Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
And no, your eyes aren’t deceiving you–Nate Grey has indeed taken over X-Men Monday and transformed it into X-MAN MONDAY!
Hm… you’ve made some questionable decisions, Nate… but you probably wouldn’t suggest we inject bleach into our bodies, so sure–have at it!
Seriously, though, I can’t believe it took me 56 editions of X-Men Monday to swap out a single letter and create an excuse for critically acclaimed writers–and Age of X-Man architects–Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson to swing by and chat about all things Nate Grey. And considering X-Man created a world where social distancing was the norm, there’s really no better time to revisit Lonnie and Zac’s X-Men event… and have some fun at Nate’s expense.
AIPT: Welcome back to X-Men Monday, guys! So, in the Age of X-Man, Nate Grey created a world where romantic relationships were forbidden and people were encouraged to be content with themselves as they focus on their hobbies and personal interests. Am I wrong to think Nate would really dig the fact that we’re all stuck at home right now, doing very much the same?
Lonnie: Yeah, I think he would say people should use this as a time to reflect on what their values are and what their role in the world is. And obviously, I don’t think he’d like the suffering that’s coming with it, but I think he would see it as a time for people to sort of reevaluate and rejuvenate.
Zac: It’s a strange thing to see this world made manifest through social distancing a year later, but 100% he would be down with it. And I think that he would be at the frontlines of people getting to disengage and be more in touch with themselves. Personally, it’s an opportunity to sort of realize that social media and all the noise online is just going to corrupt your ability to think about yourself and think about the relationships that matter to you in the world–so mentally isolating as well.
AIPT: I think we can all agree that Nate’s a fashion icon. So many people are growing beards and mustaches, attempting to give themselves haircuts, rocking sweatpants and pajamas 24/7… what’s Nate’s quarantine look?
Lonnie: [Laughs] I mean, Nate’s look is… Jesus… I mean it’s that…
Zac: It’s also Jesus.
Lonnie: Yeah it is. His quarantine look is probably just that he’s naked–he’s in the buff the whole time.
Zac: He doesn’t have to cut his hair because he can just force it to go back inside his head. He’s that powerful.
Lonnie: He’s like, fully shaved body. Eyebrows–it’s all gone.
AIPT: Is Nate quarantined with Magneto? Or is he alone?
Lonnie: I think he’s probably on his own. Magneto’s probably on his own too. Whatever’s going on in the Age of X-Man…
Zac: There are two houses in the culdesac and Magneto’s just watching Nate from his lawn.
Lonnie: Yeah, he’s like, “How does he get his head so shiny?”
AIPT: Do you two have a favorite X-Man story from his original series?
Lonnie: Definitely for me–the Warren Ellis stuff.
I think Warren left for the very last arc or last couple issues, so I loved the very first part of Warren’s arc and I also loved the last couple of issues he was just sort of supervising or provided the story but didn’t write the scripts for. It just seemed like someone was taking X-Man seriously for the first time. It wasn’t just an annoying kid version of Cable. Someone was genuinely trying to see what the limits of his power were and how someone that close to being godly tried to engage with a world full of mutants.
Zac: Yeah, and I think that was pretty paramount in how we approached the character too. We looked at him as this sort of Superman figure in the X-Men mythos and sort of like, what do you do when you’re this all-powerful creature who can essentially lord over all these people? And also, I don’t remember what issue it is, but the issue where he climbs a mountain with Scott and Jean–I remember that being an influence because of the family relationships and realizing that a lot of what he has been denied as a character is the ability to fit in with this oddball family which is a huge part of the X-Men’s identity–that found family aspect.
And Nate has been routinely cut off from that mostly because I’m sure people didn’t know what to do with this character. But it felt like–for us–seeing those two things and reflecting on them, it was like that was the crux of who we thought Nate was. This guy who could lead the X-Men but was so cut off from them.
AIPT: Is that the thinking behind having Nate replace Beast as one of the original five in the history established in Age of X-Man? That he could have been one of the founding X-Men and a leader?
Zac: A little bit of that, but also there was this point in time where there was this internal conversation with Marvel where they said Nate needs to be dead in Age of X-Man. What? You’re going to get us to do Age of X-Man–he can’t be dead! And they said, well he dies at the end of Uncanny X-Men, so what are you going to do? We were like, what if he leads the X-Men and took it upon himself in this alternate world he created where he’s like, I can do this right. So it made sense for us to go back and have him insert himself into that history. If we got to do everything that we wanted, I think it would have been a lot more really f-----g with moments that you knew, but inserting X-Man into it just to show how much he’s tampered with people’s interpretation of what’s going on, but also that he can help save them from themselves more often than not.
