Hitting stores next month is Marvel’s latest cross-over between the X-Men and the Guardians of the Galaxy: “The Black Vortex”, just 12 months after 2014’s “Trial of Jean Grey” which brought together these two Brian Bendis written teams for the first time. For this event, Bendis is following the lead of Sam Humphries, writer of The Legendary Star-Lord, who is the “showrunner” for this event which sees the two teams cross paths thanks to a powerful artifact (the entitled Black Vortex). This event, which begins in an Alpha issue written by Humphries, then spreads to titles like All New X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Legendary Star-Lord, Nova, Captain Marvel, Cyclops and other series. Both creators joined the comics press today on a call to discuss the upcoming event, how it impacts each team going forward, and to elaborate on just how central the new-found relationship between Peter Quill and Kitty Pryde is within the pages of the event.
“The Black Vortex” was born out of the regular Marvel retreats that occur among its key writers and editors, says Humphries: “This grew bigger and more exciting as we shared it with our colleagues at retreats and in Editorial…It became clear that this was an event-caliber story.” The writer stated that it was his hope to challenge the Guardians, the current “it” property at Marvel, on a level on which they hadn’t yet been. The Black Vortex, as an object, has been appearing in Humphries’ run on The Legendary Star-Lord, but expressed that this escalation called for a number of great writers to work on the concept and that scribes like Bendis, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Gerry Duggan all stated their desire to be involved in the project, and that they each had their own unique take on the concept for their given titles. Humphries also mentioned that there are big Captain Marvel and Nova moments in the story, the latter hitting a rather funny note for the character.
Bendis also made mention of the artistic talent involved, from Ed McGuinness (who is the artist on Black Vortex Alpha #1) to All-New X-Men artist Andrea Sorrentino, who is freshly joining Marvel after an incredible stint on Green Arrow. Bendis says the cosmic landscape is what really drew them in: “The artists are given the freedom within the story to express themselves. This gave us an opportunity to give quite a handful of artists who were itching for their chance to let go cosmically their chance.”
And speaking specifically about Sorrentino, Bendis shared:
You just write your ass off and then you just let him do what he’s going to do because it’s almost indescribable what he does. You just get out of his way and let it happen…it’s so exciting when the pages come in. Every artist in the group is like that. When you go into an event – even when it’s an artist you’ve worked with – there’s something about how an artist will take the opportunity to draw bigger. After an intimate storyline, they feel when they’re drawing an event.
On the subject on Sorrentino, Bendis also stated that he and the artist already have their next project lined up and compared working with the artist to his acclaimed runs with Alex Maleev, David Mack and Bill Sienkiewicz.
The concept behind The Black Vortex itself is that when characters come into contact with it, they become cosmically empowered, in much the same way that Jean Grey became empowered by the Phoenix Force, and Norrin Radd obtained the Power Cosmic. With certain characters obtaining this power, they also were given new designs by McGuinness, speaking on that topic, Humphries said:
I’m convinced that Ed McGuinness found the Black Vortex when he was a teenager, and that’s why he’s such an amazing artist…He didn’t just come back with new costumes. He came back with new character twists and new powers…what he delivered was so compelling and intriguing that I ended up rewriting part of the outline to give it more focus…you want to get more in their mindset and see what kind of havoc they’re going to wreak on the cosmic landscape.
The impetus of the story, according to Humphries, is that Peter Quill’s father (Mr. Knife aka J’Son of Spartax), has been amassing a number of cosmic forces, and seeing himself as an “empire builder”. As a consequence of that, Quill, and his new love interest Kitty Pryde, are drawn into the power of the mysterious title object and call upon the X-Men for help. On this note Bendis said:
I don’t know if it’s the Claremont influence…but the X-Men every so often have to take an adventure that goes beyond their typical scope. But for a return trip, I didn’t want to do a “Trial of Jean Grey” sequel. I wanted to do something new if we were going to go back out there
Bendis stated that he wanted to be part of a story that had a big impact on the characters and both he and Humphries assured that not all the players in this event would land back in the place they started. Bendis particularly singled out one X-Man:
Hank McCoy is one of these characters that struggles with being the smartest man in the room, and this is a perfect example of a character that will altered because of his experience with the Black Vortex, this is something that will change the character dramatically.
Bendis also added that McCoy would obtain knowledge of a cosmic and universal nature.
According to the writers, “The Black Vortex” also leads right into Secret Wars, indicating that perhaps even bigger changes are on the horizon for Marvel’s heroes.
At this point, press questions were asked, the first among them being how the relationship between Kitty Pryde and Peter Quill affected the story given the positive reaction from fans, to which Bendis responded:
It doesn’t alter what we do with it. We have to tell the stories that the characters dictate to us, but when there’s a response like this it makes me happy…when you write relationship stuff, you’re revealing things about yourself in there…and when you put your ass out there a little bit, you want people to respond favorably to it and not go ‘Eww!’ That inspires us to go forward, but I don’t think we’d stop if we weren’t getting this response.
On whether the younger “All-New X-Men” will have a different reaction to the Black Vortex than their older counterparts, Bendis replied:
Jean Grey damn well knows what happens to her when she grows up. She knows EVERYTHING. But others are on a path – like Beast – of desperately looking for knowledge and power. And just because this power is offered, it doesn’t mean every character will have a horrible price to pay. Some will get a power up. So the X-Men are coming at it young and raw…there are also other characters, like Angel, who has his own experience with a dark power.
The heavy Jim Starlin influence of McGuinness’ redesigns was brought up, to which Humphries responded that the artist was great fit for the task from the get-go and that McGuinness “knows the history of the cosmic stuff, and while that wasn’t something they specifically through at him (the Starlin-like look)…you could see the electricity jumping off those designs”.
Bendis also drew a very strong connection between both teams when asked about the challenges of bringing the two teams together:
There’s a connection of spirit there. They’re oddballs. Even the Guardians are the oddballs of the universe…these characters see themselves as outsiders looking in and unique. Sometimes it’s great to be unique, and sometimes it’s f***ing depressing to be unique.
He also admitted that getting the X-Men into space and on the same playground as the Guardians was the toughest task by far.
Finally the topic of possible mainstream response to their work was broached, particularly given the success of the Guardians of the Galaxy film this past year. Humphries said that he’s encountered readers who came to his work via the film, as well as the Rocket Raccoon and Guardians title, and that they liked “what they saw in the movie and they were ecstatic to find more that they could read without having to wait for the sequel.”
And Bendis was quick to mention that fans realize that the only place you’ll currently see the Guardians and X-Men cross-over is in the comics, and that adds an exciting element to what “The Black Vortex” offers, particularly for new readers and that it’s “exciting and an honor to be delivering that to readers who want it”.
Guardians of the Galaxy & X-Men: The Black Vortex Alpha #1 releases on February 4th.
The below designs are all created by Ed McGuinness
Entertainment Editor for The Beat covering film, television and the occasional comic book. His work can also be found at GeekRex.com and can be heard on the GeekRex podcast. Also, your go-to Grant Morrison/Love & Rockets/Hellboy/Legion of Super-Heroes expert.