Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT! Only three installments to go before we reach X-Men Monday #100!
After a week off, we’re BAMFing back strong with this GIANT-SIZED interview with acclaimed writer Simon Spurrier! This April, Simon, along with artist Bob Quinn, will launch Way of X, the long-awaited Nightcrawler-focused Reign of X series about… well, it’s about a lot as Si explains. So, rather than me paraphrasing, let’s just jump into the conversation!
AIPT: Welcome to X-Men Monday, Si! In X-Men Monday #86, Jonathan Hickman used the word “expansion” to describe the Reign of X. So with that in mind, what does the Reign of X mean for Way of X?
Simon: Hey, do you think Hickman just has like a massive dictionary open at “ex–” next to his desk, so he can drop a casual X title bomb whenever necessary?
That’s what I’d do.
“Do you prepare much for interviews, Si?”
“No, I’m completely–” [turns to camera] “–extemporaneous.”
Hm. Jon’s better at it, clearly.
Okay, so without getting too desperately wanky, one of the many brilliant and transformative things that the HoXPoX era has brought to the X-Franchise is an exponential escalation in the number and the scale of the metaphors available to writers. Sorry, word salad. What I mean by that is that Marvel’s mutants have been used countless times to tell incredible stories that speak to race, gender, sexuality, class–any form of societal Othering. Brilliantly so.
Those tools are still very much on the table. But when Jon talks about expansion, I think not just about things on the worldbuilding and character tier, but of the themes and morals and real-world touchstones. As I’m fond of saying: this isn’t just a story about people who are mutants, it’s a story about mutants Becoming A People. And that opens up a whole new level of complication, crises and metaphors. Culture, faith, law, trade, conflict, allegiance. These are big juicy realms that have never been more important than in today’s crackling dumpster fire of a divided world, which–lest we forget–is somehow also more globally interconnected than it’s ever been. Krakoa–as a civilization–speaks to all these things.
The problem is that stuff falls through the gaps. Mutantkind is expanding its horizons so fast, so profoundly, and so powerfully, that invisible cracks are appearing. (Some of you might even have suspected they were there from the beginning.) In a world like the Marvel Universe, when cracks appear you can bet that dark and deadly things slither into them to take advantage.
So many of the current X-Books are focused on the fact of expansion, one way or another. Threats from outside, quests into the unknown, exploration and discovery, defending the borders, neutralizing external threats. Incredible and thrilling stories.
What I was missing–what fascinates me–is what it feels like to be inside the bubble, keeping the home fires burning, watching the borders grow. Not knowing where it’ll end. And hence: not knowing where you belong.
Look, we’ve got a population here of super-powered individuals, all busy trying to figure out what’s expected of them, what they want their paradise to be like, where exactly the boundaries of possibility become transgression, and most importantly what must they do in order to feel like they matter? And every single one of them will have a different answer for each of these questions.
This is a melting pot. It won’t take much to bubble-over, and when it does? Best-case scenario: it takes out the entire island. More likely: a planet. Or the universe.
So. Question. How do you keep a brash young civilization of unprecedented power from going kaboom? Especially when it’s being deliberately jabbed in the ribs by a secret enemy?
Answer: you help people find a Way to live.
AIPT: Wow. What an answer–what an eXtraordinary X-Men Monday debut! Let’s keep it going. X-Fan Danny (XmanFanDan1) was curious, what are your essential Nightcrawler stories?
Simon: It’s funny–I’ve been sitting here struggling with this question. I assumed something would immediately spring to mind, but… hmm.
Like, I have a lot of time for his stint in Excalibur. Even moreso, I adore those occasional stories when he just sort of… goes wandering, often with friends. I’ve often thought Kurt’s at his best when he’s searching–inwardly as well as outwardly–rather than just being pointed at a baddie and told to start punching. I love to see him approaching a problem of the heart or the soul, but doing so with a rakish grin, pirate cosplay and bad jokes. He’s that guy. He delves deeper and into more profound waters than almost any other X-Character–but he does so in the most charming and clownish ways. “You’ve got to laugh, otherwise…”
Ironically, given the (somewhat misleading) topline hook for Way of X–a story about mutant religion!–I’m yet to really respond to a story that uses Kurt to inspect metaphysics.
