Welcome, X-Fans, to another eXciting edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT! Well, as you’re no doubt aware, the Dawn of X is underway and reshaping the mutant corner of the Marvel Universe with each new issue. And while Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men series may be the X-Line’s flagship title, X-Force’s where the Krakoa-altering action’s at!
I mean, you did see that writer Benjamin Percy, artist Joshua Cassara and color artist Dean White assassinated Charles Xavier at the end of X-Force #1, right? What are they going to do next?
Hey, rather than speculating, let’s just ask Benjamin, who was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the first two issues of X-Force, as well as events to come.
AIPT: In House of X and Powers of X, Jonathan Hickman reassured us that mutants don’t die anymore. And then… you go and kill off the most important mutant on Krakoa at the end of X-Force #1. How did this idea come about?
Benjamin: First I said, “I’m gonna kill Xavier and there ain’t nothing you can do about it!” and then Hickman slapped me, and then I slapped him, and then he slapped me, and then Jordan White slapped both of us. This continued for hours.
In all seriousness, the X-Men crew is equivalent to a TV writers’ room. Yes, everyone’s working on their individual stories, but we’re telling a common narrative as well, so there’s no move that isn’t greenlit by the whole. We are on the X-Slack every day, s--t-talking, sharing photos for costumes, asking questions about characters, reading each other’s scripts and cross-pollinating our plot points.
Hickman reached out to me about X-Force in October of last year. And the first time we got together for a summit was January of 2019. I mention this because it’s important for people to understand how far ahead we are, how long we’ve been working on these stories. One of the things Hickman stressed from the beginning was this: we’re not in a rush. Let’s do this right.
So X-Force, for instance, doesn’t even exist when the Dawn of X begins. It still doesn’t exist as of the publication of this interview. What you’re seeing unfold right now is a kind of prelude that results in the creation not of a splinter group of badass mutants or a dark X-Men (or however X-Force has been treated in the past)—but a CIA for the mutant nation. That’s not something that happens overnight.
We all agreed that we needed something big and nation-shattering to happen. Our own (American) CIA didn’t exist until 1947, but large-scale spycraft began following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. So I suggested the equivalent: let’s bomb the Krakoan Pearl Harbor.
There’s also the big, hairy question of mutant death and resurrection. It all hinges on Xavier and Cerebro. We knew we needed to get this out of the way immediately, cementing the notion that we’re playing for keeps, that the plan is foolproof (I mean, unless _____ or _______ or ________ happens).
So the stakes of HIS death are markedly different than any other mutant death. Because if he dies, everyone effectively dies. The dream dies.
And here’s another side-channel of tension. The rest of the world doesn’t yet know about resurrection. So there’s a ticking clock as well. Even if things turn out well for Xavier, there’s a wrong way this could turn out. He better return—and return fast—before the public learns of his death. Or this could turn the tide against mutantkind. Humans will be much keener to unite and turn on Krakoa if they realize they’re dealing with immortals.
So this is a much different situation than your standard comics “death of the week” in which Hawkeye walks into a donut shop on page 19 and it explodes in a splash on page 20. We know not to give a s--t about that scenario. But we don’t know how to respond to Xavier’s assassination, because it’s so complicated in the many ways it could play out (mortality aside).
AIPT: So far, you’ve written some major X-Players like Logan, Hank and Jean, while also spotlighting lesser-used characters like Sage, Black Tom and Healer. Thanks to the new Krakoa status quo, you and your fellow X-Writers get to play with pretty much every mutant in X-Men history. As a writer, is the opportunity to put less iconic characters side by side with the A-Listers–and further develop them–appealing?
Benjamin: Hell yeah, it is. Joshua Cassara and I are having so much fun with the variant personalities and power dynamics. A-list characters are of course a joy to write (and draw), but sometimes the B- and C- and even D-listers have more flexibility and opportunities for growth. You can bring them into the spotlight in a way that hasn’t happened before. That’s the case for Black Tom (who many people spotted on the cover of the first issue and mistook for Doctor Strange and even… Dracula?)
AIPT: Speaking of Black Tom–how did he go from being a selfish villain to someone who cares deeply for Krakoa and its people? Also, is he going to be OK? I’m worried about him…
Benjamin: You should be worried about Black Tom. I’m worried about Black Tom. As the head of Krakoan security, he’s tapped into the floronic mainframe. The island’s nervous system is his own. Imagine some equivalent in surveillance. A guard who is watching 10,000 screens of footage at once, while spying on 10,000 phone conversations. You’d become super paranoid and maybe a little nutty. Black Tom is referring to himself as “we” for a reason. He and Krakoa are kinda sorta symbiotic right now. Which makes him one of the more important characters in the Dawn of X?
I can’t wait to show you what’s next for him… Josh and I have dreamed up some crazy plot turns and character growth.
AIPT: How did you decide to put Colossus in the position he’s in at the beginning of your story, and is it safe to say his current condition will end up giving us a very different Colossus than we’ve seen before?
Benjamin: We’ve got a big cast. That requires balance and smart pacing. I can’t put the attention on all of them simultaneously or that will thin out of the characterization and impact. So some of them (like Domino) have stories that come rushing to the fore. Others (like Colossus) are involved in slow-burn narratives.
I’ll just say that everything about Colossus is huge. That includes his narrative and emotional arc in X-Force.
AIPT: While on the topic of character changes, Xavier’s latest death seems to have really affected Jean. I’m thinking, specifically, of her “smart and swift and violent” line in X-Force #1. Is it safe to assume the events of X-Force #1–as well as Jean’s role on the Quiet Council–have shifted her outlook and priorities?
