Welcome, X-Fans, to the 125th edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
If you’ve read X-Men Monday #25, #50, #75 and #100, you know how much I love a marvelous mutant milestone. Aren’t we lucky that the 125th installment of your favorite weekly X-Men column just about coincides with the release of Inferno #1 (on sale September 29!)? And aren’t we eXtra lucky that Head of X Jonathan Hickman agreed to answer X-Fan questions for #125 after already answering X-Fan questions for X-Men Monday #123? Yes, the answer is yes to everything!
Is this Jonathan’s final X-Men Monday appearance? It could be, X-Fans. But we also thought Inferno would be Jonathan’s final X-Story for some time… and then X-Men Unlimited dropped. Only Destiny knows what the future holds, and sadly, Charles Xavier, Magneto and Moira MacTaggert refuse to resurrect her.
(We’ll see how long that lasts.)
Either way, Jonathan deserves a proper X-Men Monday sendoff — so I asked a few of his friends to share their favorite Hickman memories. Maybe you’ve heard of them…
Benjamin Percy (X-Force, Wolverine, the upcoming X Lives of Wolverine/X Deaths of Wolverine)
Maybe it was the time that he cut off my ear and made me eat it as punishment for handing in a lousy script. Or maybe it was the time that he made us all get giant tattoos of his face on our backs as a test of loyalty. But in all seriousness, from the first time he called — in October of 2018 — to say, “I think you’d kill on X-Force,” (I took him literally), he’s been a delight to work with. When we get together for summits, he’s there to generate discussion and ask smart and tough questions, but never to dominate. We’ve all been able to build off the brilliant foundation of HOX/POX and build our own 40 acres, thanks to his collaborative leadership.
Tini Howard (Excalibur, X-Corp)
The real, genuine, mushy version is that he’s always there for us X-Writers. He asked me to write an event with him, and I had a BLAST doing it. He checks in on us. He’s the best at recommending books, though his taste in music is bizarre. I entered this room a huge fan of Hickman’s and now we’re collaborators, and even weirder, friends. The world is a strange place. Also, he was so amused when he thought of Pogg-ur-Pogg. I’m so glad you guys like that character because it was clearly very special to him. “It means sword-the-sword,” he insisted to us. “Okay Jon,” we said gently, as it was the early days of the pandemic. “Pogg-ur-Pogg, sounds great.”
Leah Williams (X-Factor, X-Men: The Trial of Magneto)
All of it. The whole thing. The truth is I probably have thousands of words about my favorite memories working with Jon, but I can’t narrow it down to the perfect thing to say here in this context. But I want to be involved with this effort anyway since it feels like an X-Family group project!! But the bright side is that I’ve already embarrassed Jon extensively with my perpetual earnestness about how great he is as a collaborator and coach since I’ve said all this stuff to him directly over the past two years, anyway. He knows we all love him. We all know he loves us, too. (Whether or not he wants to.)
Gerry Duggan (Marauders, Cable, X-Men)
It’s not unusual that the smartest guy in the room is also the funniest, those things usually go hand in hand, but usually those people are also ginormous assholes. Where Jonathan becomes unusual is that he’s also the kindest and most thoughtful person. He didn’t just make the room better storytellers but also better collaborators.
(Below: The birth of S.W.O.R.D., via Gerry)
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Al Ewing (S.W.O.R.D.)
All my clearest Jonathan Hickman memories are massive plot spoilers. But I do feel like they all share something in common, which is — as Head of X, Jonathan is incredibly willing to share his throne, so to speak. Right from the start of my time in the X-Office, he was always about the team, about what we could each contribute while we were there — we weren’t just there to follow orders, we were all there to bring our own skills to the room, and listen and learn from each other. That was the Vision of X we were all there to execute, and the writers’ room he built is, I’m pretty sure, the best one I’ve ever been in. (Also, it was one of his notes that led to Fabian Cortez returning from exile to take a spot on the S.W.O.R.D. team, so if you liked the return of the ponytail, you’ve got him to thank.)
