Inside Look: X-Men #200

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Mike Carey put the cap on the X-Men’s second centennial, one that saw them going all-out against the Marauders, the classic and arguably angriest band of mutants the X-teams have ever faced off against. BF offered Carey the opportunity to discuss the ins and outs of the book, an opportunity he was glad to accept… if only to underscore you ain’t seen nothing yet—he’s got much, much more in store for ‘Adjectiveless’.

The solicitation for the issue reads:

Jump on board here! This is where it all begins! The X-Men face meltdown from within and from without... and their leader, Rogue, faces something worse. Meanwhile a mysterious strike force is taking out the few remaining mutants one by one, with ruthless efficiency. But who is the ultimate target? This special double-sized anniversary issue features a plethora of mutant guest stars, the return of several fan-favorites, and a devastating face-off against the deadliest villain team in the X-Men's forty-four year history! FEATURING THE FIRST ENDANGERED SPECIES BACK-UP STORY LEADING UP TO THIS FALL'S X-MEN EVENT!

Well we’ve been building up to this one since forever, and it’s kind of a relief to be here at last – at the point where I can talk about it openly instead of teasing or ducking. It’s also a relief that we were able to keep some of the big twists and turns under our hats, so that readers were hopefully taken by surprise when some of the more dramatic reveals were sprung.

It’s a landmark issue, of course, and we wanted it to be as big and as memorable as we could make it. Part of that was having Chris and Humberto share the pencils, since otherwise we’d have had the invidious choice of cutting one of them out at this poignant and resonant moment in X-Men history. So we decided to have Chris handle the Marauder cut-aways and Humberto handle the core team.


Some people may have been surprised that we started not with the X-Men themselves but with this odd and initially unexplained little scene taking place a long way away. We were thinking back to the Marauders’ first appearance, to some extent, and we wanted to build a similar sense of gathering menace here. This is Riptide, one of the nastiest and most dangerous of the Marauders, doing his thing with the callous and casual panache that was always the Marauders’ hallmark. We thought it struck the right note: they’re back, and they’re as bad as ever. The body count is only going to get higher.

For those of you who didn’t read Gambit’s solo series, that’s where Quiet Bill hails from. He was an unassuming and gentle guy whose power related to opening doorways into other universes. As to why he was a target for the Marauders, we don’t yet know.

Look at how understated the violence is here. Chris squeezes so much horrible implication into that half a square inch in the last panel – and it hits all the harder because you can barely see it. You have to imagine the inside of that elevator car for yourself.

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Nothing understated here, though. With the entry of the X-Men we get an opening up of the page and a big – literal – explosion of energy. The mood shifts, and I think we feel a momentary sense of relief to be away from that claustrophobic moment of horror at the foot of page 2.

I’ve tended to shy away from having Rogue use Sunfire’s powers too much, but it seemed appropriate for her to cut loose here. We wanted people to get the sense of how close to the edge she is, and the massive overkill – the reckless use of the flame blasts where they weren’t even needed – seemed like a good way to do that.

Only one word of dialogue on the page: actions speak louder than words here.

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This is obviously going to be one of the most controversial moments in the issue, perhaps along with the final reveal. Yes, after a year of flirting and negotiating and circling each other’s perimeters, Mystique and Iceman finally tumble into each other’s arms. Mystique does her best to dress this up as a spontaneous surrendering to the moment, with her "Pretend…" But it’s not really that at all. Their earlier kiss on Providence was spontaneous – they were a second away from a messy death, so neither felt like they had anything to lose. This is really more premeditated, whatever it looks like: planned on Mystique’s part, surely not coming as much of a surprise to Bobby.

Is their mutual attraction credible? And is there more to it than meets the eye here? Keep reading and find out.

Sorry, that’s me reverting to tease mode, there. Obviously there’s more to it, especially in view of what happens at the close of this issue. We nail it down explicitly in #201, but alert readers will probably already be saying "So that’s why…"

Very clean page. No background at all. Nothing to take away from the human drama of offer and acceptance.

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I love this moment. Malice taking over Karima. The ice-blue burst of energy is beautifully rendered, and that final close-up of Karima’s face, with the inappropriate expression of cold, mocking amusement, is exactly how I wanted it to be.

This was one of the twists that we sort of gave away in advance, both verbally and visually, but I still think the way it happens – suddenly, in one panel, with no build-up, is very effective.

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That last panel is a conscious homage. There’s a moment on page 3 of Uncanny X-Men#210 that I had in mind as I was scripting this scene – the death of Richard Salmons at the hands of Scalphunter. I almost had a final cut-away and an echoing BOOOOOM, too, to link with the final page of that issue, but I didn’t want people to say that I was stealing all my story beats from Mister Claremont. Still, a sense of history is no bad thing. [Laughs]

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God, I love this splash. I love it to an indecent extent. The art direction just said something like "He steps out into view. It’s GAMBIT! Full body shot. Go to town…"

People have been asking me about Gambit’s return ever since I came on board the title. I think many of them will immediately be excited and/or intrigued that he’s reverted to his classic look: he’s not Death any more, he’s the real McCoy – or LeBeau – as of old. It’s a very powerful visual statement, and I want to own the original art some day.

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This quiet moment between Cannonball and Rogue – a moment of painful but reassuring human contact before the shit hits the fan – is one of my favourite scenes in the book. It both echoes and contrasts with what’s happening between Mystique and Iceman. Great facial expressions. Great colouring.

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And this is another stunning, spectacularly rendered splash. I sent Andy Schmidt the visual reference for this – it’s based on an engraving by Gustave Doré for Dante’s Inferno – and he passed it on to Humberto, who went off at his own wild, scary angle and created this. It’s a literal glimpse of Hell: the turmoil inside Rogue’s mind as the eight billion minds of the Heptarchy dead swirl around like an ocean in her subconscious. We needed something unforgettable and instantly understandable – a visual referent for the tower of Babel inside Rogue’s head. I think we got it.

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Remember what I said about understatement in relation to page 2? Well Chris can do spectacular and pyrotechnic too, as he he does here – opening up the page into a terrifying, suspended moment of fight-or-flight. And then the conflagration: the big bang that ends Cable’s dreams and aspirations in one heartbeat. Wow.

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PAGE 30-31

I think to some extent we can measure the success of the story by how long people spend staring at this double-page spread. Ideally, part of you should be doing the mental checklist – who’s there, who isn’t – while part of you is anticipating the mayhem that’s about to break out. You knew it was coming, but I hope it still packed a big punch when it finally came.

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But not as big a punch as this, of course. This was the reveal and cliffhanger that we were building to all along, and that we tried not to hint at even slightly in all the pre-publicity. What is wrong with this picture? Everything.

Again, notice that Humberto drops the background at the rawest and most emotional moments. But that red sky is on fire for a reason.

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Where do we go from here? Oh, we’re just getting started. I hope you’ll stay with us and see how it all comes out.

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