Written by: Joe Casey and Chuck Austen Covers by: Ashley Wood, Ron Garney, Ariel Olivretti, Sean Phillips, Steve Uy, and Kia Asamiya Pencilled by: Ashley Wood, Ron Garney, Aaron Lopresti, Sean Phillips, and Kia Asamiya Inked by: Ashley Wood, Mark Morales, Sean Phillips, and Danny Miki Lettered by: Richard Starkings and Comicraft's Saida Temofonte and Paul Tutrone Colored by: Hi-Fi Design and JD Smith Assistant Editors: Pete Franco, Mike Raicht, and Nova Ren Suma Editor: Mark Powers and Mike Marts Editor-in-Chief: Joe Quesada President: Bill Jemas
It has been a topsy-turvy year for Uncanny X-Men--2002 has seen two writers, five artists (seven if you include cover artists), two-and-a-half editorial teams, and two distinctly different directions for the original X-Men title, as it looks back at its quad-centennial and forward to the immediate reality of a major Hollywood sequel.
The year started off controversially, with grumblings about online costume redesigns for some X-Men mainstays, including second-generation founder Banshee. The new costume designs, heavily influenced by the Nazi Third Reich SS Uniforms, featured a controversial Swastika-esque insignia for Casey’s new organization, the X-Corps. Though the final version saw print without the insignia, the costumes still hit too close to home for some fans.
Casey remained firm on the need for the costume redesign. “I have no idea how those original sketches ended up online, but at the time I wasn't concerned,” he said. “The X-Corps was always meant to be a fascist version of the X-Men concept and the uniforms had to reflect that, with or without the emblem.”
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Like much of Casey’s X-Men oeuvre, X-Corps was a heavily satirical look at the concepts and structures that underline the franchise. X-Corps took what could be considered the typical approach to building an X-Men team or spin-off book--someone old (Banshee), someone new (Surge), members borrowed (Jubilee, Husk, M, Multiple Men), a villain or two (Avalanche, Blob, Fever Pitch)--and looked at the realistic probability of such a disparate characters working together successfully.
While the satirical elements seemed to have been a miss with the wider audience (“My entire run was loaded with satire, from beginning to end, which never goes down well with a wide audience,” notes Casey), the other themes seem to have connected.
Casey elaborated, “Aside from the ‘classic’ X-Men riffs incorporated into the X-Corps, it was also another riff on corporate culture (which I'm exploring further in Wildstorm’s Wildcats Version 3.0). Something Grant and I talked about early on was the franchise-able nature of the X-Men, just like McDonald's and Disney. I rolled out the X-Corps, a more knee-jerk, militaristic approach that had a lot more to do with Banshee's personal pain than it did with Xavier's dream. But, in the real world, there's many a movement based on personal angst and yet draped in the cloth of a wider, more humanitarian cause," says Casey.
"Grant took what I'd established (the X-Corps appeared in New X-Men #128-130) and merged it with his notion of the X-Corporation to take the X-Men global, making them as recognizable a brand as Coca Cola. I think it worked out pretty well and was just another example of how synchronous Grant and I seemed to be without stepping on each other's territory or having to resort to sales-gimmick crossovers.” Something here connected with the fans, as the book began to gain positive buzz running into Casey’s final arc, centered on classic X-Men villain the Vanisher.
The Vanisher arc, though only two issues (though the 2001 Annual set the events in motion), ended Casey’s tenure on a high-note, as he took many of the themes and motifs of his run (mutancy as a hip sub-culture, the X-Men facing street-level evil, and Casey’s interest in corporations that runs through much of his comic work) and combined them in an arc that represented the sum of his previous X-Men stories.
Asked to look back on 2002 and the end of his tenure as writer, Casey responds, “I don't really look back. Hopefully the work speaks for itself. Personally, I would've preferred to have Sean Phillips draw every single issue of Uncanny that I wrote, but I didn't get to make that decision. Even in the Jemas-Quesada era (which was great fun to be a part of in the beginning), the X-office has always been editorially-confused place. How many different artists have been on Uncanny and New since Grant and I first started...? How many editors and assistant editors have been let go...? I lost count. So I was fine with ending my run when I did.”
2002 also started with the announcement of Casey’s replacement as regular writer of Uncanny X-Men. Chuck Austen, writer of The Call of Duty and US War Machine, shot through the Marvel ranks to take over the book.
How was his first year as writer of Marvel (and, in a way, the industry)’s flagship title? “Mostly that it's been a blast. I love writing this series, I love my editors, Mike and Mike. They've become friends, more than even just editors, and the rest of the folks at Marvel have been really receptive to my ideas. I never would have thought I'd have this much freedom or this much fun on what is basically a corporate franchise book. THE corporate franchise book, really.”