To qualify that, I absolutely don’t mean that I’m not a fan of how important his faith is to his character–it’s central, and it’s beautiful. (I say this as someone without any faith, who frequently despises his own inconvenient agnosticism.) Rather, I’m talking about those stories which pop up occasionally, which use him as a vehicle to delve into the granular stuff: Heaven and Hell, the nature of souls, judgment in the hereafter and all that jazz. For me, these things are articles of extremely personal faith, and as soon as you go putting them front and center in a shared-world story, you’re immediately fixing them in stone. At best, you’re going to wish you’d left a narrative backdoor open (eg: “the soul experiences what it wants to experience…”). At worst, you’re alienating a big chunk of your audience who have very different ideas of their own.
Look, it’s very natural, and very human, to want to explicate every single tiny detail of a shared universe. How this works, what that does, what goes on the map here, what are the rules for this. It’s fun and we all do it. But go too far and it’s death. It’s literal narrative death. One of the many unexpected obligations of a storyteller is knowing that being specific isn’t always smart.
Funnily enough, this pays forward into Way of X. It was immediately obvious to me that any story about “a mutant religion” would have to be exceptionally careful not to favor, or worse still, to contradict any existing theological belief.
The way to get past this, I figured, was this: Nightcrawler senses something is rotten in the hearts and souls of mutantkind. But as he works to identify exactly what’s wrong, he realizes this isn’t a problem that can be solved with prayers and belief. It’s bigger than any one person’s specific faith. The solution has to be something that every single mutant can buy-into, mentally and emotionally. In other words, a Big Idea that sidesteps extant religions. Something that allows people like Kurt (or indeed any of our other characters with their own, different beliefs) to remain faithful to their particular creeds.
The Way is not an “instead of,” in religious terms. It’s an “as well as.” I’m actually pretty pleased with the Big Idea I landed on. I’m not going to say anything about it here, but it’s something we’ll come to as a natural product of the story in the first arc. It’s been there since my first pitch. It works. And it’s so beautifully crafted to apply only to mutants in the HoXPoX era.
Anyway, that’s a massive meandering digression off the path of your original question, but I suppose it’s all part of the answer: I don’t think The Quintessential Nightcrawler story has necessarily been written yet. I’m hoping to come close.
AIPT: X-Fan BloodyNinja (from the Krakoa Discord) pointed out that you spent some time writing various X-Titles, such as X-Men Legacy and X-Force in a very different X-Era. Should we expect Way of X to tie into any ideas you established in your past X-Work?
Simon: Yes. Yes, I will be revisiting things. In an extremely big way.
I can’t say much, because Secret. But look to the end of Way of X #1 for a seriously unexpected change of gears.
AIPT: X-Fan X of the clan X wanted to know which of the three Krakoan laws you were most excited to explore.
Simon: Heh. I think the questioner here is referring to something I’ve blabbed about elsewhere. In his hunt to find the perfect Big! Ideas! to unite mutantkind, Kurt uses the Three Laws of Krakoa as a starting point. It makes sense to do so. Anyone who knows anything about functional societies knows that they depend upon conceptual abstractions to function. That is: things which have no intrinsic reality until people choose, collectively, to act as if they do.
Money, culture, stories, class boundaries, art, religion, manners, and–yes–laws: these are all very successful mental technologies which humanity has used for millennia to keep societies from falling into anarchy, in various different ways. But none of them is really A Thing. None of them exists without a shared communal investment in a completely abstract idea.
(Which, by the way, is about as perfect a definition of “faith” as you’ll find. Human society runs on faith, whether or not there’s a god involved. If we all stop believing that a piece of paper is worth $100, or that a man in a police uniform is somehow more of an authority than someone in rags, or that Thou Shalt Not Kill doesn’t apply to everyone, or that this piece of rhythmic music is quantifiably more valuable than this discordant racket–if we lose our faith in the Big Ideas–then we’re screwed. Overnight and immediately. We have built our civilization on a house of cards, and there’s nothing on the bottom row except an unspoken agreement to Pretend That Something’s There. (You begin to understand why Issue #1 of WoX is titled “Make Believe.”)
