Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
At the end of X-Men Monday #125, I teased that as the X-Office transitions from one Krakoan age to the next, I’d dedicate a few upcoming editions of the column to creators with a passion for the X-Men doing cool things beyond the shores of mutantkind’s living island. In X-Men Monday #126, Zac Thompson took us on a trip to the Savage Land to talk Ka-Zar: Lord of the Savage Land. In X-Men Monday #128, we got to dig into Alex Segura’s love for Sunspot ahead of Marvel’s Voices: Comunidades. This week, I’m eXcited to welcome my fellow Chris, writer Christopher Cantwell!
I quickly became a fan of Chris’ work after taking a chance on Doctor Doom #1 — a purchase I didn’t regret. In fact, I ended up loving this series so much, I conducted a Doctor Doom exit interview with Chris for this very website! (Proof that I DO read stories featuring non-mutant characters!) If you follow Chris on Twitter, you know that he’s also something of an X-Fan, so I reached out to see if he’d be down to visit X-Men Monday and share his love for Marvel’s merry mutants.
He was… and also shared this picture of himself which isn’t him cosplaying as Nightcrawler (but let’s pretend it is).
AIPT: Welcome to X-Men Monday, Chris! For the X-Fans who only consume all things X-Men, who are you and what are you known for?
Chris: I’m Chris Cantwell. I’m the current writer of Iron Man and The United States of Captain America. I did Doctor Doom previously. I’m a huge Marvel fan. And in my other life, from comic books, I’m a TV and film guy.
AIPT: And for those who don’t know, what TV show did you work on?
Chris: Oh, I did a television show called Halt and Catch Fire for four seasons on AMC. Still available on Netflix.
AIPT: Thanks! Now pivoting to X-Men — what was your first X-Men eXperience?
Chris: This is good because I never get to talk about these guys, like ever. I’m so happy to be playing in the Marvel Universe, but like nothing related to the X-Men, right? That’s Jonathan Hickman’s territory and there’s the razor wire, you know what I mean? Gerry Duggan’s inside — if you peek your head in he’s like, “What are you doing here, buddy?”
AIPT: [Laughs] “Are you lost?”
Chris: Yeah, exactly. “Why don’t you go back over to the Avengers office?”
So let’s see. When I was 10, one of the first comic books I ever got was a Marvel Tales issue, which I still have, that I got coming back from a camping trip with my dad. It was Marvel Tales #248, featuring Spider-Man — he fights Wolfsbane. “Rahne of Terror” is the name of the story. So he fights Rahne in that issue. You have no idea why — he’s just checking her on the cover.
But I still have that. And then, like everyone in the universe, I remember I went to the mall with my parents and got Jim Lee’s X-Men #1. I remember buying that and that hooked me from the very beginning. Then I started to really get heavily into comics and I started going to a shop called Big Bob’s Cards and Comics in Texas, which I loved. And I had a box because they explained the whole thing to my mom. I put every X-Men book on my pull list. So I had X-Factor, I had X-Force, I had X-Men with the Blue Team and Uncanny X-Men, which was the Gold Team, and Wizard Magazine.
I remember my first real big crossover event that I ever read was “X-Cutioner’s Song,” which — it’s incredible that it’s a play on the title of a Norman Mailer novel. That’s great and also speaks so much to those guys at Marvel in the ‘90s where they’re like, “Watch this.”
Chris: I read that crazy crossover event and I mean, I was just obsessed with it and read it multiple times. And then I started getting the action figures that came out in like ’90 or ’91 or whenever that was and started collecting all that stuff. So I was heavily into that stuff from the very beginning of my comic book days.
AIPT: Looking back, do you have a favorite X-Men story?
Chris: I remember going to Big Bob’s and I dug into the back issues of X-Factor before the kind of relaunch, so it was when Cyclops was the head of the team. And I loved a lot of that kind of heady brew. I thought that was a lot of fun and kind of darker and a little bit more like somber in a way.
AIPT: It was a very adult series.
Chris: Yeah, and there was just a lot of devastation in the X-Men books where — violent isn’t the word, but it was just dramatic. I mean, the mutants are like the drama club kids of the Marvel Universe, right? They’re kind of the coolest ones, they’re the most attractive ones and they have the most problems and like a lot of drama going on in their lives. So, I was in middle school and just really responded to that.
