Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
We’ve known for quite some time that “The Last Annihilation” was coming, so it was only a matter of time before its architect, writer Al Ewing, returned to this column. But then, Al went and did this with artist Valerio Schiti…
Now we definitely had to talk to the writer who gives “the voice of Sol” her voice. So without further ado, here’s Al!
AIPT: Welcome back to X-Men Monday, Al! Guardians of the Galaxy #16 is on sale now and S.W.O.R.D. #7 comes out this Wednesday. For the X-Fans who only keep up with the X-Men side of the Marvel Universe, what’s your elevator pitch for why they shouldn’t sleep on the entirety of “The Last Annihilation?”
Al: To take S.W.O.R.D. #7 as an example — this will be the reader’s first real experience of Storm as Regent of Arakko and the diplomatic representative of the Sol System, locking diplomatic horns with one of the Marvel Universe’s greatest villains. There are also developments and revelations concerning other members of the cast that you won’t want to miss. It also has a cameo appearance from Hulkling and a couple of other notables from the Kree/Skrull Alliance (and let me tell you, Stefano Caselli draws a great Teddy) — but no more of one than the Zn’rx heirs had in issue #5.
So I’d say it’s worth picking up. I understand if readers feel burned, though — dark deeds have been committed in the field of crossover tie-ins over the years, for which we must atone. Ask not for whom the Beyonder poops, Spider-Man. He poops for thee. All I can really do is give you my word that you can read this issue entirely on its own and have a good time, that any part of “The Last Annihilation” can be enjoyed entirely by itself, and that I designed this story specifically with that in mind.
Or I could go all in and tell you that this issue ALSO connects with my Hulk run.
AIPT: That was a pretty solid elevator pitch. You’re also writing Cable: Reloaded #1, a tie-in to “The Last Annihilation.” We’ve seen you write Kid Cable in S.W.O.R.D. What can we expect from your take on Old Man Cable?
Al: Like I said — if you’re a Cable fan and you’re not so fussed about “The Last Annihilation,” you can pick the special up entirely on its own and enjoy a super-fun mission with everyone’s favorite grouchy old cyborg. I’ve actually channeled my inner 1990s pretty strongly on this one, and I know artist Bob Quinn has spoken about how much of a blast he had making it even more ’90s than I wrote it. It’s kind of a meditation on the aesthetics of the period that also functions as a high-octane thrill ride on an alien world, with guest appearances by a gaggle of fan-favorite mutants.
As for Cable himself — I think my take on him falls well within the spectrum of previous characterizations. The one big difference between him and Kid Cable, in my eyes, is that Old Cable is extremely self-assured in comparison. But he’s also seen a lot of ugly stuff over the decades, and that’s changed him. So there’s a mix of easy humor and deep sadness there that’s interesting to write.
AIPT: X-Fan Cake is a lie but pie is real was wondering, with Arakko now the capital of the Sol System, how does that change S.W.O.R.D. — both as an organization and a series?
Al: Both are expanding their remit. We’re going to be spending a lot of time on Arakko, seeing how they handle things both internally and externally. We’re going to see how Abigail Brand responds to that, and how Storm responds to her response.
We’re going to be fleshing out the Arakkii. I have pretty much the entire next year planned ahead, and that’s going to involve some big shifts in things — but I can promise that we have no plans to move backward, or shuffle the Arakkii off to the sidelines. We’ve got big plans for them, and I’m personally doing a lot of planning work on that front even as we speak.
AIPT: So then is it safe to assume we’ll be learning more about The Great Ring along with other aspects of Arakko culture in the pages of S.W.O.R.D.? X-Fan Avery wanted to know.
Al: Yeah, you can bet on that. I’ve already written one gigantic in-house document about it, which I’ll probably make more tweaks to — for reasons that will become apparent in time, I’m doing a lot of work in that direction and I think it’s yielding some good results. S.W.O.R.D. #8 will have all the hitherto-unknown details on The Great Ring that I can cram into one data page.