Lonnie: Yeah, I think some of the thinking that went into that is Nate’s extremely powerful and extremely smart, and yet, everyone treats him like a child–both fans and other X-Men because that’s largely how he was introduced to the world. His ultimate demise is that he still fears that and still feels that’s how people see him. So I think for him, it was sort of like if I insert myself back to the origins of this community, then maybe they’ll respect me. They’ll have to respect me sort of like they do Scott and Jean. I won’t be a kid anymore. Whether that was the right thing for him to do is obviously subject to everyone’s interpretation.
AIPT: Do you think deep down he respects Scott and Jean as his “parents” and wants their respect in return?
Lonnie: I sort of subscribe to the way Warren Ellis treated it, where it’s like he was grateful for that–he respects Jean a lot, but he tries to remove himself from it as much as he can and tries to see himself as someone different from these people because he fundamentally is at the end of day. But to answer your question more concretely, in my mind, I think he’d probably respect Jean more than he would Scott. Because Scott’s f----d up so many times.
AIPT: Based on his actions in “X-Men Disassembled” and Age of X-Man, do you think of Nate as a villain now? Or much like Magneto, is it more of a gray area? No pun intended.
Zac: I think it’s a gray area. I think the best X-Men villains end up becoming X-Men at some point. I think that’s the nice cyclical nature of these stories. They’re all f----d up, they’re all damaged and at any given point in X-Men history, someone steps to the front. They’re like, I have the solution, I figured it out. Then it ends up becoming a huge clusterfuck and then you do that for 70 years on repeat. But yeah, I think he sees himself as a hero who was trying to do something. In the most sort of generous interpretation of the way Age of X-Man and House of X and Powers of X came across, you can see how those two things kind of played with one another and that you’re giving this sort of utopia to help them realize they are separate and distinct and worthy of respect. And then you go into the Hickman era and see how that carries through, and I think that’s the sort of lasting legacy of Nate showing mutants they are worth separating themselves and they are more valuable because of what makes them different.
Lonnie: Yeah, I think for Zac and I, readers took Nate in our run as lot more of a villain than we ever intended, which is fine. But I think for us, we never saw him as an outright villain–just a guy trying to do his best under limited circumstances and time he had. But I don’t know, I guess X-Men fans always need a villain.
AIPT: Sometimes that villain is whoever’s writing the books at the time.
Lonnie and Zac: [Laughs]
AIPT: Changing gears a bit–Nate’s worn mesh shirts, fingerless gloves, short-sleeve jackets… what’s your favorite Nate Grey look?
Zac: Definitely the mesh shirt.
Lonnie: There’s that arc where he’s with Spider-Man and I think he’s just wearing a black T-shirt and jeans. I read something that said he’d been given a costume for that–someone designed something and there was something about it that was pretty interesting, but for some reason, they had to scrap it. So all he got was a T-shirt and jeans.
Zac: Which is hilarious. Perpetually getting the short end of the stick and basically being a reflection of all the terrible choices of the ’90s from his creation until now. But that mesh shirt is perfect, and then the black T-shirt and jeans is just so stupid. Characters are flamboyant and bright and distinct–and then they’re like, we got a guy named X-Man. Don’t put an “X” anywhere on his uniform. Put him in a mesh shirt–have those nipples popping out and we’re good to go.
AIPT: Do you remember that time he wore a super-tight Pixies T-shirt?
Lonnie: I was literally just Googling that, trying to find it.
AIPT: What do you think the story is there? Is Nate a Pixies fan?
Lonnie: I feel like he’s so unaware of the world, someone just gave it to him or he found it. He absolutely has no idea what he was wearing. Also, realistically, I think whoever was drawing him gave him a Pixies shirt because they liked it and didn’t give a s--t about the character. “I like this so the character likes this.”
Zac: That seems more accurate.
AIPT: Now that we’ve had some space between the conclusion of your story, I’m curious, is there anything in Age of X-Man you thought of doing that was left on the cutting room floor?
Zac: So much.
Lonnie: A lot. There’s a lot.