I think what I really loved, though, was when I got to college and it was Grant Morrison’s New X-Men. I thought that was such an incredible re-invention of what I had followed up until that point. I thought it was great.
AIPT: College is the perfect age for that run, too. I think I was in high school when it was coming out and I didn’t fully appreciate it until much later in life.
Chris: Yeah, I’d moved out to Los Angeles from Texas. I was by myself, just in this giant city and I started going to a store called Golden Apple, which I think at the time Gerry Duggan might’ve worked at — we’ve talked about this. He might’ve just been working there, which is amazing. And then a place called Hi De Ho in Santa Monica — both are still around. But I read Grant Morrison’s New X-Men just heartedly.
But I will say — you said favorite. Mike Allred’s X-Force, I own the entire run of X-Force into X-Statix — the whole thing. It’s completely kind of separate and its own thing in the X-Men universe, but I love it so, so much. It’s so great.
AIPT: While we’re talking favorites — favorite X-Men character?
Chris: I would say Kitty Pryde. Yeah, I think Kitty is my favorite. Kate. I have very few comic books framed, but I have one UV-protected framed comic book and it’s Uncanny X-Men #168, where she’s back up against the wall with the spotlight on her.
I just really liked her. I love her power. The metaphor of her power is so rich from a storytelling perspective. I love what Gerry did with her in Marauders. I really thought that was just a great evolution of the character, but I love some of the old stories and I love all the weird iterations of her costumes, from the weird mask that looks like it was just crammed onto her face because they have nothing that fit at the Xavier School, to the weird blue ’80s-’90s thing where she looks like a Kathryn Bigelow character.
I just think she’s a great character. Even with the New Mutants and everybody else, I feel like she’s the quintessential student-becomes-a-full-fledged-member-of-the-team character. She represents the kind of full arc of the journey of people in that world in a cool way. I like that.
AIPT: Do you have a favorite Kate story?
Chris: I mean, “Days of Future Past” is fantastic. What a character to put that story through the lens of. And I think that’s such a key story in terms of her relationship with Wolverine in a cool way. There’s a mentorship quality there that I think is fascinating and to see the destruction of the world, you know, through the eyes of a character that at least at that time was in so many ways an innocent was great.
AIPT: Now, when I reached out to you about this interview, you brought up the Toy Biz X-Men line. So let’s dig into your history with those classic figures.
Chris: I would go to a grocery store chain when I was growing up called Thompson, which is very strange. It’s still there. And I would get an X-Men action figure. It was either there or Target. I think the first one I got was Wolverine, which came with the ring mask. You can take his mask off and it’s a ring. You can like wear it and be like, “Look, it’s his face!” Like, I don’t understand but I thought it was awesome.
Then I got the Nightcrawler right after that, which was the one with the suction cups. I had my mom cut the suction cups off because I was like, “What the f--k? I don’t want these.” Like, who wants to f-----g put him on the window?
AIPT: [Laughs] Yeah, you put him on the window, out of sight.
Chris: Yeah, facing away from you! I don’t want that, so I took those off. Cyclops was a great figure. What did he do? Did he have like a sparky thing?
AIPT: He had a lever on his back and his visor would light up.
Chris: Yes, that was cool. Archangel, where his wings would like flap — barely. Like, 2 millimeters apart.
AIPT: [Laughs] And Magneto, you could put junk all over him.
Chris: [Laughs] Yes. And then a few waves later, the Jim Lee thing happened and they started doing figures based on those. I still remember my Forge action figure, which was actually pretty cool.
And I remember the first Deadpool action figure. My oldest son is 8, but when he was in preschool, he was 3 years old. A friend of his, for Halloween, went as Deadpool and I was like, “What the hell?” Like, I was in middle school hiding that character from my parents. I got the figure and my mom was like, “So what’s he do?” And I was like, “Oh, he just hangs out, he’s funny.”
AIPT: [Laughs] And he carries a retractable knife you can stab other characters with. Was there a figure you always wanted but never got?
