You can’t have the two biggest teams in comics kicking the spit out of each other without a few casualties, right? Today, in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #11, it finally happened: not only did we get a Big Death, it was the death of a character nearly as old as Marvel Comics itself. And yes, we’ll tell you who it is. Right after this...
Ready? It’s bye-bye to Professor Charles Xavier, one time head of the X-Men. Leading the charge against the final two members of the Phoenix Five, Xavier loses his life trying to take down Scott Summers. But why Xavier? How did good ol’ Chuck end up on the chopping block? We got a chance to chat about the Event, what led up to it, and where it will lead the Marvel Universe next with Writer Brian Michael Bendis, Editor in Chief Axel Alonso, and Senior Editor Tom Brevoort.
“We didn't start out looking for a death, so there were no candidates at all,” said Brevoort. “As Brian started envisioning the confrontation, he felt that it had to end with Professor X's demise, and so he convinced the rest of the team that this was where the story had to go.”
Alonso, on the other hand, had a very different take on the conversation: “We were building a story to a crescendo, where Cyclops would cross the line. We knew we were going to take someone out who would be close to Scott, and the X-Men. It would represent the last ditch appeal to whatever of young Scott Summers still resided in this Phoenix Force Cyclops. It wouldn’t be Captain America or Iron Man. The candidates were narrow.”
Those candidates? Magneto, Xavier, The Scarlet Witch, Hope, Beast, Wolverine, and a few others. “It made sense that it would be one of those guys who would pay the price,” continued Alonso.
Bendis, on the other hand, took the death of Xavier back even a bit further. “I joined the X-office before I started 'Avengers vs. X-Men',” said the writer. “I kept bringing up Xavier, because I was interested to find out what was going on with Xavier during this, and was shocked to find out that I was almost alone! There was just not a lot of interest in what was going on with him from the readers, and editorially.”
Clarifying the point a bit, Bendis told us that it wasn’t even so much about not liking Xavier, as the entirety of the X-Men franchise had moved past him. So when it came time for "Avengers vs. X-Men", something needed to be done. “Xavier’s dream is dying,” continued Bendis. “He can’t just stand there and say, well that sucks. He’d have to take action, and so the conversation turned to that, maybe that’s the point of no return for Scott. Maybe that’s the thing that happens that changes Scott’s life forever.”
More to that, Brevoort added, “Professor X's death wasn't the goal, it was just where the story inexorably led us. Given his viewpoint and actions over the past few years, once he was empowered by the Phoenix it was pretty well inevitable that Cyclops was going to have to face Charles, his virtual father, at a certain point. And the son striking down the father in a moment of uncontrolled passion seemed very Shakespearian.”
Taking a little step back, we asked the obvious question: is death really necessary to a big, capital E, Event Comic? Can you have an event without a big death? All three were pretty much in agreement on this point. “Of course you can, so long as enough other things of importance take place,” said Brevoort. “But a death always has a strong sense of finality and change to it, as it's the end of the story. Death’s ultimately waiting for all of us one day.”
Alonso, meanwhile, used the example of killing Nightcrawler in the X-Men event Second Coming as a decision that came from story reasons, not because they needed a death. Over the course of the development of that story, they found not only could they use Nightcrawler as a plot point - transporting mutant messiah Hope across the country - but that his death would allow them to tell further stories, creating a dynamic between Hope and Nightcrawler’s best friend Wolverine that would be antagonistic, to say the least. “You don’t need to do them, they just need to make sense in the course of the story to do,” summed up Alonso.
Bendis got back to the moment of death, asking, “Is Xavier more important dead, or alive? That’s really what it comes down to with a death scenario... We’re going to move forward with a lot of stories; does Xavier do more for the stories dead than alive? Particularly from my point of view, absolutely.”
On the other hand, Bendis did note he feels that there are both sides of the coin when it comes to the fan reaction. “There are those fans who are wary of a comic book death scenario,” said Bendis, “And there are those who crave it.”
Continuing, Brevoort said that, “You make it matter by making it emotionally true, by making the characters and by extension the readers feel it. I hate all of those too-cool-for-school comics that handle death in a Meta way, with the characters reacting like it's only a matter of time before the deceased returns. That's not human, and it’s not genuine--nor is it even clever. It's poor storytelling.”