AIPT: Going back to this week’s S.W.O.R.D. #7 — X-Fan @ororoswind said this will be the first time you extensively write Storm. Can you talk about your relationship with the character and what you were the most looking forward to exploring? What are some of the key defining traits of the character you hope to bring forward with your portrayal of the new Regent of Arakko?
Al: If I tell you that my first exposure to Storm — and a whole bunch of other Marvel Heroes — was in the U.K. reprints of Secret Wars, the original, that should date me pretty exactly. (And those British reprints barreled right into the sequel, so it’s where I got my love of Spider-Man teaching cosmic entities to defecate.) Real U.S.-sized American comics were harder to get hold of then, so by the time I got into Claremont X-Men and got what I’d consider my proper introduction to the character, she was powerless and beating up Cyclops in the Danger Room. And I don’t care what retcons said about that fight later — Storm won it hands down, no mitigating circumstances or “oh, subconsciously Cyclops blah blah blah.” I read it with my own two eyes. I was there. Storm won.
Now, obviously, those unpowered days are long gone — I’m thinking up new weather stunts for Storm daily and taking suggestions from other X-Office members on cool things she can do with her powers. (And some old classics — I do enjoy the occasional judiciously applied bolt of lightning.) I want to stress that I am writing a very powerful version of Storm, with the goddess cred she got from the Black Panther run, so fans don’t panic too hard when I say that my core sense of the character springs largely from that particular issue and time period — the strength of will she showed to not just be in the X-Men with no powers, but to lead them. I can’t really express how cool that was, and how cool it made the X-Men seem, that the actual, factual all-caps LEADER OF THE X-MEN had no mutant powers at all, but was still unquestionably the best person for the job. She’d proven it, they all knew it, end of story. It’s not just informed how I think of Storm, it’s informed how I think of all superheroes — that they’re so much more than the powers.
To reiterate for the nervous — Storm is absolutely going to be using her incredibly powerful weather manipulation abilities in various exciting and visually satisfying ways. But I plan to do the best job I can on all the other stuff, too.
AIPT: Honestly, I doubt there are many Storm fans out there who are nervous after that answer. Speaking of Storm fans, X-Fan Butterflykyss said there were three specific titles that Storm went by in her entrance in S.W.O.R.D. #6. Each one is an important aspect of her mythos (Wind-Rider, she-who-swam-with-Acanti, Hadari Yao). This seems to have been very purposeful and a sign that these three elements of her background will be essential to her role as the Regent of Arakko. Can you provide any insight as to why these particular titles were used in her introduction?
Al: I wanted her to make an entrance, first and foremost. I wanted her immediately talking a language that these alien dignitaries understood — that’s where she-who-swam-with-Acanti came from, because there were people there who wouldn’t know the X-Men or Wakanda Prime much at all, but would know all about legendary endangered space whales and how special you have to be to commune with them.
And I wanted to reference the character’s recent history, and acknowledge some of the goddess-level stuff she’s been doing in Black Panther. And “wind-rider” always sounds cool.
AIPT: One more Storm question. Given that she’s on the cover to its debut issue, are you coordinating with writer John Ridley to align any Storm-related aspects of S.W.O.R.D. to the new Black Panther series? X-Fan William Rose was curious.
Al: I did get to see a script for a coming Black Panther issue, is all I’ll say to avoid spoilers for someone else’s book.
AIPT: This next question comes from Wiccan (likely not the actual character). In S.W.O.R.D. #6, we see Magneto and Wanda reconnecting and sharing a dance. Then, we find out she’s been murdered and The Trial of Magneto is coming. Obviously, you were exploring Magneto’s complex feelings toward Wanda as far back as S.W.O.R.D. #1, but how did you approach writing the intimate Hellfire Gala scene — knowing what was to come?
Al: The answer is — I didn’t know what was to come. That scene grew out of a scene we’d done in #1 — where Magneto had these very visible facial reactions when Wanda was mentioned, and the reader could tell something was going on there, but we hadn’t revealed just what.
