Exclusive Interview with Mike Carey writer of X-Men Legacy

In 2006 the X-Men line welcomed new writer Mike Carey to take the reigns of ‘Adjectiveless X-Men’ and ushered in a new era for the team. Met with critical and commercial acclaim Mike Carey’s X-work has since evolved since his venture with the team. Mike is currently writing X-Men: Legacy chronicling the journey of longtime X-Men leader Prof. X as well as the Secret Invasion: X-Men and the X-Men: Manifest Destiny miniseries. Mike was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to answer a few questions about his X-work and the future of the line.

Professor Xavier finds himself face-to-face with his half-brother – The Unstoppable Juggernaut! But is Juggernaut friend or foe? Then, It’s the moment that X-Fans have been waiting for – Rogue makes her return to the X-Books. But while Xavier seeks out Rogue, who is searching for him? Hunter becomes hunted and friend becomes foe, in a story that will change your favorite Southern Belle forever! Collects X-Men #219-224.

“I was working from two principles. I wanted a team that I felt I could voice convincingly – in other words, characters I felt I understood – and I wanted a dynamic with lots of potential for conflict and interesting tensions.”
Mike Carey: I always wrote – but that’s not the same thing. For a long time I did it as a hobby, and indulged the fantasy of writing for a living in the same way as I indulged the fantasy of stealing Mrs. Peel away from John Steed (do the math – I date back to the Carboniferous period). Then I got into writing reviews and articles for comic fanzines, and through that I got into writing actual comics. It was still a hobby, in that it didn’t pay enough to cover the money it cost to mail off scripts (now we’re in the early industrial epoch), but it was feeling sort of real by this time. I worked my way up through the UK and American Indie scenes, via Malibu and Caliber to DC. I was teaching for a living, and I reached a point where I suddenly realised that writing was actually paying more, day for day and hour for hour. I took a chance and cut loose. Actually, it wasn’t much of a chance. At that time, I could have gone back into teaching a year later like catching the next bus: now, not so much.

X-Men Nation: Did you grow up reading the X-Men? If so, what time period?

Mike Carey: Yes. From #1 onwards, but in UK reprints several years after the fact. I read the first run of the X-Men in the late sixties, then I got hooked on Claremont’s X-Men a decade later, coming onboard with #108. I was a faithul reader of Uncanny for a good six or seven years straight – through the debut of New Mutants and X-Factor. Then after that, when the franchise exploded, I cherry-picked – went through gluts and lean years, but generally kept in touch all the way through to Grant Morrison’s stint on (as it then was) New X-Men. Don’t get me wrong – there are huge gaps in my knowledge of X-continuity. But there’s a mis-spent youth’s worth of direct knowledge in there, too.

X-Men Nation: Any favorite characters, writers, story lines?

Mike Carey: Are you kidding me? Yes, there are.

The first Claremont run is an incredible achievement. Parts of it read clunky now because narrative formulas change over time, but for raw imagination and for the sheer scale of what it added to the mythos, it can’t be touched. And once you’ve got your ear in, it sings to you.

Fabian Nicieza is a hugely talented writer, and produced subtle, clever, moving storylines at a time when the comics industry as a whole was chasing foil-embossed variant covers like there was no tomorrow.

Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run was immaculate. Grant always throws caltrops in his wake, but man, what a ride. What a frigging ride!
“It’s the quest to understand yourself, to find out who you really are, but retrospectively and externally, on the basis of what you’ve done and the difference you’ve made, not on the basis of what you thought and felt.”
X-Men Nation: Starting as an indie writer, how did you land the X-Men job?

Mike Carey: I’d have to say, pure dumb luck. Axel Alonso saw something in my writing that made him think I had mainstream superhero books in my destiny. And the weird thing was, I really did, but I didn’t think I’d tipped my hand.

