Marc Guggenheim out to set gold standard for the X-Men with new comic

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Apr 5, 2017

Spoiler Alert: This feature includes specific details about the first issue of X-Men: Gold.

X-Men fans, Marc Guggenheim gets it.

During a conversation about this week's debut of his latest comics writing gig for Marvel, X-Men: Gold #1, Guggenheim's fanboy glee over scripting this new X-book is palpable. Like countless other fans, he knows and loves these characters.

He's also honest enough to say what many fans have known for years: that the X-Men comics have been strangled by their hopelessly dense continuity in recent years, with multiple spinoff books. Guggenheim says he wanted to make Gold a comic that fans didn't need to know decades of continuity to enjoy.

Hence the back-to-basics approach.

X-Men: Gold is being promoted as a return to the classic heroic storytelling that first made Professor Charles Xavier's misunderstood mutants Marvel's biggest franchise. Following the events of ResurrXion, Guggenheim and artist Ardian Syaf promise to bring back many of the characteristics of the best X-Men stories, and there are plenty of familiar faces in line to show up in this book. The lineup is straight out of the franchise's Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne days, with a tone and spirit to match.

Kitty Pryde is now in charge. Her big plan to bring the X-Men out of the shadows and back into the mainstream Marvel world is front and center in the first issue, including her bold move to drop the X-Mansion right into Central Park (an unexpected fallout from that decision is one of the funniest moments in the first issue). The other members of the team include such longtime team staples as Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Storm and Rachel Grey, under a new code name: Prestige.

We chatted with Guggenheim about the mission statement for this new chapter in the X-Men's rich and complicated history, how he picked his line-up and what surprise villains may be showing up. And since he's the executive producer of Arrow as his day job, we also asked him about what's coming up in that show's current "Prometheus" storyline.

(Random side note: Guggenheim's shoe game is on point. He was sporting these geek-chic cool loafers at WonderCon that were customized by his adorable young daughter.)

Marc Guggenheim's custom comics loafers

Read the interview below, and also check out our preview of X-Men: Gold #1, which is now available in comics shops and digitally.

I had a chance to read the first issue of X-Men: Gold and it lives up to Marvel's marketing hype that this is a return to classic X-Men superheroing. Right out of the gate you have them fighting Terrax, who isn't a traditional X-Men villain.

Marc Guggenheim: That was very deliberate. I knew … my sort of point that I wanted to make in the cold open [of the book] was that the X-Men are going to be superheroes again. To me, that means fighting threats that aren't necessarily mutant related. And I'm a big Terrax fan. I love the look of the guy and he's a great character, and I missed him. He seemed like a capable enough guy to take on the X-Men. And in a later issue, we're going to have the X-Men fight the Serpent Society.

For me, part of the reason to put them in New York City is to see them deal with the stuff that typically plagues the city. It doesn't always have to be Spider-Man or Daredevil fighting Serpent City. If the X-Men are in town, they're going to do their jobs as heroes.

But you dropped them and the mansion in the middle of Central Park!

(Laughs) To me, it's part of integrating them into the Marvel Universe proper. One of the points Kitty makes in the comic is even when the X-Men were in Westchester they were segregated out of the rest of the Marvel U. More to the point, they were segregated from the people who needed their help. As we know, NYC is sort of the capital, the center of the Marvel Universe. That's where a lot of s**t goes down. So why be a commute away from work? I want to always take my chances to … demonstrate that in addition to being X-Men, they're also superheroes. And sometimes, superheroes have to take out the trash.

It's interesting to see Kitty here as the leader. She gives an awkward but effective speech to some of the bystanders after the first big fight scene in the issue. I know she's your favorite X-Man; why did you think she would make a good leader for your team?

I didn't know that she would. I was confident she would be, but I wasn't certain. And I think the reason I suspected she would be a good leader is that she's kind of seen it all at this point. She's a real veteran. She's fighting alongside people who were already veterans when she first joined the team, but she's a vet in her own right. If you're someone of Kitty's intelligence and you've been on a time as long as she has, you have to have developed your own opinions and ideals to deal with … the burdens of leadership. I think every baseball player has fantasized how they would manage a team even if they don't intend on becoming a manager. That's been the case with Kitty. You'll see a demonstration of her capacity [to lead] far beyond the first issue.

Another member of the team is Rachel Grey, and she has a new code name. Why is she now known as Prestige?

