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X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

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X-Men Monday #196 – Charlie Jane Anders Talks ‘New Mutants: Lethal Legion’

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

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

Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Charlie Jane Anders is back at the helm for an all-new, all-different New Mutants adventure, New Mutants: Lethal Legion. If you’ve had a chance to read the mini-series’ first issue, you know that in addition to mainstays like Wolfsbane and Karma, Escapade, Morgan Red, and Count Nefaria are also along for the ride. Oh, and Blaster Dame and Fisticuss, too!

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Clearly, there’s a lot going on in New Mutants: Lethal Legion. Good thing Charlie Jane was game to help break it all down.

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

Photo credit: Sarah Deragon/Portraits to the People, courtesy of charliejaneanders.com

AIPT: Welcome back to X-Men Monday, Charlie Jane! Let’s start with a broad question: What’s your elevator pitch for New Mutants: Lethal Legion?

Charlie Jane: Backing up slightly… New Mutants #31-33 had gone to a pretty dark place, because I was dealing with the U-Men, and especially Martha Johansson’s first encounter with John Sublime since she got herself a new body. So when I was asked to pitch a mini-series, I told my valiant editor Sarah Brunstad that I wanted to do something a bit sillier. I was heavily inspired by Jonathan Hickman and Rod Reis‘ opening arc on the 2019 series, where the New Mutants go into space, mess with the Starjammers, and rob a Shi’ar outpost.

My basic pitch was, “Cerebella is feeling freaked out and traumatized after facing the U-Men again, so Escapade talks her into doing a heist to cheer her up, but it all goes horribly wrong, the way heists tend to do.” Scout inviting herself along on the heist just made it that much more fun, and adding Count Nefaria to the mix took it to the next level. As Sarah said, trying to be there for someone and having it backfire is the most New Mutants thing ever.

AIPT: You mentioned Rod Reis. New Mutants runs tend to attract some very gifted artists, and it was cool to see the creative team featured so prominently on the first issue’s cover. What can you share about this series’ visuals, courtesy of Enid Balám, Elisabetta D’Amico, and Matt Milla?

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Charlie Jane: I’ve been lucky to work with some of the best comics artists out there in my relatively short stint writing for Marvel, but I’ve still been utterly blown away by Enid Balám’s pencils and Elisabetta D’Amico’s inks — it’s gotten to the point that I perk up whenever I see either of their names in my inbox, because it’s going to be an email containing more brilliant artwork.

Enid’s linework is so clean and distinctive, and he puts so much personality into every panel, it’s incredible — I will spend a lot of time trying to think about how a scene should look in my script, and then Enid always comes up with a way to make it look a hundred times better. He came up with Wolfsbane’s snazzy outfit in Lethal Legion #1 by himself.

And Elisabetta’s inks are another awesomeness multiplier — she does things with shadows and textures that help to bring the story to life in an incredible way. No spoilers, but in Lethal Legion #3 there are some scenes where characters are looking through a window with stuff reflected in it, and it looks just utterly wondrous.

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Matt Milla’s colors, meanwhile, are heartbreakingly beautiful — the sunset in the first issue, the Krakoan foliage, and all of the ridiculous superhero/villain costumes looked so much more distinctive after Matt colored them. Everyone is also incredibly collaborative, and we’re constantly checking in and trying to make the story better.

AIPT: That’s all great to hear. Now, this week’s first X-Fan question comes from Christian Smith, who was wondering if it’s challenging to write a title like New Mutants where fans can have a very specific idea of who should be in the cast (more so than even the flagship X-Men team) and develop new characters at the same time.

Charlie Jane: I love every era of New Mutants, from the original Chris Claremont/Bob McLeod issues to Vita Ayala and Rod Reis’ run. And I know that from the beginning, New Mutants has had an evolving lineup, with Magik and Magma joining the team in the second year. I remember seeing the 2018 New Mutants: Dead Souls mini-series, which had a roster including Strong Guy, Rictor, and Boom-Boom.

To me, the most essential thing about New Mutants is its theme of coming of age in a confusing world with powers you can barely control, and trying to figure out who you are. Vita Ayala came up with a wonderful way to honor that theme with the Lost Club, a younger group of mutants being mentored by the now-adult New Mutants. That was such a genius way to keep New Mutants coming-of-age-focused while still including Karma, Mirage, Wolfsbane, and Magik, who are long since grown up.