Anyway, YES. As I’ve waffled in other interviews, Kurt takes a close look at each of the three laws while he’s off hunting for his Big Ideas. We’re dedicating an issue to each.
I suspect the questioner here wants me to say I’m most excited about “Make More Mutants,” because–sex! Haha! And yeah, that’s a pretty great issue. (Working title: “The Joy of X.” I’m shameless.)
But actually, I think the third law is by far the biggest and most important. “Respect This Sacred Land.”
It’s a useful law because it’s a weaselly law. It is very, VERY open to interpretation.
Crap, I’ve just looked back over all this and it’s SO pompous. I get excited in interviews about the big heavy stuff which lurks in the undergrowth beneath and behind the stories themselves. But please, let me reassure you: WoX is very much an X-Men story on the page. Action, adventure, incredible visuals, and the biggest and scariest threat to mutantkind ever.
I won’t say “prepare to meet the Patchwork Man,” because you’ve already met him…
AIPT: Not at all pompous! This is great stuff and we’re only going to get deeper in this next question! Nightcrawler’s faith has played a key role in the character’s long publishing history. With the Resurrection Protocols in mind, X-Fan Tim Rooney asked if Way of X wrestles with the complex questions of the Catholic ideas of the afterlife and what being resurrected means.
Simon: Ah. In classic Me form, I’ve touched on some of this already in the process of chuntering on about other stuff earlier, sorry.
Okay, to expand a little. The difficult questions which Kurt finds himself asking about life on Krakoa–the questions which lead him, bit by bit, towards the Way–tend to originate with the specific tenets of his Catholic Faith. And that shouldn’t be a surprise.
Like the best societal sci-fi, the realities of life on Krakoa ask us to imagine how we (or those around us) might behave if some of the most important fixed realities in our lives shifted. For instance: Krakoans have an almost infinite capacity to be cured of sickness and disease. Does that mean there’s a whole heckload more casual sex going on? Maybe. On Krakoa, there’s no individual property per se. Food is abundant, resources are shared. Does that mean people will just calmly help themselves to each other’s “belongings,” and not consider it theft? Probably. On Krakoa, death is no longer absolute. Resurrection brings you back. And while there are AB-SO-LUTE-LY some big questions about that–is there a continuity of consciousness? Is the “me” who comes back the same “me” who died? What happens to all the little offcuts of memory and experience that happened between when Cerebro recorded my brain and my physical death?–whilst there are huge questions like that, nonetheless: there has been a severe reduction in the terror of death. Does that mean some people might go one step further, and start to regard dying as a rite of passage? Or even a thrill? Yeah.
Or, to cite the example that launched this whole project in the first place: Crucible. A completely new bespoke cultural ceremony, in which a strong mutant is expected to ritually defeat and kill a depowered mutant, specifically so the latter’s resurrection is deemed to be Earned. A good death. A brave death.
…But… is that murder? And/or suicide?
Kurt, you can be sure, is arching a brow at all these things. They all bump against the letter of his Catholic creed. The resurrection thing isn’t just a knotty problem in terms of sin–murder, suicide, etc.–but also (as your questioner points out) poses some very uncomfortable queries to do with the afterlife. (As I mentioned earlier, I think it would be a mistake to delve too far into giving definitive answers to those questions, but we can 100% concede that Kurt and others would be tormented by them.)
So yeah, that’s all on the slate.
What I think works really well is that Kurt isn’t himself a dogmatic man. He’s a Catholic with Catholic views, but he’s rational enough–and above all empathetic enough–to know that other modes of living (sexual promiscuity to name just one) can’t be condemned when the context has changed. So there’s definitely a low-level crisis of the rationalist vs the reverend within his own person.
But more importantly, what begins as religious anxieties are quickly replaced by the knowledge of real threats. Questions which are related to matters of the heart and the spirit, but which come with real–measurable–cataclysmic–risks.
And it’s those at which he tilts his lance.
