Before we could welcome Jonathan Hickman’s House of X and Powers of X, we had to say goodbye to everything that came before. That responsibility fell on writer Matthew Rosenberg and a talented team of artistic collaborators. Of course, goodbyes are never easy. And in the case of the long goodbye that began in Uncanny X-Men #11 and concluded in Uncanny X-Men #22, they can be particularly brutal.
As Rosenberg and X-Fans quickly learned, this goodbye was going to be everything but quick and painless.
But just because the Hickman era is well underway doesn’t mean the questions around Rosenberg’s run magically disappear. At least, not for me. That’s why I asked the writer to sit down for a deep dive into some of his story’s most controversial moments on day one of FAN EXPO Boston, which was almost exactly one year after we first met and chatted at the same convention one year earlier.
AiPT!: To say a lot happened in your Uncanny X-Men run would be an understatement. But at the end of the day, the two themes that resonated with me the most were “love” and “death.” Let’s start with love. Was the decision to reunite Scott Summers and Jean Grey at the end of Uncanny X-Men #22 something you were building toward since Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey?
Matthew Rosenberg: Yeah, I can’t say I planned it because that would imply I knew I would be allowed to do it, which I definitely didn’t. But it was a wish all the way back then to actually fulfill the promise of that. A big thing though that is funny, that I don’t think people pick up on because it’s not really that present, but when I did Phoenix Resurrection, my hope at the end of it was that we get a Jean without a Scott and without a Phoenix and get a Jean book because she’s so overshadowed by her love interests and her giant space bird possession. I was like, she’s a great character and she hasn’t been that character–we haven’t let her be Jean in so long.
And then Tom Taylor did that book in Red. It was not what I would have done but it was exactly what I wanted. But I did want to bring them together at a certain point and not necessarily under the theory they stay together after that, but they’re long-lost lovers reunited. There’s a moment there. They have a lot to work out. I thinks Scott and Emma have a lot to work out, but I think that moment is something people really reacted to because it’s an honest moment that fans expect. I think all the writers that came before me laid the groundwork for it.
AiPT!: Despite all that came before it, I felt that kiss was definitely an uplifting–and triumphant–moment.
Rosenberg: Yeah, I hope so, but it’s of course hinged in the sadness of Wolverine and Emma in the moment too.
AiPT!: Well, I was going to ask about that. Was including Logan and Emma a deliberate move to put all the love triangles to rest once and for all?
Rosenberg: No, no. Kind of the opposite actually. I wanted to acknowledge it–the love triangle… the love trapezoid, as it were. We were very deliberate in not having Jean and Scott fly off holding hands. They have a kiss and then everybody has couples therapy after that. It’s sort of the subtext I wanted. This isn’t the answer. These are people with real lives and people who mean a lot to each other and things aren’t just solved by a kiss or broken by a kiss. It’s a lot more complicated than that and that’s why I thought it was important to have Emma in there. I don’t know if I’ll ever write X-Men again. I don’t know if I need to, but I would hope that Scott and Emma–it’s a great relationship. It’s a super fascinating relationship that I love. I would hope that in the future, it comes back in some form and it is discussed and we can live in that world and what it means for Jean. Yeah, no, that was not meant for there to be finality.
AiPT!: I feel like a lot of fans of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men and the stories that came after it view it as proof that Scott and Jean shouldn’t be a couple. What, in your opinion, makes them a good X-Couple?
Rosenberg: Uh, it’s the X-Men. It’s a soap opera. I don’t think they’re a good couple. I think they’re a couple I like reading about. When you marry someone’s clone, I can’t say that’s a great relationship. I think they’re a fascinating couple because they grew up together, because they experienced so much together, because of their history, because of the different paths they’ve taken in just what it means to be an X-Man is really fascinating.
