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Disciple of Whedon
Jan 9, 2003
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Joss Whedon vs. Mark Millar
In issue 143 we persuaded Mark Millar to chat to his superstar mate Joss Whedon about the X-Men, and here's the full thing
14 Apr 2006 11:57am]
Writers Mark Millar and Joss Whedon (yes, him of Buffy fame) have both written about the X-Men characters for Marvel Comics, so we had to get them talking for our X-Men x-travaganza recently. Sadly, it was impossible to fit all this goodness into the magazine, so for your enjoyment we present the entire conversation here on the SFX website. Enjoy.

MARK: Okay, Buffy-meister. You’ve been pelvis-deep in the X-Men for a while, working on the first movie and, more recently, the best-selling Astonishing X-Men monthly series. Who’s the easiest character for you to write? For me it had to be a toss-up between Cyclops and Professor X. Wolverine, I think, is probably the hardest, because the more you flesh him out an the more dialogue you give him, the less he seems to work. Do you feel the same way?

JOSS: First of all, thank you for bringing up my pelvis. I agree with you completely about Logan. Do you write a great emotional speech for Clint Eastwood? Not so much. Plus, he’s in EVERY BOOK – I think he just joined the JLA, and for some reason he appears in the revised Penguin edition of “Little Dorrit” – and every great writer has had a crack at him. But Logan is always good for a wry moment (and I’m working on an ish where I fel like he’s gonna show some exciting colours). Right now Colossus is the hardest for me. I’m digging in there, but he’s made of frikkin’ metal. The easiest – probably Kitty, since I love her logic, her run-on freak-outs with Peter, and her power, which is both cool and visual. Emma’s a close second, as British snark is so delicious. She’s like Blackadder with boobs. So why on Earth are Scott and Chucky the easiest to write for you?

MARK: Charles is interesting because he looks like a villain, but has a Christ-complex. Historically, villains are bald with arched eyebrows and weak bodies and if this visual had appeared in 1942 you’d be in no doubt whatsoever that Charles was a pissed-off guy in a wheelchair gunning for able-bodied Americans. But he’s Jesus. He’s the mutant messiah and his love for man is so forgiving and unquestionable and that’s amazing to write. Cyclops I love because he’s absolutely unlike any other Marvel character. He’s so focused and so mono-visioned (interesting for a guy who looks like he’s sporting a single eye) that he could almost be a DC character. Above anything else, he’s all about doing the right thing. On a superficial level, he’s the mosttraditional superhero Marvel has. But there’s this boiling cesspit of insanity if you scratch beneath the surface a little. He likes to think he’s Superman, but he’s always drawn to these skanky bondage queens as opposed to Lois Lane. I think I like the contradictions in each character. And you’re absolutely right about Colossus. He makes a great visual and works well in huge action set-pieces, but I wouldn’t know what he’d order to eat in a restaurant, unlike the others. What do you think is the most common mistake people make when writing The X-Men? Personally, I think I misjudged the thing as an action franchise when it’s basically a $150 million TV soap opera. Would you say it needs to be more character-driven than books like The Avengers or Fantastic Four?

JOSS: Exactly. I thought my characters were talking too much, and as soon as they started fighting people said, “Where’s the talkie?” It was the same with Buffy – the soap came first, the whup-ass to follow. That doesn’t mean you don’t need both (the VAT of whup you opened in the last Ultimates made my spine rip out of my back and dance to a ska beat – I’m sending you the bill) but character pay-off is key.

MARK: I admire your good taste, young Whedon.

JOSS: Suck up.

MARK: Claremont and Byrne’s ‘Days of Future Past’ is generally regarded as the greatest X-Men story ever told. I didn’t read their run as a boy and so don’t say this out of nostalgia. I just think, technically, they were doing something very special and unique. What’s your own X-Men golden age?

JOSS: I also read that after the fact but yes, you can see how the future of comics is being created in that wildly compelling story. For my own boy history, two images come to mind: Firelord coming furiously around a building looking for Phoenix (I wanna say ish 105), which was a gloriously epic Cockrum panel. Basically that era, the hand-off to Byrne and Austin (not nearly enough is said about Terry Austin’s role in the X-Men’s awesomeness. At least not in the ‘Little Dorrit’ chatroom). The second is Storm’s Mohawk. The whole Rogue-joins-the-team Paul Smith era is, as I’ve said, a fave. I skipped the ‘90s. I hear I missed some big outfits.

MARK: It’s odd that the period we like least is the period that sold most. Why do you think that is? That’s something that always bothers me a little.