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Any time I need to reconnect with the feeling of a great New Mutants comic, I reach for one of the Ayala/Reis trades, or my giant hardcover omnibus of the first few dozen 1980s issues. I also think there’s a long tradition of New Mutants graduating to the X-Men or other teams, as Magik has recently done: I’ve just been re-reading Marjorie Liu’s incredible run on Astonishing X-Men, which is required reading for understanding Karma.

AIPT: Let’s talk a bit more about Wolfsbane. First, X-Fan Sophie Evergreen has personally always read Rahne as trans, so it’s amazing to see a trans writer writing a story with Rahne interacting with trans characters. Second, Sophie was curious to learn some of the things you’re looking to explore with Wolfsbane’s character.

Charlie Jane: Oh, that’s awesome. I’ve been obsessed with Wolfsbane for as long as I can remember, and I’ve loved seeing her grow from a scared young girl fleeing a strict religious upbringing to a woman who’s been through some stuff but still wears her heart a little bit on her sleeve. I feel like the X-Men franchise is full of characters who speak to the trans experience: feeling as though their outward appearances do not match their self images, but also going through drastic transformations to become their true selves. (See Cerebella as well, but also Cosmar.)

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

I had a feeling Rahne would be a good mentor for Escapade, but I wasn’t prepared for how fun it was to write her and Morgan together — Morgan is young and cynical where she’s more of a weary idealist, but they both know what it’s like to have people try to squish you into a shape you don’t fit. The thing I really want to explore with Wolfsbane is her compassion, even for monsters that are chasing her and for people who piss her off. She’s capable of rage and fury, but she chooses to be kind.

AIPT: X-Fan Duck with a hat wanted to know more about what Cerebella meant when she said Krakoa being a fresh start means “pretend nothing bad ever happened.” As we’ve seen characters like Exodus teach children about Scarlet Witch depowering the mutants long before Krakoa was founded, could you share more about where you feel Cerebella’s head is at these days?

Charlie Jane: Cerebella has gone through some incredible changes lately, including finally having a body again — and she’s also seen how Krakoa’s blank slate can cause incredible harm. The Shadow King had done so much harm to so many mutants, and even Charles Xavier himself seemed scared of him back in the day — but Krakoa welcomed him, which led to him preying on Cerebella and her friends. Scout paid for this with her life, and for a while nobody was sure if Scout would even get resurrected.

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

I think when Cerebella thinks about Krakoa being a “fresh start,” she’s thinking in part about the way some of the most destructive mutants were invited in. But one of the things I am low-key exploring in Lethal Legion is how you bring all of your baggage with you, even when you move to a wonderful new place, or get a fantastic new body. I think Cerebella is bringing her own issues with starting over to this paradigm. I definitely know what it’s like to be surrounded by people who are keen to let go of the past, but not feeling able to do that.

AIPT: Krakoa certainly has its detractors (both in the Marvel Universe and among readers), so it’s interesting to see a mutant like Morgan Red being such a vocal critic of what Xavier, Magneto, and Moira built. As a writer, why is it important to show this alternative point of view in New Mutants: Lethal Legion?

Charlie Jane: One of my favorite things about the Krakoa era is mutants debating about Krakoa, and having very different ideas about it. I think there are legitimate debates to be had about the notion of a mutant homeland, especially after all the disasters in the past, and nationalism is also a very fraught topic these days.

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

I think with Morgan, it’s partly about having philosophical issues with a mutant separatist state, but also about feeling as though the “mutant” label does not define them. Morgan is also trans, Chinese, Jewish, and asexual, and those things also matter. Also, I think Morgan is feeling a little isolated, because he thought Escapade was on the same page about Krakoa, and then Escapade runs off to hang out there and make a whole new set of friends. Morgan kind of feels as though Krakoa stole their best friend.

AIPT: As far as villains go, X-Fan Emmanuel L Boyd said Count Nefaria is as old school as it gets, so it was nice to see him return in an X-Men-related book. What made you decide to bring back this classic villain?

