Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
Humanity outraged over mutant immortality, an attack on the Five, a massacre on Arakko — Judgment Day is upon us.
With so much going on in the debut issue of A.X.E.: Judgment Day, you better believe X-Fans had questions. Fortunately, Judgment Day writer Kieron Gillen’s here to provide clarity — as well as teases for what comes neXt! Let’s get started.
AIPT: Welcome back to X-Men Monday, Kieron! By the time readers reach page 3 of A.X.E.: Judgment Day #1, they’re treated to a Phoenix-powered punch. The momentum really doesn’t let up from there. How does writing an event like Judgment Day compare to writing a series like Immortal X-Men, which you’ve referred to as “Neo-Claremontism”? With this event, are you pushing yourself to take bigger swings as a storyteller?
Kieron: Well, there’s certainly a lot to think about.
I’ve said previously that writing a single book is most often like playing an instrument. As in, it’s got its own tone and sound, and you’re trying to make music with that. It’s at least in part an instrument you’ve constructed yourself, but it’s still an instrument. It does one thing. In terms of an event, you’re playing all the instruments in the Marvel Universe simultaneously. It’s an orchestra. And simultaneously, you’re trying to make it a coherent piece of music with its own shape and timbre. So I’m thinking of what interesting things other books can do while also leaving space for other books to play a counter-melody while ensuring the core event book is its own story, which has something for everyone who comes to it.
And they’ve come for an event, so that’s what we’re trying to give to them. There’s a lot of me thinking about what do I like and hate in events. Also, how am I feeling now, and how I can use that in the work. What are event emotions? How can I convey them in my own way, and also work out how Valerio Schiti can make those ideas sing. I’ll stress this now — this story simply wouldn’t work without how Valerio approaches the page. I’m certainly aware that for all the politics and philosophy in the mix, it needs to be big. It’s a blockbuster. You look for big moments and emotions which catch the eye and heart — and you know you can approach them, hit them with speed, and get out of there.
The event moments are the easy bit though, to be honest. I’ve got enough heavy metal in my heart to know how they work. The hard stuff is engineering the momentum you describe, while also explaining everything anyone who’s never read a Marvel comic would need to know to jump aboard. The structure of that first issue is absolutely made to walk you through the status quo, while simultaneously making everything explode. If you want an example — the whole assassination attempt on the Five is also an explanation of the nature of Krakoan resurrection for those who don’t know it already. That kind of thing.
In short: I am absolutely thinking “okay — what are the F--K YEAH! or OH, HELL NO! moments in any given issue?” By the end, I want people to throw popcorn in the air.
AIPT: Based on the reactions I read online, you certainly achieved the perfect balance of “F--K YEAH” and “OH, HELL NO!” X-Fans Avatarkyungsoo, Iron, and Snootchy Bootchy were curious to learn how you juggle such a large cast and ensure the Avengers, Eternals, and X-Men get a good balance of panel time.
Kieron: With difficulty.
I’m wearing multiple hats. I’m the X-writer, thinking of the continuing X-story and how this can forward it… but I’m also thinking how to explain what the X-story is to those who don’t know it, in sparse enough details that it doesn’t drown them. Is this enough for an Avengers fan? Is this too much X? Too little? What’s true to the characters? What do I need to have in the core book and what’s best to be dealt with somewhere else in the line?
Of course, the other problem is actually one of excess — you have so many great characters. You have to concentrate on enough specific characters so there’s actually an emotional backbone for the story a reader can both follow and care about… and some of that is going to be dictated by the movement of other books in the event too. For all the art, there’s also just a lot of math in this.
Some of it is like writing a team book, but more so. In a classic team book, unless writing a focus issue (and often even then) you have a moment where everyone gets to do their thing. I’m applying that to the Avengers, the X-Men, and the Eternals as a whole. There were certainly issues where we felt it went too much towards one group in the outline stage, and then when scripting I pushed in directions to highlight aspects of each team. That the Avengers were the outsiders to the story made them the trickiest to begin with, but they very rapidly get the messy stakes required. Even in the first issue, when they’re mostly confused, they’re still very useful as a reader surrogate. You know who Captain America and Iron Man are… and you can understand their feelings as they enter this maze.
But the big cast is also a lot of fun. You get to just pick and choose random half moments with awesome characters, across this huge canvas. With the most iconic characters in all the teams, you can do a lot with a little. Like, Thor and Captain Marvel aren’t characters who are carrying the emotional throughline in the main event book… but both also get their cool moments where they’re themselves, and charm and entertain us. Same with a bunch of the X-folk too. The cameos are great because you can use anyone in Avengers, X-Men, or the Eternals.
