Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
If you loved X-Men ’92: House of XCII as much as I did, then you’re in for a treat this week, X-Fans. Writer Steve Foxe initially hyped his radical, ’90s reinvention of Jonathan Hickman’s own reinvention of the X-Men franchise in X-Men Monday #147. But that was before we had a chance to read the first issue. Now that the mini-series has wrapped, it’s time for the X-Men ’92: House of XCII eXit interview.
Fortunately for us, Steve had lots to share, so let’s get started.
AIPT: Welcome back to X-Men Monday, Steve — and congratulations on the eXcellent X-Men ’92: House of XCII! It’s clear A LOT of thought and research went into putting this mini-series together. From adapting key moments from the Krakoa saga to only using characters who had appeared on X-Men: The Animated Series to ‘90s-accurate costumes for Marvel guest stars and relevant pop culture references (Bruce and Demi). I could go on and on. What can you share about your research process for this project?
Steve: I’ve actually never seen the animated series. This was all just a paycheck to me, Chris. What’s a mutant?
I kid, I kid. Not to sound too gee-willikers about it, but X-Men ’92: House of XCII is the sort of bucket-list, pie-in-the-sky gig I never expected to come my way, let alone have it be my first main-line Marvel project. I’ve been reading X-Men titles uninterrupted since I was about 6 years old, and X-Men: The Animated Series is one of two shows I can and do watch on repeat (the other being The Golden Girls). And as luck would have it, a few years ago, I started a chronological re-read of every X-Men comic ever published, from Giant-Size on. I had, hand to [A], just finished “X-Cutioner’s Song,” which ran from 1992 to 1993, when Jordan D. White, X-Men Group Editor extraordinaire, emailed me about writing this series. It was unbelievable timing and if my boyfriend hadn’t been looking over my shoulder at the email, I’m not sure I would have accepted it as reality.
Of course, as you acknowledge, the ’90s and the animated series are only half of House of XCII — the other era to which we’re paying tribute is the Krakoan resurgence that’s been sweeping the line since 2019. While I’ve never been a lapsed reader, I was one of many bowled over by Jonathan Hickman and co.’s work from the jump, and am lucky enough to be friends with some of the talented 616 X-architects. The modern-day side of things didn’t require a lot of brushing up — I’ve been hungrily snatching up these issues each and every Wednesday.
I did revisit key moments from the animated series for inspiration, and to remind myself of the heightened ways the characters were depicted on TV. The X-Men ’92 comics may technically be their own distinct timeline, but we wanted readers to be able to approach it from all sorts of angles and find ways to have fun. The writing on that show informed so much of my childhood love for the X-Men, and still looms large when we imagine how Storm, Rogue, and the rest of the cast speak and interact.
As for which characters pop up on the page under Salva Espin’s talented pen, there are actually a good number in House of XCII who never made it on the show. The rule I set for myself was to try to use everyone who did appear on the animated series, which we came darn close to doing save for like, most of the “Inner Circle Club” because they just weren’t visually interesting enough for the cameos (sorry, Mastermind). But I’d guess a solid 80% or more of characters who showed up on the animated series, including unnamed cameos like Gatecrasher, do make an appearance in the comic mini-series.
The other part of the rule was to not use anyone created after 1994. I picked that as the dividing line so we could get ’90s classics like Adam-X and Cyber and Random in there, but stopped short before the comics really turned a corner with Generation X and the second half of the decade. One of the last pages of issue #5 nods toward this, too, with Jubilee talking about the future and new members, and Maggott, Cecilia Reyes, and Marrow all popping up, signaling the passing of the torch from the first half of the ’90s to the second.
A lot of that “continuity” was second nature. It was honestly stuff like Bruce and Demi that took more research. While the show ran until 1997, the book is called ’92, so I wanted the references to make sense for 1992 when it came to things like the playlist in issue #2, or who’s in charge of the Soviet Union, stuff like that. In ongoings set in the current day, those references get dated fast. In a nostalgia tribute like this, it’s a key part of the set dressing!
