The creative duo responsible for Jean Grey’s new team speaks out!
The newest X-Men series explodes on the scene in fiery red, signaling danger, destruction, and a desperate drive to save everyone on the planet, human and mutant alike. X-MEN: RED, brought to you by writer Tom Taylor and artist Mahmud Asrar, also provides a new home, mission, and team for one of the most beloved Marvel heroes of all, the newly-resurrected Jean Grey.
Marvel.com: Tom, overall, how exciting is it to be guiding the character of Jean Grey in this book? What does she mean to you as a writer and a fan?
Tom Taylor: She’s one of the original five. She’s right there on the cover to the very first X-Men book. She’s been at the center of some of the biggest stories ever seen in comics, with some of the greatest writers and artists behind her. So, to be asked to steer her new path is huge. I think Jean has been sorely missed. It’s often said Jean Grey is the heart of the X-Men. As a fan, I’m glad that heart is returning.
Marvel.com: Well-said. We hear Jean feels the anger and anxiety of the world in X-MEN: RED—what form does that take and how does the initial sense of it impact her?
Tom Taylor: Jean’s been gone a long time. When I set out to write this, I thought about what that would actually mean, showing up in this time and place. The world has changed so much. The advances in technology, the impacts of social media, the political, racial, and social division. Jean is stepping into it for the first time, as an incredibly powerful telepath, and someone who’s uniquely empathetic. What does this world feel like to someone like her? It feels afraid and angry. And Jean, being Jean, with the added burden of what she’s been part of as the Phoenix, she wants to do what all true heroes want to do. She wants to help. She wants to make the world a better place.
Marvel.com: Nightcrawler, Gambit, Namor, “Wolverine” Laura Kinney—the new team members are incredible. What are Jean’s parameters in gathering them, or is this a case where they seek her out?
Tom Taylor: I don’t want to spoil it, but part of this team comes together in the middle of something big as will be seen in issue #1. But they don’t all come together at once. There will be more members later down the line, as Jean needs them, or as they need her.
Marvel.com: Namor in particular seems to be a fascinating choice. How’s it feel to be handling literally Marvel’s oldest character?
Tom Taylor: Namor is a character who I’ve always been pretty fascinated with. I actually found drawings I did of him when I was very little, from 1980s repeats of the old 1960s Sub-Mariner cartoon. Why he shows up will be clear in X-MEN: RED #1 and his presence will be clearer as our story progresses. Some people will be aware of “The Deep” animated series, which I’m the co-creator of. Spending so much time writing in this environment has meant I’ve wanted to bring some of the deep sea to the X-Men too. You’ll see in the first pages that the ocean has a part to play.
Marvel.com: Who or what will be the team’s greatest hurdle? Anything you can say about the villain we hear is going to turn the heat up on Jean?
Tom Taylor: Nope. We’re definitely not revealing the villain now, but I will say that Jean is attempting to upset the Status Quo. And the Status Quo…well, it gets upset. Very upset. Prepare for some shocks.
Marvel.com: Okay, let’s try this—who is this Trinary character?
Tom Taylor: I’m not sure how much I can say, but I will say she’s a young mutant from India, and a powerful technopath. It feels like the right time to introduce a new technopath to the X-Men, and a technopath working in tandem with an Omega-level telepath creates some very big possibilities for X-MEN: RED.
Marvel.com: How will Wakandan mutant Gentle figure into the story? What kind of impact will he have on the over-arching mission?
Tom Taylor: Everything happens fairly organically in this series, and his introduction won’t be immediate. But he will have a very big part to play. Nezhno Abidemi has always felt a little underused for such an interesting character. He’s a placid soul who could potentially be as strong as the Hulk. But the stronger he gets, the more pain he finds himself in, which is partially the reason he’s hiding out in Wakanda and rejecting violence.
Marvel.com: And how does it feel to be working with Mahmud Asrar on the series?
Tom Taylor: Mahmud is just fantastic. I was already a fan of his art, and I was very happy when editor Mark Paniccia first suggested him. The pages coming in are as good as I could hope for. The action is there, but it’s the emotion that’s really getting me. He lifts the book every time he lifts his pen.
Marvel.com: Great! So, let’s turn it over to Mahmud to get his take on X-MEN: RED. Mahmud, what was the single most exciting thing about the book for you when you were first approached about it?
Mahmud Asrar: Jean Grey! I have always loved the character since the Dark Phoenix Saga times, which is also one of my favorite storylines. Getting to draw a returning Jean leading a new team of X-Men that I’m designing—couldn’t pass that up!
Marvel.com: Glad you mentioned the new costume designs—why a new look here?
Mahmud Asrar: There is a reason why the team is wearing new costumes, but I guess that should reveal itself in the story. The designs revolved around the initial look I came up with for Jean, which was inspired by her 1990s look mostly. To reflect the name of the team, I put red on her costume.
I like it when a team of super-characters have a unified look so when giving a new look to the others, I spun off from Jean’s look while retaining some of the elements of their own previous costumes or backgrounds. Laura is based quite a bit on Wolverine’s brown and orange look, while our new character Trinary, who’s from India, has a look that is inspired by the traditional sari. All the while I kept the “x” on the mid-section and gave a subtle “x” to all of the costumes.
Marvel.com: We bet the team’s new headquarters was fun to work on…
Mahmud Asrar: The new HQ’s design is mostly based on its environment and founders. It’s deep underwater and built with Atlantean technology and sensibilities. Plus, there is the brand new underwater Cerebro which Tom has dubbed the “Searebro” among ourselves. It’s going to be a unique base for our heroes that is probably one of the biggest ones ever, too, which has its reasons as well.
Marvel.com: You brought up Tom, so let’s go there: what’s he do as a writer that you as an artist love?
Mahmud Asrar: Tom is someone I truly admire for his skills as a writer and ability to weave stories. He is also a wonderfully nice person whose personality traits and world view I really appreciate. I feel that the writer that he is and the person that he is, is just a remarkable combination to tell an X-Men story. I’m very happy to be paired with him as I’ve been a lifelong X-Men fan. Finally we get to tell stories about some of our favorite characters in comics together.