Jonathan Hickman will begin his X-Men epic Wednesday with House of X #1, and so during his spotlight panel on the final day of Comic-Con, he talked about—surprise, surprise—the X-Men.
To be fair, Hickman, whose most notable work is a 200-plus issue Marvel Universe epic that spanned nearly six years and several comics, also discussed his creator-owned titles, including East of West (which is in development as a TV show), Black Monday Murders, and Dying and the Dead. But X-Men unsurprisingly dominated the day.
Hickman gave a range of details and insights, but to me the heart of it was this: he is looking at X-Men as a three-segment reclamation project that will involve multiple status quo changes. The length of those status quos will be determined by sales, fan, and critical success. All told, these stories will span a multi-year run that will start by healing fans who have felt burned during the past decade or so of X-Men being an unimportant business vertical, what with their movie rights having been at Fox.
“The problem with the X-Books for the past decade or so is they haven’t had a place vertically inside of Marvel, and we were busy writing other things and making other things important,” Hickman said. “That has changed. It’s not an impossibility to say that if my goal is to return the X-Men to a prominent place in the Marvel Universe, it’s not something that isn’t going to happen because it’s bad business. I think that matters.”
What he’s referring to is that Disney (which owns Marvel) has regained the rights to the X-Characters. Marvel Cinematic Universe mastermind Kevin Feige even alluded to the integration of mutant characters into that world during Saturday’s panel at Hall H.
Marvel, of course, never put out an official press release letting the world know they were down on the X-Men, but for long-time readers of the franchise (including myself) there was a subtle but evident fall for the comics. There were also rumors that corporate leadership didn’t want to generate new IP for other mediums that would not financially benefit them in the same was as it did to promote characters they owned the movie rights for.
That’s all over now, and, as such, fans will most certainly be happy with the first segment of Hickman’s plans.
“It’s prime X-Men stuff, and positive,” Hickman said. “…we recognize it’s been a difficult period of time for X-Men fans for a long period of time…and we want to give them a bunch of wins…the first bit of it is super upbeat, and then of course there has to be conflict, because we tell dramatic stories.”
The second segment, which he didn’t elaborate much on, is his favorite of the three.
“If THAT is successful,” Hickman said, “there’s no telling how long that will be the status quo for mutants inside the Marvel Universe.”
More interesting bits to me included Hickman’s philosophy on creating new characters, insofar as he doesn’t think the X-Men comics need them.
“The reason we hired a bunch of different writers is because they’d have a bunch of different favorite characters,” he said. “My only rule for what we’re doing with the vast majority of the X-Stuff…is there’s no real need to create new characters when you have hundreds that really aren’t being serviced in a way that makes everybody happy.”
Also fascinating was Hickman’s answer to a question about diverse representation. He said the X-Line needs to do a better job of honoring the racially diverse it already has, of making them great characters. In terms of sexuality, he was coy.
“In regards to sexuality,” he said. “I don’t want to ruin that for you, because it’s really clever what we’re doing—or you’ll hate it.”
Also at various times during the Q&A, he assured fans that Nightcrawler as an integral part of his plans, that Dazzler would show up, and that he would be writing Cyclops not as an extension of Professor Xavier’s Moses-like character, but as closer to Moses son: the second generation steward of the dream who achieves the goals more efficiently than his mentor.
Hickman also shared what brought him back to Marvel, which was essentially a mixture of childhood fandom and money (the real Big 2 for creators of superhero comics). Hickman grew up a DC kid, with the lone exception being that he was a huge fan of the X-Men, specifically Generation X. So, while he’s always wanted to write comics like Teen Titans, New Gods, and Legion of Super-Heroes, market forces ultimately pushed him back to do the last Marvel property on his checklist, the X-Men.
After leaving comics for a few years in 2016 to write for television and movies, he was getting ready to do some work for DC Comics, when the market shifted, Axel Alonso moved on as Marvel’s editor-in-chief, and Marvel’s dominant voice for two decades, Brian Michael Bendis, left the company, creating a new void for talent.
The president of Marvel actually called Hickman to see how much it would cost to get him back, Hickman said, after which he smiled and added, “…we worked it out.”
Meanwhile, there were no crumbs for people like myself who are faithful citizens of Maggott Nation, which is a phrase I made up to describe those of us who really like the character Maggott, albeit semi-ironically in many cases, or at least in my case. But writer Leah Williams will be involved with Phase 2 of this X-Men relaunch, and she is as close as we have as a Maggott Nation representative working within the system.
But enough about Maggott! Hickman also discussed his creator-owned comics work.
Dying and the Dead, a supernatural multi-generation World War II epic, is in limbo. East of West—Hickman’s dystopian America collaboration with Nick Dragotta—will conclude in December, and Black Monday Murders—a Tomm Coker collaboration that makes money a supernatural force for evil—is coming back soon now that Coker’s health has improved.
That’s all great news, because as Hickman himself acknowledged, Black Monday Murders is a really special comic.
“Black Monday Murders is the first time I ever felt like I was completely in control of it, and I was happy with every panel,” he said. “I know it sounds weird, but it’s the first time I ever felt super confident at my job. I love that book and it’s conceptually unlike most other books, and I think it’s the best thing I’ve written.”