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X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

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X-Men Monday #179 – Kieron Gillen Reflects on ‘A.X.E.: Judgment Day’

Plus, 6 eXclusive preview images from upcoming X-Men comics!

Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!

The end of the world was averted, the Phoenix Foundation rose, and humanity knows the Eternals’ dark secret. Of course, a bunch of other stuff also happened in the sprawling A.X.E.: Judgment Day, and naturally, readers had questions.

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly comics podcast!

Fortunately, Judgment Day mastermind Kieron Gillen was willing to return to X-Men Monday to discuss this instant classic. Kieron’s got a lot to say, so let’s get started!

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of kierongillen.com

AIPT: Welcome back to X-Men Monday, Kieron! Our first question comes from X-Fan Sublime, who asked, what was the germ of the idea for A.X.E.: Judgment Day? Did you have it before or after your initial pitches for Eternals and Immortal X-Men?

Kieron: It wasn’t in my absolute original pitch for Eternals, which was this big document where I outlined what I thought needed to be done to the Eternals to make them work — the secret of resurrection and all that. At that point, my Eternals was the firm first arc, plus the big concept for the second one (“Thanos as Prime Eternal”) and a whole lot of material to choose a path through. That’s how I tend to write for Marvel now – it’s not like doing a creator-owned book. There’s so many moving elements, you plan to be flexible, rather than rigid. I write a palette not a schematic.

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

However, the story which became Judgment Day was in my original Immortal X-Men pitch. I had four big stories for my first year on the book – four three-issue arcs. It was an X-Men/Eternal war, but a whole lot quieter. The idea of two peoples being at war and the world appearing entirely normal from the outside – you can see some of it in the psychic warfare sections of Judgment Day. However, it also took material from another of my planned arcs, which was about humanity’s response when Mutant resurrection became known. This was also a lot quieter – the mode I was looking for was basically Magneto and the diplomats in House of X #1. Mutant/human politics, at every scale, with an intersectional focus.

(And knowing I was writing Immortal fed back into Eternals – Druig as Prime Eternal and the Mutant/Deviant connection at the conclusion of 12 only arrived as I knew I’d be on Immortal so being able to play with it properly.)

Both arcs ended in broadly putting the same things on the table – a Mutant/Eternals peace with the Eternals deciding that Mutants were just humans so not really their problem, and some manner of targeted-foreign aid sharing of resurrection. The specifics were totally different though.

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

When I was asked if I had an idea for an event by Tom Brevoort, I looked at the pieces, and realized that they could be reassembled into something that was significantly more overt, especially if I brought in a lot of other elements. For example, I’d put Uranos on the mantlepiece, but I didn’t know at the time of writing that special that I’d be taking him off it so quickly.

To give an idea about the whole “write material, use it wherever” – there’s nearly two whole arcs in that Immortal pitch which I lost, and likely will never use. RIP the Sentinels of Krakoa and the AI-confederacy. I had other fish to fry.

AIPT: Hm, two topics worth digging into in a future interview. Next, X-Fan Lee James really loved the whole event and wanted to know how difficult it is to write multiple titles simultaneously, keeping track of all the characters while making the main line accessible to readers who haven’t read the tie-ins. Is it more or less difficult when there are tie-ins written by other writers that also continue a separate arc (like with Wolverine)?

Kieron: Thank you, Lee James.

You’d be right that it’s tricky, because it really is at least three different jobs. In terms of keeping everything lined up with other books and writers, there’s a couple of core areas – basically the ones I worked with closely and the ones I just created a space and setting for them to explore.

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

For the latter, as part of my synopsis, I had notes of where people could do stories. In the first act, the attacks on Arakko and Krakoa are big spaces. For the second act, there’s the individual judgments – where I basically gave a document explaining how the judgments worked, and what sort of stories you can do with them. The second one was especially me wanting to just give writers a cool writing prompt that could be used to serve their own books and forward their own plots if they wanted – or also just a great chance to do a definitive “why this hero is cool” sort of story. These were mainly ones the editors keep track of, though I was checked in on for various things (by editors and writers both).

For the former, when things are tight, it involves talking closely. Obviously I left big spaces for Al Ewing and Si Spurrier to fill with the Arakko books, to be as flexible as possible. Then there was just talking about what they needed, which often led to me tweaking the main series to align with what they wanted. That’s also true with the Krakoan attacks – I talked to Gerry Duggan explaining about the sort of defenses the Eternals would have, and when he wanted to basically blow up the armory, I worked in a reason that would have an effect on the actual Hex (“It cuts off their supply of weapons”) – which was my inspiration for the whole Syne/Exodus team-up in the conclusion. It’s fluid. I tried to create stuff to inspire other writers, and was inspired in turn.