I love Rachel and the reason she's on the team is I really enjoyed writing her during an X-Men story arc. At the same time, I feel Rachel has been burdened by the past. All the storylines on her were based on her family or her history … it was always very backward-looking. I got intrigued by the idea of bringing Rachel on the team with … some sort of new mission statement [for her]. Which is, 'I'm going to move forward. I'm going to not become a new person, but I'm going to stop looking backwards and start looking forward.'

Something very significant will happen with her in the second arc where … it really is a dramatization of our mission statement for the book, which is going backwards to go forward. We'll sort of do an examination of Rachel's past and then catapult her in to the next chapter of her biography.

Not to sound like That Guy at the comic book store, but the X-Men's long and convoluted continuity has been an issue for some fans — especially older ones — for quite some time. Judging by this first issue, is it safe to say you're trying to make this a self-contained book that fans don't need to follow other X-books to get what's going on?

Yeah, hopefully … look, I'm a longtime comics fan. I'm familiar with a lot of the continuity [of the X-Men] but at the same time, I think it has gotten kind of impossible to be familiar with all the continuity. That's a fool's errand. I'm really writing the X-Men book that I personally want to read, which is, you know, doesn't require me to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every issue of X-Men ever published. But there are little references and nods to past issues.

Like in the first issue, where we see the team playing softball. That used to be an occasional change of pace we would see in the comic back in the old days.

Yeah, and the nods like when Kitty says, "To me, my X-Men" … if you've read X-Men #1, then you get a little chuckle. If you have never read that comic, then it just reads like another line of dialogue. Same thing when Kitty's inner dialogue says, 'I survived the experience.' If you remember the cover to Uncanny X-Men #139, then you get a little smile. If you don't, then it's just, 'OK, she survived the experience. Got it.'

The cover to Uncanny X-Men #139

None of the stories that I'm doing require the familiarity of stories that came before. If you have it, then it just gives you an additional way to enjoy the comics. But I don't think it's possible to write an X-Men comic that requires a lot of pre-reading. There are just too many comic books to catch up on.

So you've told us the Serpent Society is coming and we know a new version of The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants is an early adversary. Any other familiar faces — friend or foe — going to show up?

We've got Gambit showing up in the second arc. I'm a big Anole fan so Anole keeps making appearances. Rockslide and Armor play a pivotal role in the conclusion of the first arc. My hope is you'll see A LOT of different guest-stars making an appearance in the end of the second arc ...

That sounded cryptic.

Well, it is a little cryptic (laughs) … it's the second arc so it certainly would be spoiling something well ahead of where we are. But also, I want to give Ardian the chance to draw some different characters than the ones I throw out. My goal with the book is … I have my core group of X-Men but I have a desire to include as many different X-Men students past and present as I can. As long as the story can accommodate it, and in some cases, when the story demands it.

I personally hope to see Dazzler show up in the series, because I'm a big fan.

So am I. I love her, I'm a big fan of Dazzler!

What if a fan comes up to you at a Con and asks you to help them get into the X-Men comics. Which three X-stories does Marc Guggenheim recommend?

I would have to say The Death of Phoenix, Joss Whedon's Gifted storyline and … man, the third one's tough because there are so many to choose from … I guess I would have to say, God Loves, Man Kills.

A lot of TV guys moonlight in comics but you're a TV guy AND a comics guy. Is it a relief to work on a comic book when you're also an executive producer on two hit series, with all its layers and elements to worry about?

For me, I've been writing comics for over ten years now. A lot of my TV friends ask me, 'Why do you do that? Because you're so busy, and comics doesn't pay nearly as well.' I really do it for two reasons. One, I've always loved comic books. I've been a comic book junkie since Day One. It's too much wish fulfillment for me to consider not writing comics.

The other reason is, short of prose, there is no other medium for me to work in where there is as close a connection to what I write to what the reader or the audience sees. I have the filter of the artist, the inker and the colorist, but otherwise, it's as close to my vision as it gets. Whereas, with TV and film, it's not like comics aren't a team effort, but the teams are much bigger in TV and film. You're talking about studio execs and network executives and everything else. I feel like it's a much more immediate relationship that you have with the audience, and that's very gratifying.

Speaking of your day job, I'd like to ask you about Arrow and what's ahead for Oliver Queen and Prometheus.

I think after the last episode of Arrow you see that things are unfolding so much faster with Prometheus than I think the audience was expecting. And there's four more episodes left! The cliffhanger we left fans with before our mini-hiatus … the payoff will be worth it. We've really put the pedal to the metal [to finish the season] and we're burning through story at a reckless pace. As other people who work on the show will tell you, that's really my favorite thing to do.

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