Marc Guggenheim sends the squad on a trip to the Negative Zone!
No rest for the weary—on November 22, “The Negative Zone War” starts to simmer.
Having teamed up with their Blue counterparts to take on all comers in the “Mojo Worldwide” storyline, the groups parted ways again—and now the Gold faction of mutants have started gearing up for a perilous journey to the planet Dartayus. Next month, writer Marc Guggenheim and artist Lan Medina prepare to send the crew to the infamous Negative Zone in X-MEN: GOLD #16!
We spoke with Guggenheim about the long road ahead.
Marvel.com: What drew you to the Negative Zone as the setting for this story?
Marc Guggenheim: You know, back when I first started breaking out X-MEN: GOLD, I knew I wanted to do a story that evoked the great “X-Men in Space” stories that I grew up reading and loving. I loved the “Brood Saga” and “Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire,” and I definitely wanted to do one of those stories.
At the same time, no one can top those stories, so as I started to think about other space-like venues, the Negative Zone occurred to me, just as something that makes things a little different. I’m a big FANTASTIC FOUR fan—and a big fan of the Negative Zone—and I just thought, “Oh, I’ve never seen that before. That might be interesting.”
That said, we do go to the Negative Zone but we do not meet the normal denizens of it. Annihulus and Blastaar do not appear in this particular arc.
But it feels like an interesting environment, the planet of Dartayus. It actually got its name from one of the visual effects artists that I work with on a television show that I produce.
Marvel.com: Ha! How’d that happen?
Marc Guggenheim: I always review the visual effects. I get the visual effects basically as separate shots and each shot has a title card and it indicates the name of the artist. I saw Dartayus and I thought, “There’s no way that’s a real name.” But, real or not, I thought, “I have to steal this for something.”
So thank you Dartayus, I really appreciate being able to use your name.
We get a chance to introduce the readers and the X-Men to a brand new planet, a brand new culture. I love to play with all the toys in the toy box, but at the same time I like to occasionally add some toys of my own.
In the case of Dartayus, we actually got a glimpse of it in X-MEN: GOLD #12. In that issue, we see the events from the perspective of Kologoth, this mutant who comes from planet Dartayus. In fact, if everything goes as planned, issue #12 will be published in the same trade paperback as issues #16 through #20, which constitute the whole of “The Negative Zone War.”
Marvel.com: Working with the artist Len Medina, how did you realize the look of the Zone and the planet? How does it look similar to, or different from, the Negative Zone we’ve seen before?
Marc Guggenheim: I have to say, the Dartayians came from four different artists. Adrian Syaf designed Kologoth. Luke Ross, the artist for issue #12, came up with the look of the Dartayian military and a lot of the iconography of the populace. Lan Medina designed their ships. Ken Lashley, finally, crafted a character who acts as basically a god of Dartayus, called Scythian. It became a real labor of love for four separate artists, all contributing different elements to the design of this whole Dartayian world.
It feels really cool—if it takes a village to raise a kid, it takes four artists to create a planet.
Marvel.com: You mentioned Ken Lashley—he illustrated the cover for issue #16, which shows some great new uniforms. Did Ken create them himself? Did you two collaborate on that?
Marc Guggenheim: It came about out of a couple of different things.
Editor Mark Paniccia had planted a seed in my head that maybe at some point all the Gold members get the same costume; we go back to the original X-Men uniform conceit. It ended up falling away for a variety of different reasons but it always sort of stuck with me.
This happens in issue #17—in true comic book fashion, you get a glimpse of the new costumes on the cover before you see them in continuity—when the X-Men go to the Negative Zone. When they go to Dartayus, the seed that Mark planted sprouted in my head as this notion of, “You know, it could be interesting if they had these special uniforms to function in the Negative Zone.”
So with that idea in mind, we handed it over to Ken who, in great Ken Lashley fashion, came up with a wonderful design that feels new and iconic, but not overwrought. I am very partial to clean, gimmick-less costume concepts and I thought Ken came up with something really, really cool.
Then, colorist Frank Martin developed a color scheme that, again, felt very timeless and original. That red looks really stark; it’s not really a color that you usually associate with the X-Men, so that feels really cool.
It was also, quite frankly, a really sneaky way to get Old Man Logan into a costume.
Marvel.com: So most of issue #16 takes place on Earth before they head to Dartayus.
Marc Guggenheim: Yes, X-MEN: GOLD #16 takes place all on Earth and then in #17 we go to the Negative Zone—spoiler alert.
Marvel.com: This book will also deal with the Mutant Deportation Act, which has been a story element for a few issues now. Given that the X-Men have always reflected and commented on the real world, did you aim for that effect with this facet of the series?
Marc Guggenheim: You know, I’ll be honest, there’s this sort of undercurrent of fan reaction—not just limited to comics, I see this in television all the time—of “Don’t get into politics, I just want to be entertained,” or “Don’t have your stories reflect what’s going on in the world, we just want to be entertained.”
I have a fundamental problem with that. In large part because I came of age in a time when television shows dealt with the issues of the day and comic books, quite frankly, dealt with the issues of the day. As a young kid, that’s how I learned about that stuff. I didn’t read the New York Times; I read UNCANNY X-MEN. I think some of the stories that Chris Claremont wrote dealing with racism—not just in Uncanny, but also in NEW MUTANTS—were profound. They really helped shape my thoughts on the subject. I kind of feel like when someone says, “We just want to be entertained. Keep real life events out of your work, out of anyone’s work,” that’s really lowering the discourse.
If I do my job correctly, the people that want to be solely entertained will be entertained. I’m not getting on any sort of soapbox in my writing. Theoretically, the politics should be like the adult humor in Pixar films—if you’re an adult, you get the reference. That’s an extra layer—that goes right over a kid’s head, but they still enjoy the movie.
I will say—that being said—on one page in issue #16, Kitty confronts Lydia Nance, who, throughout the book, has been, basically, an anti-mutant bigot. I’ll be paraphrasing my own writing here, but Kitty says, “Can you just clear something up for me? It is all I can do just to get up in the morning and go about my day and live my life. I don’t understand how people can find the time, quite frankly, to be bigoted. To find the emotional energy to be bigoted. Isn’t just living your life enough without getting into how everyone else lives their lives? Or who they are? Or how they were born? Don’t you have bigger things in your own insular life to deal with?”
I was basically speaking for myself through Kitty, but I don’t think that would be a particularly divisive or even revelatory point of view. I think, at the end of the day, you are right: no matter what era, the X-Men have always been about divisiveness versus inclusion. I think if you do an X-MEN book without that, it’s like doing a FANTASTIC FOUR book without the wonder. Or a SPIDER-MAN book without the humor. You’d lose a critical element of what makes the X-Men the X-Men.
Marvel.com: Any closing thoughts to leave readers with?
Marc Guggenheim: I have to say, I’m really excited about #16. It became one of those issues that felt like, for me, everything came together as a writer.
I think one of the challenges you face as a writer can be balancing—in 20 pages—subplots and character development and action. I just felt very pleased. I hate interviews where the writer just pats themselves on the back, but this issue felt like everything just came together from a writing perspective.
Then Lan came in and I just felt like he leveled up his art. It already looked really, really good, but some pages in issue #16 are simply stunning. One of the nice things about having rotating artists on X-MEN: GOLD has been that, despite the rotation, these artists are not doing their first issue; they’ve been doing the books for a little while now. Lan has been a great example of someone who drew on X-MEN: GOLD before, then came back in and just seems like, “Oh yeah, I got this.”
Prepare to return to the Negative Zone with X-MEN: GOLD #16, by Marc Guggenheim and artist Lan Medina, on November 22!