Vita Ayala (New Mutants, Children of the Atom)
The “bad version” is that time I was giving him guff about being my favorite comics writer (not all of us can write East Of West, Jonathan) and he laughed and gently told me to piss off. (I think he blushed, it was great!) The more true answer though is (and this is a selfish one, but whatever, we’re allowed) that time after one of the summits where Leah and I were having a drink with Jon and maybe Gerry. It was at the end of a long weekend, and one of us (probably me) made a self-deprecating comment and Jon immediately got this look in his eye (very “cut the sh*t”) and informed Leah and I that we were in the room because we were Writers (emphasis his) and had damn well earned it. That was early on, and at every opportunity, he has proven that he believes in us (all of us in the room). Watching him work is incredible, but watching the way that he intentionally supports and elevates his colleagues is truly humbling.
Victor LaValle (the upcoming Sabretooth)
My favorite memory comes from when I pitched him and Jordan White my series idea. Watching Hickman’s engine rev up as I continued to lay out my idea. He started throwing out all these suggestions that offered ways to think bigger and wilder. The ideas were offered with pure generosity and joy. What about this? What about this? Each one building on, not canceling out, what I wanted to do. He was instantly collaborative and all he wanted was to help figure out how to swing for the fences, then obliterate the fences. I came away knowing that I had the job and, even more importantly, that I could take this story anywhere as long as it was big. I remain grateful for that example. “Have fun.” That’s what he kept saying. “Have fun.”
Thanks for sharing those memories, everybody! I continue to believe the X-Slack is the loveliest place to work in comics. If any decision-makers from Disney+ are reading this… X-Office documentary — make it happen.
Alright, X-Fans, on with the main event: Jonathan Hickman answering your questions — which he hand-picked!
AIPT: Welcome back to X-Men Monday, Jonathan — thanks for doing this! Since House of X #1, you and the other X-Creators have set up countless plots — any number of which could have been at the center of Inferno. I’m curious, what made the Moira/Mystique/Destiny story the logical choice?
Jonathan: It’s the correct pivot point, and that’s the way people should probably think about it. Especially with what the line is going to look like after Ben’s Ten Lives and Ten Deaths of Wolverine book starts in January.
When the distribution is finally switched over, and as solicits roll out here over the next couple months or so, you guys are going to see all the things we’ve been keeping secret and/or holding back so that the calendar could get aligned.
A good example of this is Victor’s Sabretooth book that got announced last week which is part of a triptych he’s working on. He, along with several other writers, have actually been in the room for over half a year, working away on this next phase of X-Men titles.
AIPT: Very eXciting! While we’re on the topic of Inferno, X-Fan Zero wanted to know what it was like to finally canonize Mystique and Destiny’s relationship. And a follow-up, what makes this pair so compelling to you as a writer?
Jonathan: Well, they’re an amazing power couple, but the thing I latched onto once I figured out how resurrection would work was ‘who wasn’t there (haha. EVERYONE)’ and more importantly, ‘who’s been gone a long time?’
Destiny, being a precog, also locked into the secret failed future of mutantdom, and was therefore immediately adversarial to Moira, and by extension Xavier and Magneto. That it painted Mystique into being on the other side of things from the jump made it kind of perfect. Also, just as visuals go, Destiny is a tier-one look. Can’t leave that up on the shelf.
As to the other, I had no idea until Jordan told me. I knew it was supposed to be a big deal that Mark Waid wrote them kissing, but I honestly thought that was just a ‘show it on the page’ kind of thing. I just assumed that they were always a couple because that’s how Chris Claremont’s depiction read to me.
Either way, it’s all good now. You know, if she wasn’t dead.
AIPT: You’ve been blessed to work with some of comics’ most talented artists since House of X and Powers of X. Visually, what can we expect from artists Valerio Schiti, R.B. Silva and Stefano Caselli in the pages of Inferno?
