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Carey: All Things Marvel

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With X-Men on the verge of hitting #200, the X-Men: Endangered Species one-shot coming up, and the introduction of the Silver Surfer in the Ultimate universe right around the corner in the pages of Ultimate Fantastic Four—right on time for the movie, ha!—BF catches up Mike Carey on his various Marvel projects.

BROKEN FRONTIER: First off, with Ultimate FF, you are bringing back the Ultimate Silver Surfer for this next arc. What was it about this character that made him seem a good choice to bring back into the Ultimate-verse?

MIKE CAREY: Well, it’s the Lee/Kirby love again. I have a huge amount of affection for those early FF stories that introduced the Surfer and Galactus – and particularly the one where the Surfer escapes Galactus by traveling into a microscopic universe where the FF have to follow him. We’re sort of pastiche-ing certain aspects of that story in our Worlds Within Worlds arc, although our Surfer is the herald of somebody other than Galactus…

The Surfer is just such a cool character, and the power cosmic is still a phrase that rocks my boat. I couldn’t resist using the advent of the movie as an excuse to bring him into the book. What I mainly remember him for, too, was that phase when he was trapped on Earth and endlessly suffering. That again – the idea of a well-meaning but flawed character under a heavy sentence that’s almost impossible to bear – informs our story.

BF: The one time that readers have been introduced to this character (in Warren Ellis’ Ultimate Galactus Trilogy) he was presented in a different light as he has been in the regular Marvel U. Namely, his tactics or preparation were using more of a cult method, he didn’t have a surf board, and there were literally hundreds of him. How did you feel about each of these, as well as any other, changes that were made to the character?

MC: I enjoyed Ultimate Extinction a lot, but I wasn’t thrilled with the endlessly replicated Surfer. I mean, it works great as a trope within that story, but I was looking for a way to tell a story about the original Norrin Radd that wouldn’t clash with Warren’s vision but would sort of spin off at right angles to it. We explain the Ultimate Extinction Surfers, kind of in passing, but we don’t use them. We’re basically saying, look, the Gah-Lak-Tus swarm met Norrin Radd out in deep space and they sampled him, because there were things about him that could be assimilated and re-used. But this is the real Surfer on whom all those other Surfers were based.

BF: In line with the last question, there was not much information (if any at all) given about this Surfer’s backstory. Did you see this arc as a nice time to fill in this origin of the character?

MC: Only to the extent that I’ve just described. We do give our Surfer a very explicit backstory, but it only touches Ultimate Extinction at that slight tangent. The story we’re telling has no other point of contact with Warren’s. Its antecedents are in the Silver Age FF stories.

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BF: The original Silver Surfer went through a stage of redemption during his initial time with the FF. But in the Ultimate version, he never seemed to waver from assisting Galactus. Will there be an attempt in this story arc to redeem the character at all or is it more fun to play him as a straight villain?

MC: Our Surfer is a pretty complex figure from a moral point of view. There’s something in his past – a crime – that’s so terrible it seems to make redemption impossible. And when we first meet him his goals are in a lot of ways very suspect. But he does grow in stature in the course of the story, and I think it’s hard at the end to condemn him outright. It’s not easy to sympathize with him either, though: you just realize why he’s done what he’s done and you draw your own conclusions.

BF: Beginning with X-Men #200, how does it feel to be writing such a milestone issue (or at least what is presented as a milestone issue) for this book and team? Is there any added pressure because of the Marvel hype machine? When you came on board with this book did you have to plan out for this milestone?

MC: Well we knew it was coming up and we knew that we wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. And then as the plans for the crossover firmed up, it became more and more obvious what that something had to be. It all came together really well, and I think it’s a very cool story.

Is there added pressure? Not really, because the promotional stuff starts when the script is already well in. You are aware with X-Men that you’re under this huge spotlight, and it can be daunting at first. I’m pretty much used to it now, though, and having fun.

BF: A great number of mutants have been brought on board this team since the book was initially launched with Jim Lee and Chris Claremont. Have you made any attempts in the issue to bring some of that older cast back? Was there any character you wanted to use in the book but for some reason or another could not?

MC: Well I brought Northstar and Aurora back, of course, first in the Supernovas arc and then in the annual. That was kind of cool, because I love those characters and I was able to move their story on a few beats. I’ve been shamelessly borrowing the Astonishing cast whenever I need them, and I’ve got designs on a couple of other veterans too.

The only character I’ve wanted and not been able to have was Psylocke, because Chris Claremont was using her elsewhere and had the prior claim. But you know what they say. Everything comes to him who waits…

BF: Marvel has stated that after the mutants seemed to sit on the sideline for most of Civil War, they were going to return front and center to their previous level of importance in the Marvel U. How does X-Men #200 and the Endangered Species storyline do that?

MC: That’s a question I’m largely going to have to duck, because it has to do with the story dynamics. It’s pretty clear now that what’s at stake – one of the things at stake, anyway – in the crossover is the survival of the mutant race, and we’re using Endangered Species to put that crisis into the foreground.

Click to enlargeClick to enlargeTo put it bluntly, a species that has fewer than 200 members is completely non-viable from an evolutionary point of view. It’s going to die out because there isn’t enough genetic diversity to make it stable and to make it flourish. Homo superior has already passed the point of no return, and now we see how various characters react to that situation, with the main focus on the Beast’s quest to reverse it.

Then in the crossover we move that situation onwards with some big and unexpected developments and a very different kind of crisis that comes out of nowhere. And the post-200 arc in X-Men is very much playing into that too: it all comes together with a great big apocalyptic thunderclap.

Oh, please don’t take that to mean that Apocalypse is involved. He isn’t.   

BF: With Endangered Species , Marvel has released many advertisements in their books showing Wanda’s now famous words from House of M. Joe Quesada has also teased a bit that this storyline will confront her words and their after effects. How did you feel about being part of this particular storyline and how do you feel it resonates with the Marvel Universe and readers of the books?

MC: Yeah, this is very much playing out the consequences of Wanda’s edict. What we’ve got is an extinction event, basically, and a set of characters – with Hank McCoy, the Beast, very much front and centre – refusing to go gently into that last goodnight. Like the crossover itself, it’s a story with a big cast but a tightly focused heart: it comes down to the very basic question of what you will and won’t do to survive when you know that you’re up against the wall and the cavalry aren’t coming.

I think Marvel’s strength at the moment is that they’re structuring the big events around real-world themes and issues, although they’re fictionalized enough so that they don’t feel like reportage and they fit into the defining structures of the Marvel universe. Civil War was about how far people will go in giving up basic liberties in exchange for security. And Endangered Species is about the dilemma of staring death – species-death, extinction – in the face, which is a situation not too many removes from our own right now.

Because of climate change and the drying up of oil reserves could mean that we’re looking at the death of our world-spanning civilization. I don’t want to make too much of that parallel: I just think that Marvel is picking up on the zeitgeist in some pretty amazing ways right now.

BF: Any teases or hints about who you might be killing off here? Pretty please?

MC: Nope. No hints. I will say, though, that we’re not taking the redshirt option.

BF: Finally, talk a little bit about the format of this series. Why do you think that this particular format works for this storyline?

MC: For Endangered Species? Yeah, it’s kind of a unique set-up – the very short chapters, running through all the core X-books. It works precisely because it’s integrated in that way. This is a situation that has a bearing on all the books, and sets the stage for the crossover. It’s a great way to have an overture.

The FF preview art displayed amid the interview is from Ultimate Fantastic Four #43. A sneak peek at Ultimate FF #42, on sale next Wednesday, can be found here .

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