Zac: My particular pain point that I’ll bring up just because it’s been a while… There was a lot of different talk about what to do with Apocalypse, and my thinking was Nate is sort of the reflection of Cable in the Age of Apocalypse. So in the Age of X-Man, Apocalypse should have been turned into someone else. So the idea was in Apocalypse and the X-Tracts, you would have a charismatic cult leader who in the last issue would be revealed as Apocalypse rather than sort of upfront.
But Marvel was very nervous about not having an anchored villain, so we had a whole thing where his name was Mana and he was this loving dude who–I don’t even think he was going to have blue skin at a certain point. He was just going to be this weird, charismatic cult leader and was going to be quote-unquote inherently right about how you should live in this world. And we had built that all out and then it kind of got torpedoed because people got very cold feet about not being able to pin an exact villain on the story.
Lonnie: Yeah, I also think Tim Seeley did his own character sketches for that version–they were really cool. Unfortunately, it got scrapped. We also had some ideas for Nightcrawler that didn’t quite make it in. We wanted his book and character to be more of an exploration of what the responsibility of actors and public figures is in times of crisis because we were writing sort of at the height of the Me Too Movement and just trying to understand what someone’s role was like, especially when they’re operating sort of above the law, so to speak. So I think we wanted that story to seem less action-y and have fewer twists and turns, but at the end of day, it’s a Marvel book. There were just some ideas for more subdued parts of the world that got scrapped and turned into more X-Men-y stuff.
AIPT: All these months later, Age of X-Man and its fresh takes on characters like Blob still resonate with X-Fans. In fact, in X-Men Monday #54, one X-Fan recently asked Jordan if we’ll ever see Unveil in the main universe. How does all that make you feel?
Zac: It’s definitely cool. It was weird–we got caught in a weird thing. We found out–I think on the day we just saw our second issue the first time–that it had an ad in it for Hickman taking over X-Men and we were like “Oh God!” In the thick of it, it was hard to appreciate what was going on because there was so much excitement directed toward House of X and Powers of X. But as it shakes down, it’s interesting to see the people that have really gravitated to it and saw the nuances in what we were trying to do. Really, I think the mandate from the start was give people X-Men books they’ve never seen before, try new things, try to take things that have been tenents of the line for years and invert them in interesting ways, take characters and make them almost the opposite of who they were in the traditional world and see what sticks. So that’s the hope–that it leaves some lasting legacy on people and that they want that. It would bring me nothing but joy to see some of Age of X-Man work its way into the 616, but it’ll be a while before that happens, I reckon.
Lonnie: Yeah, it’s been super cool to see people bring up the social isolation thing. It’s a sobering reminder–oh, we were part of a big event a lot of people read and connected with. So it’s weird. It’s always hard to appreciate this stuff when you’re in the thick of it, especially with such a hammer to the jaw of everyone being so psyched about Hickman coming in while we were in the midst of something. But now that we’re out of it, none of that really mattered and all that mattered was we did the best we could and we’re really proud of it and we’re just happy to be part of that legacy of X-Men events, whatever that means to people, for better or worse. That’s sort of surreal and it always goes back to that goddamn quote–I think it was when Neil Gaiman was writing Sandman and Stephen King said don’t forget to enjoy it. And Neil Gaiman said he wished he did and I always try to remember that and never do it.
Zac: It’s hard, and especially with X-Men fans who will eat you alive, [Laughs]. They will come for you and they will devour you.
Lonnie: We still get s--t for Bishop and Jean Grey on Twitter.
Zac: I got something last night, actually, and it’s just interesting because people just come out of the woodwork. The tweet begins with “F--k you, blah, blah, blah.” To me, I love that kind of stuff because no matter what, it’s resonating with someone one way or another. There’s no fandom like that. And people are passionate as Hell and it’s just interesting that people care that much about those characters. And to be honest, we got to tell the story we wanted to tell, and what we often tell people when they’re like, I wish it was this way. OK, cool. Then go write it and work on that and get ready to do that one day, but like, I don’t want to hear your pitch, nor am I legally allowed.
AIPT: Yeah, there are definitely X-Fans who want Marvel to bring back the Jean and Bishop pairing, which is especially funny when you realize it was only in a few panels.