JOSS: The ‘90s was kind of a secondary mutation, if you will. Too goddamn much of everything, too many titles, too many crossovers, too many muscles, splash pages, boobs got bigger, hair got bigger, costumes got more extreme, plots and throughlines (and timelines) beyond complicated and at the heart of it all was often nothing except the SELL. I think it got carried away, and one step removed from what made it great. That’s not to say there weren’t good stories in there; I’m not writing off a decade of work. But it lost me because it was this overwhelming, undernourishing steroidal monster. Sound and fury, signifying variant covers. I think you and I are both just a tadtoo left of centre to get wrapped up in that, even if the rest of the country seemed to.

MARK: I never thought of that. And yet this excess period in comics coincided with the global recession that lost Bush Prime the White House. The comic book excesses of 1990-93 came several years after the economic excesses of the 80s, but maybe that was the whole point. Superheroes were created to make people feel better about themselves. Superman was created by Jewish immigrants when jews were being slaughtered and the world needed something fun and crazy in an economic Depression. Maybe we needed the big hair and the big costumes just to get us through Gulf War One.

JOSS: I’m not convinced the two are connected. I think it was just another Gold Rush – like the dot.coms, a new source of revenue and excitement that wasn’t going to sustain. I don’t see a country crying out in need and the X-Men answering that. I see a country playing with something shiny.

MARK: X-Men sales have been in freefall since the ‘90s. Initially this was blamed on the industry collapse, but as the industry recovered your own X-Men book is the only one (out of 15 or 16 monthly titles) still sitting comfortably in the top 10 they used to rule. Do you think the X-Men, a metaphor for bigotry and acceptance, still has a place in an America that doesn’t have race riots anymore and where gay characters feature regularly in family TV shows?

JOSS: Racial tension and homophobia have been eradicated in our country – that’s why Crash and Brokeback Mountain are both up for Saturns. Honestly, that **** is never going away, and even in a tolerant society, everyone feels alienation and someone is being put down. The issues stay important and the metaphor is strong. But it’s a drum that’s ben banged here so often, the trick is finding a new way in with this particular group. And it’s not easy. I went to the genetics field with my ‘cure’ scenario because I think that’s a contemporary take on the issue of difference. If we can wipe out hereditary disease, can total homogenisation be far behind? Apart from that, I’ve sort of sidestepped the ‘world that hates and fears us’ thing. As for the X-Men universe being on the wane, I think it got ridiculously inflated (I know Reagan is behind it somehow) and then had to crash. I also think it’s mired in so many years of history and, frankly, clutter. It needs a house-cleaning and not a theoretical, Wanda-made-my-off-panel-friends-go-bye one (though that’s created some cool fall-out).

MARK: Yeah, it’s weird that Marvel has tried to sustain the same number of X-titles they had when the market was at its peak in the ‘90s. I think stripping it down to a handful of titles and then slowly building things back up again makes more sense on a business level. But none of those books exactly lose money, I suppose, and from a fiscal point of view I can see why they have difficulties cancelling profitable books when they’re accountable to shareholders. Do you think they’re just competing with themselves at present?

JOSS: The business of comics isn’t something I profess to understand. But I think the mutant, the X, is now the heart of the Mighty Marvel Metaphor and it does lend it cohesiveness. It’s hard to break away from that. But it’s also hard to keep dozens of mutant teams fresh. I do think it needs a paring down, a basic mission statement. I think House of M leaned in that direction, but what you’re suggesting is more about approaching the creation of books than managing the internal workings of the universe (why didn’t someone mention that I’m incredibly dull?). What’s working for me right now is Runaways, which has one (frankly adorable) mutant in a diverse group, and the metaphor lies elsewhere (bad parents, SCORE!) so the onus isn’t on Brian to drum up variations on Molly’s mutant angst.

MARK: You turned down X3 for some chick in spangly knickers. Give me a brief rundown of your essential ingredients for a great X-Men movie. What are we missing given that your name is not on these credits?

JOSS: Well, there’s probably more of me in the third than the first, since they’re using my ‘cure’ scenario as a jumping off point (to be clear, I know many people have done cure scenarios before me – X-Statix did one that came out just months before – but I didn’t know that when I wrote mine. So my wildly unoriginal idea was, in fact, mine. Avi told me they were using it (and the character of Kavita Rao) for the movie, possibly because of the more modern genetic forum, possibly because they didn’t read the other ones either. And let me also say that the long trailer looks awfully cool. BUT. Were it me, I would do sort of what I did taking over Grant’s book – pare it down. Take a few characters and really **** them up, instead of the everybody-in-the-pool monster epic they (hopefully) have pulled off. The mission statement I always ‘Why do I love every single character? What makes them worth writing about?’ I thought about the movie in the brief time I thought I might be able to work on it and of course Phoenix was central. I was playing with the idea that her out of control power was making everyone else a little nuts as well. A chance for Xavier to be Not Picard, for Logan to get feral, Scott funky, Rogue homicidal(ish). Mutants becoming an actual menace, if mostly to themselves. And there were Sentinels, ‘cause, dude. Actually I have the whole trailer in my head. I’ll tell you about it sometime.

