Inside Look: X-Men Noir #1

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Fred Van Lente allows you a peek into his creative hat, telling you how X-Men Noir #1 came to be. The solicitation copy of the issue reads:

"The coroner's men flipped the redheaded corpse over so Dukes and Magnus from Homicide could get a better look at her. 'Better' being a relative term in this case, with the claw marks that slashed her face into a featureless, bloody mask and turned her guts into a butcher shop explosion.
"But the tattoo -- the simple, encircled 'X' above the left shoulder blade -- remained intact, and Dukes pointed it out with the toe of his wingtip once Peter the rookie was done heaving up lunch.
"'See this ink?' he said. 'Means she did time at this reform school upstate, run by this shrink, Xavier...'"

Artist/co-creator Dennis Calero and I put a lot of research into the history of New York City for X Men Noir, and the opening sequence of #1 is where a lot of it wound up:

Page One

A good chunk of the action of the series takes place on Roosevelt Island, in the middle of the East River just beyond the United Nations, or, as it was known in the era of X Men Noir, Welfare Island. Comics fans best know Roosevelt Island as where the Green Goblin dies at the end of the first Spider-Man movie. Today, of course, the tramway also featured in that movie takes residents to and from the island, but again, that is after the time of our story.

Dennis and I, along with our redoubtable editor, Nathan Cobsy -- and my wife -- went to meet with the president and historian of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, Judith Berdy, during our photo reference tour of the isle. She gave us all sorts of insight on how the prison, and the mental asylum (the "looney bin" referred to by the coroner on Page Two), and other aspects of the "welfare" worked, and we incorporated a lot of elements from our talk with her into the series.

That lighthouse Dukes and Peter are walking toward on panel 3 is still there, on the northern end of the island, and you can check out the real one here. Convicts from the oft-mentioned penitentiary built it in 1872.

Not far north of the island is the so-called "Hell Gate," where the Harlem and East Rivers converge (hence the need for a lighthouse, I suppose)...

Page Two

...which, you know, might have something to do with this body that's washed up on shore. Could be a, y'know, whadayacallit, clue. I'm just sayin'.

The raid on Welfare Penetentiary that Dukes refers to actually happened in real life, on January 24, 1934. It is the single most important incident in X Men Noir, so I won't reveal any more, except this contemporary headline might give you some more clues.

Pages Four and Five

As Dukes says, after the steamboat days, but prior to the tramway (and car access from Queens), the primary way crooks and kooks would be delivered to the island was via an elevator you took from the Queensboro Bridge which crossed over the island (from Manhattan to Queens, natch) that extended all the way down through a mult-level storehouse -- that's what you see our mysterious mustachioed stranger hanging out on in Page Five

They added at some point a vehicle elevator so whole paddy wagons could be brought down too. This way, the inmates of Welfare Island were completely isolated from the rest of the city.

We wouldn't have known any of this were it not for Judith Berdy, so thanks again!

Page Six

At some point, a trolley from the Manhattan side brought those who worked on the island (but didn't live there) to the midway elevator. All old train nerds should click here. I guess Dukes and Peter, fine, strapping young detectives they are, need the exercise, so they're walking back to Manhattan.

Dennis Calero draws one mean Queensboro Bridge, doesn't he?

Page Seven

I know what you're thinking: What do today's comics need more of? That's right. Airships.

The Empire State Building, when originally conceived, was supposed to have a mooring platform for airships at its very top, until someone finally pointed out that that could be one of the stupidest ideas in the history of architecture. Fortunately, in the realm of alternate universe comics, if it looks cool we do it, so you'll see how important the ESB's role as the central airport in the city plays later in the series.

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X-Men Noir #1 is in stores now. The second issue will go on sale next Wednesday, January 7, 2009.

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