AIPT: You managed to pack a lot into just five issues. There have to have been story beats and jokes you had to leave on the cutting room floor.
Steve: To be completely honest, very little got cut from the initial proposal. When I pitched the series, the first Hellfire Gala was either in progress or wrapping up. I think I knew about Inferno from my pals writing the books, but it wasn’t officially announced. So I had some really strong touch points to wrap issues around: HoXPoX, the Dawn of X kickoff, “X of Swords,” and the Gala. I’m also a big proponent of leaving it all on the field. If you check out my Spider-Ham books with Shadia Amin over at Scholastic, or my Web-Weaver short with Kei Zama in Edge of Spider-Verse, we really try to make the most of the page space given to us when it comes to story beats, cameos, groundwork for more, etc. Especially in an instance like House of XCII where getting more than five issues wasn’t really a goal or known possibility, I wanted to give readers a lot of bang for their buck in the 100 pages (plus data pages) we had to work with.
If anything, things got added to the plot as it went along. Issues #1-3 stayed very close to my outline, but my original pitch actually hinged on Sinister betraying the island, in a sort of, “Duh, what did you expect?” black-and-white cartoon morality moment. My logic was that the animated series would default to the bad guys being bad guys, since only Magneto really got a hefty redemption arc on the show. But after I accidentally made a habit of killing Beast in each issue, I realized I had a perfect opportunity to swerve. I sent Jordan and Associate Editor Lauren Amaro a frantic email late one night justifying using Dark Beast and deviating from my approved pitch, thinking they’d put up resistance, but they were just like, “Sounds great! We have Sinister plans anyway, so this is perfect.”
So, thank you, Kieron Gillen, for making Essex such a compelling bastard that I got the chance to live my Dark Beast fantasy for a few issues.
AIPT: Well, speaking of Dark Beast — Hank’s resurrection turning him into Dark Beast was definitely unexpected, and one way this adaptation really deviates from the source material. Was this decision at all a reference to Hank’s increasingly dark tendencies in the Krakoan era?
Steve: Aside from the previously mentioned opportunity to make House of XCII stand out more from where the 616 line was headed with Sinister, Dark Beast was definitely a nod to Hank’s long arc toward uhhhh… being a real mean jerk! I’ve said it elsewhere, but writing Hank in the first three issues was incredibly bittersweet. As a creator, reader, and fan, I appreciate and enjoy his descent into immorality, which arguably started in the ’90s but certainly accelerated in the last decade between Brian Michael Bendis and Ben Percy.
But as a kid of the late ’80s, Beast is always going to be an erudite, slyly clever jokester to me — the college professor who gets rowdy at the bar with students while debating Proust. Having this Beast become Dark Beast is a way to poke fun at and literalize his character arc in the main book. It hurt me a little to do, but I couldn’t resist.
AIPT: Of course, we can’t get too far into the interview without talking about the biggest change. Moira MacTaggert was well-established on the animated series, but you chose to swap her out with Jubilee. Other than giving readers a twist on the source material, what thoughts went into this decision?
Steve: Swapping out Moira for Jubilee served three functions: giving readers something meaningfully different about this version of events; celebrating an icon of the ’90s; and producing a first-issue surprise that would make you want to read more.
You’re right that Moira did appear plenty in the cartoon, and maybe I could have written her with a heavier accent to set her apart from Jonathan Hickman’s take, but I just couldn’t see the point in keeping the lynchpin of events the same as in the 616 version. I’ve always loved What Ifs, which House of XCII is in all but name, and the best What Ifs change the starting point of known storylines and explore the reverberations from there.