Or more than just them. It’s a Marvel event. Of course I’ll grab Doctor Doom for a panel, right?
AIPT: Oh, you have to — Doom would eXpect nothing less. Now, you’re not just writing the main Judgment Day series but several tie-ins as well. Then, series like X-Men, X-Force, and X-Men Red also tie into your story. X-Fans Avatarkyungso and VK were wondering if you could talk about how the X-Office (and beyond) developed the tie-in stories. Did you suggest starting points or did writers come up with concepts?
Kieron: A bit of both, really. I pointed out opportunities and people saw their own. It was always the writers’ choice, which I then worked in.
There are multiple acts in Judgment Day. The first is the Eternals vs. X-Men war we’re seeing now. The second one is something else, which we’ll get to soon enough. For each, I basically described the broad shapes to the whole office, in terms of what I needed for the story to work, and highlighted the opportunities one could jump on if they were interested in exploring. For the war, that’s describing the big picture element of the conflict. For the forthcoming second act… well, it’s more of a story prompt. I wrote a document explaining the status quo, and what it could mean for your book. Everyone took it away and decided how that applied to them.
Folks told me what excited them or not, which I then fed back into the event. There are lines where I tweak to make clear how other books connect. To choose an example, Al Ewing wanted to have some of Uranos’ armory still active on Mars after his hour, as it served his story better. It makes it an ongoing conflict, right? So I had Uranos mention that towards the end of the issue, so we know that Stuff Is Still Happening up there.
From an X-perspective, the key thing was Judgment Day serving the story we’re telling. On the most basic level, it’s obvious: we’ve been teasing the secret of immortality for a long time. When it came out, there had to be a reaction. And lo, there really was. But that echoes down through the books as well — X-Men Red’s story of Arakko, for example. And what I’m most happy about in the second act is that it’s built to be really adaptable, to whatever anyone is doing.
I wanted people to want to tie in and do stories with the concepts, basically. I wanted to have their ideas work back into the larger structure. I want this to feel fractal, planned, and structured even when it’s improvised creatively between peers.
AIPT: X-Fan @Jean_RED_Grey pointed out that Judgment Day promotional material has heavily featured Jean Grey. Additionally, Jean is one of a handful of characters you’ve chosen to focus an entire issue on. If you can answer without giving any spoilers, why did you decide to make Jean a central character in Judgment Day?
Kieron: Heh. The cheat answer is taking the “If you can answer without giving any spoilers” literally and just saying “no,” but that would be terribly rude.
In terms of the absolute basics, I wanted an iconic X-Man who was incredibly powerful and with a history whose broad strokes were known even to people who don’t read comics. In terms of the modern specifics, that she was on the Quiet Council and then left to be an X-Man is an interesting position. As the narrator notes, it’s a story that is interested in the nature of heroism — by her choice, it implies Jean has an opinion, which she followed. Let’s trace that through. Also, that she’s an X-Man means she’s not one of “my” characters, which grounds the event across the line more than if I just grabbed (say) Emma or Charles.
Heh. By not really saying the full reason makes it all sound so cold and logical, right? And with something with as many parts as an event, there is a bit about the machinery of the story which dictates choices. Like, did I consider Storm as one of my leads? Certainly. But she’s got other things to be doing in X-Men Red which means she’s not as available. Choices cascade.
That I’d never written her significantly may have been in the mix too. Jean’s off my list now. When will I get to JJ Jameson?
AIPT: Hopefully soon! While we’re talking characters, X-Fan Jorge P. wanted to know who you consider to be the underdog of this event. Basically, who is a character readers will be surprised by the most?
Kieron: C’mon, Jorge. If I told you who’s the underdog, you’d expect it, and that would spoil the fun.
I think some surprising characters get big moments… as well as some big characters getting some really big moments. There are a couple of sequences in various tie-ins which fold into the main narrative which I find genuinely moving. As the mysterious narrator says in the first issue, this is a story about heroism. Some people are heroes in surprising ways.
Okay — to give at least some answer to the question, I’ll mention someone who ended up charming me, despite literally being a skyscraper-sized monster. Syne the Memotaur. I’d say “give her a spin-off mini,” but if you’re the size of a skyscraper, it’d have to be a maxi.
Talking Underdogs more broadly, one of my favorite things about it is that both the Eternals and X-Men increasingly view themselves in a losing position. Have you ever played a board game and everyone is convinced they’re losing? There’s definitely some of that energy here. Druig’s been pretty confident in Judgment Day #1, but that man’s a worm, and as we know, worms have no backbone.
