Marc Guggenheim and Ardian Syaf go for the gold in a new X-Men series!
X-Men fans, grab a few more long boxes for 2017 because the Children of the Atom have returned, in tip top shape, to grab your attention and fill those cardboard receptacles.
It all begins with X-MEN GOLD, written by Marc Guggenheim and drawn by Ardian Syaf. Double shipping, the book seeks to return the mutants to their roles as super heroes and symbols of hope not just for their own kind but for all people. With Kitty Pryde back from space to lead the team and Rachel Grey taking on a new identity, change with a connection to the past seems the order of the day.
We discussed the return to form, the nature of mutant hatred in the 21st Century, and why Ardian Syaf has proven a perfect fit for the book with Guggenheim and editor Daniel Ketchum.
Marvel.com: Let’s start with the top of the team. Kitty Pryde has come back from space just in time to be a part of X-MEN GOLD. For you, what made her the entry point character?
Marc Guggenheim: Honestly, that’s a really good question. It was because she was my entry way into the book. The very first [X-Men comic] that I ever read was UNCANNY X-MEN #139 which was the “Welcome the X-Men, Kitty Pryde, hope you survive the experience” issue. In many ways, I kinda feel like I was Kitty. I’ve followed Kitty all these years and, you know, as I said in my pitch, I’m also a straight white Jewish man so I’m kind of, by law, required to be a fan of Kitty Pryde.
So, for me, it just made so much sense for Kitty to be part of the team. I actually wasn’t even certain she’d be returning from outer space, so my inclusion of her in my pitch was very much wishful thinking on my part.
Marvel.com: While we cannot reveal what happens in the storylines leading up to X-MEN GOLD’s launch, we can say that, in general, she arrives to find an X-Men team very different than the one she left behind. For Pryde, what is the emotional experience of reconnecting to this group when they are in this different place?
Marc Guggenheim: The way I’ve been approaching it, basically, is that it is like someone that returns home and goes to teach at the school that they used to be a student at. In the case of the X-Men, that’s somewhat literal too.
I think in the case of Kitty she looks at the X-Men and she sees all the challenges that they face and she sees all the things that they’ve gone through. But for her, she remains very confident—she has a lot of faith in the institution of the X-Men. For me, the most important thing is to help get the X-Men back to the type of team they used to be.
I don’t think it is spoiling anything to say that the X-Men are feeling a little bit of a setback in the wake of [Inhumans Vs. X-Men]. It’s Kitty that’s able to bring some hope back to the group and in many ways remind them of who they used to be.
Marvel.com: I took a quick look at the roster and it seems to be the core members of the team from GIANT-SIZE X-MEN from back when Len Wein and Dave Cockrum relaunched the book. I was wondering if that was at all intentional to have the team be made of a majority—Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine, albeit a different version of Wolverine version—from that era?
Marc Guggenheim: Like I said, I grew up with the post-“Death of Phoenix” X-Men essentially. I started with, really, the end of John Byrne’s run. With the exception of Rachel [Grey] and the fact that Logan is older, that’s all these X-Men.
Some experts say the music you listen to when you are 19 [or] 20 makes the biggest impression on you, I think the X-Men who were the X-Men when you first fell in love with the book are still the X-Men that are nearest and dearest to your heart. For me, that’s very much Colossus and Nightcrawler and Storm and Logan and Kitty.
It’s very intentional insofar as [editors] Dan [Ketchum] and Mark [Paniccia] were really terrific and basically said, “pick who you’d like to see on the team.” I got my first choice on every single category so that’s pretty amazing.
Marvel.com: Although they do harken back to a classic version of the team, they are decidedly much different than they were back then. What is the feeling of the team, what is the level or teamwork—what state are they in in terms of how they get along with each other at the start of this book?
Marc Guggenheim: To me what’s so much fun about the X-Men—and this has been the case for a great many years—is the rich backstory that all these characters share.
