A conversation with writer Matthew Rosenberg at FAN EXPO Boston 2018–right after that big Uncanny X-Men announcement!
Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey, New Mutants: Dead Souls, Multiple Man, Astonishing X-Men–through these series (in what seems like an extremely short period of time) writer Matthew Rosenberg has established himself as a creator who was born to tell X-Men stories. And just as day one of FAN EXPO Boston was getting underway, Marvel announced what many X-Fans had hoped for–Rosenberg will be writing the newly relaunched Uncanny X-Men series alongside fellow X-Writers Kelly Thompson and Ed Brisson.
Fortunately, the Boston-based AiPT! was on the scene at the convention, ready to hear Rosenberg’s thoughts on Uncanny X-Men and more immediately following Marvel’s big announcement!AiPT!: You’ve received praise for your X-Men work from fans and critics alike. But for many creators, the X-Men are very intimidating characters to write. So I have to ask: What’s your secret to writing good X-Men stories?
Matthew Rosenberg: I think what’s intimidating about the X-Men is the amount of history and knowledge you have to have going in. And I’ve been reading X-Men comics–that’s how I learned to read. I would steal my older brother’s X-Men comics. So it’s not daunting to me because I read all of those books. It doesn’t feel as overwhelmingly foreign to me. I talk to a lot of writers who are just like, “I can’t keep it straight, the relationship between Jean and Madelyne and Hope.” And I have to be like, “Oh, it’s so simple.” I understand the difference between Cable and X-Man and Stryfe–things like that. When they’re no longer confusing, it makes it a lot easier. So really, my secret to writing X-Men is just being familiar with the stuff. But I love X-Men. It’s my favorite. They’re my favorite comics and my favorite stories.
AiPT!: Humor plays a big role in your comics. Do you set out to make your scripts fun or does the comedy just come out naturally through the characters as you write?
Rosenberg: I try to inject humor because there’s a lot of books that have these intense, heartbreaking moments and they don’t hit as hard because the books are very somber. And there are certainly things where it works very well, but I’m a big believer in the sort of idea of peaks and valleys. You laugh with the characters, you cry with characters–especially in the X-Men stuff. I think that’s very important because X-Men comics, more than a lot of other superhero comics, are a glimpse at people’s lives. And people’s lives are funny and sweet and sad and romantic and all these things that I try and put in these books because that’s what X-Men is about–relating to them as real humans and real people and understanding them better. I think humor is a really good shorthand for getting there. And also, some of the X-Men are just really funny. Like Iceman just tells terrible jokes and you want to write terrible jokes all the time–it’s super fun. I think it lends itself naturally but I also think it’s important for people to sort of buy into the world.
AiPT!: You mention those human moments. I’m a Scott and Jean fan…
Rosenberg: Me too.
AiPT!: And as a Scott and Jean fan, one of my favorite moments in Phoenix Resurrection was their brief reunion. I feel like another writer might use that moment to create drama, but you gave readers a beautiful moment of closure. Could you talk a bit about your decision to do that?
Rosenberg: Well, thank you. I think closure was important in my head. I wanted to have closure, but I also wanted to have a moment of real– I tried to imagine what it’d be like to be reunited with someone you care about who died. And I just think these characters aren’t petty–they’re the opposite, and I think they’d be so petty if they were caught up with, “You were with Emma and you did this” and caught up on all these moments. I think just the joy of seeing each other, they would want to hug and kiss and be together and I also wanted to make sure we understood that their deaths have changed them and they have perspective on what matters. I think that’s an important thing in the same way normal people have deathbed realizations about thinking about the things they prioritized rightly and wrongly. I would like to think that when you come back from the dead you also have those moments. I would hope that if you got the chance to come back from the dead, you prioritize letting the people you care about know you love them. I think that’d be probably No. 1 on a lot of people’s lists.
AiPT!: And they’ve come back to life a few times, so they’re extra wise.
Rosenberg: Haha, sure.
AiPT!: So, what exactly is going on with Banshee right now in Astonishing X-Men?
Rosenberg: OK. So, a lot of people think I did something horrible to Banshee. I did not…
AiPT!: It was Uncanny Avengers, right?
Rosenberg: It’s Uncanny Avengers. He dies. He’s brought back to life via the demon seed and Beast in Uncanny Avengers takes him and puts nanobots in him that suck away the evil energy of the demon seed and he just says it may take years for this to dissipate. Then, Banshee vanished and a lot of people thought he was dead. He wasn’t dead. He’s been tucked away. So what we find out in Astonishing X-Men is he’s been in a freezer, essentially, of Beast’s, where Beast monitors him and keeps an eye on him. He’s not dead. He hasn’t returned to normal. He’s got some evil in him and he’s got robots in him trying to fight the evil. So he’s kind of in a weird, zombie fugue state.
AiPT!: He’s looking alright.
Rosenberg: Yeah, he looks OK. He’s a little pale, a little shaggy. He doesn’t really respond to people when they talk, but other than that he’s doing alright. But yeah, I love Banshee and I wanted to bring him back. And going over that Uncanny Avengers stuff again–he’s back, he’s not dead and we needed to explain why you haven’t seen him and where he is and I figured zombie in a refrigerator is a good answer. He’s more banshee-like. I mean, really, if you want to get into nerdy details–what’s happening is he’s fighting to not turn into Archangel. Banshee’s body is fighting to prevent him from becoming an evil version of Sean.