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

And then there’s the third thread – which is basically me writing half the crossover by myself, because there’s clearly something wrong with me. That’s just the unique challenge of trying to write the whole Marvel Universe simultaneously, if only by implication. As I said earlier, I create a whole bunch of material, thinking of how it’d work, and then when I write, I pick and choose and edit where to put the focus, depending on what issues I had. And as the issues expanded, I dug deeper, and took opportunities to sequence and create ironies. I’ve also said this before, but for me, the point of an event is to reward people if they read more, not punish them if they don’t. For example, stuff like the whole subplot with the Machine is mainly in Death to the Mutants, because the Machine is such an Eternal character, but their sacrifice changes the resonances of the climax in all sorts of ways. If you gave me another issue, I’d have found something else to do with it. If you gave me any number of issues, I’d have found something else to do with it. I was writing the end of the world, as sincerely as I could. If I want everyone to face that, I wanted to write everyone. They’re all important.

When I first pitched Judgment Day to the Marvel Retreat, I remember Jonathan Hickman’s response. Not the exact line he said, but the chuckle. “Well, Kieron, you’ve written about three times as much as you needed, but don’t worry, you’re productive [Wry Chuckle.]”

When I was in the tightest bit of deadline, where I was trying to write the six issues that dance between issues 5 and 6, I found myself half way through the Tony Stark Issue and in a moment of delirium finding myself really empathizing with Tony. Like, that’s not good. That’s really not good. 

And then I thought of Jon’s chuckle, and cursed him for being right. As always.

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

AIPT: X-Fan Matt Butler said for a book with such scale and gravitas and super heroics, the scenes that stood out to Matt the most were the small inserts with the humans around the world, especially as they culminated with Jada (arguably our most broken human character at the beginning of the book) and her gorgeous chat about inspiration with Captain America at the top of issue 5. How did this perspective come to be and evolve over time?

Kieron: Thank you. Valerio and I were always thinking about the human perspective in the book – we knew how big and cosmic it got, but it had to be about people, or it was all pointless. This is a book about human heroism, which means showing humans, just like us, trying to be heroic. It’s a book about what it means to be good in a fallen world, and showing as many perspectives as possible on that, with various people trying and failing was something that felt key. It’s a story where every single human on Earth was important. We should meet them, and think about how we’re like and unlike them.

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

There’s more than that as well. Some is an aesthetic. For me, part of why I love the Marvel Universe is that it’s actual Earth. I could look up now, and Spider-Man could swing past my window. That also means we should get a human perspective on the biggest events. A building explodes? That’s special effects. I wanted to remind people at every stage that people are in buildings, people just like you. In this kind of event, there’s various genres’ DNA, and I was writing it as a disaster movie. That means people looking up at the buildings falling, not just superheroes looking down.

While power fantasy and wish of reading comics is that you’d be the hero, it’s worth reminding us – especially in this kind of story – that you were in this universe. In reality, you’re the person watching the street burn, hoping, wondering what your life was worth and whether it’s over.

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

I’ll say this – the people who most liked the event are those who absolutely made that jump, and started thinking about themselves. That’s great. That’s absolutely my hope when writing it, and is clearly born of a guy who had a kid half way through writing it, and was thinking over a whole bunch of stuff. We should think more. Every day is Judgment Day and all that. That one of the big inspirations of the story was climate change – something we’ll be judged together on, with our communal actions, and the repeated motif of fire and burning coming from looking at Wildfires across the world as much as the hell-imagery from my religious background.

AIPT: X-Fan Ted said, as a big Nightcrawler fan, Ted really enjoyed seeing Kurt front and center in this event. Usually in big crossovers like this, he’s relegated to the background, but these days it seems he’s more popular than ever. As one of the people who has helped make 2022 the Year of Nightcrawler, what is it about the character that made him work so well in Judgment Day, in particular?

Kieron: Thank you. I was visiting my family in Stafford to introduce them to Iris, and one of my Uncles asked me what I was working on. I described Judgment Day to him in a couple of sentences. 

He said “That’s the most Catholic thing I ever heard in my entire life.”

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

I was not unaware of this, so Nightcrawler was always high up my list of people to focus on. Exodus too, but his faith is far less nuanced and empathizable than Kurt’s. The idea of Kurt getting angry with an unjust god was something I thought of, and made me emotional, and – as a general rule – if I find something which provokes strong emotions, it’s something I want to explore.

I’ll also admit there’s some of what you allude to: he’s not an X-Man who gets leading roles in events often. He’s the perfect one for this, so I wanted to make sure he took the spotlight.

