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Mutants Go to War

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This past year, David Hine has written several X-Men mini series in which he helped drive Marvel’s Decimation event home. Now that Son of M and The 198 have been completed, Hine focuses on his contribution to The House of Ideas’ event of the decade with Civil War: X-Men.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Before we get to Civil War: X-Men proper, let me ask you, what do you think of the whole concept behind Civil War and its execution?

DAVID HINE: As a concept it’s a no-brainer. We get to see half the Marvel heroes beating on the other half. It’s what Marvel has been doing on a smaller scale since the sixties, but this time with a good reason. It’s so simple it’s brilliant. As the Marvel Universe has become more realistic over the passing years, there have been a few obvious questions hanging in the air. Essentially superheroes are acting illegally as vigilantes and none of the ‘arrests’ they make would stand up in court, which in the end makes them something of an anachronism. Somebody has finally pointed out the elephant squatting in the middle of the room.

Of course, it could have gone horribly wrong. Marvel invested a lot in the series and if it had turned out crap it would have left a lot of people wiping egg from their faces. But I think the reception has been unanimously positive, hasn’t it? Mark Millar and Steve McNiven have pulled it off with panache. It looks good, it reads good, and it’s selling shedloads.

BF: You’re someone who’s found a home at Marvel, though you’ve got a background in indie comics, with Strange Embrace over at Active Images coming to mind.  How does that background affect your portrayal of mainstream superheroes?

DH: I’ve spent years griping and moaning about mainstream comics saturating the market, so I come to superhero comics with an ingrained sense of resentment. Now, I’m finally let loose on these characters and get to put them through some serious shit! [Laughs]

There are all kinds of indie comics, but what most have in common is a very strong interior voice. I’m far more interested in the character behind the mask than the nuts and bolts of costumes, powers and who would beat who in a fistfight. But I think that’s true of most writers coming into the game now. Ed Brubaker and Brian Bendis also have an indie background. I’m sure that has influenced the way they write characters. It’s a question of thinking yourself under the skin of the superhero, imagining what it would actually be like to live the life, rather than just writing escapist fantasy.

That means the readers have to put up with a lot of angst along the way. I’ve just googled ‘angst’. It’s one of those words I use all the time, but I’ve never looked up in a dictionary. "Technically, this is a term used in Existentialism which expresses the dread reality that the future is an unknown chasm; therefore, the choices that a person ( the existent ) makes are the determining factor in the outcome of one's future - thus, the cause for angst." I like that. “Unknown chasm”. Yeah, definitely it’s the angst that does it.

BF: Speaking of finding a home, you’ve certainly worked on a lot of X-Men related projects lately in District X, Son of M and X-Men: The 198. Does that mean that the mutant world is your favorite corner of the Marvel Universe to work in? ‘David Hine: X-writer’ sure has a nice ring to it! [Laughs]

DH: It’s kind of weird because I’m sure when I was first approached to work for Marvel, I specified that I wasn’t interested in costumed heroics, particularly not groups and explicitly not the X-Men. I guess I missed the point of the Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch story [Laughs] The offers keep coming and I have finally admitted defeat. Last week I ordered the set of Essential X-Men paperbacks from Amazon, so when I’ve waded through that lot I’ll be able to write all those characters with a little more authority.

BF: Civil War: X-Men features the remaining four of the original X-Men class in Cyclops, Beast, Iceman and Angel. Assuming you can’t say anything about where each stands on the issue of superhero registration, how about a little spin on it: if you were given complete control over these four characters, which camp would you put them in? 

DH: Beast would abstain. Iceman would sign up to the registration act for all the cool SHIELD accessories. Angel would fly up into the mountains and think about it. Cyclops would do what Emma tells him.

BF: In the mini series, some of the remaining Decimation plot points left dangling, especially from The 198, will be tied up. How much of that title was written to bridge the gap between House of M/Decimation and Civil War on the side of the mutants?

DH: The 198 went through several permutations. It was originally conceived, by me at least, as a continuation of District X in the wake of House of M. I intended to concentrate on Mr M and the de-powered mutants of District X. Gregor, who ended as a tree rooted in the subway tunnels under New York was growing fruit which would restore mutants’ powers, but in bizarre and disturbing forms. The fruit would also act as a psychotropic drug which would turn them all into paranoid crazies, so the X-Men would have to contain and control them.