Charlie Jane: When we were figuring out what villain(s) I could use in this mini-series, my original desire was to find an antagonist who might seem like a bit of a laughing-stock at first, but turn out to be incredibly dangerous. And Count Nefaria fit the bill perfectly. His old-world nobility makes him a bit ridiculous, and he’s also been through a rough decade, where Doctor Doom, Doctor Octopus, and the Sin-Eater have torn his legend down brick by brick. It’s hard to come back from the humiliation he endured in the “Sins Rising” storyline in Amazing Spider-Man, and a lot of people probably don’t remember what an unstoppable badass Nefaria was back in the day.

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

But as soon as I started reading and re-reading all of Nefaria’s major stories, I was also struck by how charming he could be, and how seductive his old-school romanticism might become. Nefaria’s also an insightful guy who can sometimes see to the heart of an issue and understand exactly what’s going on in people’s hearts and minds. He’s a formidable foe in part because far from being the joke he first appears, he’s both brilliant and utterly ruthless.

AIPT: Can you talk a bit about the creation of BlasterDame and Fisticuss — including those costumes?

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Charlie Jane: OMG, that transformation was my favorite part of this first issue. I loved the idea of transforming Escapade and Scout into low-rent supervillains to sneak into Count Nefaria’s Lethal Legion tryouts, and BlasterDame and Fisticuss were the most ludicrous names I could think of. I pitched the penultimate “pulling costume pieces” page as a possibly-too-subtle homage to the cover of Tony Stark’s appearance as Iron Man, back in Tales of Suspense #39, minus the “WHO??!” captions. And I was super keen on having as many straps, bandoliers, pouches, spikes, and medallions as possible in these costumes, with a bit of a ’90s vibe to it. I also suggested a TON of old X-Men costumes that we could glimpse in that final splash page, just as a fun easter egg to suggest that the X-Men are total hoarders who never throw a costume away. (Why did they have pictures of cats on their uniforms for a while in X-Factor? I honestly do not remember, but I love it.)

AIPT: Sadly, that X-Factor run is one of my X-Men blindspots, but I know it has something to do with Serval Industries. Or maybe Gambit made them — he likes cats. Anyway, it’s been fun to see so many writers put their own spin on the Krakoan era’s data pages. AIPT’s Content and Media Manager David Brooke was curious to learn more about your approach to data pages like the Lethal Legion flyer. Are they added after scripting or an organic part of the story you’re telling?

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Charlie Jane: The data pages are a huge gift, but also a fun storytelling challenge. You always have a million story points that are hard to fit into 20 pages of comics art, so you have to make those two extra pages pull their weight. In New Mutants #31-33, I really leaned into using them for extra character development, building on what Vita Ayala had been doing with James Proudstar filling out personality quizzes. But for the Lethal Legion mini-series, I was keen to branch out a bit, and use them to punch up the humor. I figured out at a certain point that the deadline for data pages was way later than the deadline for comics script, because they generally don’t require original art, so my scripts often contain a one-paragraph description of the data pages, which I’ve generally stuck to. Minor spoiler: Lethal Legion #2 includes a transcript of Count Nefaria talking to his therapist, which I had way too much fun writing.

AIPT: Very nice. Finally, what else can you tease about the New Mutants: Lethal Legion issues to come?

Charlie Jane: Things are about to go off, and it’s only going to be a wilder and wilder ride from here on out. Lethal Legion tryouts are just as chaotic as you’d expect, and we managed to bring back some Z-list villains who haven’t appeared in years, or even decades. We’re going to see a lot more of the sewer dragon that’s taken an interest in Wolfsbane and Morgan. And Mirage and Karma will be forced to step in and take charge of a messy situation with Count Nefaria and the new Lethal Legion. 

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

AIPT: Looking forward to it! Charlie Jane, thanks for swinging by X-Men Monday! Now here’s an eXclusive sneak peek at New Mutants: Lethal Legion #2 and other upcoming X-Men comics, courtesy of X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White!

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Sabretooth, clearly down about the fact he has to wait a full week for another edition of X-Men Monday. But don’t worry, Victor, it’ll be here before you know it.

Until next time, X-Fans, stay exceptional!

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