I met Axel at San Diego Comicon in 2003, and we really hit it off. He told me to go through him if I ever wanted to pitch anything at Marvel, and then a year or so later I made a very tentative throat-clearing noise, having come out of a whole lot of commitments and finding myself in that deafening silence between commissions. The next thing I knew, I got a call from Michael Marts to invite me to pitch for X-Men.

X-Men Nation: Your first team on adjectiveless X-Men was very unconventional. You mixed classic characters like Iceman with villains like Mystique and relatively obscure characters like Karima. What went through your mind when you chose your team?

Mike Carey I was working from two principles. I wanted a team that I felt I could voice convincingly – in other words, characters I felt I understood – and I wanted a dynamic with lots of potential for conflict and interesting tensions.

Rogue, Iceman and Cannonball were easy choices. They’re all three of them very cool and compelling characters, and they’re uber-powerful, uber-experienced X-Men who could plausibly form the solid core of a new team. They also share a lot of backstory – by which I mean they’ve worked well together in the past, in various combinations.

Then working outwards from that core, I layered in the complications – the unstable, unproven or incompatible characters. Mystique plays well off Rogue, and I had an idea for making her play well off Iceman, too. Lady Mastermind and Sabretooth are antagonistic to everyone, and trouble in all sorts of ways – but in very different ways, which is cool. Karima I just liked, and wanted to dust off, and Cable was an inspired suggestion from Mike M after I asked for Psylocke but found her already taken. We needed someone with psi-powers, and Cable brought some cool and interesting baggage of his own because of the things that Fabe was doing with him over in Cable and Deadpool. And yeah, I’m aware that by putting Cable into a front-line X-team I had a hand in killing that book. I wish I hadn’t, even though Cable was a great fit for Adjectiveless.

Xavier and JuggernautX-Men Nation: Over the course of your X-Men run you’ve worked with great artists like Chris Bachalo Scot Eaton and even John Romita Jr. What’s it like seeing their penciled work before anyone else? Any specific artists you would like to work with in the future?

Mike Carey This is what’s called a softball question, right? 🙂 It’s always really exciting when the pencils come in and the story starts to take shape on the page – and working with some of the giants of the medium is one of the perks that comes with the X-Men gig. Scot’s been going from strength to strength on Legacy – just doing phenomenal work – and having JrJr draw from my script was a huge pleasure.

Who would I like to work with in the future? Mike Perkins, always. Peter Gross, always. Mike Choi and Sonia Oback, who did such a fantastic job of X-Men#204. Bryan Hitch. Rags Morales. Chris Bachalo again… I’ve got a wish list as long as your arm, basically.

X-Men Nation: You contributed some of the strongest chapters to the Messiah Complex crossover. One issue that particularly stuck in my mind was the issue where Madrox and Layla where processed in the concentration camp. What was it like to write an issue with such powerful subject matter?

Mike Carey My background is in horror fantasy, ranging from the mythic to the visceral by way of the pretty f*cked-up. I’m drawn to the dark side, you could say.

The concentration camp scenes had to be made as grim and degrading as possible if they were going to work in terms of establishing Bishop’s motivation: this is the world he came from, and we have to believe he’d be prepared to kill an innocent to stop that world from coming into existence. I didn’t want to write torture porn, and I didn’t want to have gratuitous scenes involving expendable characters – so I had to show Layla and Jamie being brutalized and dehumanized in ways that would carry a real emotional punch. I think the beat that worked there was having the marker, Whitman, be a sexual prude. He’d never dream of using his skills on a female inmate. “What do you think we are, animals?” Look, this monster has a moral code. It was meant to show how people in that situation, doing those kind of things, can still convince themselves they’re decent people.

X-Men Nation: One of my favorite characters, Lady Mastermind seemed to die in the crossover. But as we all know death doesn’t stick too well in the X-Men universe. Can we ever expect to see Regan again?

