With more characters and more soap operatics than any other property in their pantheon, Marvel Comics' X-Men line is jam-packed with comics and fans who have strong opinions on said comics. So for their "Welcome To The X-Men" panel at WonderCon 2011 in San Francisco, the publisher looked to engender some local love with an X-Men variant cover draping the heroes in the colors of hometown heroes the San Francisco Giants. Although more than just opening day fever was expected at the event Saturday afternoon, and CBR News was on hand for all the action.
Marvel staffers including Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso took the stage, as Marvel Talent Coordiantor C.B.Cebulski welcomed the room by declaring the panel one that was slightly hungover but excited to be in San Fran for a fourth year straight of X-Men news. "Wolverine" writer Jason Aaron and "Uncanny X-Force" writer Rick Remender rounded out the group.
Cebulksi ran through a series of slides showing covers for the upcoming X-Men comics including "X-Men First To Last," "New Mutants" and "X-Factor" with much of the information already being public knowledge. The panelists were able to speak to the particulars of their own books. "'What is Archangel?' is the question, and why did Apocalypse put him in Warren Worthington?" Remender said about the incoming arc of of "X-Force" which he said will expand the Apocalypse mythology in terms of the winged character leading to more stories later in the year. "We're going to end up in the Age of Apocalypse [world] as the team tracks something down that's important for [Warren.]"
Aaron spoke "One of the first Wolverine things I did was 'Get Mystique'...and this is pretty much a sequel to that with a huge turning point in the Wolverine/Mystique relationship," said Aaron, promising that after this story fans can expect more stabbing in the book.
The full details of the main book in the "X-Men: Schism" event were then announced – written by Aaron with art over the five issues by Carlos Pacheco, Frank Cho, Adam Kubert, Alan Davis and Daniel Acuña. "Scott Summers coming into his role as leader of the X-Men, and Wolverine as his first officer..when 'Schism' opens, we see these guys as Butch and Sundance, as close as they've been in their long history together. Then something happens...giant robots are involved...and there's a lot of hugging," Aaron said, with the final comment being a gag.
"We've been building to this for years now. Scott has carried a huge burden bringing the mutant race back from the brink of extinction, and there's a huge price to pay for that," said Alonso saying the story would be built upon the increasing militarization of the team over the past several years of stories.
The panel then announced a one-shot called "Wolverine: The Fifth Quarter" written by Food Network star and San Fran native Chef Chris Cosentino and drawn by Tim Seeley. The book will take place in the city with the writer saying, "This will be very food-centric and very much about San Francisco...it's an honor to me being able to actually write a comic book. I loved Wolverine as a kid and would just sit there staring at my hands."
The floor opened to fan questions then with a man wondering if a new X-Men animated series was in the works. Cebulski said there were plans, but more info would be coming at the Marvel Animation panel later in the weekend.
Shifting gears, one reader asked if original Venom Eddie Brock would appear in Remender's "Venom" comic, to which the writer replied. "Yes, there's a lot of connectivity between 'Venom' and upcoming Spider-Man stories...the way that we find Eddie will be surprising."
Some questions about specific characters hit including Bobby Drake and Gambit. "You will most definitely see Iceman in a significant role in the X-Universe in the near future," Aaron said, adding that the plans for the character will explore his past. Remender and Aaron have spent a lot of time talking about the character and how to incorporate him into the line. Cebulski said that Gambit will appear in "X-Men Legacy" as well as Marjorie Liu's "X-23" series.
Local concerns came up with a reader requesting more of San Francisco in the X-Men books since the team is now located in the city. "I want to see my house on panel," he joked with Alonso promising him that he's constantly bugging Nick Lowe to incorporate more of the locales of his hometown into the books.
The characters involved with "Schism" were asked after. "Hope and the Five Lights are a big part of ['Schism'] as well as may of the other students," Aaron said, though the panel confirmed that Jean Grey would not return in the books, though Phoenix fans could see an alternate Jean in the "Age of Apocalypse" arc of "Uncanny X-Force."
"The running theme through all of these characters is that they're damaged...so what they do, they do so their friends don't have to. But there are some membership changes coming up you should look out for," Remender said about the makeup of "Uncanny X-Force."
Alonso spoke to his frequent discussion point of the desire for fans to have stories that count. He said that over the past few years, they've grown the X-Men line more into one major epic that has big twists and turns every few years. "Back when we were planning 'Messiah CompleX,' we kind of sort of saw 'Schism' coming," he explained, noting that characters including Hope, Cable and Bishop will continue to see their interpersonal storylines reverberate throughout the whole X-Men line.
A fan dressed as the villain Stryfe came up asking about Cable's arm that survived the final battle of "Second Coming" and wondering if it portended a return of the character. "Yeah, there's an arm...but we don't bring back characters that much," laughed Alonso, giving a special shout out to a fan dressed as Nightcrawler.
A discussion broke out about how editorial went about bringing back certain characters including the Exiles cast. Cebulski said that there are characters with their fan at Marvel, however the company was loath to just release books with characters fans want if they haven't found a writer with a compelling pitch to make the book work for a broad audience. "Runaways" is a classic example of this, he said.
"The fact of the matter is that the X-Men have had to put their own house in order...struggling for the survival of their species while waiting for this Messiah child to appear," Alonso said, noting that with the "X-Men" monthly was an "exploratory jab" to the fans to see how an X-Men universe working closer to the Marvel U would go over. "We want the X-Men Universe and the Marvel Universe to overlap, and we've wanted that for a while...'Schism' is a first step [in that direction]," the E-i-C later explained.