Prior to the beginning of his run, Austen tantalized online fandom with rumors and hints of what was to come during his run, teasing those dissatisfied with Casey’s darker perspective with promises of a lighter direction with emphasis on the X-Men’s family ties. He delivered on those promises with his first aptly-titled storyarc, “Hope.” It was a story of redemption, as well as a starting point for the return to massive subplots and a more traditionalist style of X-Men writing.
Austen followed up “Hope” with a series of four stand-alone issues, focusing on the school and particular characters, including a look at the new school nurse, Annie, new members Northstar and Juggernaut, and classic members Archangel, Iceman, and Nightcrawler. Austen’s work, rich in character development and many of the classical X-Men elements (subplot, family, light humor and superheroics with a dark streak), have won critical and fan acclaim. With positive buzz, a new look, and a brand new artist with international recognition (Kia Asamiya), is there anything Austen could possibly not be satisfied with?
“Oh no, not at all. It's all working according to plan (sinister laugh),” Austen jokes. He then elaborates, “But honestly, there's not that much that I'm dissatisfied with, other than not being able to work more with Sean Phillips. I think he's just brilliant. I wish I had taken four issues instead of three for 'Hope', because I had some things I wanted to get into earlier in my run. It was the lightest story I've done, and that was very intentional, but I think I could have thrown a couple big jolts in there without upsetting the tone.
“What I'm doing was always intended as a slow build to January and beyond, keep it fun, get people to know and like the characters again, and then bring in the more powerful stuff I'm known for as the series progressed and people were more comfortable and interested because they cared about the characters.
“Obviously, as a creative person, you are never completely satisfied with your own work. You see only the flaws, where most people (X-fans excluded, of course ), see only the positive. There were some growing pains, some things I needed to learn, a few technical things like arc structure for trades, and coincidental release dates for the coming movie that made some of the story placements not always to my preference. But those are all pretty minor, and things I'll be better able to avoid in the future, with experience.”
Austen finishes, “So overall I'd say I'm really, really happy with the way things have gone. And only happier as time passes.”
However, Austen is mostly looking ahead to the year 2003. He promises fans "more action, now that all the pieces are in place within continuity. A couple of major arcs with some deep, long-lasting ramifications. More powerful topics like religion and the spiritual nature of humanity, or lack thereof, genocide, genetic superiority, right-to-life in the face of a greater need. Deeper explorations of the characters and their personal motivations for being X-Men, and their feelings about Xavier and his school. Oh, and lots of soap opera stuff and romance . I love that.”
Austen also plans on capitalizing on the release of X2, from 20th Century Fox. “This is a business, after all.”
On the artistic front, 2002 has provided Uncanny X-Men fans with a veritable crash course in Art Style 101, pulling in diverse talents and stylistic senses. From Ashley Woods’ abstractionist brilliance to Kia Asamiya’s Japanese superstardom, Uncanny X-Men has seen some of its most non-traditional art in, well, ever.
Starting out the juxtaposition of Ashley Woods’ surrealistic contribution to the Uncanny X-Men 2001 Annual and Ron Garney’s clean, crisp style in his first issue as regular penciller (he was soon removed as Casey’s regular penciller so that he could help Austen launch the book with a “new” creative team), 2002 quickly turned into an artistic free-for-all. Garney, Aaron Lopresti, and Sean Phillips all took turns illustrating X-Corps (with Ariel Olivretti contributing haunting, evocative covers), before Phillips settled down as penciller for the last three issues of Casey’s run.
With the arrival of Mike Marts and Mike Raicht as the new editorial team (and subsequent addition of Nova Ren Suma as another assistant editor), the artistic teams stabilized a bit, rotating by arc, rather than within an arc. Garney returned on “Hope” in August alongside Austen, while Phillips joined up to illustrate the first three of Austen’s four stand-alones (with Steve Uy providing covers). However, with the arrival of Kia Asamiya as Garney’s regular co-penciller, the artistic landscape finally seems poised to settle down.
Uncanny X-Men also saw the departure of long-time editorial team Mark Powers and Pete Franco, replaced by Mike Marts, and Mike Raicht, former editors of ancillary X-Men titles such as Wolverine and Deadpool. It was one of the most surprising developments of 2002, and has already had a profound impact on the book, which should become even more visible in the next year.
If change and evolution are integral parts of the X-Men concept, the franchise itself underwent plenty in twelve short months. The only constant this year has been change, sometimes to the detriment of the book, and sometimes its benefit. Either way, there was certainly something for everyone in the past twelve months, regardless of his or her taste in comics.
(Note: These final ratings were extremely difficult to decide upon, as the book changed so drastically over at the year's midway point. Similarly, artistic shuffle hurt the book, though many of the artists themselves were fantastic storytellers. I personally did not enjoy the direction the book took in the latter half of the year, after thoroughly enjoying the former half. It has thus colored the rating for story.)