Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
X-Men Unlimited — eXclusive to the Marvel Unlimited app — continues to please X-Fans by spotlighting fan-favorite mutants. Recently, writer and artist Jason Loo stopped by X-Men Monday to discuss his X-Men Unlimited stories featuring Multiple Man, Strong Guy, and Lila Cheney.
Now, it’s writer Alex Paknadel’s turn to talk Maggott, Cypher, and more!
AIPT: Welcome to X-Men Monday, Alex! As this is your first time here, I have to ask: What was your first X-Men eXperience?
Alex: Thanks for the warm welcome, Chris! Oh man, I’m a second-generation X-Fan so I was pretty much raised in the faith. My dad taught me to read with Marvel Treasury Editions and the old ’70s Wyndham pocket books, but I was never allowed to read any of his REAL collection — the American imports — because I was a filthy, wretched child and my hands were perpetually coated in snot and chocolate. It wasn’t until I got rushed to the emergency room when I was 9 or so that he let me touch the good stuff. I was recovering in hospital and he brought me a fat stack of Conan and X-Men, from Giant Size X-Men #1 to about Uncanny X-Men #143. I got to read the whole Claremont-Cockrum-Byrne era while I was full of stitches and it changed my life. Soon as I started getting pocket money it was down to the specialty store in central London to pick up X-Men #1, X-Force #1, X-Factor #71, and Uncanny X-Men #281.
AIPT: Very nice. And just so X-Fans get to know you a little better — can you share your favorite X-Men character and X-Men story of all time?
Alex: My favorite X-Men character is Jamie Madrox/Multiple Man, no question. The whole X-Factor Investigations era is just sublime, but I loved PAD’s take on the character from the jump. If you really think through the implications of his power set, you realize he’s this incredible existential hero, capable of living every life at once. I just find him endlessly fascinating, and I know I’m not alone.
If I can be sneaky and get a bonus character, I also adore Magneto. The guy IS the 20th century, in all its bloody horror and splendid aspiration. As a child of the Jewish diaspora, I’ve always empathized with him, even if I’ve rarely approved of his actions.
My favorite X-Men story — and I hope this counts — is “Weapon X” by Barry Windsor-Smith. It’s this grinding, yet somehow transcendently moving, field guide to abjection. Only in X-Men could you take Marvel’s ultimate badass and use him to make this beautiful, urgent statement about dehumanization and torture in the name of progress. It’s up there with “Born Again,” “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” and God Loves, Man Kills for me.
AIPT: On Twitter, you mentioned that Associate Editor Lauren Amaro called you out of the blue a few months ago about writing for X-Men Unlimited. Once you get that type of call, what happens next? Did you already have ideas for X-Men stories featuring Maggott and Cypher kicking around in your head? Or was it more like, “Alex, we need a Maggott story — what have you got?”
Alex: I had a couple ideas in my back pocket, but Lauren really helped me refine them and make them fit for purpose. She asked me who I wanted to write and then checked their availability against the wider plans of the X-Office. I went for some heavy hitters first because I was told a while back that editors respect big swings, but secretly I wanted to play with the cool weirdos like Doug and Japheth. Needless to say, I got my wish.
The Maggott story was underway and Lauren asked me if I was still interested in writing a Cypher story, so I moved some stuff around and grabbed it with both hands. I was just rolling six after six for a couple months there, all thanks to Lauren. We worked together on some Empyre one-shots about 18 months ago and she hit me up very soon after she got moved over to X-Office, I think.
AIPT: When we first see Maggott in X-Men Unlimited #35, he’s on the sidelines, watching the X-Men battle D.K. and he’s a bit down on himself. We see what he thinks of A-Listers like Gambit, Magik, and Jean Grey… but how, in your opinion, do the A-Listers view Japheth?
Alex: I think they view him with the utmost respect, honestly. Krakoa is all about recognizing and leveraging each mutant’s unique suite of abilities, so although there are hierarchies, there’s still an element of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs,” you know? Japheth’s gifts are no less useful than Cyclops’ or Emma Frost’s; however, they are a little more niche. Accordingly, he doesn’t get the plum missions some of the A-Listers do.