AIPT: One of A.X.E.: Judgment Day #1’s most talked-about moments was the massacre on Arakko. X-Fan A-aron wanted to know what went into this decision after so much of the Krakoan era has moved away from extinction-level events.
Kieron: There are several answers to this one, and some of them I’ll have to save for later — all this is in motion. When the whole setup of X-Men Red #5 is “what happened on Arakko?” there are obvious limits to what I should say now — though one can read between the lines in a few things Uranos says.
Some of it is an attack on Arakko emerged from thinking about any serious superhero war. Much like Moira suggested — if someone is actually attacking Krakoa, the Arakki need to be removed from the conflict. There are a million of the bastards, and they can fight. The exact nature of how that was done is open, but there’s no way a million warriors would not be a primary military target. For any story to be credible, that had to be engaged with somehow. I described what the story would need, and we chewed over a bunch of approaches, and we ended up where we did. While Uranos’ attack happening off panel absolutely has an aesthetic effect, that it leaves space for a real story to be told about the attack and the aftermath in the other books was key. The Arakko attack is a mutant story, so should be told primarily in mutant books.
Some of it is that while it was while extinction was off the table, it was always hanging over the table, like a sword of Damocles. The threat of a species dying is absolutely what looms over House of X/Powers of X. The “we always lose/we always win.” The return of Nimrod, etc. It was never not going to come back onto the table, in some way. That’s literally what the story was foreshadowing.
Some of it is Judgment Day’s theme, but we’ll definitely have to come back to that one. It’s an upsetting book in lot of ways, and has a lot of disaster movie notes in its DNA.
AIPT: X-Fan SweetsOne said one of the most poignant scenes in A.X.E.: Judgment Day #1 was the panel of the human protestors cheering on the Eternals’ fight against mutants. Why was it important to you to include that emotional beat?
Kieron: I think by asking the question you already know my answer. I think this is only going to become more clear as we progress into Act 2, and especially in Act 3.
Were I to talk about a theme of Judgment Day, I’d perhaps boil it down to: are we all just f----d?
I hope not, clearly, but despair for humanity and the world is very much what drives the book, and certainly drove that panel.
AIPT: X-Fan Husnain asked, was Selene right? Would she have been a major asset against the Eternals?
Kieron: Any towering witchy goth with an on-point wardrobe is a major asset in any situation. What would the X-Office be without Tini, right?
AIPT: We can’t have a Kieron Gillen interview without someone asking about music! X-Fan Joseph Echt wanted to know what songs you associate with Uranos.
Kieron: Uranos is the living embodiment of the world’s worst grandparent, hammering on the ceiling, shouting “TURN IT DOWN! ALL MODERN MUSIC IS JUST NOISE!”
Though Uranos may be the other way around. He doesn’t want tunes. He just wants white noise. He would have nodded appreciatively when Atari Teenage Riot used to encore with 45 minutes of static.
AIPT: Finally, August sees the release of 10 Judgment Day-related comics, including Judgment Day #2 and #3, Death to the Mutants #1, and more. What can X-Fans eXpect — and after a shocking first issue, maybe brace for in month two of A.X.E.?
Kieron: The first act of Judgment Day is the Krakoa vs. Eternals war, which the tie-ins explore in a fractal fashion. We get to see the big battles, the emotional context, everything. Clearly, everything that’s going down on Arakko gets explored in detail in X-Men Red and (later) in Legion of X. This is very much the second front to the whole conflagration, and X-Men Red #5 kicks it off astoundingly. Immortal X-Men #5 has me going into detail on the psychic throwdown in the Quiet Council, while doing a deep dive into Exodus — I suspect that shows my approach. Sure, I’m doing an event, but I want to focus on people, and what makes them tick. In the case of Exodus, some people tick like a ticking time bomb. He is a LOT.
Then at the end of issue 2 of Judgment Day, we move into the second act. Now, certain elements continue, and even escalate… but then the story becomes something a little more philosophical, without sacrificing its scale. An existential event book, really. This asks big questions to all the characters of the Marvel Universe, and I hope folk will enjoy seeing the answers we get from them.
And then Act 3 which is OH, GET ME BACK LATER AND I’LL TELL YOU MORE.
AIPT: I would love to have you back for more Judgment Day conversation, Kieron! But for now, that’s all the questions we have. Thanks for taking the time to discuss A.X.E.: Judgment Day #1! And X-Fans, be sure to stay on top of the Judgment Day release schedule so you don’t miss a beat!
Here’s an eXclusive look at some of those upcoming beats, courtesy of X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White!
Until neXt time, X-Fans, stay eXceptional!
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