I don’t mean that in a “you have to read every issue of X-Men ever published in order to appreciate the book” way. It’s not that at all. It’s just you can feel a sense of history. I felt it even in UNCANNY X-MEN #139. I felt the prior history of all those issues—that’s the thing that makes these characters feel so three dimensional.
They have a personal history, in some cases a romantic history, and certainly a fighting history with each other. My goal going into this book was to acknowledge, to pay respect to those histories but also to recognize these people have been together a long time, they’re like a well-oiled machine and they all love each other. They’ve all had each other’s backs for a countless number of years at this point. It leads to a very positive book; it’s very much about looking to the future, being super heroes, and having a bright outlook.
Marvel.com: You alluded to this yourself: Rachel Grey does tend to be the outlier in this group. What were the creative motivations to include her? What made her a good member of the team?
Marc Guggenheim: Once I settled on Kitty, Nightcrawler, Logan, Colossus, and Storm, I wanted a sixth member to round out the team. I felt like I needed some more estrogen in the lineup and I was just thinking about X-Men that I like, especially women X-Men that I like. When I wrote the X-MEN arc for Dan I remember really, really enjoying writing for Rachel. There was something about that character that really clicked for me.
I think it is, in large part, the fact that she has this incredibly deep backstory that even extends into the future; obviously a very complex family and lineage. There’s so much there to mine.
At the same time, I thought even when I wrote Rachel [before] it was always steeped in her history. When you have such a rich backstory there’s always a temptation to find story in the past rather than looking to the future. The more I thought about that, the more I was intrigued to write Rachel in a way that allowed her to move past her past. That allowed her to take a step into the future.
It is an individualized version of what Kitty is trying to do with the entire [team], so thematically it really felt like it connected up. I thought, this will really be a positive thing for Rachel, for her to define herself outside of her family and her past.
X-Men Gold by Ardian Syaf
Then that dovetailed with another idea I had been kicking around: that it would be fun to have a member of the team with a new codename, a new look, a new mission statement. Not dissimilar to the way Chris Claremont made Carol Danvers [into] Binary for a time. I just like the idea of taking an established character and reinventing them. So I thought if anyone should be doing that, it should be Rachel who always seemed to define herself by her past, define herself by her family.
So we gave her a brand new costume and she’s got a new codename; she’s now called Prestige. It’s a name that has nothing to do with Jean Grey or her family history. It is sort of a blank slate for her to write her destiny on.
Marvel.com: You have a very long history with the X-MEN as a fan, but you also have a fairly lengthy history with them as a writer. For you, as a writer in 2016 starting this new book, what’s different for you? What have you learned, how do the characters feel different to you?
Marc Guggenheim: I think it was actually Dan when he called up to talk to me about the project [who mentioned] that I have written the X-Men a lot. I’ve written YOUNG X-MEN, I’ve written X-MEN, I’ve written WOLVERINE a bunch of times, and the X-TINCTION AGENDA tie-in for Secret Wars. But I’ve never had a chance to write the X-Men X-Men, you know. It is always an offshoot of the team or a solo book; this is sort of my first opportunity to write The X-Men- capital “T,” capital “X”—and that is super exciting and also incredibly daunting. In so many ways, this is probably the most important comic book assignment I’ve ever been given so I’m feeling a huge of amount of good pressure not to screw it up.
I think what is fortuitous is that I’m coming on to the X-Men at a time when they are a crossroads. Without spoiling the end of IvX, they definitely come out of the IvX with a decision to make. What type of future are the X-Men going to carve for themselves?
Here you have Kitty coming in being a new leader. It’s the first time this group of X-Men has been led by someone who isn’t Storm or Cyclops. The story we are telling very much mirrors what all the X-Men are going through coming out of IvX. Who are we? What’s our purpose? What’s our mission statement?
I know I’m going far afield of your question, but the book is very focused on the X-Men as super heroes, very much the way they were when I first fell in love with them. The whole raison d’être of the book is back to the basics so that’s what I’m trying to do?
Marvel.com: Many times in the X-Men’s history they’ve been one of, if the not the most important books at Marvel. At others, they’ve been very much on their own, disconnected from the larger Marvel Universe. With X-MEN GOLD, what is their relationship to the rest of the Marvel Universe? How connected will they be?