Lonnie: It’s also funny because I think that people who are upset are upset that Jean would make that decision based on who Bishop was in the 616. But the whole point of doing that was that it was one page to show that in this world, people’s pasts are different. Because, yeah, she wouldn’t do that based on who he is in the real world, but in this world, he has a different past. So I don’t know, it’s just interesting to see what baggage people bring themselves and how they’re not able to dissociate one realm from another.
AIPT: Fandom’s fun. On a more serious, non-X-Man note–how are you guys doing right now? Do you have plenty of projects to work on or are things slowing down?
Lonnie: It’s been a bit of both, really. I still have work. I’m working on a graphic novel and that’s continuing, and I’m very thankful for that. Zac and I have a couple of projects that we’re working on together that are full steam ahead. Some stuff got sidelined a bit, and no publishers are really looking at taking new books right now, but I’m still working and feel fortunate for what I have. But I’m not drowning for the first time in two years, so it’s kind of nice.
Zac: Yeah, I’m in a similar boat. I feel fortunate to have work and to be able to continue to work on things that were sort of lined up before all this happened. It’s definitely weird, just because there’s a lot of people who don’t have that luxury. There are a lot of people getting furloughed or laid off and having books canceled. Part of me is waiting for the other shoe to drop, where I’m like alright, I’m still working–maybe the floor will drop out under me. And it’s hard to keep focused because so much of the industry is in a state of flux, but the other nice thing is, as a writer, you look out at the world and go, I don’t like what’s going on out there. I’m going to go into mine. Then you hang out, do your thing for a few days and, oh yeah, the world’s still terrible, but at least I got some good writing done.
So yeah, I spend a lot of time weirdly grieving because there’s going to be comic book stores that don’t reopen, there’s going to be creators who had momentum in their careers who can’t come back from all the stoppage, there will be editors we’ve met that we’ve worked with who maybe don’t have jobs after this and that’s really tough. And it’s such a small industry. That’s the sort of thing I keep thinking about–how different the landscape may be when we all come out of this and that makes me sad for a long time.
[Laughs] Sorry to bring you down.
AIPT: No, no problem at all. Well, for X-Fans who are looking for new comics to read right now, which of your projects would you like to suggest?
Zac: Nothing because it’s depressing–our creator-owned stuff is very depressing. But we have a new Western book called Undone by Blood with Sami Kivela and Jason Wordie. It’s just a classic Western story within a story.
There are two issues out right now–both on ComiXology–you can grab them. I don’t know when issue 3 is coming out, maybe June–it’s sort of up in the air. I’m incredibly proud of that book. If you like some of Lonnie and I’s previous work, like on The Dregs, you’ll find some hard-boiled crime fiction in Undone by Blood and lots of weird, oddball characters who have incredible names. And then I’ve got a new book at Vault called No One’s Rose that’s sort of a climate fiction about two teens trying to reclaim the planet after catastrophic climate change.
There’s only one issue out and it seems to grow more topical as the days go by. Check it out at ComiXology. I’m currently working on trying to get issue 2 into people’s hands, so we’ll see how that goes.
Lonnie: And I have my own Vault book that’s finished. It’s five issues and you can get it on ComiXology. The trade comes out in June–it’s called Black Stars Above. It’s a horror-folk, horror-cosmic, horror-historical fiction… I don’t know what you want to call it. It’s thematically about isolation, so it’s weirdly topical as well.
AIPT: Man, you guys are the perfect interview for these strange times we find ourselves in. Is there anything else you’d like to say before I let you go?
Lonnie: To everyone who read Age of X-Man and reads out creator-owned stuff–we literally wouldn’t be able to do this otherwise, so we’re very appreciative.
Zac: Yeah, we’re eternally grateful for you guys’ support and everyone who reads. Every day seems surreal. It’s a weird thing to be on year three of your career and you spent year two writing the X-Men. So I take that with me wherever I go.
AIPT: A nice note to end on. I’d just like to say I’m eternally grateful for you two agreeing to chat about Nate Grey in honor of X-Man Monday–so thanks, keep up the great work and stay safe!
And the same goes for all you X-Fans reading around the world. Stay smart, safe and have an eXceptional week!
Like what we do here at AIPT? Consider supporting us and independent comics journalism by becoming a patron today! In addition to our sincere thanks, you can browse AIPT ad-free, gain access to our vibrant Discord community of patrons and staff members, get trade paperbacks sent to your house every month, and a lot more. Click the button below to get started!