Chris: Jeez. Well, if you’re talking about X-Men figures that I would love to have, the Secret Wars Iceman and the Secret Wars Wolverine, I think are really cool. And I got a few of those a few years ago. I have the little Secret Wars base that I can put on the floor with the Wolverine. But it’s the silver claw one, not the black claw, very expensive one. The old Secret Wars Iceman is worth like hundreds of dollars. It’s very, very rare.
AIPT: OK so, you may be writing Iron Man but you managed to create a new mutant: Halcyon. What can you tell me about how this new mutant character came to be?
Chris: I wanted to create a character in the Marvel Universe just because I wanted to do that. It’s funny. In stuff that’s not creator-owned comics, it’s kind of like, why do that? Because you’re immediately just giving something away. But it felt OK to me because for this instance, I feel like that world has given so much to me. I wanted to just put a little thing in there, but I wanted it to feel of my brain. So I thought of a funny mutant power, which was, what if someone’s mutant power was that their heart rate never went over 70 beats per minute. So they were always calm. I thought that was fun.
And I wanted some more representation in the book. I wanted someone like Tony, who was such a fast-talker and always moving so quickly, to have to, at least in the early issues when he’s really kind of one-on-one with Halcyon, like have trouble interacting with someone because there’s a barrier there. Halcyon’s deaf. So Tony being forced to literally learn how to communicate with another person on their terms, I thought was a good little beat for him and his story because he can be so self-centered, he can be so kind of “everybody meet me on my terms.” And I was like, well, let’s have him meet a person where he’s got to kind of communicate with them on their terms.
And then he gets smoked in the races with Halcyon because he’s got this mutant power. I just thought it would be interesting to see a character who has that mutant power to be unflappable. And then also, because Halcyon has really only used it in this way, he’s not a superhero when Tony meets him, he kind of ends up falling into Tony’s group as they head into outer space. I just thought that’d be fun to take a street racer from New York to outer space. And Tony has to build him a suit that stimulates his adrenal system. That way, he’s not so calm that he just gets blown away. Like, he’s watching whatever’s coming toward them being like, “Oh, this is crazy,” and like just getting atomized. So I thought that’d be fun.
Also, I wanted to make a character that had a quality, like being deaf and yet have their power have nothing to do with that. Because I think that with a modern lens and a contemporary lens, the idea of someone’s perceived deficiency in society, which I don’t think these things necessarily have to be, then be inverted by the writer to make them superior. Look, Daredevil is blind and so his other senses are heightened is an incredible character motif. But what is something that is an evolution of that, where you’re not saying mental illness, you’re not saying neurodivergence, where you’re not saying disability.
I didn’t get to do this in the book because it’s become such an ensemble piece and obviously it’s called Iron Man, so it needs to be about Iron Man. But I wanted someone to realize that Halcyon was deaf and assume that his power had to do with his hearing and for him to go, “No, it has nothing to do with my hearing.” It’s actually this completely other thing. Those were all the things that went into that character and the definition of that word is idyllically happy and peaceful, like a period of time. So he’s got that kind of serenity quality to him. So like, if there’s somebody that’s going to survive on Galactus’ world ship, that’s never experienced anything like that before, it’s going to be the guy that, you know, doesn’t have a panic attack when the punisher robots come out, you know?
AIPT: That’s really interesting. Thanks for sharing all that. In your time working with Marvel, you’ve written Doctor Doom, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four — do you have any idea for X-Men stories or characters?
Chris: No, I mean, I don’t spend a lot of conscious time on it at this point, but like other than Kitty or Kate, I love Jamie Madrox. I think that character is amazing. And that idea that — isn’t it that kinetic impact will make another duplicate? That’s a great mechanism for how that happens. I was an intern at Marvel Studios when I was 19. It was my first job out in LA. And so it was me and Chris Yost and Kevin Feige in the office and Avi Arad was still around. So it was like me just hanging around at 19. And I just thought, man, it would be so cool to do a Multiple Man movie. That’d be so neat. Or a series at this point, right? I think that character’s great.
You remind me, I did have one X-pitch that I sent to Tom Brevoort. It wasn’t really that deep, but it was about a group of mutants who had rejected Krakoa and were just kind of living on their own and causing a lot of problems. There’s a part — this is going to be weird — but there’s a part of Copenhagen called Christiania. Do you know this?
