Inside Look: X-Men #193

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Six issues into an already memorable stint on X-Men—in fact, there’s no fan in the world who’ll raise an eyebrow when it’s touted as the best run ‘Adjectiveless’ has seen since Grant Morrison was still around—Mike Carey wraps up “Supernovas” in today’s X-Men #193.

While artist Chris Bachalo delivers his best work of the creative team’s first story arc in this issue, we left him at the drawing table and invited Carey for some comments.

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X-Men #193 is the finale to my first arc on the book.  So, y’know, no pressure.  We’ve established the Children of the Vault as these really badass villains with an interesting backstory, but the only one who’s really rumbled with the X-Men to any great extent so far is Serafina.  Now they’re meeting up for the big head-to-head and we’re pulling everything together for an explosive climax. 

At the same time, we’re keeping a couple of sub-plots percolating for later arcs and we wanted a dropped punchline after the dust settles on Rogue’s decision for her team’s future – followed by a further reveal about the Children themselves.  Hopefully the overall effect will be rich and exciting, not just confusing.

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It’s usually a good idea NOT to start exactly where you finished in the issue before: it’s kind of like the “I-couldn’t-come-up-with-a-better-idea” default option, but very often there’s a lot to be gained by starting somewhere else and then coming back to the previous issue’s cliffhanger by a roundabout route.  So here we start with one of the sub-plots. 

The Beast is examining a corpse of a man who collapsed at the mansion’s gates back in #191. 
Now it appears that the guy had died several days previous to these events: he was already well deceased when he was seen walking up to the mansion and challenged by a couple of O.N.E. grunts.  We throw in a couple of extra revelations and then we bounce out into the main plotline – with Hank’s dry, throwaway line as our segue.

The Beast is a very cool character to write.  Every team needs a boffin, a techie-geek or science officer type to join the dots for the audience when there’s something complex to be explained.  But Hank brings so much richness to the mix – a cultured man in an animal body, dry and acerbic and emotionally reserved right up to the point where he rips your throat out.

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One of the most interesting and in some ways most challenging things about writing the X-Men is that there are so many of them.  At this point, my team is still stationed in the mansion, along with the Astonishing team, the New X-Men team and a horde of O.N.E. employees on various sizes and scales.  I could just write around them, but I prefer to acknowledge the shared continuity and show members of the other teams responding to our crisis. 

On this page we’ve got Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine and Colossus from Astonishing, New X-Men characters Butterfly Girl and Hellion, and a couple of O.N.E. sentinels.  It all adds to the scale of what’s going on: everyone’s involved, and everyone’s blindsided.  Only Rogue’s team, because they made the decision to attack the Conquistador in issue #192, are in a position to do anything here, although I’ve allowed the sentinels a part in the denouement too.

I like being able to play with the larger cast.  It’s part of what makes the X-Men so cool and so much fun – that there is this enormous list of dramatis personae, and they’re all there to call on when you want them.  Moreover, when you bring a character back out of relative obscurity and shine the spotlight on them, you know that somebody somewhere is cheering – because everyone has a favourite X-Man.  Even my mother-in-law.

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I hope this moment comes as a big surprise.  How do you fight near-omnipotent post-humans?  Well, if you know they draw on solar power for some of what they do, you could do worse than pull the plug on them.  We’ve seeded two clues that feed into this page and this moment: one, the sun went dark when Serafina gave the Beaubier twins a power boost in #189, and two, Sabretooth described the big radar-dish-like object that sat on the deck of the Conquistador when he boarded it in issue #191. 

Presumably, this plan has been at the back of Rogue’s mind ever since.  And we played fair, having Mystique apparently disappear from the action after the X-Men landed on the ship. In fact it was Cable who was missing, with Mystique taking his place.

So, what would have been a massacre suddenly becomes something a bit more open.  Battle is joined.

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Fight scenes in a team book have to strike a balance between one-on-one action and “big picture” action.  Look at that beautiful big panel at the top of page 8, and how many beats Chris has layered into it.  The man is awesome.  Then we get down to brass tacks with two members of the team, Sabretooth and Karima. 