Jonathan: Well, the last time I worked with Valerio was on some pretty important New Avengers issues. He’s very, very good and this Inferno stuff is really well done. No big surprise there.
R.B. continues to crush it as one of Marvel’s top guys. He’s also had a recent addition to his family — congrats, R.B.! — so he’s having to pull new dad/super-artist double duty, so in that light, the work is even more impressive than normal.
Stefano, of course, has a pretty special place in my heart as he and I worked together on Secret Warriors — my first ongoing Marvel book. I love working with that guy and I’m so happy he’s doing this. He just finished Inferno #2 and it looks fantastic.
I also think that David Curiel deserves a ton of credit here as he’s coloring all of Inferno and adding a level of cohesiveness that really holds the whole thing together.
AIPT: X-Fan Jim Burdo said you’ve portrayed Orchis as morally gray, even sympathetic. Is Orchis trying to commit genocide or make humanity into something more that won’t be replaced as the dominant species?
Jonathan: I think you’re just going to have to keep reading. It’s a little more complicated than that after Inferno.
AIPT: Looking back, what is your favorite single issue you wrote in your run? X-Fans Pablo Sánchez and Hickman (wait a minute!) wanted to know.
Jonathan: I assume you mean from X-Men, so I’d probably say that Crucible issue [X-Men #7]. That’s a pretty solid comic.
My favorite issue overall was House of X #5. That was a fun book to write because it was just knocking down things I’d spent issues setting up. It was all dunks, front-to-back.
AIPT: X-Fan Ron Chand was wondering, when you plan your long comic runs, do you figure out the ending first and then work backward?
Jonathan: I usually get some idea of what the whole concept is — including the ending — all at once. The shape of it is just baked into the initial idea of the project.
Obviously, the middle bits are where the story lives, but that’s usually pretty flexible so I’m not sure that the length (the run being short or long) has anything to do with it.
So while I do tend to work toward a predetermined conclusion, a lot of that is probably more of a reflection of the jobs I’ve had than any kind of preference. I’m trying the other way a bit now. Having some fun. We’ll see how it goes.
AIPT: X-Fan Chris KG was curious — do you think the ‘writers’ room concept ‘ was more successful than what you expected?
Jonathan: I think it worked in a lot of ways that were intended. I think there are also things we got wrong or could have done better. I think if our only goals were a cohesive line, integrated storylines, and a profitable line of books for the company, sure, for the most part, it worked out great.
And while I do think those are the most important things, for it to be truly successful I think we needed a couple more things to go right.
One, I believe we needed a broader aesthetic. A bigger artistic umbrella. That’s something we perhaps could have controlled a little better.
Two, I think we needed to maintain a more relentless velocity. Narrative rhythm is good — necessary, I think, in the individual titles — but with a line as big as ours, the whole thing still has to feel like a freight train. The pandemic really screwed us there, and along with other complications, it’s taken us until now to get everything back on track. So, while some might think that’s one we deserve some grace on, I’d probably argue that grace isn’t something you get to ask for in a financial exchange.
But, overall, I think it’s worked well. I’d give us a ‘B.’
Also, I do think the label is wrong. A writers’ room is where a bunch of people work on a singular thing. This isn’t that, as we all have separate books. So, yes, we all work together — and we have succeeded in making a tight group that collaborates well on generating ideas — but after that’s done, everyone has to go back to their hole, all alone, to die badly as the walls close in.
Hey there, someone’s on a deadline. Can you tell?
AIPT: Do you plan to stick around the X-Slack? Or does Jordan disable your account the second Inferno #4 goes on sale?
Jonathan: I’m actually the owner of the X-Slack, so I think the move is for me to lock everyone else out after our X-Summit ends this week.
If you see everyone bitching late Thursday evening, you’ll know why.
AIPT: X-Fan Cami asked the question on every Scemma fan’s mind — how often has Cyclops been to the White Palace?
Jonathan: As often as possible, I’d guess.