MARK: The only idea I had for the movie was that all the girls take their tops off. But I’m really rooting for Ratner. The amount of **** he’s eaten online with all the movie sites treating the premiere like the Nuremberg trials is just pathetic. His heart really does seem to be in the right place. I haven’t heard anything especially annoying and, God bless him, Red Dragon was a really smart popcorn movie. I had dinner with the excellent Joe Ahearne (Ultraviolet and Doctor Who director) a couple of weeks ago and we were talking about how cleverly made Red Dragon was. The opening six chapters of the book were just beautifully and perfectly condensed into five or six minutes in that wonderful pre-cred. I really hope he pulls this off because he really is the underdog this summer. I’m looking forward to Superman Returns like it’s the birth of my next child, but I really have a soft spot for X3 and hope it does well.

JOSS: I’m rooting for Ratty too (which means I probably shouldn’t call him that). He was a solid, logical choice and he can tell a story. It’ll come down (as it almost always does) to the script. People can carp at directors forever, but without the story… Anyway, no matter how much flack the poor guy’s taken, I don’t think anybody WANTS the movie to be bad. We need good superhero movies, and though that’s no longer a pipe dream, there’s still plenty of the other kind.

MARK: The X-Men movie franchise or the X-Men comics: which dies first?

JOSS: The comics will outlast us all, friend.

Look out for more words of wisom from Mark Millar in the next issue of SFX too.
Well, that was pretty entertaining and interasting.:)
I love what Mark said about Cyclops.

It's so true, he really does think he's superman but has a voracious appetite for porn ****s.
Joss Whedon said:
Plus, he’s in EVERY BOOK – I think he just joined the JLA, and for some reason he appears in the revised Penguin edition of “Little Dorrit”

Gotta love Whedon.:D
I love Joss Whedon. Would've loved to see him direct X3.
Whedon refers to Emma Frost as being British... i thought she was from Boston??
Well he says her snark is British.
Before I read Astonishing I also thought she was American. But she does seem really British in Whedon's book, even using phrases such as 'bloody', which to be honest I've rarely heard an american say (I'm english though). I imagine her with an englisg accent now anyways, I like it.

As far as the read abpove goes I really enjoy, I could read/listen to Whedon all day long, the guy's just full of passion for anything sci fi related. Mark Millar's great too of course.
She is from Boston. She just uses the accent because she wants to maintain the upper class image.
Emma has an upper-class "Characters from Frasier" American accent. It's so proper, it sounds English.
what im waiting to hear about is grant morrison's opinion on things since he left. i mean they've pretty much taken what he did and did a 180. the paramilitary black leather look went back to the superhero in colorful tights. the emma/scott relationship is slowly falling apart as emma and the hellfire club do their thing. and the "millions of mutants" thing with humanity being the minority has been reversed by decimation and we're back to the handful of mutants.

not that im complaining, i really like the new direction better than the old one. i just wanna know what grant thinks of it.
Spectre722 said:
the paramilitary black leather look went back to the superhero in colorful tights.
Morrison didn't have paramilitary black leather with his team. That was Austen. Morrison's X-Men wore teaching uniforms; a black sweater, sometimes with a yellow jacket over it.

yea, and to be honest, the Astonishing team doesnt wear colorful costumes. Just tight blue and yellow uniforms. Its really not any better or different than the New X-men costumes in terms of colorfulness and superhero-ishness, but I think the New X-men costumes (especially Cyclops and Beast) look a hell of a lot better. Now they've become Condom-man and Diaper-man.
Morrison has actually spoken quite a bit about the X-Men after having left it, it's just that none of the interviews were in big-name magazines so you'd have to search a bit for it...

AN: When you wrote X-Men, many people thought that there were both genuine moments of brilliance and opportunities lost . How would you characterize your work on that book and, is there anything you'd like to go back and change at this early time to reflect?