AiPT!: Now that the cat’s out of the bag, we need to talk about Uncanny X-Men. What does getting the chance to write this series mean to you?
Rosenberg: I mean, it means everything. When I started writing comics, I sort of set mile marker career goals. Part of the reason I did that early on was I’d say, “I’m trying to be writer.” And people would say, “You don’t try to be a writer, you just write and you are a writer.” And I appreciate that mentality and I understand and I have a lot of respect for that thought process–my whole family are writers: my dad, my mom, my brother, my uncle–all made their living writing. For me, writing means something different than it does to a lot of people.
So when I started, I set these goals to be like, well, I guess if I’m going to be a writer, I have to sell something and I have to sell books to people I’ve never met. And I hit that and I didn’t feel like a writer. Then, I’d be like, well I have to get a publisher to pick it up–it can’t be self-published, and that meant a lot. Then, I have to have a collected edition of a book and I got that and at a certain point, my ideas for validating what it meant to be a writer for me changed into just what I want to do with my career and where I want go. I don’t know when that happened, but it was a subtle shift and I remember saying, all I want out of my career is to write a comic book for Marvel. And I did that pretty early in my career–I think it was the 11th comic I ever wrote–a one-shot for Marvel. So I said, well I want to write a Marvel mini-series and I got that. I said, well I want to write a Marvel ongoing and I got that.
And then it’s X-Men. I want to write X-Men. I got Phoenix Resurrection and I said, well I guess I got X-Men. But in the back of my head, I always said Phoenix isn’t X-Men and the X-Men are in it, but it isn’t normal X-Men. Then I got Astonishing X-Men. I said, well this is X-Men–I did it. And I still had that little voice in my head: Uncanny, you need to write Uncanny X-Men before you can give up everything. When C.B. Cebulski and Jordan White called me and said, “You want to write Uncanny X-Men?” I realized when I hung up the phone, I didn’t have that little voice saying what do you do next–what is the next step? It’s a really roundabout, long story but i think at the end of the day, I’m just happy for the first time in my life. I’m really content and that’s sort of a remarkable feeling. Maybe that was a more personal answer, but it means everything to me.
AiPT!: That’s great to hear and I think a lot of fans are really happy to see you writing Uncanny X-Men too.
Rosenberg: Well thank you. And Kelly Thompson and Ed Brisson are two of my very close friends and two of my favorite writers in comics and we’re trying to do something that people will remember for long time.
AiPT!: Three writers on one series–how is that working out?
Rosenberg: It’s really terrible. No, we do everything together. To get into the nitty-gritty, we alternate outlines, but we work on every script together. All of us write chunks of it and we review each other’s parts. We want to make sure the voices match and it’s all even in the same way Avengers: No Surrender worked, or back with Spider-Man–there was a braintrust for Spider-Man and they all sort of checked each other and told a bigger story than they could on their own. That’s what we’re trying to do.
AiPT!: What past X-Men stories would you compare the new Uncanny X-Men to?
Rosenberg: I think we all bring our own influences. I can speak personally for me–I don’t want to speak for Kelly or Ed–but obviously Chris Claremont’s entire run. If you’re an X-Men fan and that’s not a defining thing for you, I don’t understand why you’re an X-Men fan. No offense, I’m sure people are going to bristle at that, but that is the bedrock of X-Men fandom for me. But Grant Morrison’s New X-Men is huge. Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men. A lot of the ’90s stuff–we’ve been revisiting Legion Quest, Age of Apocalypse, X-Tinction Agenda. We’re trying to take it all in. We’re reading a lot of the ’70s stuff and ’60s stuff. I just read first 10 issues of X-Men the other day. We’re pulling stuff from there and it’s really fun, and up through Blue and Gold and Red–we’re with those books, so we want to make sure nothing feels out of place. Weapon X…
AiPT!: So will the characters from X-Men Red and Astonishing X-Men be in the mix?
Rosenberg: Yeah, it’s a real big roster. People from all corners of the X-Men universe. And the reason why–it’s a real big threat that brings them together. I don’t think I can say much more right now…
AiPT!: Haha, I know, I’m nervous for you! Let’s switch gears to my final question. Now that Marvel Studios has the film rights to the X-Men back, is there anything you’d want to see from a Marvel X-Men movie as a fan?
AiPT!: Obviously your Astonishing X-Men run…
Rosenberg: Obviously adapt Astonishing. I’d love to see Phoenix Resurrection. Maybe Multiple Man. No. I tend to not think of it that way. Movies do the movie thing and I watch all the movies and I get excited. I don’t think of it the same way, but i guess if I had to, I’d love to see that New Mutants movie be true to the Claremont-Sienkiewicz stuff. That to me would be huge. I’d also love to see a Cyclops who I recognize a little more. I always felt a sort of disconnect from Cyclops. I think the Cyclopses they’ve had as actors have been great and the scripts have been good, but they haven’t felt like my Cyclops.
AiPT!: Not a leader…Rosenberg: Yeah, yeah–and I’d like to see Colossus more. It’s always cool when Colossus shows up and it’s never enough.
AiPT!: Now, just for the record: When you said “my Cyclops” just now, you meant the resurrected Cyclops you’re writing in Uncanny X-Men #1, right?
Rosenberg: No, it is not. I mean the Cyclops that I love dearly who is sadly dead.
Rosenberg: It was a good try, though, I respect that.