I’ve talked about it before, but I also feel like Jubilee often gets a raw deal. She’s so associated with the time of her debut that some readers who don’t have firsthand, nostalgic experience with her dismiss her as a relic of the ‘90s. And since her original character traits were really all about being young and bratty, aging her up has necessarily changed who she is — she’s now a post-vampire doting surrogate mother. Which is very cool! But that means that the version of Jubilee a lot of us met is not coming back any time soon. Since this book is meant to celebrate the ’90s, celebrating Jubilee — making her the most important mutant of all — felt like a solid choice. And that page-turn of Jubilee in the secret bunker, talking smack to Xavier and Magneto, really seemed to work as intended to get readers to go wait, WHAT and want to pick up #2 to find out what this twist was all about.
Plus, I could make comic-book-science sense of how her powers could work for the function, by suggesting that fireworks (small explosions) were a prelude to a Big Bang (big explosion). No, I did not pursue science beyond mandatory high school classes. Yes, this still makes as much sense as most comic science.
Fun fact: we discussed other possibilities including Senator/President Robert Kelly, Morph, Stryfe, Rachel Summers, and Dazzler for the role. But ultimately only Jubilee had a personal resonance with the cast in a way that elevated the story!
AIPT: We’ve also got a very different version of the Five — Karma, Healer, Fabian Cortez, Tempo, and our returning champion, Proteus. Was this combination a no-brainer or did you work through a few different combinations before arriving at this group?
Steve: Some members of this combo were for sure no-brainers, like Tempo for Tempus, because I love Tempo and her powers operate somewhat similarly by affecting time. Some were harder, like Karma, Fabian, and Proteus working as a proxy for how Hope, Egg, and Proteus do in the main line. I will admit that originally I wanted Healer to be Darrell Tanaka, a mutant who only appeared on the TV show in the Skull Mesa arc and who had healing powers, but rights get tricky at times, and I love the Morlocks, so I was pretty happy to get Healer in that Elixir role instead.
Ultimately, because we cover so much ground in 100 pages, some of the other substitutes for 616 teams or characters are more subtle or glossed over. We don’t have time to do a bunch of magic adventures a la Excalibur, but we see Apocalypse and Scarlet Witch fussing with the mystic arts. Rogue gets a Marauders boat in a panel that got the Twitter traction I kind of hoped it would. If the series was 10 issues long, I’m sure I would have explored more of those nods, but I’m also happy with quick glances suggesting a larger framework for this world. Better to get readers thinking about how things might translate than to leave them feeling like they’ve seen too much.
AIPT: On the animated adaptation of “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” the Hellfire Club became the Circle Club, as Hellfire is just too much for kids. It was fun to see that same level of censorship carried over to your story with the Inner Circle Gala and mutants coming out of resurrection eggs fully costumed. I’m assuming that was all part of the fun?
Steve: The Inner Circle was one of those happy discoveries, since it’s a term that originates in the comics and then got used with more prominence in the cartoon. We kept “Orchis” because it’s a fun name and it felt too confusing to try to replace it, but “Quiet Council” sounds so mature and modern and forward-thinking. The Council literally sits in a circle, so Inner Circle was cartoon-logic perfect. And we did try to keep the content more or less cartoon-friendly, though we probably pushed it by the time Genesis cuts off Arkon’s head.
A lot of those choices were not mandates, but ways to give readers a different experience from the main line. I knew from the jump that hewing too close to the 616 version of events was kind of a waste of everyone’s time and of Salva’s massive talents. That era is still ongoing, and I’ve even been lucky enough to contribute to it. You can very easily read the original HoXPoX if you want those events. So things like the mutants being fully clothed post-resurrection (which I think was an offhand joke Jordan made during our first call) help add up to a distinct reading experience.