That was ultimately ditched and instead the focus was shifted to the broader community of remaining mutants.

Then, the concept of the O*N*E and the revived Sentinels came along and The 198 were shifted into the grounds of the Xavier Estate and the rest is history. Similarly, the series that became Civil War: X-Men started out with The 198 going on the road, looking for a new homeland and end up settling in the desert—what I described as Easy Rider meets Mad Max 2. Civil War was barely a gleam in Mark Millar’s eye when The 198 started out and it’s a perfect example of the way Marvel books have to remain in a constant state of flux as the status quo keeps shifting.

BF: Will you also touch on the events going on in Uncanny and ‘Adjectiveless’ X-Men and why these teams find themselves in space, or will all of those questions be answered in the respective monthlies?

DH: I want to keep this simple, so the events of Civil War: X-Men take place over a very short period. A few days at most. I’m leaving it to the editors to co-ordinate the timing and make sure the timeline makes sense. I’ll leave all that space-stuff to Ed Brubaker and Mike Carey.

BF: Aside from the original four X-Men we’ve mentioned before, one of the central characters in this book will be Bishop. Since you redefined him for the 21st century as a Mutant Town-cop in District X, that won’t shock too many readers. How come you developed such an affinity for the character?

DH: I liked the idea of Bishop as a man out of time, always a little out of his depth and uncertain how to behave. Imagine travelling back in time to the 1920’s. No matter how much you studied the period, there would be a thousand details of everyday life that would be subtly unfamiliar. He’s also a man who has spent his life training for combat or in actual combat situations. He only ever hung out with other mutants. My favourite scenes were those where he was interacting with Ismael Ortega and his family in relatively normal situations. I made him appear awkward and socially clumsy, but those scenes also showed that he has real strength of character and loyalty.

BF: What kind of role will Bishop be playing, really?

DH: This is very much Bishop in his enforcer role. More of a soldier than a cop and much closer to the Bishop of the other X-series. [Series artist] Yanick [Paquette] has drawn him really hard-looking. As an English friend used to say “You wouldn’t want to nick a chip off his plate…” Bishop was born at the latter end of the twenty-first century and for him the original X-Men were a legend from history. It tears Bishop up to go against them, especially Cyclops. But once he’s made his decision, he is not going to pull his punches. Bishop is not a fence-sitter. Up until now the rest of the X-Men have been indecisive, tolerating the presence of the O*N*E and the Sentinels on the estate but never entirely trusting them. Once Bishop puts down his marker, it pushes the rest of the X-Men to choose their side.

BF: Based on past occurrences, a legitimate fear of fans is that doing crossover tie-ins is simply a trick to make readers buy books that don’t really contribute a lot to the core story. Will any of the events of the main Civil War series spill over into the mini series or the other way around?

DH: The role of the X-Men is a little different to the other superheroes. Mutants are a special case in the sense that they have always been identified by a central system. Cerebro has always enabled the X-Men to identify and track the world’s mutants, so they have already become accustomed to the broader concept of a Registration Act. But the O*N*E has been given more wide-ranging authority over mutants, using all kinds of dubious methods to entice them to the Estate and then effectively keeping them imprisoned against their will.

Mutants have a history and a future of being persecuted as a minority, enslaved, imprisoned and exterminated. Whatever the outcome of the other Civil War books, the mutants will continue to be a special case and in this series we’ll be dealing with the additional clauses to the Superhuman Registration Act as applied to them. So it’s a significant series but although there are references to the events of the core title, the mini-series will be comprehensible on its own and achieve its own closure.

BF: What about long-term effects for the mutant world in general?

DH: Civil War impacts on every corner of the Marvel Universe. This really is a benchmark event.  The way I look at the House of M and Civil War events is that they are a way of modernising the Marvel Universe. We aren’t living in the twentieth century. Globalisation, terrorism and the democratic police state are all realities and the old concept of independent superhero groups just doesn’t fit any more. I imagine all of the X-books will be going through seismic changes.

For a sneak peek at Civil War: X-Men, on sale July 19th,  click here.

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