GM: No. If I had to 'go back' I'd slit my wrists all over again. People think all kinds of things, but one man's opportunity lost is another man's brilliant moment. It's impossible to please everybody, so I just try to please myself. I'm a long-time, hardcore comics fan and I know the kind of stuff I like to read, so I write for my own smart and demanding, inner teenage fanboy. I'm happy with 'New X-Men', although not as happy as I am with 'Invisibles' or 'Marvel Boy' or 'Seven Soldiers' or 'We3'. Disagreements with Bill Jemas left me feeling very uncomfortable at Marvel, I must admit, and I think that flavored the work, although possibly for the better.

Then, after 9/11, the millennial demand for 'New' became replaced by a fearful retreat towards 'Familiar' and those tensions are all reflected in New X-Men. It's a 'difficult' work of mine, certainly. It dealt with a lot of very heavy emotions. I was writing 'Here Comes Tomorrow' while visiting the hospital every day to watch my dad dying of cancer. Like I said before, every experience goes straight into the work when you're writing this mad pulp fantasy every day for a living. Every time I re-read New X-Men, I like it better, though, and if I hadn't done it I'd probably have drifted into obscurity doing odd Vertigo books, so the experience was definitely worth it. It's a very tightly-structured and self-referential piece and gave me the idea for Seven Soldiers.

What more can I say? The book was immensely successful for Marvel, and with a much higher frequency of release than most titles, that meant a lot more revenue for the company. After three years and forty issues, my last issue with Marc Silvestri still made number 1 on the sales chart, so I think I did my job and shot a jolt of weird, spastic electricity through the old beast.

Still...I can't believe the hellish gymnastics they went through to 'explain' plotlines which were already explained quite simply by the stories I wrote and wrapped up. Here's how to explain what happened - XORN was NEVER REAL, he was a DISGUISE for MAGNETO who went MAD ON DRUGS and DIED...but we know he always COMES BACK, somehow, so expect a dramatic return sooner or later, True Believers!

There. All neat and tidy, the way I left it.

While answering a question about Seven Soldiers in
"I was just finishing up my long run on New X-Men, which was an interesting experience but quite restrictive because so much has been done with that concept and the fans have so many ideas about what the X-Men should and shouldn't be. It makes it quite hard to move or innovate without offending somebody. And any changes you make in a book like that will always be reversed or overturned because the licensors come along to demand colorful costumes or a return to traditional values or whatever. So for me to come off comic book's biggest property and go back to playing smaller halls, if you like, was an attempt to get back to a place where I could try out some new ideas. I just wanted to do some mad stuff [laughs]. I couldn't do that with the big iconic characters so I had to pick the losers no one cares about because there is a lot more creative freedom there so I could push the boundaries."

From the same interview:
"DRE: As you said, comic books keep going after any writer or artist is done with them, what do you think of Joss Whedon putting the X-Men back into their costumes?

GM: Joss Whedon is doing good work but the costumes change every couple of years regardless. I know the decision to return to a more retro-spandex look was being made by Marvel's licensors because they felt the 'urban' black and yellow look didn't come across well enough on lunchboxes and schoolbooks or on video game screens. They wanted something that was brighter and more colorful. A yellow Wolverine basically. If I'd stayed on the book I would have had to write the costume change too. The new costumes are a bit of a retreat, I have to say.

DRE: John Cassaday does draw them nice though.

GM: Cassaday is doing a great job. He's hitting new peaks all the time."

From a heftier interview
When working on titles featuring high profile characters, do you pay attention to the fans at all? Or for that matter, comments by other creators? I found it really disheartening to hear comments made by John Byrne towards your New X-Men run, particularly considering you essentially spent a lot of time paying homage to his work.

I didn't read John Byrne's comments and never want to but I'm absolutely sure that, no matter how it sounded, what my teenage art hero actually MEANT to say was that he just about LOVED my run on New X-Men!

In a far more magnanimous gesture of artistic solidarity, I heard from DC recently that Arnold Drake, the gentleman creator and brilliant writer of the original DOOM PATROL stories (among many other things), cited my version of the book as the one most faithful to his own creative vision.

Thank YOU, Mister Drake. I tried very hard to update and preserve the soul of the book and it's nice to be appreciated by the originator of these fascinating and enduring characters. Check out the trade paperback collections later this year.

Yo momma.

Did you see New X-Men as a sigil or can that now be said of all your work? I remember an interesting article a fansite had did examining the number of times the word 'sex' appeared in the art.

That says more about the fans than it does about me.

Or does it actually say more about 'Erotik' Ethan Van Sciver and 'Filthy' Frank Quitely, who filled the book with subliminal penises and hidden sweary words, like two giggly wee boys drawing hairy fannies in their physics textbooks. Those merry pranksters are 'dirty' like Christina's soiled thong.