For me, Japheth’s insecurity — which you can trace all the way back to X-Men #76 so I wasn’t conjuring it out of thin air — purely stems from the fact that his gifts are incredibly visceral and Cronenbergian. He has two sentient endosymbionts living within him that can eat literally anything and then transfer the energy to him once they’ve crawled back inside his abdominal cavity. That’s an insanely useful gift to have, but it’s not particularly pretty. I took that and used it as the foundation for his friendship with Laura. Maggott and Wolverine are both the heroes you go to when you want something done that you don’t want to think about, right? They’re the best there is at what they do, but what they do isn’t very nice.
AIPT: Your story, and Maggott’s interactions with Eany and Meany, made me wonder about Japheth’s relationship with the slugs. Clearly, they’re a part of him. But would you say he thinks of them and treats them like pets, or is that term reductive?
Alex: I wouldn’t say it’s reductive, but there’s a strong canonical reason to believe Eany and Meany are hyper-intelligent, so when he talks to them like pets it’s in the full knowledge that they can out-think him in nanoseconds. So much of their communication is non-verbal because they have this strong psychic link, so when you see Japheth cooing at them like puppies or whatever then you’re really seeing the tiniest tip of this communication iceberg. I had a lot of fun substituting quite complex conversations with these weird little squeaks and chirrups, but hopefully, some of that latent complexity was hinted at.
AIPT: On Twitter, you referred to your Cypher story as “a labor of love.” What made you want to tell this very unique story about a mutant language?
Alex: Well, first of all, I love the relationship between Doug and Warlock. It’s so gloriously weird and knotty and just… X! They’re so much fun to write, and Doug’s powers are so crunchy and recondite. Like Maggott and Madrox, his power set can really take you anywhere you need to go with sufficient imagination.
The other reason why I wanted to tell this story was because it allowed me to sit and think through some of my misgivings about the concept of utopia. It’s something I keep coming back to in my work. Krakoa is a fresh start and so Doug wants to purge Krakoa of the impurities and ambiguities common to other languages that can leave interpretive space for atrocity. In the story Damian Couceiro and I told, he realizes that it’s impossible. Language can’t prevent calamity, but it can be a consolation in the dark.
AIPT: You had a chance to give us a fresh look at Doug and Bei’s marriage. How much fun was that?
Alex: Oh, it was great. The writers in the X-Office had already done such a great job of making her this otherworldly, beautifully candid character so I just ran with it. I just love the idea that she’s loved up beyond belief with Doug, but his best friend is this Looney Tunes cartoon that never gives them a moment’s peace. It’s You, Me and Dupree on Krakoa!
AIPT: Your X-Men Unlimited stories were quite inventive with how you wrote for the scrolling format. How did you find the overall writing-for-Marvel Unlimited eXperience?
Alex: Oh, it was a blast. I asked Kieron Gillen for some advice before I got started and he told me to have some fun with the format, so that’s exactly what I did. I had people throwing things into other panels, weird discontinuous open panels, people dissolving into fonts… it was wild and I loved it. I was so, so lucky to be paired with Julian Shaw and Damian Couceiro for both stories. They got what I was after right away and took it further than I could possibly have hoped for. Another instance of Lauren Amaro being one heck of an editor.
AIPT: For the X-Fans who only know your X-Men Unlimited work, what other Alex Paknadel work do you think they should check out?
Alex: I have a very well-received OGN out through TKO called Redfork, which is this Appalachian horror I made with Nil Vendrell. I’m very proud of that one. I’ve got a DC series out at the moment called DC Vs, Vampires: All Out War with Pasquale Qualano and Matt Rosenberg that’s a lot of fun, I think. I’ve done a fair bit for Marvel now, including an Immortal Hulk one-shot that I think might be the best short story I’ve ever written. I dunno, I’m around! Please sample my wares.
AIPT: Finally, you wrapped your Maggott story and then went and dropped another X-Men Unlimited story. Can we eXpect any more Alex Paknadel X-stories in the future?
Alex: Not at the moment — although I’d jump at the opportunity if it arose, obviously. But you know what? I got to geek out over the phone with my dad about this thing we both love to bits for two months straight during a really scary time. I hadn’t even reached double digits when I promised myself I’d write some X-Men, and decades later Lauren Amaro, Jordan D. White, and Gerry Duggan let me do it. What a gift.
AIPT: And a gift to readers! Thanks for taking the time to chat, Alex and keep up the great work beyond Krakoa! Before we wrap, X-Fans, how about a few eXclusive preview images courtesy of X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White?
In the neXt edition of X-Men Monday, writer Kieron Gillen returns to answer X-Fan questions about A.X.E.: Judgment Day #1!
Until neXt time, X-Fans, stay eXceptional!
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