It’s also fun to compare House of XCII to the prior X-Men ’92 run from Chris Sims, Chad Bowers, Alti Firmansya, and others, because they were operating in such a different world when they created their series. In 2015/2016, I don’t think any of us imagined a direct continuation of the actual cartoon, so the creative team went more meta with things like actual censorship bars and fourth-wall breaks from Cassandra Nova and all sorts of characters who not only weren’t around during the animated series’ run, but probably never would have made it in, like the X-Statix crew. And I love that series as such a “who the eff cares, let’s go bonkers” take. Now the main X-line is as forward-thinking and popular as ever, and the cartoon is coming back with many of the same talents, the book Salva, Israel Silva, Joe Sabino, and I did is aimed at staying “in-universe” a little more.
AIPT: The X-Men have never been low on prominent humans who hate them. Was it a lot easier assembling the ‘90s version of Orchis? And was the romance between Boliver Trask and Lady Deathstrike a nod to Alia Gregor and Erasmus Mendel?
Steve: It sounds terrible to phrase it this way, but it was a ton of fun to assemble all those anti-mutant bigots! If we take a step back and look at the long arc of the X-Men, we probably got fewer, on average, new human bigot villains after the mid-’90s. Graydon was one of the last big ones, as the X-Men dealt with more and more mutant-specific problems leading up to “Decimation,” and by then we were seeing a lot of the older bigots make grand returns.
Another reason for building Orchis like this, which I’ve cited a lot, is that the animated series was really great about foregrounding the “hated and feared” aspect of the X-Men. If you read the comics chronologically, that’s certainly a recurring theme, but there are years of the line where it’s more about space travel or mystic threats or clones or whatever, and the way the wider world views mutants takes a backseat — as it must. The series can’t revolve around only one theme for 50 years.
But since that bigotry was such a major part of the TV show, and gave a generation of fans a really strong sense of the mutant cause mirroring various civil rights and marginalized struggles (however imperfectly), it made sense to make this Orchis more defined by the human bigots who left such major impressions throughout the ’80s and early ’90s, like Cameron Hodge and Donald Pierce, and even the more reluctant G.W. Bridge.
The romance between Trask and Deathstrike is definitely a nod to Alia and Erasmus, which was a wrinkle in the Nimrod story I really appreciated. It’s a brilliant way to deepen and personalize the stakes of the Nimrod program from the non-mutant side. As we saw in Hickman’s time on the book, there’s an element of Nimrod’s rise that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for the X-Men. I don’t see that as blaming the victim, but as a way of showing how complex these webs of cause-and-effect can become. It’s easy to dismiss raging bigot villains as the clear bad guys, but some members of Orchis have justifiable reasons to worry about the future or hold grudges, even if their overall goals are abhorrent. With Deathstrike’s demise — and the loss of his human body — our Trask has some of the most personal stakes of all. It’s another ripple toward making our version of events unique, and also just a fun visual: Deathstrike cozying up to a Sentinel inspired by Krang from TMNT.
AIPT: “X of Swords” was a 20+ issue event that you fit into a single comic. Obviously, the new take is a very different storyline, but is there anything you could share about how you adapted it?
Steve: The intent of the House of XCII spin on “X of Swords” was absolutely to be fun-stupid and to evoke video games like Mortal Kombat and Marvel vs. Capcom, one of my earliest Marvel loves (and the reason I think Blackheart and Shuma Gorath are so cool). Salva also took inspiration from MvC for his art approach to the whole series, so I wanted to devote an issue to leaning into that.
I’m good friends with Tini Howard, the co-architect of “X of Swords,” and she got a huge kick out of seeing how we crammed a tournament into one issue. At one point, I did consider mirroring the more unique contests of the 616 “X of Swords” by including like, a breakdancing competition, but it just seemed right to show readers what a fight-only version of “X of Swords” might have looked like, since many expected that out of the original event. A lot of fun for one issue, but not so sure it would have carried 20!
As for swapping in Arkon, that was in my original pitch, since Saturnyne never shows up on the cartoon and explaining all of Otherworld in one issue would have been a lot. Plus, he’s usually a brutish barbarian, so a slam-bam brawl works for him, and is another chance to overlap with the cartoon since he got a two-part arc. And it was my excuse to fit in a totally gratuitous two-page spread of the bad guys and good guys running at each other. How could we not?!