Mike Carey Oh man, I hope so. I loved writing that snide, selfish, psychopathic sweetheart. But it was a pretty horrific wound. You can only do that back-from-the-dead routine a certain number of times…
“The concentration camp scenes had to be made as grim and degrading as possible if they were going to work in terms of establishing Bishop’s motivation: this is the world he came from, and we have to believe he’d be prepared to kill an innocent to stop that world from coming into existence.”
X-Men Nation: In the Divided We Stand mini-series you wrote stories about two characters you seem to show great affinity for, Cannonball and the Beast. What about these characters appeals to you?

Mike Carey I like Sam partly because we’ve seen every stage of his growth: seen him plausibly and sympathetically turn from a child into a man – and an admirable man, at that. And partly it’s just that he’s got a sort of chivalry about him – an absolute humanity and decency. Can you imagine a dark Cannonball? I can’t. He’s X-Man as Everyman. I feel like he’s someone I went to school with.

Beast is cool because he’s an intellectual in the body of a ferocious predator: he’s the Beast of “Beauty and the”, his scary exterior concealing sensitivity and intelligence. He’s also really, really funny – the king of the dry one-liner. How cool is it that the smartest guy in the room has fangs and claws, and still looks great in a tux?

X-Men Nation: Was it your idea to turn your X-Men team book into being about Xavier or was it editorials? And why was he chosen to be the central character?

Mike Carey It was an idea that grew out of an editorial imperative, but it was as much my idea as anyone’s. The editorial input was that every X-Men book, post-Messiah Complex, needed to have a unique role in the line as a whole. That meant not rolling straight on with Adjectiveless as another team book. From that we developed jointly the idea of Professor X having a quest of self-discovery after he recovers from his wound, and of using the quest as a way of exploring a lot of key moments in the X-Men’s backstory. Why Professor X? Because he was the catalyst for so much of that backstory: his story *is* the story of the X-Men.

X-Men Nation: How do you reconcile, in your head, the Professor X of Deadly Genesis, Onslaught, and Astonishing X-Men with the Professor Xavier who has helped save young mutants from a life of discrimination and oppression?

Mike Carey:There’s a short answer to that and a long answer. The short answer is – with apologies to Walt Whitman – we all contain multitudes. Our actions in real life aren’t always consistent, so we shouldn’t expect fictional characters to have one fixed, definable, unchanging identity either.

The long answer is about idealism as opposed to sainthood. Cyclops makes the point in Legacy#215 that the X-Men have met a whole lot of idealists who’ve basically used their ideals to justify atrocities. Magneto is the most obvious example, but you can draw up the list yourself. Professor X has done great and noble things in pursuit of his vision, but he’s done questionable things, too. I don’t have any problem in reconciling those two aspects of the character.

What’s interesting about Professor X’s present situation is that he’s coming in almost as an outsider and having to come to terms himself with all the things he’s done, both good and bad, over the years. This is precisely the conundrum he’s wrestling with: how far do the ends justify the means, and how far does the good offset the bad?

X-Men Nation: Who do you think is the love of Xavier’s life? Amelia Voght? Gabrielle Haller? Lilandra Neramani? Jean Grey (I shudder to think)?

Mike Carey Life’s not like that. The thing about love is that it’s all-engrossing and all-consuming when you’re inside it: every love is the love of your life at the time. If I had to pick one name out of that list, it would be Lilandra, but I don’t think it’s something you can do.

X-Men Nation: If you could assign X-Men: Legacy a tagline, what would it be?

Mike Carey: “He’s back. And this time he’s amnesiac.”

No, not really. How about “Their lives. Their deaths. His journey.”

X-Men Nation: : How would you describe the journey Xavier is on and how can we, as the audience, identify with it?

Mike Carey: Okay, this is going to sound really pretentious, but there’s that Kierkegaard about how we live our lives forwards but understand them backwards. It’s that. It’s the quest to understand yourself, to find out who you really are, but retrospectively and externally, on the basis of what you’ve done and the difference you’ve made, not on the basis of what you thought and felt. Normally when we talk about finding ourselves, we really mean finding a life that matches our perceptions and definitions of ourselves. Professor Xavier is finding himself in a scarier and more existential sense: he’s investigating himself, and sitting in judgment on what he discovers.