Benjamin: Everyone’s outlook and priorities have shifted. That’s the whole idea behind the Dawn of X. We’re shaking s--t up from top to bottom.
But if you take a look at the roster, you’ll notice a number of characters who operate easily in morally gray territory. Jean balances them out with her wisdom and good-heartedness. But she recognizes the peril of their current situation and knows that it’s time to bring down the hammer.
But she and Beast… they’re not always going to vibe on what’s right and wrong.
AIPT: I met you at NYCC this past October. Within seconds of talking to you, I could totally see how writing Wolverine comes easily to you. But you’ve since wowed me with your Kid Omega. What’s your approach to nailing Quire’s voice? How do you get in that obnoxious, know-it-all headspace?
Benjamin: He’s so much fun to write. I love that little hot garbage edgelord. Not only because he’s a pain in the ass—and a perfect foil to Logan—but because he’s actually one of the most powerful mutants on Krakoa. His potential is limited only by his arrogance.
I actually think that theater is an ideal background for a writer. And I performed in plays throughout high school and college (fun fact: I’ve starred as Dracula twice). I know this sounds a little corny, but I spend a lot of time in the headspace of my characters, thinking about (and even acting out) how they speak and make decisions and physically occupy a space. This applies to Kid Omega as much as it does to Beast or Sage.
AIPT: We’ve seen Dustin Weaver’s cover to X-Force #5. What exactly is Forge up to? What can you tease about… I’m guessing, the future of mutant combat?
Benjamin: Forge is to Dawn of X what Q is to James Bond. He’s down in the Armory, playing around with bio-engineering the most deliciously dangerous weapons you could imagine.
But as you’ll see… he’s not content to simply hide out in his workshop. He likes to get his hands dirty now and then. (Also: get ready for my favorite data page in Issue 4; Forge is the focus and I laughed my ass off writing it).
AIPT: There’s a great attention to detail in the series so far, and the visuals often do an excellent job of showing, not telling. In X-Force #2, for example, we see a close up of Wolverine‘s claws popping and then retracting. Simple images that say so much. Are these types of story beats things you and Joshua Cassara work out together?
Benjamin: Josh and I text, email or talk virtually every day. So sometimes I go, “Hey, what about this?” and sometimes he goes, “Hey, what about this?” And then we work together on figuring out the best way to play out the beat. A few months ago, he texted me a request. “So I really, really, really want to create______.” I loved the idea. I ran it by the group. Hickman gave it the thumbs up. So I’ve built a story around this concept of his. You’ll see it play out in Issue 9, and it’s going to be spectacular.
I hammer out pretty detailed scripts. Panel by panel, I’m seeing it unfold cinematically. The director’s cut of X-Force #1 is up on Comixology and shows you the standard way I write (though some of that script was redacted due to upcoming spoilers). So Wolverine popping his claws in and out, in and out—that’s in the script. But I always tell Josh: I trust your vision. Change anything. And he often does. Expanding panels, contracting panels. Changing the action slightly. He did something really cool and innovative with Forge’s battlesuit in X-Force #5 that changed the way we laid out a fight scene.
So basically it comes down to the two of us having a lot of respect for one another and constantly working together to tell the best possible story.
AIPT: How will your upcoming Wolverine series act in relation to X-Force? We’ve seen Jean in Adam Kubert’s preview pages. Do readers of one have to read the other to get the full story?
Benjamin: Yes and no. You’ll certainly get a fuller, deeper appreciation of Wolverine’s story if you read them both. But the series can be read on their own as well. A team book requires a turnstile of storytelling. Wolverine allows me to go deep into this character’s—my favorite character’s—consciousness and take him on a journey that will be one for the annals. But just as there is tonal variation in X-Force (a spotlight issue on Black Tom, for instance, will have a much different flavor than one focusing on Beast), so will there be elasticity in Wolverine. You’ll see that in the very first issue. It’s 60 pages. Two, 30-page stories. The one drawn by Adam Kubert kicks off a crime saga and has a kind of Michael Mann vibe. The other—drawn by Viktor Bogdanovic—is a more horror-tinged. Both introduce major new threats (and those threats are tied directly to Logan’s internal weakness and struggles).
AIPT: Finally, the new X-Era started out on such a positive note, and then you go and slaughter the peaceful residents of Krakoa and skin Domino. Tini’s mutants are learning about magic, Gerry’s mutants are partying around the world, Ed’s mutants are on wacky space adventures and there you are, tackling the heavy subjects. You’re basically the X-Force of Marvel’s X-Writers, aren’t you?
Benjamin: If you’re looking for mercy, don’t come to Percy. I’m hard-wired for darkness, man. But I’m always delivering mayhem with a smile.
AIPT: Love it. Benjamin, always a pleasure! X-Force #3 goes on sale this Wednesday, but in the meantime, how about a sneak peek at some Percy mayhem to come? Our first eXclusive reveal? The solicitation for Wolverine #2!
Written by BENJAMIN PERCY
Penciled by ADAM KUBERT
Cover by ADAM KUBERT
THE WORST IS BACK!
Wolverine has never been one to back down from a fight — not even a combined assault from Lady Deathstrike, Sabretooth and Doctor Cornelius — but the Flower Cartel might have enlisted his worst and greatest foe: Logan himself.
Scary stuff, X-Fans! Hard to top that, but maybe–just maybe–these eXclusive Wolverine and X-Force preview images will do. Check them out and, as always, have an eXceptional week!
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