AIPT: Brood Ur-Brood and the Deadpool dialogue that followed was genius. How did this idea come to be?
Steve: So, Arkon’s warriors were chosen as a way to include a lot of X-villains and rivals who didn’t fit anywhere else, and because introducing a bunch of new Arakkii mutants would break the ‘90s immersion. I considered asking Salva to draw more ‘90s-ish versions of White Sword and the others, but the cartoon was really fond of repeat cameos and I couldn’t pass up writing in Sauron, Erik the Red, and the rest of the crew.
Deadpool, as he says in the book, was not nearly as meta in 1992 as he is now, but that scene lands right around the midpoint of the entire five issues, so it was a good “pressure valve” to acknowledge some of the absurdities of the whole concept and problematic stuff like Psylocke’s old status quo. I always knew he’d be piloting a Brood suit, but actually didn’t come up with the name “Brood Ur-Brood” until the lettering pass — good thing I did, to hammer that nod home!
The other name that didn’t sneak in until the last second was Morearms. I was just calling him Sixarms, and we all had a big laugh about the stupid simplicity of it. But I showed a page to Marauders writer Steve Orlando, my closest frenemy, and he coined “Morearms” off the top of his head. It was too funny not to steal.
AIPT: The all-new, all-different X-Men — featuring Feral and Random?!? How did you decide on these two to fill in for Wolverine and Synch?
Steve: I love visibly mutated mutants! Chamber has been one of my favorites forever. Marrow, Beast, Maggott — anyone who can’t “pass” always gets my attention, both for visual interest and what it says about a character and how they fit alongside the many handsome and/or gorgeous mutants who make up the core mutant canon.
I considered just having the core animated squad winning the election as a bit of a laugh, but I also love Sunfire and Polaris and didn’t want to write them out of an extra spotlight. Feral fits the Wolverine role as a young woman with animalistic powers, while Random can morph his body parts to mimic other abilities, which is kiiiiind of like Synch if you squint! Obviously we don’t see too much of the team, but any little boost to their profile is a net good from my perspective.
AIPT: The return of Phoenix and Asteroid X. What made you go this route? Is it safe to assume without the help of the Phoenix, even Asteroid X would have been a lift for the ‘90s X-Men, let alone terraforming Mars?
Steve: Phoenix makes an appearance for a few reasons. Like Dark Beast, she’s a big chapter in X-canon that hasn’t played heavily into the 616 Krakoa story yet (and that’s not a loaded “yet” — I’m not teasing or spoiling anything here!), so that’s an exciting chance to play around with part of the toy box not currently in use. The modern Jean has moved beyond the Phoenix in a lot of ways, so this was another way of differentiating these takes on the character.
(Sidebar: when the book was announced, I was immediately inundated by upset comments convinced I would have Jean fainting left or right in homage to her often-memed moments of exertion on the TV show. Not only does she not faint in House of XCII, she catches Scott when he almost does! Let’s all exhale and learn something about jumping to conclusions, please.)
We also didn’t use “omega mutant” in the same way back in 1992. Until Jonathan Hickman helped establish a firm definition and list of those who qualified, that was a somewhat lawless term, thrown around whenever a writer wanted to boost someone’s profile. While I don’t get into the power-level debates that fandom loves, I do appreciate “omega” meaning something specific now. But it didn’t in 1992, and I didn’t see the utility in trying to force that in. Instead, terraforming comes courtesy of elemental mutants like Magma, and Phoenix helps guide the process as a universal force of death and rebirth.
Phoenix also needed to show up in #4 so that the final play in #5 didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s still an intentionally wild moment — Phoenix Jubilee! — but it would have felt super cheap if we hadn’t seen the Phoenix flex her abilities in #4.
AIPT: And then there’s Combo Man! What can you share about how this “terrible combination man” came to be?
