Playback:stl: Starting in January, Cullen Bunn has teamed up with artist Greg Land to navigate the new Uncanny X-Men lineup consisting of Magneto, Sabretooth, Archangel, M, Psylocke, Fantomex, and Mystique. Choosing to continue the Uncanny X-Men title and then give it to a team that consists of the less-than-nice mutants in the Marvel universe was, in my opinion, a bold move, and the first issue of Uncanny X-Men definitely delivers on the hard image that Bunn describes during our conversation
PLAYBACK:stl: Having come back into comics a year or so ago, it was mind-blowing, to me, that Magneto had his own solo title. How difficult has it been to write Magneto in a group title after writing him as a solo title?
Bunn: It is definitely a change of pace to write Magneto as part of an ensemble cast. For 21 issues, he was my sole focus in a book that I intentionally left most guest stars out of. It would have been easy to bring in guests that had shared a spotlight with Magneto, but I wanted it to be very, very focused on him. So, it is—I don’t want to say it’s been a challenge, but there has definitely been some adjustment needed because my tendency, still, is to want this to be a Magneto book and I need to rein that in a bit to make sure that I’m giving all the other characters some time to shine as well. So when people read Uncanny X-Men, I think it feels like there will be moments that feel like they’re still reading a Magneto solo book, but at the same time I hope there will be moments where they will see Psylocke get as much attention, and Monet get as much attention, and Sabretooth get as much attention—they’ll come at different times in the book. I have to focus on giving all of these characters their moments to shine.
You definitely have quite the ensemble here.
Yeah, it’s a weird group.
All of these characters aren’t good guys—they have their occasional moments. How difficult is it to navigate those shades of grey when you’re planning out the things they’re going to be dealing with?
The shades of grey weren’t that difficult for me. I have a mission statement in mind for these characters that will be revealed in the next five to six issues. I’m more focused on adhering to that mission statement and giving these characters a goal that they can be focused on, and they’re going to handle it in the way they handle things. It may be a little more hardline than you’re used to with Uncanny X-Men. Within the team, we have different opinions on how things should be handled: some characters are more merciless than others and will cause friction in the group, and that’s fun to play with. In the end, it’s not that difficult because I have the mission statement in mind. This is a tough group of characters, so finding things that are going to challenge them, that’s a little more difficult. Any one of those characters is probably a formidable opponent in any situation, so when you put them all together, they’re a pretty tough group of hardasses.
For sure. I remember reading the names of all the mutants under this title and thinking, “What is that going to look like?”
To some degree, some of the team will be formed right off the bat, in the first issue. We’ve seen all of these characters together, but the way the rest of the team comes together will be a little different and will not be immediate. You won’t open the first issue and see all seven of these characters working together in the beginning. In the first issue, we’re going to see a few of them who have started working together, and then other characters will be sort of fed into the series—and in ways that people will not expect.
This seems to be a trend across the All-New All-Different teams: the team is on the cover, but not necessarily in the first issue.
Definitely. I know that in Extraordinary X-Men, that first arc is all about that team coming together and in All-New X-Men, it’s a little different—the team is together, but we’re still seeing that team coming up with their driving force. Then, in Uncanny, we’re seeing the team together and how the other characters come in. It’s not going to be a typical recruitment drive.
I don’t see that working very well.
Do you feel like there’s an extra set of pressure for delivery when writing under the Uncanny X-Men title because that is the flagship X-Men title?
Yeah. It’s kind of intimidating and I’m honored to be a part of Uncanny X-Men because it was important to me when I was growing up and is important to me now, as far as superhero comics are concerned. There was a lot of discussion on titles for this book and it was always going to be an X-Men title, although a lot of people said that it was obviously an X-Force book – and that’s not the case. I think once you see the team in action and see the adventures they’re going on that it’s a different kind of book than what you’ve seen with X-Force in the past. It was always going to be X-Men, but we went back and forth with the adjectives and what the final title would be, and I was really pushing and hoping for Uncanny X-Men. I’m super excited that’s the case.
Yeah, I imagine that must be really awesome. Did you always want to be a comic book writer when you grew up?
I always wanted to tell stories, since I was very young. I wish I still had the comic book I drew about monsters attacking cities when I was pre-kindergarten. I remember working on this comic.
I’ve been writing since I was very young. When I was in fourth and fifth grade, I did a comic that came out weekly that I wrote and drew, and it was sort of a science fiction/superhero comic. That I wrote for a couple of years and would handout to my friends, and yeah—I’ve loved comics. So, yeah, I guess you could say that it’s something that has been with me since forever.
That is so awesome. So Magneto’s been through a lot lately, from what I’ve been able to read in the X-Men storylines. How do you see this new team interacting with the other X-Men teams in a crossover situation with the All-New All-Different roster shake-ups?
Well, if they were to crossover, I think it would be a very volatile meeting. It’s tough and you will see, within my first arc, what some of the other X-Men teams think about what Magneto is doing. I wouldn’t call it a team-to-team meeting, but the readers will get a view of what the other X-Men think and really what sets this team apart from them. But, if we got into a crossover event, I think—at least with some members of the other teams—I think it would be pretty volatile. But with that said, I think even within the Uncanny X-Men team itself, some of the members are going to be pretty volatile with each other. When you look at a character like Psylocke and Sabretooth, one of their first encounters involved Sabretooth trying to viciously kill Psylocke. So I think there are histories between these characters and they’re definitely not a group that that is going to be doing trust falls with each other.