AIPT: X-Fan Prince Bambi said you’ve mentioned Way of X will focus on anthropological and sociological concepts. Based on your work, it’s apparent you’re well-versed in exploring various perspectives on culture. If any, what resources and inspirations outside of comics have helped or are helping you write Way of X?
Simon: Oh dear, too many to list. I’m a magpie for any well-written non-fiction. I’m one of those assholes who always has like three books on the go at once. Constantly running out of Post-it Notes to mark interesting nuggets to come back to.
To mention just a couple which have provided some direct gristle for Way of X so far… Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is a spectacular eye-opener on the history of humanity… I’ve been working my way through the catalogue of Bart D. Ehrman because I’m fascinated by the historiography of Christianity and the way cultural drift has created our modern conception of it… Kindred by Rebecca Wragg Sykes is an achingly poetic book about Neanderthals (goes without saying the Sapiens/Neanderthal interactions of our own prehistory have a lot to say about what you’d expect in a Mutant/Non-Mutant world)… I’m a loyal subscriber to Fortean Times, which never fails to provide a totally unexpected morsel of weird inspiration, or an uncanny factoid one never knew one needed… and on a tonal level, my immediate go-to when it comes to this entire era of X-Comics is the vast canon of early-to-mid 20th-Century hard science-fiction novels, which dance between human-scale stories and species-scale stories, always with a psychedelic rider: Last and First Men, the Foundation series, Barefoot in the Head and so on. Trippy madness–always underscored by big ideas. That’s what I want for Way of X.
Apropos of nothing, I just got through reading Piranesi, and I think it might be the best novel I’ve read in a year or two. Highly recommended.
AIPT: Cut to X-Fans loading up their Amazon shopping carts with all these titles. OK, so Pixie, Loa, DJ and Blink are all set to appear in Way of X alongside Nightcrawler. X-Fan Emmanuel Boyd was wondering what made you put together this supporting cast of fan-favorite mutants.
Simon: Some I picked because I love ‘em, some because they fit a particular niche and I’ve come to love them since. I should point out, though, those four kids aren’t all core members of our cast. It’s sort of tricky to talk about Way of X in conventional spandex terms because it doesn’t really have a Team in it per se. We’re sort of heading in that direction–I can’t say more than that without spoiling some big things–but until we get there, it’s more of a… well, let’s call it an ensemble book. All four of the kids you mention kind of zip in and out of the action, but one of them is a key/core player, and one is not far behind.
I guess if you’re looking for some sort of defining team-ish metric for how to envisage this book, it initially features four main characters. They interact with many, many other fan-favorites while attempting to figure out a path to mutant harmony. Some of those other characters are going to become increasingly important to our story, to the extent some may join the core group before too long.
But as for those four key roles… Nightcrawler is obviously one. The other three… well. Two of them you can probably guess, based on solicits and covers and such. The fourth–no.
AIPT: Well, on a similar note, X-Fan Veitha from the Krakoa Discord Server said we’ve mostly seen Krakoa being shaped by ‘older’ mutants in terms of ideology. Given that your book seems to feature a lot of young mutants, will we see their role in shaping mutant culture and mutant spirituality?
Simon: Yeah, very much so. I touched on this earlier too, in the context of Nightcrawler being able to understand and rationalize a lot of Krakoan-specific behavior without necessarily agreeing with it. As is always the case, the youth lead the charge towards new cultures.
Nightcrawler–all the adult X-Men, to an extent–are saturated in the moral and cultural standards of the Sapiens world. They’re clever enough and empathetic enough to know they need to make a break with those conventions, and some of them are doing so very successfully. But it’s not something that happens overnight.
The younger characters will adapt a lot quicker. So quickly, in fact, that in some cases they may not realise they’re going way, way too far…
AIPT: Juicy stuff! Justin from The X-Wife Podcast asked, which character in Way of X’s cast has been the most fun for you to dig into when writing?
Simon: I mean, there’s no character more fun to write than Doctor Nemesis. You can take that to the bank.