And when I take a step back from that, I realize that it’s very much a stage-of-life thing: probably easier for an older reader to identify with, because it’s usually not something you feel the urge to do until you hit a certain age and the gap between your aspirations and your achievements really starts to open up.

X-Men Nation: Where does Xavier’s need to create a sanctuary for mutants and create the X-Men come from?

Mike Carey: I wouldn’t want to give a glib one-line answer to that question. Maybe the initial impetus comes from his own experiences of childhood rejection and abuse, but we’re never going to know. It’s just a part – a big part – of who he is. He has a huge sense of personal and social responsibility, and – through his powers – a much greater than average ability to empathise with the pains and insecurities of others. At some point those things became part of the bedrock of his personality.

X-Men Nation: What are the challenges of writing X-Men: Legacy? Of Xavier being the lead character?

Mike Carey: The biggest challenge from a logistic point of view was – and still is – keeping abreast of all the material I want to reference. I could have taken the low road, and only referenced issues that had been collected and were ready to hand, but I wanted to try to cover a real breadth of material and give a sense of the huge, epic scale of the X-Men backstory. So I filled as many of the gaps in my collection as I could, by fair means and foul, and I read voraciously. Each arc usually involves another reading binge as I select the stories I want to use as structural lynch-pins.

The creative challenge, though – of getting into Professor X’s head – is bigger than that, and is the reason I embarked on this project in the first place. I love the character, and I loved the idea of finally – after forty years – having his story be the one we follow. It’s the thread that takes you to the heart of the maze.

X-Men Nation: Do you think Professor X is a good man? Is he moral?

Mike Carey: The second part of that question is the easiest. Yes, he is very definitely moral, in the sense of always approaching his actions and decisions from a conscious and thought-out awareness of their moral implications. If the Juggernaut is the incarnation of blind, unstoppable force, Professor X exactly counter-balances him: his key note is precisely the making of moral choices from an awareness of where they will or could lead. He may make the wrong choices sometimes, and do things that other people – including the reader – would see as reprehensible. But he never does them with an amoral disregard of consequences, and he never walks away from those consequences.

Is he a good man? Yes. Period.

X-Men Nation: You created a new character recently, Miss Sinister. What can we expect from this character other than being Nathaniel Essex with a sex change?

Mike Carey: She’s more whimsical and sadistic than Essex, actually. She may be a transposed clone of Mister Sinister, but her life experiences have been different from his and she’s turned out somewhat differently. She’s seriously damaged goods, as we get to see in Original Sin: the last person in the world you’d want to give Sinister’s powers to – and she’s barely begun to come into those powers.

X-Men Nation: A crossover with Wolverine Origins is also coming out soon that you co-wrote with Daniel Way. What was that experience like?

Mike Carey: It was a whole lot of fun. The timing was just perfect, really. Wolverine was always on the list of X-Men who Xavier would have to visit in the course of the Legacy uber-arc, and the storyline in Origins about Daken’s amnesia allowed us to run the two titles together in a way that made a lot of sense. Daniel’s great to work with – a great collaborator.
“He has a huge sense of personal and social responsibility, and – through his powers – a much greater than average ability to empathise with the pains and insecurities of others. At some point those things became part of the bedrock of his personality.”
X-Men Nation: The December issue of X-Men Legacy focuses on Xavier and the Juggernaut. What are your thoughts on their relationship?

Mike Carey: It’s a Cain and Abel dynamic, and it’s fascinating for that reason. In Genesis, Cain doesn’t kill Abel until after God has rejected him publicly and rubbed his nose in the fact. Similarly, the root of the enmity between Charles Xavier and Cain Marko is the abusive and toxic relationship they both had with Cain’s father. I prefer Juggernaut when he’s irreconcilable: he’s one character who – for me, anyway – works best outside the X-Men’s big tent.