Steve: Oh boy — what’s more ’90s than Combo Man? I have NO idea what the legality of that character is these days (and am still a little shocked Storm’s line made it in), but knew I wanted to homage him with the House of XCII chimeras. Under Jonathan Hickman and R.B. Silva, the chimeras left a HUGE impression in a very small number of appearances, and because of how Moira’s powers work, we may never see them again. Their designs are slick and smart, so I wanted ours to be clunky and silly. Cartoon logic, baby. I’m sure the House of XCII chimera was a very special nightmare to design and draw in action, though, which is why he appears and promptly zooms off panel into the sun!
AIPT: Your ending really leans into the timeline reset — something Inferno managed to solve with a depowered Moira. Obviously, the Krakoa saga is ongoing. Was it challenging to put a bow on your version?
Steve: Since we approached House of XCII from the jump as a standalone five-issue story, we knew we needed to actually end things, even though the main line very much doesn’t have a firm ending coming any time soon. I actually remember Jordan phrasing it like a challenge — how will we reset the pieces so we don’t leave the cartoon-inspired universe completely changed? — and I was like… uhh, we’ll just reset? Which is of course stupidly simple, but that’s how cartoons solve problems sometimes! Serial media, especially back in the day when kids caught whichever episodes they could and there was no streaming or OnDemand to fill in the blanks, can only change the status quo so much. The toys don’t break arc to arc. So a hard reset was a solution available to us that the main line can’t use, of course.
And now you can read House of XCII however you’d like: in concert with the previous ’92 series, with the cartoon, etc. It literally fits wherever you’d like it to fit, or can be totally ignored if it’s not your speed.
AIPT: As we wrap up, we need to gush about Salva Espin and how much he crushed it on art.
Steve: 95% of the reason this book works is Salva Espin’s artwork. His ability to meld an animated style with his own super-strong visual storytelling — and to marry humor with enough stakes for the book to avoid becoming an out-and-out joke — elevated every single aspect of House of XCII. He was also game for anything. I counted and, by the end of the five issues, he had drawn about 150 characters from Marvel canon. 150! That is wild. But his willingness to adapt everyone from Cyber to Zaladane to Tusk to Genesis to his own unique style is what made this book feel big and inclusive and expansive all at once. I feel like I could write 10,000 words on how grateful I was to have him as a collaborator — I knew he was perfect before he drew a page, but I REALLY knew he was perfect the first time he drew a little monster Krakoa face — but the work speaks for itself better than I ever could.
Major credit to Israel Silva and Joe Sabino for their contributions on colors and letters, too. I couldn’t have asked for a better, more in-tune team for this project, and I’m very lucky and grateful I was part of it!
AIPT: And finally, can we talk about those radical data pages?
Steve: The data pages! I usually saw these just before print, so they were my big surprise treat, too. When I pitched the series, I requested a more Saved by the Bell-approach but was also clear I could work with black text on white pages if we needed to for budget or timing. Instead, Jay Bowen went way above and beyond to put a personal and totally zany spin on each data page concept I could dream up, which inspired me to do things like RPG manuals and startup disk menus and a photocopied mix tape song list.
The sleek, sophisticated design of Jonathan Hickman and Tom Muller would look wildly out of place in 1992, so I’m extra grateful to Jay putting in that effort, especially since most reviews credited letterer Joe Sabino (who did killer work in his own lane!) instead. For the record, and for all the ’90s flowers he deserves, it was all Jay on those 10 design pages, and I still let out a huge laugh each time I see them.
AIPT: Well, that’s all I have for you, Steve. Thanks for taking the time to dig into X-Men ’92: House of XCII with me and I can’t wait to read what you do neXt in the X-Office — including the just-announced, Firestar-focused X-Men Annual #1!
But before we call it an X-Men Monday, how about a few eXclusive preview images, courtesy of Jordan D. White?
Until neXt time, X-Fans, stay eXceptional!
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