That said, there’s a sequence in issue 3 where we take a deep deep dive into the minds of a pair of young characters–one of them’s Loa, I might as well tease that now–and… oof. That was some creepy, trippy writing. The insides of people’s minds aren’t always quite what you expect…
AIPT: I’m glad you mentioned the good Doctor Nemesis, because… Nightcrawler and Dr. Nemesis. Just typing it gets me excited about the story potential there. How fun is it getting to write Doctor Nemesis again and what can you tease about his relationship with Kurt in the series?
Simon: See above. It’s obscenely fun. Him and Kurt are obviously very different personality types. Kurt’s a thoughtful, sensitive, mischief-making soul who needs to believe there’s meaning and value in all things. And wants others to feel wanted and needed too. Nemesis is… well. A science bastard.
He’s not happy if he’s hasn’t acquainted at least one credulous numbskull per day with the sheer nihilistic insignificance of their existence, often while swigging quantum coffee and casually rearranging his own cerebral structure.
It turns out, he played a really massive role in some of the stuff that happened off camera before the foundation of the Krakoan state, and now he’s looking for–ah… I was about to say “a new project,” but it’s more like he’s looking for guinea pigs.
As he puts it when he first approaches Nightcrawler in #1: “I find individuals with an air of bewildered pointlessness make the best volunteers.”
Mind you, never let it be said he lacks the courage of his own convictions. Nemesis has… changed. A lot. Since we last saw him.
AIPT: A lot of Doctor Nemesis fans are very excited right now. You know who else has fans? Margali Szardos and Amanda Sefton! In fact, X-Fan Connor Goldsmith loves these two and said the title Way of X even reminds him of the Winding Way. What are your thoughts on Kurt’s relationships with Margali Szardos and Amanda Sefton?
Simon: They’re great characters. I’m particularly fond of the concept of the Winding Way, which feels to me like a much more narratively fertile system of magic than a lot of the alternatives featured in fiction. I’d love to do something with both characters, but I’m afraid it won’t be immediately, if at all. The territory we’re exploring in arc 1 is broad and strange enough in its own right that it wouldn’t sit quite right, tonally, alongside a more mystical story thread.
But hey, you’ve only got to read [checks notes] everything else I’ve ever written to know squishing one genre into another is very much my bag. So, yeah. Someday.
AIPT: Finally, we’re taking it back to sex. X-Fan Hunter (@xmenbutgay) said, as Kurt suggested “Make More Mutants,” does Kurt get busy in Way of X?
Simon: Let’s just say the path to busyness is very much open to him, and runs conveniently parallel to the Big Swanky Tao-style path he’s forging for himself and everyone else.
Issue #3 is the one for you, questioner. Wait and see.
AIPT: And on that note, I think it’s time we bring this column to a close before it becomes SEX-Men Monday! But first–Simon, thank you so much for taking the time to provide such in-depth, thought-provoking answers! X-Fans, be sure to reserve a copy of Way of X #1, which goes on sale April 21, 2021!
There’s still a little more Way of X goodness to share in this batch of eXclusive preview images, courtesy of X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White!
Before we wrap up this week’s edition, as I mentioned at the very beginning of this article, we’re closing in on the milestone X-Men Monday #100! To celebrate, AIPT wants to give back to the X-Fans who have helped make this column such a success. So, we’re doing a total of FIVE Twitter giveaways during March.
Here’s all you need to do:
- Be sure you’re following AIPT on Twitter.
- Like and retweet X-Men Monday #97, #98, #99 and #100 to automatically be entered into the weekly giveaways and the X-Men Monday #100 GIANT-SIZE Giveaway.
Anybody who likes and retweets any of the articles between #97 and #100 will be eligible for a batch of six digital codes from recent X-Men comics. A winner will be drawn at random and notified every Wednesday following the release of a new X-Men Monday at AIPT. That’s four winners in total throughout March. Best of all–the winner can request which single issues they’d like the codes for (while supplies last, of course).
The X-Men Monday #100 GIANT-SIZE Giveaway will be a random assortment of X-Men and Marvel trade paperbacks and single issues. Only U.S. residents will be eligible for this prize.
Until neXt time, X-Fans, stay eXceptional!
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