Sabretooth is another fascinating character to write, because you’re walking a tightrope the whole time.  You have to make sure you never make him too cosy and comfortable.  The guy’s a monster, and you need to keep reminding people of that even when he’s fighting on the side of the angels.  I think most readers will enjoy Serafina’s turning the tables on him here, given the reminder as to how indiscriminate his violence is.

And again, look at how beautifully Chris choreographs the action on the page, jumping from longshot to in-close-and-dirty so that the page layout mimics the frenetic, imperfectly-glimpsed action.

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The other thing that I try to do in fight scenes, where possible, is to hit some emotional beats in the midst of the chaos.  Sam Guthrie has experienced years of happy marriage with Serafina in a highly compressed and perfectly convincing illusion.  He’s still majorly screwed up about it, but he’s trying to deal.  This conversation is a turning point.

I think of Cannonball as being part of the stable core of this very unstable team – along with Iceman and Rogue.  But he’s got this weight hanging over him, and he needs to shake it off at least partially before he can be of any use to the team.  And of course Serafina’s off-hand brutality is exactly what he needs by way of a bucket of water in the face.

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I missed out the most amazing double-page spread immediately before this page, so you have to go and check it out even if you don’t buy the book.  Again, we’re cashing in plot elements already set up a few issues ago.  We’ve seen Iceman re-form his body from steam to water to ice after being vaporised by the Beaubier twins in issue #190.  Then in issue #192 we saw him being absorbed by Fuego, whose fires feed on anything and everything that’s in his locality.  Now we learn that Bobby can pull off the same sneaky trick in these very adverse circumstances.  Fuego bit off more than he could chew.

We want to push Iceman’s powers in more and more extreme ways.  He’s potentially a spectacularly versatile character, but it’s very easy to limit him to ice-slides and ice-spears – familiar riffs from a million previous encounters.

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There are no blacks and whites in the X-verse – or at least, not very many of them.  The O.N.E. sentinels have been a major thorn in the X-Men’s side, but they have their uses: and their brief includes (nominally, at least) the protection of the few remaining mutants against external threats.  Surprise, surprise: for once we see them actually doing that.  But I think Sam’s reaction is understandable.  There’s too much blood under the bridge for any mutant ever to relax around a sentinel.

Of course, we actually have a sentinel on the team in the form of Karima Shapandar.  But even there we’ve tried to emphasise what task she was originally designed to do and to keep the scary edge to her.  In issue #190, when Hank was trying to measure the density of Bobby’s ice after his encounter with the Beaubiers, Karima rattled off the stats lightning-fast: analysing mutants is part of her core functionality.  Hank’s thanks were restrained.

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I couldn’t resist that surreal moment at the top of the page.  It’s the punch line to a stupid joke – “if the fourth engine goes, we’ll be stuck up here all day”.

Again we’ve got the different teams interacting in the aftermath of the battle – and then we’ve got Rogue’s big revelation at the bottom of the page.  I wanted to shake things up a little, and I wanted to follow out the logic of the brief that Cyclops gave to Rogue.  She’s meant to head up a rapid-response team unimpeded by any duties at the school – so it makes sense for them to operate outside of the restrictions that are currently in force there. 

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It had to be done, I think.  We built up the Children as a major threat, but we only turned a handful of them into actual characters.  Sangre already pointed out that half a dozen people doesn’t constitute a race.  Now we know the true scale of the threat, and we realise why the X-Men were able to win this battle in such short order: they were only fighting the skirmish line, not the battalion coming up behind.

I wanted to leave things still in flux at the end of the arc.  The immediate crisis is resolved, but it’s still a big, dangerous world and there are still other problems impending.  Who’s the walking dead guy?  When will the Children rise in force, and what’s “the great plan”?  Where will the X-Men’s new base be?  Oh, okay, I admit that’s an easy one in context…  [Laughs]

So, was this a climax or an anti-climax?  I don’t know, but I’m sure there are a lot of people dying to tell me.  I hope people enjoy it and buy it in their millions, because I love writing this book and I’d hate to be taken out behind the barn and shot so early in my run.

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