Since the end of 2010, Kieron Gillen (Phonogram, X-Men: Generation Hope, S.W.O.R.D.) has been sharing writing chores with Matt Fraction on Uncanny X-Men. Well, starting in April, with issue 534.1 and 535, Gillen will be flying solo on the flagship X-title. Gillen recently spoke to MTV Geek about taking the reins of the series, the promise and the threats of the future for the increasingly un-merry mutants, stabbings, and a (brief) return of the Agents of S.W.O.R.D..
Geek: So before handing the keys to the shop over, what was the last thing Fraction said to you?
KG: I can't remember the last thing, but the first thing he said when I joined as co-writer was "Welcome to the X-Men, Kieron Gillen. Hope you survive the experience."
Geek: When it was announced that you were joining up with Fraction at the end of last year, you talked about “trying to write the definitive twenty-teen take on the X-Men.” What defines this age and where do you think the characters fit into it?
KG: That's a good question, however you choose to define it. The X-Men have often been used as a prejudice metaphor, in a variety of ways. That's never going to change, and I'd never abandon part of that. But one area where I'm particularly interested in is the generational conflicts - the idea of what the old do to the young, and how they're viewed. It's one reason why I find it so interesting that Cyclops is in charge of mutantkind. Despite all his experience, he's still a young man. It's not old men making the decisions, like Professor X or Magneto. It's the youth, trying to work out how to create an idea of community in a world which has tried to either annihilate society or monetize all forms of human contact, and views their talents are dangerous. Youth is both feared and celebrated, sold to and sold out.
For me, that's totally core to where the X-Men are now. They're the next generation of humans, trying to find a way to make a better world, against encroached forces who simply wish them nothing but annihilation.
Geek: Along the same lines, the last few years of the franchise shifted the X-Men from downtrodden minority to endangered species. Where do you see them going into the future?
KG: In “Second Coming” we saw mutantkind at the very edge of extinction. Their enemies gathered to just push them that extra couple of inches towards oblivion. But the X-Men pushed back. They won. In the process, they turned from something that was a little like a school into something that shared much more with a military organisation. They created a fledgling, microscopic nation. And now, no matter how slow, new mutants are being born. They changed from having no future to having a future, no matter how delicate. So, fundamentally, they won. The question now is can they actually win their peace?
After all they've been through, this isn't an easy thing. Just holding on is one thing. In fact, in some ways, it's an easier thing—you make hard decisions, or die. Building for a future presents its own problems and dilemmas. Not least, letting go of the past. And as history shows, from the smallest personal scale to the largest international one, that's easier said than done.
Geek: The current status quo has quite a jumble of characters claiming membership in the team. How are you juggling such an imposing cast?
KG: For me, it's a question of knowing what story you're telling. On an arc by arc or story by story basis, I'm deciding who this story is really about. Since the majority of mutants live on the island of Utopia, you have to focus. When I conceive a story, I work out who it's emotionally important to. By the end of the arc, something will have changed fundamentally for them. The supporting cast is then defined by the structure of Utopia (i.e. if it's something big, Cyclops and his seconds are going to be involved) and who the main story is about (so, if it's about Kitty, Colossus is going to want to get involved). You just make sure you're actually trying to get real emotions into it. You keep your attention on that. In a real way, that's the only thing which matters. If people don't feel something, you may as well have never put finger to keyboard.
And you just have a little cry when it all gets too much.
Geek: What made you decide to revisit Breakworld in your first arc?
KG: It was a string of narrative necessity. I wanted to do something about Kitty's permanent intangibility. Abstractly, that could have involved anyone, but for me, to make the story make any sense whatsoever, it's going to be linked to how she became intangible. That means we bring in the bullet Breakworld fired at the planet—which means that the story has to probably feature Magneto who brought her back (it does) and the people who fired/made it (the Breakworlders). Of course, that it involves the Breakworlders means that there's another element to dig into - namely, we have no idea what happened to Breakworld after Colossus and Wolverine deposed Powerlord Kruun by a swift arm-removal. Colossus, by his actions, changed that world enormously. So, since Colossus and Kitty are star-crossed lovers, it made sense to tie all of that into a single plot.
Which involves stabbing. Also, slicing. Thankfully.
Geek: Speaking of cosmic elements, will we be seeing Agent Brand and the rest of S.W.O.R.D. back in the mix at some point? Seriously, we’d be happy with a 1 page 9-panel “Amazing Drunken
Adventures of Abigail Brand and Lockheed.”
KG: Oh, don't give me ideas. I actually had some Kitty/Brand/Drunken Lockheed scenes in note form for the “Breaking Point” arc, but it just didn't fit into the larger structure of the story.
Kill your darlings, and all that.
In other words, yes, there will be some S.W.O.R.D. action in the first book—since it involved Breakworld, I couldn't avoid it even if I wanted to (once again I make my pilgrimage to homage at the altar of narrative necessity). Brand is actually the character who brings the X-Men into the action. A Breakworld warship is approaching the edge of the system, and she hasn't the manpower to actually deal with it. Hence, with only some urging from the charming psychopathic robot UNIT, she calls the X-Men. Cue lots of sniping at one another. They do get on famously, Brand and the X-Men.
Geek: Could you tease out some of the plans you have for the book in the coming months?
KG: After “Breaking Point,” I've got an issue which is about the awkward relationship between Wolverine and Hope (which includes a lot of stabbing). After that, I've got an epic conflict arc involving one of my favourite X-Men villains from my childhood. Villains are kind of an obsession of mine. I'm trying to take a character who's become less imposing as years have gone by (as villains tend to, due to the need of heroes to defeat them now and then), and turn him into something that's a genuine, force of nature threat. When I first read the character as a child, the core idea was so simple and compelling, I wanted to take him to that and make it burn incandescent. You can take an old villain and try and make them threatening by changing them to act in a more horrific way or whatever. That's not what I'm trying to do here. I wanted to write a story that stayed 100% true to the core idea that's always been there, and not take a step away from it even as we approach its conclusion. I want it to feel like a disaster movie. How do you fight a volcano? In a real way, you can't. You just have to survive it. That's the vibe I'm trying to create.