Suddenly the X-Men were faced with a new concern: survival. Mutants were now an endangered species, which emboldened the forces of hatred to try and wipe them out for good. This meant that the fight against evil was now a gray-shaded struggle as X-Men leader Cyclops formed a secret team of assassins to eliminate anti-mutant terrorist groups. Community building also became a concern as the X-Men moved to a new home, the manmade island Utopia, which they turned into a mutant sanctuary.
Things will become even more complex this summer when two of the most prominent X-Men find themselves at odds over how to handle their new circumstances. Announced earlier today at Wondercon, "X-Men: Schism" chronicles that conflict in the form of a five-issue miniseries by writer Jason Aaron and an all-star team of artists starting in July. CBR News spoke with Aaron about the series, which will shatter the bonds that hold the X-Men together.
Aaron is no stranger to the X-Universe, but "X-Men:Schism" is his first taste of a big X-Men event. "I've been in the X-Office for a while now doing Wolverine stuff. I've gotten to write some of these characters before and in the current 'Wolverine' arc, 'Wolverine Versus the X-Men,' I'm getting to write a lot more of them," Aaron told CBR News. "This is the first time, though, where I've really tackled a huge group of characters like this. I get to write all of the main X-Men. It's been a blast so far."
Several upcoming X-Men stories will set the stage for "Schism," but Aaron wants to make sure that the series is as accessible as it is important. "It's a continuation of a lot of things that have been going on in the X-Men Universe for a while now. After 'House of M' this is going to be the next big step for the X-Verse," the writer remarked. "There will be threads from a lot of the X-Books, but I also think it will be a book that you can pick up and understand the big events that unfold, and the reasons why they unfold are right there in the book."
The conflict of "Schism" is set in motion with the surprise return of a character to the pages of the X-Universe. "Things kick into gear with the return of a character from Grant Morrison's 'New X-Men' run. This is one of my favorite characters from that run, and I'm a big fan of that run in general," Aaron explained. "That character's return sparks a worldwide resurgence of mutant fear and hatred. You'll see more Sentinels in an X-book than you've seen in quite a while."
When this crisis erupts, Cyclops is forced to develop a plan to deal with it, and his plan causes Wolverine, one of his most capable lieutenants, much concern. "At its core, 'Schism' is a story about Cyclops and Wolverine. There's a lot of other characters and elements swirling around them, but at the end of the day it really comes down to these two men and how they differ in a couple of fundamental ways," Aaron said. "Cyclops is the X-Men's leader and Logan doesn't want to assume his position. It's not his natural instinct. This book isn't about Wolverine coming in and suddenly deciding to lead his own branch of the X-Men. This story is really about a falling out between Scott and Logan and what brings that about. They find themselves at a real crossroads in their relationship and the differences that come between them pushes each of them in a very different direction."
While Wolverine and Cyclops have been comrades on the X-Men for many years, Aaron doesn't believe the two ever had a friendly relationship. "They were never friends, but Logan has come to look at Scott as his general. He's come to respect him much more as a leader these last few years as Scott has taken control and taken mutants to places they've never been before," Aaron said. "Logan has always been the good soldier, sometimes maybe a little bit begrudgingly, but he's always been right by Scott's side and gone out of his way to do everything he could to bring about Scott's vision. Now they find themselves at an impasse, and for the first time Logan says no. He feels the train has gone off the tracks."
Wolverine's perspective will be part of "Schism," but so will Cyclops.' Aaron wants his story to be as morally complex for readers as it is for the X-Men. "This is not a story about painting anyone as a villain or about one side being right and the other side being wrong. In some sense this is 'Civil War' with the X-Men, but it's not a civil war where there's a mustache twirling villain. We're dealing with two guys who have very strong principles and very strong beliefs," Aaron stated. "They also have definite ideas about what the X-Men should be doing and how they should be doing it. They just find themselves at an impasse. So hopefully we've created a situation where both sides will make complete sense in one way or the other.
"It's funny, I've even felt divided writing this story. I can see the strengths and weaknesses in both Cyclops' and Wolverine's arguments," Aaron continued. "When we first started talking about this story at one of the X-retreats we realized that we just got hung up arguing one side against the other. We had people in the room divided. Some of us thought, 'Why would this happen? This seems to be the right way.' Others felt the opposite. I think that means we're onto something. If we can't even get all these people in the room to agree on which side is right and which side is wrong, hopefully readers will be torn as well. We're creating a sticky situation here. It's not a black and white."
Parts of "Schism" will unfold on a global stage, but the bulk of the action will occur right on Utopia and a number of X-Men will find themselves playing supporting roles in the conflict between Wolverine and Cyclops. "This is a story that will focus a lot on the kids of the X-Universe," Aaron remarked. "We'll see some of the newest mutants. The Five Lights from Generation Hope will play a large role."
The conflict in "Schism" will be brought to life by an all-star team of artists, each drawing different issue. #1 features art by Carlos Pacheco; Frank Cho is drawing #2; #3 will be brought to life by Daniel Acuna; Alan Davis provides art for issue #4; the fifth and final issue features art by Aaron's "Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine" collaborator, Adam Kubert. "We've got a murderer's row of talented artists," Aaron remarked. "We've got some guys who are new to the X-Universe and some who have done their fair share of Marvel projects this year. Just working with one of these artists would be great and I'm lucky enough to be working with several of them on one project!"
At its core, "Schism" examines the conflict between two veteran X-Men and the paths they believe in. Said conflict will ultimately change the way the Marvel Universe views the X-Men, and the way X-Men view themselves. "The events of 'Schism' will continue to play out in big way in the Marvel Universe going into next year. It will have a profound effect on the Marvel U going forward," Aaron explained. "Because of what happens in 'Schism,' the status quo and dynamics of the X-Men and mutantkind will change for the foreseeable future."