Joss Whedon vs. Mark Millar - Sfx.co.uk Interview
Friday 14 April 2006, by Webmaster
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
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? advertisement <A TARGET="_blank" HREF="http://ad.uk.doubleclick.net/click%3Bh=v5|33c7|3|0|%2a|f%3B28858248%3B0-0%3B0%3B12040719%3B4307-300|250%3B15326650|15344546|1%3B%3B%7Esscs%3D%3fhttp://www.gamesradar.com"><IMG SRC="http://m2.2mdn.net/1159796/External_new_mpu.jpg" BORDER=0></A>
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 shit 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 fuck 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 shit 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.
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