Bendis agreed that what made writing Xavier’s Death scene difficult was capturing the emotional honesty inherent. “You’re clearly pushing characters to the edge of life, you’re pushing them to make decisions that only have two outcomes,” said Bendis. “Especially when it’s a Father/Son relationship, you’ve got to sit with that for a while.”
There’s also the issue of having a Death scene at the climax of a major Event epic, with dozens, if not hundreds of characters all jockeying for screen time. “We can’t have fifty characters just standing there, letting this play out,” said Bendis. “Everyone’s involved, so there’s a lot of chaos... And then it becomes enhanced chaos, because everybody have powers that affect the environment. You just have to choreograph, and choreograph, and choreograph, and still giving a lot of room for the artist to express himself.”
As for the scene itself, Bendis hopes that fans will read into it what they want, calling it a “Rashomon” style sequence. “We show it clear as day, but everyone will come away with a different perspective on how it happened, and why it happened.”
“Our intention was never to create a black and white situation,” added Alonso. “Our intention was to create one with pathos, and nuance, and readers can come out of this scene feeling different things. Who was right, who was wrong, and was anyone right or wrong?”
As for where we’ll feel the impact of the death, the answer is "Avengers vs. X-Men" #12 - of course - but also, All-New X-Men, Uncanny Avengers, X-Men Legacy and others not to be named. Luckily, Bendis is the writer on All-New X-Men, a series that finds the original five X-Men traveling to the post-AvX time period.
“The idea of writing Scott Summers after AvX, after such a thing has happened... To write all of the X-Men... This shows another a piece of why All-New X-Men could happen,” said Bendis. “It went from why don’t people care about Xavier, to what could we do to make people care about Xavier. This would be shocking, and people’s lives would change from it. What kinds of stories would we get after it?”
And for those of you expecting All-New X-Men to function as a reset button? Here’s what Alonso had to say: “It’s not a reset button! The bald man is off the board now, there’s no way he’s going to elbow his way to the front and say, okay kids, I have a couple ideas of what we can do, because he’s gone now. Everybody is going to be left to ponder what they’re going to do now that he’s gone.”
What about the other characters in the Marvel Universe? How will they react? “There are some people who are going to say, Scott murdered Xavier, and I will never forgive him,” said Bendis, echoing what’s probably going through a lot of fans’ heads today, too. “Or some people will say, he wasn’t in his right mind, that’s not who he is. He was under the influence. And then some people will say, yes, but he put himself under the influence. What did you think would happen? And then there will be some people who will wonder if Xavier didn’t sacrifice himself, towards his goals... Will he succeed in his goals in Death?”
“We knew that in killing Professor X, it was closing the door on a number of stories,” said Alonso, “And opened the door on a number of other ones... Because at the end of AvX, the looming question will be, if Cyclops is no longer fit to lead, and Professor X is dead, who will be the one to step up? In fact, will any one person step up?”
Still, you can never say never, as Alonso so eloquently mentioned. “One of the unique tropes of comic books is death and resurrection,” said the EIC. “It’s one of the things that makes us unique from any other medium. And I love comics for it. Fans know that when someone dies, there’s always the possibility they’re going to come back. It’s not guaranteed, but you always know it can happen... And that’s part of what makes our medium unique. It doesn’t absolve you responsibility; you still have to carry out both moments and make them work. Certainly any character of importance deserves a death that resonates, and feels emotionally true. But ditto, so too does that moment of resurrection.”
As a last little bit of a tribute - a metaphorical forty poured on the ground if you will - Bendis talked about some of his favorite memories of the departed. “On a personal level, he gave me the confidence to shave my head,” joked the writer. “I know people sometimes see me as the Grim Reaper of comics, but know that Xavier holds a special place in my heart as a bald man.”
More seriously, he noted that what he truly loved about the character was that he was the stuffy teacher with very, very humanizing secrets. “When we found out he was capable of space romance, I loved that,” said Bendis.
“And he loved his kids! He loved them,” continued Bendis. “I love a character that has that much passion, and a point of view... And it’s one of the reasons I’m excited to write the X-Men, is that all of the X-Men have been touched by him, one way or another; and that’s going to express itself in a different way than we’ve seen before, now that he’s gone.”
"Avengers vs. X-Men" #11 is now on comic book stands, from Marvel Comics!