AIPT: X-Fan Bryce High is interested in understanding your thoughts on Jean Grey in Judgment Day. There are moments that really call back to Grant Morrison’s characterization of Jean. She can be very forceful and a bully sometimes illustrated perfectly with her literally summoning Wolverine’s claws, juxtaposed with the ending where she’s doing something truly amazing with the Phoenix Foundation. Bryce would love to hear your thoughts on Jean throughout this event.

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Kieron: You’d be right – Grant’s take on Jean was very much on my mind. I think Jean is one of the characters who people tend to treat a little too much as if she’s a living saint, when her best stuff is a little messier, and all about those contradictions. What Grant does is walk a bunch of fascinating lines – that confrontation with Emma Frost is expertly done. Jean has every right to be furious. She’s right to be furious. However, Grant shows her self-righteousness, which makes the whole thing much more dramatically interesting, especially with the reveal that Emma has caught feelings for Scott.

So yeah — that was on my mind, as well as Chris Claremont’s take, and lots of synthesis of stuff. And she’s certainly a character who we have plans for going forward, so I view Judgment Day as part of that larger story. The Phoenix Foundation, in its name and actions, is certainly squaring a bunch of various parts of herself. 

It was also just fun to write her. She’s not a character who I’ve touched much, apart from a single panel in my Avengers vs X-Men books, so taking a classic out for a spin was a joy.

AIPT: Well, speaking of — X-Fan Jordan said the Phoenix Foundation is independent from Krakoa and Cyclops said it was a win for X-Men. Does that mean the Foundation “belongs” to the X-Men?

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Kieron: As it involves access to all manner of Krakoan resources — not least the Five — it’s not solely the X-Men’s purview but with Jean as the face of the project, they’re going to get a lot of credit for it. It certainly fits the X-Men’s aims in this period, and the tension they have with Krakoa and the Quiet Council.

In terms of how the Council sees the Foundation, we’ll have a little more in Immortal X-Men #9.

AIPT: X-Fan Chuck said with every big event there’s a breakout star. For Judgment Day, Chuck isn’t alone in saying Syne the Memotaur stole the spotlight with being a relatable Eternal machine made for cosmic-level warfare that just wants to work on her poetry. How did you come up with her? Does she have other literary dreams? What is her proudest published work? Whatever beans you want to spill about our girl, go ahead.

Kieron: There was an awful moment when I thought I would have to drop Syne’s plots for space, but it was a darling I refused to let die. If I’m doing Eternals, I’m going to do it like Jack Kirby: introducing new characters and subplots until the book is pulled from my grasp.

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Syne was a character who emerged from Valerio Schiti and me collaborating. I gave the idea for the Hex – these trapped titans, the core Eternal defense weaponry lost for hundreds of thousands of years. We chewed over what they should do – we came up with the elemental symbolism (the four classic western elements, plus space, plus magic) and monsters (Valerio’s choices, grabbing those he really dug) and the titans (I looked at the ones which weren’t used in Eternals mythology… and they were all the women. That was interesting, especially with the Patriarchy as a theme in Eternals). We weren’t sure which of the above we were going to use, but we were thinking of it all.

Valerio went and did the instant-classic designs, and mashing a monster archetype with one of the elements, with various bits of weaponry implied. I then took the design and just… worked out what and hell these people would be? I looked at their weapons, and thought how they could work. I realized that I could work the Titan-ladies influence back in, casting the six titans with the six designs in the most interesting ways, which seemed to align.

So, I had this fiery minotaur, and looking down the list hit the titan “Mnemosyne.” Now, the name looks a bit like minotaur, but she – among other things – is the mother of the nine muses. So, she’s a goddess of creativity… which made me think “fire” in the Luciferian/Prometheus way. The fire of knowledge and creation. I love characters who have a contrast between one aspect of them and another – the idea that this killer, monstrous fiery beast was also a creature who is obsessed by creativity seemed interesting. I had the image of her just being freed, and then DMing everyone she could while she was destroying cities. That’s weird, but also interestingly human-y weird. 

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

When developing the six, I was also adding specific personalities, which emerged from the various mash-ups. Thinking of the six sisters, it seemed having her be the fiery older teenager was fun. The “people trapped in roles not changing” is an Eternals thing, and “older arty teenager” is not one we’ve seen before, made weirder by how she’s trapped in the body of a Kaiju. And I suspect no one has a more intense relationship with art than an 18 year old, when your brain is on fire and the world is yours.

All the Hex have personalities, but I knew it was best to sell one properly rather than doing them all in a more surface way, so if I could carve space, Syne seemed to be the best one to really show it. I was delighted by the idea of her, and – another one of my aesthetic rules – if something delights me, I figure it may delight other people too.