X-Men Nation: We’ve also seen Rogue come back recently. She also recently ranked number one on the Comic Book Resources top 50 X-Men list by the fans. Where do you think her popularity comes from? What can fans expect for her future?

Mike Carey: I can only tell you why I love her, and actually I can’t even be eloquent about that. Most characters who really get under your skin do so for reasons that are hard to articulate. Rogue’s predicament – the way her power is her curse and her liability, and the way she’s so irrevocably isolated by it – is very easy to relate to, but it’s got to be more than that. I like her voice. I like the way she can be up-front without ever losing her dignity. I like the fact that she’s passionate and yet restrained (passion in chains is way sexier than passion unleashed). I like the fact that she’s full of surprises – the X-Men’s greatest wild card. I like the contradictions and complications in her: that you can’t pin her down in a single phrase.

For Rogue’s future… expect a huge surprise in Legacy#224, and some exciting developments immediately arising from that.

X-Men Nation: The Rogue/Gambit relationship has a very love/hate reaction from fans. What are your thoughts on that pairing?

Mike Carey: I like the dynamic between them, but I think they’re strong enough apart that it shouldn’t be automatic to put them together whenever they’re on-stage. Okay, they’ll always be a big part of each other’s lives, but there’s a danger of defaulting back to a boom-and-bust model where Rogue suspects Remy, then is reconciled with him, then back to suspicion again. I’m going to have some Rogue-Gambit beats coming up very soon, but I’m not going to take it in the most obvious direction.

X-Men Nation: Your Iceman story in the Manifest Destiny mini-series sees the return of Mystique after her fate was left in the air after the previous Wolverine arc. Can we expect to see how she escaped?

Mike Carey: No. You have to fill that part in for yourself.

X-Men Nation: Also, why did you choose Iceman for your story?

Mike Carey: For the same reason I chose Beast and Cannonball in DWS, and Brand in WDYT. I like Iceman. I want to keep him in the spotlight, and I want to move his story along. Again, it ticks me off sometimes that Iceman has had a staccato character arc, developing and then regressing, where other characters have been allowed to grow up in convincing and consistent ways. I sort of want to get him off that hook.

Rogue on the Cover of X-Men LegacyX-Men Nation: You’re also writing the Secret Invasion: X-Men mini-series. After the X-Men related mini-series tie-ing into “Civil War” and “World War Hulk” not having lasting ramifications for the team can we expect any big changes for the X-Men after this story?

Mike Carey: It’s a self-contained story, but some of the character interactions, especially in parts 3 and 4, play into broader themes that will be developed across the line in 2009. Watch Beast, particularly.

X-Men Nation: Do you have any other non-X-Men related projects coming out or already released you think X-Men fans would enjoy?

Mike Carey: Well I’m writing a series of novels now, which are being published in both the UK and America. They’re supernatural crime thrillers in a noir vein, with a central character who’s a freelance exorcist – an exorcist who wears a trenchcoat and does it for the money. The first book is called The Devil You Know, and the second is Vicius Circle. I’m really happy with how they’re going: it’s been a huge blast writing prose, and the series is building nicely towards some huge revelations about how the worlds of the living and the dead are inter-connected.

X-Men Nation: In various X-books we’ve seen the new X-Men base referred to as a school but in others we’ve only seen the core team hanging around while the students are nowhere to be found. Are the former X-students still in San Francisco with the X-Men?

Mike Carey: Yeah, they are. You’ll be seeing some of them very soon.

X-Men Nation: : And finally which X-Men strategy is more effective, Rogue’s “Pentangle Formation” or Emma’s “Extraction Variant Epsilon”?

Mike Carey: Pentangle formation, without a doubt – it’s got 40% more X-Men.

X-Men Nation: On behalf of xmenfansite.com, thanks for taking time out to answer these questions Mr. Carey.

Mike Carey: My pleasure…

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