I think partly I just wanted to address the Wanda situation — I didn’t have a specific plan in mind, I just wanted to stir that pot because I thought that pot needed stirring. So right around then, when we were first talking about Gala stuff, I pitched a scene of Magneto, long after the Gala, nursing a drink on his own, unable to enjoy this great achievement he’s been a major part of, and then Wanda comes in — on a page turn, as a surprise — and they have this moment together that makes it clear he still sees her as family. And I pushed harder than I usually push for that, because I could see the scene so clearly in my head and I knew it would work — to the extent of actually writing the scene months before I wrote any other part of S.W.O.R.D. #6, so the room could see what I was thinking.
I mean, I just found the document with the original version of that scene, and it was last modified just before Christmas of 2020 — that long ago in the process. But I didn’t have a story, I just had this one scene that I felt strongly about, so at the next meeting or the one after that, I brought it up, and made it clear that while this was lighting a fuse I wanted to light, I didn’t know what it would set off yet — just double-checking everyone was OK with that seed being planted because I had no idea what it would grow into. And then, as we talked about it, other people had ideas, and people had ideas in response to those ideas, and now here we are.
I gave it a polish at the lettering draft stage — which was around mid-May — and while doing that I did make a tweak to one line so it’d fit better with the plans we’d made since. You’ll have to guess which one.
AIPT: A little homework for the X-Fans reading, I love it! So, Adamantium, Vibranium, Carbonadium — the Marvel Universe is home to many fictional metals. Could you talk about how you came up with the idea for mysterium and if you did any research into actual metals when creating it and its properties?
Al: I did not do much research on metals, and you can kind of tell, but that’s fine — you’ll be reading more about mysterium in S.W.O.R.D. #7, and it’ll make more sense after that. How it came to be — basically, all this started when I needed a mission for S.W.O.R.D. in #1, something that would stand alone — I played with resolving the Snarkwar then, but that wasn’t stand-alone enough and didn’t really excite people in the room, so I figured I’d save that and use it to advance a couple of plots later on, rather than as an introductory thing.
Anyway, I always enjoy cosmic stuff, and I thought retrieving something from higher space would be fun, and it’d help with some other beats I had planned down the line. I’ve got plans for it, and I think other people have too — I think it’s going to factor into story directions I’m feeling out in my head, that connect to some of this Arakko stuff. I’m not there yet, though. Doctor Doom has a lot to say about it in S.W.O.R.D. #7 — boy, it’s really sounding like you need to pick that one up.
AIPT: I mean, if readers aren’t already buying S.W.O.R.D., what are they even doing with their lives? Finally, Murd Blurdock and Cordyceps Jones both debuted in you and Adam Gorham’s Rocket mini-series from 2017. Both popped up again in X-Men #1. How does it feel to see these characters getting new life via other creators in the current X-Era?
Al: I love what Pepe Larraz has done with Cordyceps Jones — he’s come a long, long way from when Deadpool vomited him into a storm drain.
I’m slightly more surprised about Murd Blurdock returning because every time they bring him back it increases the chance that he’ll somehow meet Daredevil, at which point I think the universe collapses and we have to have another Secret Wars.
But I’m very grateful to Gerry Duggan and Jordan D. White for remembering — and obviously anything that points people at that Rocket mini is fine by me. Honestly, I had such a blast doing that series. I put Rocket in a suit in the Cable special, just because I think he looks so great in suits — my starting point with Rocket is always George Clooney in Out Of Sight or Ocean’s 11, except if George Clooney was a raccoon.
AIPT: There’s really no better note to end on than raccoon George Clooney. Thanks for taking the time to talk, Al — this was great! Also great? These eXclusive preview images from X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White!
Seeing those two versions of Nathanial Summers reminded me that Cable ends this week, which is sad. But you know what isn’t sad? The fact that series artist Phil Noto will be in the neXt edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT! Consider me eXcited!
Until neXt time, X-Fans, stay eXceptional!
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!