Thursday, January 11, 2018

Charles Soule Talks the Astonishing Return of Charles Xavier

CBR: In the Marvel Universe, death is more often than not far from the end of a hero’s journey. Of course, when a hero returns from the dead, sometimes their personality changes in radical ways — ways that frighten and confound their friends and loved ones. What happens, then, when one of the most powerful telepaths in the Marvel Universe returns after fighting a brutal war on the Astral Plane that seemingly spanned centuries?

The X-Men are wrestling with that question right now in “A Man Called X,” the current arc of writer Charles Soule’s Astonishing X-Men. The team’s founder, Charles Xavier, has returned from the grave in an unexpected fashion and is behaving in unsettlingly unusual ways. Worst of all, one of the X-Men’s most powerful foes has followed him back: the reality warper known as Proteus.

CBR: The center of your first act of your Astonishing X-Men run is the return of team founder, Charles Xavier, and it looks like he’s a large part of Act II as well. Is the larger interconnected story you’re telling in Astonishing X-Men about the return of Xavier and what he means to your various characters?

Charles Soule: That’s right – Astonishing X-Men is the story of Charles Xavier’s return to the Marvel Universe after his death in the Avengers vs. X-Men event all the way back in 2012. I’ve always liked Professor X, and I think he fills an important role in the overall mutant landscape, so the opportunity to bring him back to life was an easy sell to me. Of course, as we’ve seen, just because he’s back doesn’t mean he’s exactly the same. I think that bringing a character back needs to mean something, just like killing them. There should be a reason, and they should be changed by the experience. As we’ve seen, Xavier has been through a lot since his death. Exploring that is a big part of Acts II and III of the story.

It’s great to have Xavier back, but one of the things that made his return so interesting the question of whether this is a situation of be careful what you wish for. I’m getting a sense of sort of psychological horror and mystery to his resurrection, like there’s something unsettling just out of focus that I can’t see yet. Was that your intention?

Yes it was! Xavier spent what felt like centuries battling the Shadow King on the Astral Plane, an unending stretch of mental and psychological war. He was hanging on by his fingernails, essentially a toy for one of the vilest entities in the Marvel Universe. You don’t come out of that without paying a cost.

When we catch up with him in Astonishing X-Men #7 Charles isn’t exactly the same person the X-Men knew and loved. But is he as powerful as he used to be?

Charles, or X, as he currently prefers to be called, is extremely powerful, as we’ve seen in AXM #7. He was always extremely powerful, though – omega-level, I believe. Plus, a thousand years of psychic war is bound to sharpen your skills, too. So, no problems there on the power level front – the issue might be more what he chooses to do with that power. He was always pretty grey, in my mind, using his powers to wipe minds and push people where he thought they should be in service of the larger dream. We’ll see where he lands now.

What’s it like bouncing Xavier off the rest of your cast? Which character dynamics have you especially enjoyed writing in “A Man Called X?”

X isn’t the only return in Act II of Astonishing X-Men. We also see the resurrection of a villain we haven’t seen in X-comics in almost a decade, someone who was known as Mutant X back in his day. So, the question here is whose story is this, really? X, Mutant X — or someone else?

We also can’t forget that X returned by taking Fantomex’s body, and converting its substance into his own. Fantomex’s consciousness currently resides on the astral plane – he’s attempting to be something like a “kinder, gentler Shadow King.” So, lots of changes, lots of tension, and writing the rest of the cast react to that has been a blast, especially people like Mystique, who never trust anyone.

Approximately how much story time passed between the end of Act I and the beginning of “A Man Called X?” What can you tell us about the inciting incident of the story and some of the action?

It’s all picking up right away. The story is falling dominoes, one after the other. My plan from the start was to write a series that felt breathless, paced so you could barely process one revelation before the next hit you. The inciting incidents for “A Man Called X” are the return of Xavier in his new form, and then the return of this new villain. Those two things and how they connect form the spine of Act II.

Let’s talk a little bit about the returning villain you’ve hinted at. He makes his appearance at the end of Astonishing X-Men #7. Mystique identifies him as Proteus AKA Kevin MacTaggert.

Now that the issue’s been out for almost a week, I think I feel comfortable just saying it, despite my teases above –Yes, the new, returning villain is Proteus. He’s the super-powerful mutant son of Moira MacTaggert, with the ability to warp reality and possess bodies. He has put the mutants through their paces many, many times in the past, and I want to take him to a new place. I think X-fans new and old will really enjoy it.

One of the toughest parts of writing an X-Men book — really, any team book — is finding moments to spotlight each of your cast members. Who are some of the regular cast that will get big moments in this arc?

Psylocke has some really cool stuff to do, as does Rogue. Bishop is crucial here because he has what he calls his Endtime Database, with files on possible apocalypses and their inciting events. He sees some very troubling signs in what’s been happening recently, and might have to take some drastic action.

One thing I’ve loved about your Astonishing X-Men run is that each issue features a different artist. You kicked this arc off by reuniting with your original Poe Dameron collaborator, Phil Noto. What was it like working on this story with Phil? Who are some of the other artists you’ll be collaborating with on this arc?

I love working with Phil, and I’ve particularly enjoyed seeing him draw the X-Men. This is our third collaboration – we did an issue of Thunderbolts way back when at the very start of my time working for Marvel, then our long run on Poe Dameron, and now this issue. I think he knocked it out of the park, especially the stuff with Archangel and Old Man Logan. I can’t wait to do something with him again soon. The other artists on the book for Act II that have been announced are Paulo Siqueira, Matteo Buffagni and ACO, and they’ll all bring something unique and awesome to the title, just like the artists in Act I. This book looks incredible.

Finally, you’ve got quite a large cast, but I imagine once word gets out of Xavier’s return, other X-Men — and perhaps characters from around the Marvel Universe — will come to investigate. Is that something we’ll see right away? Or further down the road?

As I mentioned, this is an incredibly fast-paced series. It’s taking place over the course of a few days in Marvel Universe time. We’ll get to see X’s re-introduction to the mutants and other figures in the MU, but it may take a bit.

I’ve been really happy with the response to this series – I think it’s one of the strongest things I’ve written at Marvel, and I’m looking forward to the trade of Act I hitting in March so even more folks will have a chance to check it out.


CmX said...

It's funny how atm Xavier, or X, is living in someone else body just like Psylocke

Psyloco said...

Good to know Betsy gonna be on spotlight now.
She didn't have much space on Act I.

Kat Nisaá said...

@CmX But...he was able to make his 'new' body look like himself. Sooo...?

@Psyloco And it'll be nice to see what Betts'll be up to in 'Act 2'... :)

Rahsaan Chisolm said...

@Kat Nisa, Asian Psylocke looked like the British One too until a whole second body was retconned out of thin air.

Rahsaan Chisolm said...


Kat Nisaá said...

@Rahsaan Chisolm I know, I know....she was "just" supposed to have some "subtly" Asian accents to her features...kinda like special effects make up/makeover... Darn Lobdell and Nicienza...