do an X-run. There’s something nice about knowing that I can’t beat Chris Claremont’s record [of 16 years writing the X-Men], so I can relax. I’ve already beaten Spider-Man’s record and the Avengers record so I’m going to write a lot of issues of X-Men and write a really big story that will amount to, hopefully, what I want it to be. I want people to look back on it and say “Yeah, I kind of liked that.”
Marvel.com: Finally, besides the original five roster, are there any obscure weirder rosters that could have been fun to try this with? The Australian Outback era, maybe?
Brian Bendis: It’s funny you ask that because this is the kind of idea we can only try once. I haven’t really thought of who else it could be, but I know this could only be an X-Men story. I’ve done some time travel stuff in Avengers and I have some more time travel stuff coming in other things, but this is idea is intrinsically X-Men. This wouldn’t work with Daredevil. It’s just something that feels like the X-Men. I will say that the idea of the space time continuum, I can’t give a finite answer without ruining anything, but I can say that anytime anyone abuses the continuum there is a butterfly effect felt around the galaxy. There is a galactic price tag, not just our time stream but it may be affecting something else and a price will be paid.
Marvel.com: I’m assuming from Jean Grey’s appearance in the Marvel NOW! teaser art by Joe Quesada that we’re seeing them really early in the original run? Do you have a specific point from which you grabbed them?
Brian Bendis: Yes, you’ll see in the book when exactly we grabbed them. I wanted them at the start when they aren’t as powerful as they become, but also when they’re focused on being a team. I didn’t want Jean to have her telepathy yet because she only had telekinesis at first. If she could read everyone’s minds it would take away [something]. It’s a very specific moment. [They are wearing the] original costumes and the fun is that, as X-Men fans, we know that they weren’t long for those costumes. The groovy Neal Adams 60’s costumes—those who know their X-Men know that they’ll change their costumes to become independent soon.
|Marvel NOW! teaser by Joe Quesada|
Marvel.com: Do you have any final words for the legions of X-Men fans out there that are still anxious about this premise?
Brian Bendis: As X-Men fans you should always remember that the X-Men are about acceptance and tolerance. I know that this idea is scary, but embrace Professor X’s ideas and be a bit more accepting and tolerant of the idea—and stop yelling at me. [Laughs] I think for fans young and old the best part is reading an issue and not knowing what’s going to happen after that. Just to have your fans sit back and enjoy the ride is fantastic.
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