By Kiel Phegley
Since he pulls quadruple duty in the Marvel U, we figured Matt Fraction deserves at least two days of Q&A.
Over the past two years, Fraction has gone from a relative unknown with Marvel fans to one of the company's most idiosyncratic talents, crafting everything from character-redefining runs like IMMORTAL IRON FIST to cutting edge team books like THE ORDER. Currently, the scribe flies solo on the upcoming SECRET INVASION: THOR and INVINCIBLE IRON MAN while co-writing UNCANNY X-MEN with IRON FIST partner Ed Brubaker and PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL with up-and-comer Rick Remender.
Today, Marvel.com kicks a special two-part "Twosday" Q&A by picking Fraction's brain on secret plotlines will drive the next three years of X-stories as well as how he feels about his eventual departure from the life of Frank Castle. And be sure to check back tomorrow for the second installment covering the Skrull-bound exploits of Fraction's founding Avengers titles.
Marvel.com: The label that's uniting all the X-books these days is "Manifest Destiny." Do you feel that UNCANNY X-MEN is leading that charge with its San Francisco expansion and is San Fran a location that will live up to the team's expectations in the long run?
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They're [there] for a while. They're not going home in three months. We figured that after M-Day and after "Messiah [Complex]," this is really the end game. This is it. It's time to stop living in the giant X-shaped mansion that lets the bad guys know where to shoot the missiles. There are a couple of game changers happening here, and that's one of them. So it's real, and as things progress through these first couple of arcs and the ever popular fires of anti-mutant hysteria get stoked, San Francisco will continue to embrace them. They've really found a place.
Is it a permanent change? I can't say, but it's not stunt casting. They're here for awhile. And it made a lot of sense story wise. Looking at the history of the city and the layout of the current Marvel Universe—internally, externally, all around—it just felt right. It felt exciting. And it connects them to people instead of keeping them hermetically sealed in, like I said, a giant, target-shaped mansion. [Laughs
Marvel.com: On the plot side, you introduced a few heavy teases in issue #500. First of all, I wanted to ask about the x-factor of the High Evolutionary. In the past, he's kept his work removed from the evolution of humans into mutants and instead focused on animal life. Why would he now team with Magneto, and how much can readers really trust that he's working on behalf of mutants?
Well, I don't want to blow too much because clearly, with #500 we wanted to get away from "Messiah" and the "Divided We Stand" stuff and tell a fun, self-contained adventure. But at the same time, we're planting a lot of seeds for the foreseeable future, and the High Evolutionary is a big one. Beast approached him during "Endangered Species" for help, so the question really is, "What could have Magneto possibly said that Beast didn't to woo High Evolutionary?" And the answer to that is exactly what we're supposed to be wondering. What are they up to? How and why and what brought them together? Those are all solutions we're building to answer, and I think it's really exciting. There are a lot of cool stories to be told. And he's a guy who specializes in evolution, and the evolution on Earth has been halted, so there's definitely an enigma there for someone like him to solve.
Marvel.com: For Magneto's part, his characterization has flipped back and forth a bit over the past few years between the sympathetic warrior willing to do anything for his cause and the kind of pathetic old man who is out of touch with today's culture. Cyclops seems to call him out on the latter in #500, but where do you see Magneto at these days?
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The thing is that we got to see him as both. We got to see him as this hoary clichéd super villain, which is really an act. The powers were an act. The mission was an act. He was a decoy. We had the fun as writers to write the old "Mu hu ha ha!" style character, but then you saw him with High Evolutionary as much more of the Magneto we see now. I view him as nothing less than noble. Whether or not I agree with him all the time is a different story, but the kind of the lightning-charged villain we saw in San Francisco isn't who he really is, and I think that is the level that Scott was trying to reach out to him at.
But Magneto has a plan. He's like the Cylons [from "Battlestar Galactica"]. [Laughs
] I think what's very telling about Scott more than Magneto is that Magneto was able to push Scott's buttons the way he did. As Scott said, "This guy's been trying to kill me since I was 17." Maybe he exploited that. Maybe Magneto needed the X-Men's attention to be on him and not on what the High Evolutionary was up to in the park. I think it worked. And then seeing them together at the end—that's the real Magneto. There are a handful of mutants direly trying to preserve mutant kind, and Magneto's one of them.
Marvel.com: One of the keystones of Cyclops' personality over the years has been that he's a great adventuresome leader but he's also wracked with self doubt. He shed a lot of that during "Messiah Complex," but it's very hard to shake those character traits for good.
Sure. You're never going to forget the first guy to beat your ass. It's like how you're never going to be able to whoop your own dad. Scott is a terrific character to write right now because of who he is and where he's at, because of his relationship with Emma and everything. He's a lot of fun, and it was cool to take that new sense of confidence and smash it against Magneto in his classic mold and watch Scott loose it a little bit.
Marvel.com: The other major tease is the idea of the Hellfire Cult coming after mutants in San Fran. Are these kids connected to the original Club in any way, or are they just misappropriating the name and symbols for thug justice?
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Well, that was [original Hellions member] Empath in the van with them, and they got those masks from somewhere. So there are connections. They're the tip of a very long sword. Again, more would be revealed. You're asking the questions that in #501 we can start answering.