AIPT: Juicy! X-Fan Joe Tomlin said in your work with the X-Line, it seems like you have a particular fascination with the Children of the Vault. What about them compels you conceptually?
Jonathan: I’ve said this before, I think the story points that Mike Carey was making in his X-Men run were the most forward-looking ideas in quite a while. I think there are nostalgia-based X-Men books that work better because they scratch that certain ‘itch,’ but Mike was, in my opinion, the guy asking all the right questions.
Conceptually, what they are ties in pretty perfectly with the broader direction of the X-Line, so you shouldn’t be surprised to see more of those guys in the future.
AIPT: As we wrap up, is there any story beat or character you regret you didn’t get around to working on?
Jonathan: Character-wise, I had to pull all the Rogue stuff out of Inferno and I’m pretty bummed about that. We just didn’t have the real estate. I almost asked for an additional issue or even bigger issues, but the former came with calendar/scheduling problems, and the latter wasn’t possible without bringing in another artist. So I had to move on.
Overall, there were a couple of concepts that either didn’t work out (one was going to be a Children of the Vault book, another was an Imperial Guard thing), or were changed at the last minute because of character conflicts or direction changes (the Giant-Size books), but nothing else really comes to mind.
There were some internal continuity mistakes — I always hate those — but any broader regrets in terms of the stories I get to do or not do? Not really. I feel like that’s on me to maximize an opportunity when I have one.
With that in mind…
AIPT: Yes! Final question! Multiple X-Fans wanted to know if we’ll ever see your original three-act structure for the X-Men. Obviously, the ideas in there could still appear on the printed page, but is this something you could see yourself one day releasing, teasing in a newsletter or eventually seeing print as back matter in a collection? OR… should X-Fans give up all hope?
Jonathan: I understand where this question is coming from — I do get it — but I think it misses the point of the whole X-Men experiment.
There’s no version of this where I’m putting plans in my back pocket to save for another day, or some great character beat that I’m holding onto and no one is allowed to use it (or the character) until I get around to it. That’s not what this is. Everything I have already done, everything I’m currently working on, and everything I had plans to do in the future belongs to the team. That was the point of having a room and a cohesive group of creators working together.
I promise you’ll be seeing plenty of those ideas and plans executed in other books or amalgamated into broader concepts. The big questions and resulting conflicts I was getting at aren’t disappearing from the line — those things are baked in. They’re inevitable in a lot of ways.
It just won’t be happening on a timeline that I can work on.
Which is perfectly fine. The team is going to do great. If anything, I think some of them will flourish without me taking up all the oxygen in the room.
I really hope I don’t sound too prickly about this, but these are my guys. I’m very fond of them, and they’ve done a great job — everything that was asked of them.
And if I’m being completely honest, I’m kinda jealous of some of the stuff they’re getting ready to do over the next few years. The plans are amazing.
AIPT: The perfect note to end on. Thanks again for taking the time to answer these burning questions, Jonathan! And, based on the kind notes at the start of this article, it’s clear your collaborators feel just as strongly about you as you do about them.
Now, it wouldn’t be a true celebration without party favors, so here are a few eXclusive preview images courtesy of X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White!
Hm, wonder what that last image is about.
Before we wrap, a note about upcoming editions of X-Men Monday. As you’re aware, we’re not entirely sure what the future holds for the X-Men and Krakoa, post-Inferno. As a reader who loves surprises, that’s very eXciting! So, I plan to embrace this period of mystery and take the opportunity to spotlight a few creators outside the X-Office who are doing cool stuff and share our love for Marvel’s mutants.
Honestly, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, and already have a few interviews in the can, so look for those in the weeks ahead.
But don’t worry, of course, we’ll continue to check in with Jordan and X-Office favorites when it makes sense to do so! Think of this as the season finale of Loki — the door is open to endless possibilities. I mean, we’re officially on the road to X-Men Monday #150 — anything can happen!
Until neXt time, X-Fans, stay eXceptional!
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