And in terms of your actual questions, I don’t think she’s actually published. She has been trapped reading her poetry just to her sisters for hundreds of thousands of years, and they’ve been trapped listening to it. The Hex have a really hard time.

(I was very glad to get her in the Omega issue too, and will buy drinks to whoever dares pitch a Hex mini-series. Though as they’re skyscraper-sized, it’ll probably better be a maxi-series.)

AIPT: X-Fan Stephen W said the most horrifying moment in the entire event was seeing a child with a Nimrod balloon in issue 6. Whose idea was that?

 Kieron: In my actual outline for the issue, it was actually a huge zeppelin over a tickertape parade. When I came to script it, I decided I’d rather use the space to stress other things – and there had been so many crowd scenes in this comic, I didn’t want to make the artist draw another one unless I really had to.

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

So rather than the big beat, I figured you could have the same effect by just showing a kid being a big Orchis fan. I mean, if you think about it, from the outside, Orchis saved the Earth. They were the ones attacking the Celestial when it blew up, right? 

Yes. Petrifying and awful. Orchis are the worst.

AIPT: X-Fan XGonnaGiveItToYa was wondering, how does humanity’s new fear of the Eternals compare to their fear of Mutants?

Kieron: It’s a different sort of fear. In fact, it more leans to straight hatred than fear. The fear and hatred of Mutants is born of fear they’re being replaced by them, and humanity is obsolete. The fear of Eternals is small (you’re unlikely to die from one, statistically) but it’s more disgust. Sersi was right – they are not angels, but vampires. They’re not heroes. They’re not risking anything. They’re risking our lives by doing what they do… and they’ve been lying about it for all these years. 

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

The real difference is that humanity is absolutely justified in hating the Eternals.

The bad and gray Eternals don’t really care. The good Eternals have to live with that, every day of their endless lives.

AIPT: X-Fan Septumpapibells said as Judgment Day wraps up your run on Eternals, what are you most proud of?

Kieron: I think we mainly succeeded in our goals – the “turning continuity into mythology” was the one liner, and I think we mostly did it. I think we put fun spins on the characters, and leaves them in a more interesting and useful place than we found them. I like that folks are using it as an answer to “No one has ever made the Eternals work” cynicism. I think the tragedy of the Eternals works really well – a really simple idea, which feels pure Marvel. I think we told an actual story. I think it was good. That’s all you can really hope for.

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

I like that while we did more issues in total, Kirby still has the most consecutively numbered issues in history. I’m not Druig. I have no desire to dethrone the King. 

AIPT: X-Fan Eric Filemyr was curious to learn why Sersi was the Eternal chosen to die. Was it because she was an Avenger? Eric understands a death was needed for dramatic stakes and to push the Eternals to change, but how did you land on Sersi?

Kieron: I think if you re-read my whole time on Eternals, you’ll see Sersi’s long trajectory to that moment. We learn what she’s done, how she’s lied time and time over while our other heroes have told the truth and been mind-wiped. We see her use schemes that are beneath her to confuse her simpler friends. We see her push her friends away, both human and Eternals. Even with the end of the world happening, she won’t let go of it. And then she does, because despite everything, she is a hero.

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Ikaris may have been the viewpoint character, but I think it’s Sersi’s story.

Ajak may argue with that though – she’s got a similar defined trajectory.

AIPT: Finally, in A.X.E. Judgment Day Omega, we learn a bit more about Krakoa’s long, mysterious history. “Goodbye, Mommy/Daddy/Self/Other.” What can you share about that message and those tears trickling down Krakoa’s Face?

Kieron: Alas, I don’t think there’s much I want to share outside what’s in the scene. We learn that Krakoa (or rather, Okkara) was the model that the Celestials used to create the Machine when they arrived a million years ago – and Krakoa’s response speaks of a close ongoing relation after that (plus the name – that’s a translation of a concept that we don’t have a word for). The Machine did say Krakoa was a nice guy back in Eve of Destruction, but that’s the Machine being understated as usual.

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

One thing I will say though – the idea that the Celestials used Krakoa as the template wasn’t mine, but Al’s. I described the situation to the X-Office (I wanted a reason why Krakoa couldn’t just be anti-mattered bombed out of existence, and wanted to trigger the “Do not hurt the machine” principle) and Al suggested that in a sentence, and it was clearly perfect, so I ran with it. 

Al Ewing knows what he’s doing.

AIPT: He really does – but so do you, Kieron! Thanks for a great Marvel event and thanks for taking the time to reflect on all things Judgment Day.

What comes next, X-Fans? Well, let’s see — via these eXclusive preview images, courtesy of X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White.

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

X-Men Monday #179 - Kieron Gillen Reflects on 'A.X.E.: Judgment Day'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Until next time, X-Fans, stay exceptional!

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