Ideally–and this is going to come off in a gross way–but like, the relationship between Scott and Jean is obviously romantic. But I like to think the Original 5 have some version of that for all of them. If they’re not lovers, they’re siblings and like, Jean’s relationship with Warren is a version of that. Hank’s relationship with Scott is a version of it. I would never be like, Hank and Scott are great best friends, but they’re best friends that I love and I love seeing them be best friends and I love seeing them fall out. That to me is what the X-Men is–the roller coaster of the soap opera. That’s what my favorite runs are–that are the heartbreak and their rebuilding.
AiPT!: OK, now let’s talk about all the death. How did you decide who should die in your run and who should live?
Rosenberg: Uh, it was mostly based on Twitter polls. No, it was different based on different things. Some of it is based on who was needed where. There were a lot of other X-Men writers working on things. I worked with all of them to see who needed what where, who other people needed, where they needed them. Some of it was about my favorites and I don’t think I’m telling tales out of school now if I say what Jonathan Hickman is doing in X-Men is a radical reimagining and I love it so much. It’s great, but I think everyone understands it’s a new era of X-Men, so this was me saying goodbye to another era. It was Magik and Havok and Cyclops and Wolfsbane and some of those are my favorite characters since I was a kid and this was me and the creative team and Editorial saying goodbye to them. And it’s not goodbye forever, but it’s goodbye to an era. So that was part of it–it’s a loving farewell.
AiPT!: Magik and Havok are two of your favorite characters. What was it like literally killing your darlings?
Rosenberg: I would argue that Magik is not necessarily dead…
AiPT!: Oh, that’s right–sorry!
Rosenberg: But I’ve had people convincingly be like, she’s definitely dead. She’s not… I couldn’t say for sure she’s alive either…
AiPT!: Either way, she’s not doing so hot.
Rosenberg: Yeah, she’s not in a good place. It was really, really hard. Those were the two things I knew early on I was going to do and I dreaded doing the Havok scene, in particular. I wrote it longer and had to cut it for space and a couple other things, but the Havok scene… I took a day off after I wrote that.
It was really, really awful to write. Yeah, without getting too personal, my entire run, I was dealing with a person who was very close to me dying, so a lot of it was me processing that in some ways.
AiPT!: I’m sorry to hear that.
Rosenberg: I don’t know, I sort of have trouble talking about it. When I grew up, I imagined I was Havok and my brother was Cyclops and that was my family. Saying goodbye to Havok… and I’m not naive and I know we will see him again…
AiPT!: He’s on my phone background… [Shows phone screen]
Rosenberg: Oh, there he is. Yeah, welcome back, Alex! Yeah, I know what’s coming. I knew what was coming, but still I wanted to write it as visceral and awful as I think it should be. Ironically, the argument I made at the time was a Jonathan Hickman argument. There was an interview with Jonathan where he talked about killing the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four. And in the interview, he was asked like, no one really thinks the Fantastic Four is going to be dead. He said, but I’m not writing a story about the people reading the book. I’m writing a story about the people who live in the book, and to them, it’s real. And to them, it’s honest. So that was, you know, I was living in the book at the time and was writing everyone else living in the book. It was Scott powering through getting his brother killed and doing it in the stoic Scott way that is not really emotionally available. This is a rambling answer–it was really hard to do. It was rough.
AiPT!: And yet Scott always finds time to make out with a redhead.
Rosenberg: Yeah I mean, you know, how long you going to mourn? Guy died an hour ago.
AiPT!: Obviously, a lot of readers reacted very vocally to the many twists and turns in your run. When you were a young comics fan, were there ever times when the X-Men made you upset?
Rosenberg: Yeah, I think for me as a kid, I was upset all the time. The X-Men was always making me cry. “Mutant Massacre,” “X-Tinction Agenda,” the Outback stuff–it’s brutal, it’s awful and they’re characters I love and it made me sad and it made me angry. And then they come out of it and they persevere and I love it and that’s why I love the X-Men, because they go to the depths no other books go to and they come out on top. I mean, the Avengers don’t deal with this s--t. I love the Avengers, but come on.
AiPT!: What moment in your run are you most proud of?