Marvel.com: And is there a way where we'll be seeing a super story where those guys and Gee and the High Evolutionary will all be tying up together?
Yeah. There's a very detailed roadmap. We have a plan. We're not improvising month in and month out. One story leads to the next, and it's really big. We wanted to close the book on the old stuff, have a fun adventure story that had stuff exploding and X-Men being X-Men for old times sake to celebrate the spirit of those 500 issues and then set off on a new destination.
Marvel.com: A lot of interviews I've seen with you and Ed Brubaker have focused on your love and respect of some of the classic X-Men material from the '70s with nods to bringing back soap opera elements to the story…
But rather than free wheeling, improvisational soap opera, we know where we're headed. I think the biggest mistake of those books as it became clear was that there were more hats than rabbits. We really tried to get back to the spirit of that with more of a modern focus. We've got end points. We've got plots building. We're really charting a destination for almost three years from now, if not longer. It gets sketchier the further down the line you go, but there are very specific destinations we're heading towards.
Marvel.com: Let's talk about the current state of your writing relationship with Ed. For the past year or so, I've seen him praising your work on IMMORTAL IRON FIST and referring to himself as a consultant on the title more than a straight co-writer. Are you guys sharing the load a little more evenly with UNCANNY? Was it more work than you expected?
[On UNCANNY] we've plotted together, and then we handed off arcs. "You're going to write these issues, and I'm going to write those issues independently, and then we'll share with each other." It's much more like independent co-writing. We're in a car, and we've decided to drive to Chicago, and sometimes I have the wheel, and sometimes Ed has the wheel. But we've mutually decided on the route together. It's like that where as with IRON FIST, he was always the straw that stirred the drink to mix metaphors.
Marvel.com: On maybe the exact flipside of the Marvel Universe, you've got your other collaborative project with Rick Remender co-writing PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL. How has it been different working with Rick than it is with Ed now that you're a few issues into the book as a team?
Well, I think Marvel had gotten a little worried that I'd bitten off more than I could chew. I'd gotten to a point where I was in the final stretch of my WAR JOURNAL arc that was very much a master plan that fits together, so I couldn't leave it. And when Ed and David [Aja] left IRON FIST, I had to leave as well. Rick was a friend, and I love his writing and love his books, and I just needed a hand basically, but I was so far gone that I couldn't leave because it would be basically leaving a mess for someone to clean up.
He came in, and we broke out the last eight of nine issues of my run together and handed it back and forth perpetually trying to one up each other. He's great, and I think his run on WAR JOURNAL will be leaps better than my own. He's really got a feel for it in some ways which I don't think I ever got. And this "Jigsaw" arc is as good as it's been. I think it's the best [story] I've ever done on WAR JOURNAL, but that's because of Rick and he and I trying to out write each other.
Marvel.com: So is this going to be your final arc on this book with Rick going solo after it's done?
After "Jigsaw" there's the two-part Secret Invasion stuff and then a one-issue story after that. So those are my last three, and then I believe that the plan is that Rick will take over.
Marvel.com: One of the original statements for WAR JOURNAL was that this would be Punisher squarely in the Marvel U gunning for super villains, although I must admit, I didn't expect to see folks like Silver Sable and the Hand in the Jigsaw arc. Early talk on the story and the characters involved made me think it would have more of a crime comic feel…
There's no reason to do a crime-heavy Marvel Universe Punisher book because then it's just going to be the MAX book light. It's got to be super villains, or you're going to lose that fight. This has got to be the book where Punisher fights the Rhino.
Marvel.com: But does keeping this wild group of super powered characters in the mix make it harder for you to keep the story focused on that classic tough guy back and forth between Frank and Jigsaw?
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If there's anything that's been like a mission statement for the book and what we're really talking about, Jigsaw personifies that. And moving towards this arc too, I knew from very early on—really from the day I started—that it was all going to come to a head with Jigsaw. All the themes the book is about would come out here. So it's actually been right on target.
Punisher is a strange character in a lot of ways because who he is and what he does—how does that fit into a world with Spider-Man? And Jigsaw is kind of the perfect mirror to reflect that. Frank ostensibly is working for the public good. While one may despise his methods, a guy who murders a rapist is one thing. A villain who murders cops is another thing. There's a Venn diagram between superhero and vigilante, and Punisher falls right in between that. Jigsaw was the perfect villain to really bring all that stuff home.
Marvel.com: This arc has really been brutal on poor Frank. Will he get a moment to recuperate in issue #22 before the final throw down?
I don't want to blow where the story goes, and that would really be blowing some stuff. But this is the arc where Frank gets the crap kicked out of him. It's been a theme since the beginning where he doesn't take the super hero stuff as seriously as he takes the criminal stuff, the mafia stuff, the street crime stuff. There is a level of ridiculousness that Frank has trouble with, and this is the arc where those chickens come home to roost. But yeah…there's been an awful lot of punishment for Frank in this one.
Check back here tomorrow for Matt's thoughts on INVINCIBLE IRON MAN and SECRET INVASION: THOR, but head over to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited right now to check out his work!