There’s definitely some animosity between these characters. We’ve got Sabretooth and Psylocke, and Psylocke and Fantomex also have some kind of history between them that’s not going to make them best friends anytime soon. Mystique is a whole ‘nother hornet’s nest that is going to be jumping right into the mix of it. So, this team’s got to survive each other first, and then maybe they can encounter some of the other teams.
Yeah, I feel like Magneto, Sabretooth, Mystique, and Fantomex would work okay together, but then you chose to throw Psylocke in there and then—
Psylocke and Monet both seem sort of out of place in this group.
Keep in mind that eight months have passed in the comic book world since the last storyline. The entire Marvel universe is jumping eight months into the future. So, a lot of what’s happened in that eight months will inform why this team is willing to work together. What I think is interesting about it, is that Sabretooth is the moral compass of the team, as much as he’s been one of the most ghastly villains in the Marvel Universe. A couple months ago, through some magical act, he was inverted so that his personality switched and now he’s sort of on a quest for redemption, and now he’s definitely the guy who’s like, “No, no, let’s not kill anybody.” So Sabretooth might be trying to calm some of these other members down.
That’s going to be really interesting to read.
Yeah, it’s a strange setup, when you think about it. Sabretooth might be the most heroic of these characters.
You’re definitely in trouble if Sabretooth is your moral compass.
So, do you feel like, as a writer, it’s difficult to jump around between all of these titles? You’ve written Sinestro, Magneto, and some Deadpool, and now Drax, as well. These are all very different characters.
It can get a little dicey, every now and again. I think when I was writing the Magneto solo and the Sinestro solo it was the most difficult. I always had to keep my eye on the prize and do whatever I could to make these two books as different as possible. Sometimes it got really weird—it was never intentional, but there were things that were similar. I had an arc where Magneto was dealing with Polaris, his daughter, and there’s a lot of father-daughter tension between the two, but in Sinestro, Sinestro has been dealing with his daughter since the first issue and there’s some tension between the two of them, too. So, I had to, in some cases, lean into the differences between the two characters a little more and a little harder than I would have normally. For the most part, it’s nice to work on these different stories. When working on a story like Uncanny X-Men that has a serious plotline, it’s nice to go to a book like Drax, where we kind of rely on some humor and a big sense of fun in that series. Switching between the books can be a good palette cleanser. Or, if I get stuck on a storyline for a Deadpool story, switching gears and working on the Uncanny X-Men storyline will sometimes loosen up those roadblocks.
That makes sense. On an unrelated note, who is your favorite mutant?
[Laughs.] My favorite mutant would have to be Rachel Grey. She’s been around for quite a while now, but she’s not an A-Lister, I guess. I like her backstory, where she first appeared kind of knocked me on my butt because it was an interesting story. She’s from the future where mutants have been enslaved and all but completely slaughtered, and she’s come back in time. She just has such a crazy backstory. She’s a super interesting character to me, so she’s probably my favorite X-Man and then maybe Nightcrawler, as a close second. And that was tough for me, when I was putting together my team. I definitely wanted to put Rachel Grey on the team and I had some ideas for doing so, but in the end I decided that I’d be better off saving that character until the moment’s right to bring her into the book, instead of trying to force the story to work around her. That’s not to say I won’t ever get my moment to have Rachel Grey as a member of the Uncanny X-Men because, you know, the X-Men have a long history of the team going through lots and lots of changes—the team is definitely fluid. While I have stories that I want to tell with all of the characters that are on the team right now, I want to honor that tradition of a fluid team roster.
As someone who dabbles in fanfiction, I feel like it’s always a struggle to write things that involve Jean Grey, who is my favorite mutant. Do you feel like you could comfortably write Rachel?
That is the toughest part. You have to separate the fan and the writer. I think I could because I’m always kind of—this is going to sound terrible: I’m always cruelest to the characters I like the most. So the biggest danger is that Rachel would just be tormented.
[laughs] Well, that’s kind of a Grey tradition.
That’s true. In some ways, if she were to join the team, I’d have the same kind of challenge that I have with Magneto. Personally, I’d want it to be The Rachel Grey Show, but I would have to make sure that I didn’t turn it into a book that was solely about Rachel Grey.
That would be an interesting book.
I went through a lot of teams when I was planning this book. I basically listed every mutant character in a notebook and then started putting together teams that might be interesting. At one point, I had Rachel Grey and Nate Grey on the same team—alternate timeline members of the Grey family—and I may have even had Cable on that team. So, it was like the Grey-family X-Men.
[laughs] At that point, you may as well add Bendis’ Jean Grey, just to be good.
Right? There were some very strange team formations that I wanted to make work and to some degree, just because I’m a fan of those characters. But, again, I had to force myself to focus on the team that would tell the best story, for now.
Great, now I’m going to be watching for Rachel Grey.
I know, right? When’s she showing up?
Alright, last question: what is your favorite part about being a comic book author?
Well, writing can be a very solitary job and it can be very lonely, but there’s a couple of benefits that comics, in particular, give to the writer. One is that it is a very collaborative project: you’re working with an editor, an artist, a color artist, a letterer who is lettering the books, and you’re working with a lot of other people so you don’t necessarily feel like you’re working in a vacuum. The other part, from a completely ego-selfish position, is that there is a sense of immediate gratification: I finish a comic and in a couple of months it’s out on the shelf, and readers are reading it. That’s not something you get when you’re writing, for instance, a novel that can take years to come out. In this case, I write a comic and it comes out, and readers are interacting with me and people are telling me what they think, and there’s something very satisfying about that for me. | Catherine Bathe