All the comics are sigils. 'Sigil' as a word is out of date. All this magic stuff needs new terminology because it's not what people are being told it is at all. It's not all this wearying symbolic misdirection that's being dragged up from the Victorian Age, when no-one was allowed to talk plainly and everything was in coy poetic code. The world's at a crisis point and it's time to stop bull****ting around with Qabalah and Thelema and Chaos and Information and all the rest of the metaphoric smoke and mirrors designed to make the rubes think magicians are 'special' people with special powers. It's not like that. Everyone does magic all the time in different ways. 'Life' plus 'significance' = magic. See Pop Mag!c for more.

There were a number of issues with late artists, do you feel you collaborated well with them? Anyone particularly so?

Quitely, Silvestri, Jimenez and John Paul Leon did my favourite stories.

How do you feel about the use of characters you created after you've gone? Fantomex and Dust for example? Didn't you originally plan to do more with the Dust character?

They can do what they like with them and will, I'm sure. I'd originally intended to have Dust play a more prominent role but in the end, she just didn't fit very well with the way the story was developing into the available page count.

When I planned to continue NEW X-MEN with Scott and Emma as head teachers (this was before the decision to quit, and I'd plotted six issues of 'new direction', following on from issue 154, with the return of the school uniforms etc. The opening story was about the first human student at Xavier's - he gets mercilessly mocked as a throwback by the pupils until it turns out he's the best guitarist anyone has ever heard - so good that his talent might just as well be regarded as a mutant power...and so prejudice is defeated and everyone bursts into song. Gag. If I was doing it now I'd make it more realistic; the new student would be a pedigree hamster who could play the piano like Richard Clayderman but only on the three nights of the full moon) the plan was to have Dust in a very prominent role as one of the new term's intake of students. The X-Men stories are set in an ongoing soap opera continuity so I knew that I could safely leave a few character threads dangling and perhaps help to enrich the franchise. I'm sure the new writers will have plans for her - she has a great power and immense possibility as a character.

So you were going to return the uniforms? That's interesting 'cause when they announced the decision to do so after you left I thought it was a huge step backwards from what you'd done with the characters.

It wasn't my idea; Marvel made the decision to go back to bright superhero style costumes, partly as a way of appeasing licensors - I was asked to find a way to make it convincing and then, in the end, I didn't have to and it became Joss Whedon's job to find a way to make it convincing. Which he's done quite effectively.

One line of dialogue that stood out to me in New X-Men was a comment made by Fantomex to Magneto. "Is everything you say a clichés?" was this perhaps a critique of the way the character was written? Or a comment made concerning the rising popularity of 'decompressed storytelling,' which often involves quick action mixed with clever, well placed single lines of dialogue? Some of which often are, or become, clichés.

The 'Planet X' story was partially intended as a comment on the exhausted, circular nature of the X-Men's ever-popular battle with Magneto and by extension, the equally cyclical nature of superhero franchise re-inventions. I ended the book exactly where I came on board, with Logan killing Magneto AGAIN, as he had done at the end of Scott Lobdell's run. Evil never dies in comic book universes. It just keeps coming back. Imagine Hitler back for the hundredth time to menace mankind. So, in the way that something like 'Marvel Boy' had that insistent 'teenage hard on' engine driving its rhythms, 'Planet X' is steeped in an exhausted, world-weary, 'middle-aged' ennui that spoke directly of both my own and Magneto's frustrations, disillusionment and disconnection, as well as the endless everything-is-not-enough frustrations of a certain segment of comics aging readership. In hindsight, I think I overdid the world weary a little but, you know, my loved ones were dying all around me while I was working on those issues, so I'm entitled to a little stumble into miseryland. Fantomex's line summed up my own cynicism at that moment, definitely and seems justified by subsequent plot developments. In my opinion, there really shouldn't have been an actual Xorn - he had to be fake, that was the cruel point of him - and it should have been the genuine Magneto, frayed to the bare, stupid nerve and schizoid-conflicted as he was in Planet X, not just some impostor. There's loads of good stuff in Planet X - it's just that miasma of bleakness and futility which hovers over the whole thing.

What people often forget, of course, is that Magneto, unlike the lovely Sir Ian McKellen, is a mad old terrorist ****. No matter how he justifies his stupid, brutal behaviour, or how anyone else tries to justify it, in the end he's just an old bastard with daft, old ideas based on violence and coercion. I really wanted to make that clear at this time.

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