Rosenberg: Ironically, the moment I’m most proud of is not necessarily with my favorite characters. It’s not a Havok moment or a Magik moment or a Jean moment. It’s in Uncanny X-Men #11, when Wolverine shows up to fight side by side with Cyclops that I had been waiting to write since I was a little kid. I’m still shocked I got to write it. I remember talking to Jordan White. He said at the end, it’s really important after the fight, you have to give them time to talk and catch up. These are two guys that died and came back and haven’t been friends for more than a decade. You have to make sure that scene has space and weight and I turned it in and they just say each other’s names and nod and Wolverine says, let’s get to work. Yeah, I was really happy with that scene and whole issue. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve written at Marvel.
AiPT!: And visually, that scene is amazing.
Rosenberg: Yeah, it’s gorgeous.
AiPT!: So, this Uncanny X-Men run is forever… but if you could change one thing, what would it be?
Rosenberg: Oh, I mean that’s easy–the reaction I got for the Wolfsbane killing is not what we intended. I said at the time, it’s never our intention to hurt people with our art.
We’re telling upsetting stories and I took something from a real-life experience that was not my life experience–it was also not the life experience that other people have had, but it rang really real to a bunch of people and it was very upsetting and it seemed like I was capitalizing on other people’s pain and suffering in a way that’s revolting and unpleasant. It was an accident. It was not our intention and yeah, that was a really unfortunate thing to happen. I like the issue. I stand behind the idea of it. We were hurt a little bit by War of the Realms coming out of order, so you don’t understand that Wolfsbane’s family is dead and she can be reunited with them and she sort of is giving up her family by being alive. There’s this sort of different dark undertone and she’s just done with all of it.
I think it’s a powerful issue. I think it was drawn well, but we stumbled onto something that we didn’t mean to and it hurt people and that’s awful… the worst feeling of my professional career and maybe my life.
AiPT!: I know all of that isn’t easy to talk about, so I appreciate your honesty. Changing gears, and going back to just before your Uncanny X-Men run began–you’ve said you knew what Jonathan was working on before the public… so was the Astonishing X-Men Annual featuring X written with knowledge of what was coming in House of X and Powers of X?
Rosenberg: Um, yes… but I didn’t know details and I had more plans for X and those had to be shelved. I think the Marvel Universe is better for it. I think Jonathan’s plans are brilliant and I’m so excited. It’s only unusual that Marvel tends to work a little more linear. You set something up, then someone else runs with it. This was working backwards in some ways because Jonathan was ahead of us, so we were building things and then finding out he was already building in front of us. But that’s the job, and yeah, my plans for X–I’m happy with that annual and I’m happy we didn’t go forward with what we were going to do.
AiPT!: I loved that annual. It’s one of my favorite X-Men comics you wrote.
Rosenberg: Thank you.
AiPT!: I loved how mischievous and reckless X was–just erasing memories on a whim and so on. In your opinion, was X a villain in that story?
Rosenberg: No, but I think, you know, my take is that he’s come back. He’s been reborn in a way in Charles Soule’s run and he’s sort of shed some of the refineries he’s picked up. He’s just sort of a more no-bullshit guy. So he’s doing things he’s always done, but he’s always couched them in a very fatherly way and that fatherly set dressing is gone now. You sit down and tell the kids, yeah, you were always going to be soldiers, there was always a war–sorry. I don’t think he’s a villain at all. I think he’s trying to save the world, but he has a bluntness to him thats off-putting.
AiPT!: Finally, you touched on this earlier, but have you said everything you wanted to say about the X-Men, or are there always more stories to tell?
Rosenberg: I think about the X-Men all the time. I always have more stuff to tell, but I have other stuff I want to do. I scratched that itch, as it were, and maybe in 10 years I’ll come back and do a little thing here and there. I mean, I ate at that same restaurant for three years and it was awesome and it was the best meals of my life, but I’m excited to see what else is out there. I’m working on a bunch of stuff at Marvel I’m incredibly excited about, so yeah, I’d never say never, but I’m not trying to do X-Men stuff right now. I think life is more fun when you mix things up.
AiPT!: Thank you for your time, Matthew, and thank you for all the X-Men stories!