It’s safe to say that there is no one on the planet more thrilled with the release of the X-Force Omnibus today. Feels like I’ve waited some twenty-three years for this and then I realize that, no, I really have waited twenty-three years for this! And so have you, the reader and fans that put this series over the top. I figured that there was no better time to share the insight and history that went in to creating this historical and record setting work. You don’t sell 5 million copies of a brand new book with just luck! This is the first is a series of posts that will share how a book that was set to be canceled provided the spring board for shaping a new direction in the comic book marketplace.
I was twenty years old when Marvel made me a generous offer to leave DC and work on the “X-books”. Back in those days, the mid-to-late Eighties, the X-books were the brass ring, the gold standard for comic book sales, everyone aspired to work on them. The industry was beginning to experience a surge in royalties for creators, basically a percentage of a books sales that was allocated to creators, and no books sold more or paid more than the X-Men. Bob Harras was the editor of the X-office and he was looking to shake his office up with new talent and fresh ideas. He had contacted myself as well as Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio with designs on us taking over a number of the X-books. Back then, late eighties, there were only four X-books, Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, Wolverine and New Mutants. I was initially offered X-Factor but knew in my heart that it was a bad career move to follow the legendary Walt Simonson wh0 had just completed an amazing run. It was too soon for me to take a crack at drawing the original X-Men, I was not up to snuff. Bob told me that New Mutants was available but I would need to wait longer as he wanted to give more time to transition that team out. I felt my work and my influences would shine much more on New Mutants with its young cast and greater potential to try something new. Bob warned me that New Mutants was far from a sure thing in terms of job security as they were considering canceling the title. New Mutants was the dog of the X-Men office. While the other titles averaged 350,000 in sales during that period,New Mutants was selling only 115,000. They told me that I could work with editorial as well as the writer, Louise Simonson, in order to craft new characters and a new creative direction. I really felt I could make a difference and was chomping at the bit to get going on New Mutants.
The first order of business in turning around the sinking ship of the New Mutants was to change the tone of the book. I had purchased every issue of the New Mutants since it launched and in the years leading up to my actually taking over the book, I felt it had taken a decidedly goof turn for the worse. The stories didn’t have the same weight and danger that the rest of the X-books exhibited. Characters such as Birdbrain and Warlock dominated the landscape of the book, tilting it in a comical direction. It’s always important to examine what came before you and why it was not working, in this case I felt that the books short comings were painfully obvious. I don’t know who decided on the direction of the book, what input editorial had, and I want to make it perfectly clear that I think Louise Simonson is a talented writer and that Brett Blevins was producing fantastic art, it just wasn’t reflective of the edgier tone reflected in the rest of the X-Men books. Examples of Birdbrain and Warlock in earlier issues are displayed below.
The plan was to focus the book in a more serious, dangerous direction by providing a new leader for the team. Previous mentor’s for the team had been Professor X and Magneto. I had enjoyed the run of stories where Magneto acted as the schoolmaster, particularly the struggle he had controlling his prejudice and bias against mankind and not allowing that to taint his leadership of the kids. He struggled to follow the more honorable path Professor X established. Editorial gave me a wide berth to create a new figure that would lead the kids, presumably with Louise Simonson’s blessing. Some geographical and practical background should be established here in order to best communicate the manner in which information was transmitted in 1988-1991. I lived in Southern California while both Marvel and Lousise Simonson were located in New York. Fed Ex was the primary method that notes and illustrations were passed back and forth. I spoke to Louise once during our tenure, editorial assumed control of the operations and didn’t encourage talent speaking often if at all. I was also the young twenty-year old working to establish myself while Louise was a well established veteran, I was flat-out intimidated by her accomplishments.
I sketched up several drawings of a character named CABLE, a time-traveling mutant who had seen the destruction that awaited the mutants and arrived in their present in order to change the course of history. Obvious shades of Terminator and The Time Machine were on display in my breakdown for Cable. He was a scientist, a cyborg, a soldier, but most of all, he was a man who knew how every one would die, he was a man with secrets. He would re-form the New Mutants as a para-military mutant force with a survivalist agenda. I pitched Cable as the man in the middle of the two extreme positions represented by Xaiver and Magneto. Xaiver, the pacificist, Magneto the extreme radical and Cable, who believes they should prepare for the war that’s coming, not let it come to them while hoping for the best. His aggressive position would threaten both Prof. X and Magneto. He would operate as the wild-card, the true X factor. The kids would respond to his empowerment, some would struggle, it would open up many new potential story-telling avenues for everyone.
Now if we could only agree on his name….
NEXT UP: PART TWO, The Cable Connection.