Chris: There’s an island in Copenhagen called Christiania and it’s considered fairly lawless. The police will not even go to this part of Copenhagen. So there’s a lot of drug trade and other things and criminal activity there, but it’s also seen as this kind of safe haven, almost like a Neverland away from the authority structures of Copenhagen. And I visited it. I actually went there with my partner Chris Rogers, and we went to Christiania with a guide during the day. And it was really fascinating.
So it was an X-pitch kind of around the idea of characters saying like, “I don’t want to go to Krakoa and do that whole thing. We just want to go continue to be crazy mutants and have our weird thing over here.” Almost like the monster island that Deadpool had for a second. I think it was called “X-Tastrophy.” That was the pitch that I put together for Tom. It was two sentences long in an email, but yeah. Other than that, I just let those guys do that stuff. It feels like such a huge continent of the Marvel Universe. Literally now I’m kind of like, well, you know, if someone calls me, great, but like until then, I’ll just keep playing with Tony and friends.
AIPT: Well first, you’re emailing the wrong person [Laughs]. You need to email Jordan!
Chris: I just go to Tom with everything. I just bother Tom all day with nonsense.
AIPT: OK, finally, what have you worked on or are currently working on that X-Fans should check out?
Chris: Oh, I mean, She Could Fly is the first book I ever did. It’s two volumes at this point through Berger Books with Karen Berger, the legendary editor who really brought me into comics and then partnered with Dark Horse Comics. And we got to do a final volume of that, which comes out November 17 all at once. It’s the concluding chapter of She Could Fly that finishes the story. It’s about, a young girl who is obsessed with this woman who was flying around the sky and kind of just becomes involved in her world. And her ordinary life becomes extraordinary because of her obsession with this thing. And it changes her.
Also, what I would say to X-Fans is… what if there was a superhero who wasn’t born with powers? What if they got them at some point later in life from some extraordinary circumstance? What about that?
Chris: What if there was a man who was very wealthy and he had to escape a cave and to do so, he used his scientific brain build a powerful armored suit. And later, he called himself the Iron Man. See? It’s pretty intriguing when you lay it out like that.
AIPT: It’s very dangerous for me to even have you here given how many X-Fans dislike the Avengers.
Chris: What if there were some people who merely decided to be special and that was their superpower? And they enjoy a lot of society’s privileges and were not ostracized for who they were? In fact, they were among the most elite of the people living on the Earth? What if you read a book about the people that the X-Men hate? That’s my work.
AIPT: [Laughs] Well, it’s always good to see how the other side lives.
Chris: How about the characters who are just tourists in the superhero world and at any moment they can just stop and take off their fancy s--t. That’s my stuff. Check it out. You’re going to love it.
Chris: I will say that one thing I think comes more from X-Men than something like the Avengers is that in Iron Man, at least where we are in the run, is I love the idea of ragtag group of disparate personalities. Right? So a lot of Iron Man is about that right now. And the heroes that he surrounded himself with are very unexpected in that way. So I think that that’s fun.
And then, you know, I have a book that I feel like very few people have read that I also did with Karen Berger called Everything. And that is about people who are on the outside of society and feel like they’re not included in the larger world.
The whole story of Everything is set in 1980 and there’s a new big-box store, like a department store that opens up called the Everything store. And everyone is very excited about this store and wants to go to the store and be a part of the store and shop at the store. But there are a few people that don’t quite understand what it is and the store actually makes them feel sick and weird. And they realize that something quite otherworldly is going on and that they may have otherworldly things going on inside them, which is causing them to react poorly to the store. It’s very much about outsiders coming together, taking on the system, you know, which people might dig.
AIPT: I actually wasn’t aware of Everything, so I’ll check that out! But Chris, that’s all I have for you, so thanks again for taking the time to geek out on all things X-Men and I hope to see you visiting Krakoa sometime in the not-too-distant future. If… it doesn’t burn down over the next few months, of course.
Also, X-Fans, if this interview’s left you craving more Cantwell, the final issue of the The United States of Captain America goes on sale this Wednesday!
Until neXt time, X-Fans, stay eXceptional!
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