Marc Guggenheim: It’s definitely my intention to have the book reflect what is going on in the larger Marvel Universe. In fact, Dan and I were just talking about that other day.
I can’t talk about the post-IvX status quo but the nature of that status quo will put the X-Men front and center of the Marvel Universe, let me put it to you that way. The new status quo will very much almost literally make it impossible for the X-Men to be off on their own and to be ostracized.
At the same time, one of the first things I did when I sat down to think about the book, I thought about what does it mean to be a mutant? What does it mean to be prejudicial against mutants in the 21st Century in this world where you have Inhumans and Terrigen Mists and all these things that have happened to mutantkind over the years? What does it mean right now—if I’m an anti-mutant bigot, why am I a bigot? What is the company line for people that hate and fear mutants?
That is very much to be reflected in the book. That itself stems from things that are going on in the Marvel Universe. The mutants are not the only enhanced individuals these days so, to me, that makes the hatred of mutants very very specific.
Marvel.com: To speak to that, the villains you initially have the X-MEN GOLD team facing off against are a new Brotherhood. Can you speak to why you selected them and how they reflect that theme?
Marc Guggenheim: It’s a great question. In thinking about the first arc and the villains of the first arc, I thought about a lot of things. What was the tone I wanted to set? What’s the first story I want to tell? At the same time, I was thinking ahead to all the other arcs I needed the first arc to set up.
What I came down to was a very simple thing. If you’re the X-Men and you’re trying to chart this new course and remind the world that you’re not evil and that you’re super heroes—that you are functioning as super heroes, not just mutants—what would be the biggest challenge to that mission statement? I thought, it would be a group of evil mutants running around causing problems.
I thought about the Brotherhood in terms of—well maybe there’s a way to do the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, that really takes to heart the idea of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. That being said, there is a twist. Not everything is as it seems. But that’s the dynamic of the first issue.
Marvel.com: This may be pushing for too much, but can you reveal any members of the Brotherhood?
Marc Guggenheim: [Pauses] Yeah. Yeah. How about two?
Pyro and Avalanche.
And allow me to include, yes I am aware they are dead, just to stop people from tweeting at me.
Marvel.com: Artistically, how does Ardian Syaf fit with your vision for the book?
Marc Guggenheim: It looks spectacular!
I can’t even express how joyful seeing Ardian’s pages make me. Ardian is such a perfect bit of casting for this book because I am trying to hearken back to a kind of back to basics old school version of the X-Men while still doing it in a 21st Century 2016 kind of way. Daniel, God bless him, has found an artist who feels incredibly new and modern but has this clean line and great old school sensibility.
In many ways, I say if you want to know what approach I’m taking in the writing all you need to do is look at Ardian’s pencils.
Marvel.com: If anyone is not quite sure if they want to buy X-MEN GOLD what might you tell them?
Daniel Ketchum: I think it wasn’t lost on us that over the past couple years, a lot of people thought we put X-Men in the corner. I think we went out wanting to tell cool stories. We knew we wanted to tell the story of the X-Men coming into conflict with the Inhumans and we leaned into that. But I think one of the side effects was people thought, “Oh Terrigen Mists are going to be the end of the X-Men,” and I think we acknowledge that and say, “No, no, the X-Men aren’t going anywhere. There are a lot of X-Men fans into the halls of Marvel.” This is a return.
X-Men also got me into comics and this is what I would want X-Men to be. Big, beautiful, X-Men as super heroes. Marc is just nailing it. It’s so good. And, as he said, Ardian too. What’s also great is that between X-MEN GOLD and X-MEN BLUE, there’s going to be a lot of story to dig into. It’s gonna be weekly: an issue of GOLD, an issue of BLUE, an issue of GOLD, an issue of BLUE. It’s gonna be big awesome X-Men adventures.
Marc Guggenheim: It really is an old school X-Men book written by a life-long X-Men fan.
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