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‘Age of X-Man’ masterminds Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson on their love for the Summers-Grey family

Celebrating Cyclops Week with X-Man superfans Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson.

He’s been a leader and a revolutionary, a husband and a father, a hero and a villain–He’s Cyclops, the first X-Man. The many roles Scott Summers has played since his debut in 1963 have made him one of the X-Men and comics’ most complex characters. In honor of Slim’s full-fledged return from the dead in this week’s Uncanny X-Men Annual #1, AiPT! is proud to present: CYCLOPS WEEK!

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If you were reading comics in 2018, then you’re likely familiar with the writing team of Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson–a pair AiPT! listed among its best newcomers of 2018. X-Men fans, in particular, were treated to a nostalgic trip down memory lane in their Cable run, some much-needed closure in X-Men: The Exterminated and a mind-bending roller coaster ride in X-Men Black’s five-part Apocalypse backup story. In 2019, X-Fans are set to go on yet another wild ride, as Nadler and Thompson take readers on an epic tour through the “Age of X-Man.”

Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler

But first, the creators are talking Scott Summers and his extended family with AiPT! in honor of Cyclops Week!

AiPT!: As it’s Cyclops Week at AiPT!, I have to ask: Are you two fans of Scott Summers and, if so, what do you love about the character?

Lonnie Nadler: You can’t think about the X-Men without thinking about Cyclops. He’s been there since the very beginning and remains an irrevocable part of the lore. I’m obviously an X-Men fan, so yeah, I’m a Scott Summers fan. When I used to watch the X-Men cartoon and read the comics as a kid, Cyclops was one of the characters I gravitated toward most. Back then it was merely about how awesome he looked in his blue-and-yellow tights and how overwhelmingly cool I thought his optic blasts were. That Jim Lee redesign of the character defined him going forward and if there were a platonic ideal version of Cyclops existing in the ether, it would be that one. But it wasn’t until I started reading more comics and understanding the nuances of the X-Men as an adult that I came to fully appreciate Scott and he’s remained one of my favorites. With his shift in attitude, his steadfast spirit and his tainted relationship with Xavier, he’s become one of the most three-dimensional characters in superhero comics and one of the few who feels to have actually grown up over time and that’s a rarity but testament to how writers and artists treat him with gravitas. The very fact that we’re doing this interview, and seeing how much fans have been calling for his return for the past several years, is proof enough that Scott is loved by almost everyone, even if he’s one of the characters you love to hate.

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

Zac Thompson: Cyclops is the most iconic X-Man for me by a long shot. His image is burnt into my retinas (hah). I grew up during the ’90s and was obsessed with the X-Men animated series. I love Scott as the leader of the team, and I also love how he later developed from a boy scout into a disillusioned leader who pushed too far for race rights. His struggle is relatable and his design is timeless. I think he’s one of the best comic book characters of all time. Which is clear in the way fans have been clamoring for his return daily. I understand why, he’s a phenomenal leader, father, and revolutionary. Each era of his life is different than the rest but completely in line with how a person like this would grow in the face of adversity.

AiPT!: In your time at Marvel, you’ve written Cable, Hope Summers, Jean Grey, Redd and Slym, and now X-Man. As writers, what appeals to you about the Summers-Grey family?

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

Thompson: The family is more complicated than any soap opera ever could/should be and I can’t help but love it. The family dynamics of the Summers-Grey family are inherently convoluted and beyond complex but when you dive into it headfirst you can’t help but fall in love with everyone. All of the family members are unique and yet they share the same struggles. The same push for mutant rights and the same questions about how far to take their overwhelming power. It’s an interesting family to look at holistically because if they ever came together they could rule the entire Marvel Universe, but they’re so busy dying, time traveling, and creating universes that it’s hard for everyone to get into the same place at the same time. I dream of writing them all one day. It’s the family reunion we’ve all been dying to see.

Nadler: I think Zac nailed it. It’s this sense of rich melodrama that no other comic book families have, at least not to this extent. Those types of families are the ones we love to consume most as readers and viewers because, while they are over the top sometimes, they’re also a very distorted mirror that reflects how our own families function. It’s the same reason people love to watch The Simpsons or The Addams Family but taken to the world of superheroes. Weird families and their intimate drama will always have universal appeal because everybody on the planet can relate, and the Summers-Grey family is the apex of bizarre family history.

AiPT!: As a fan of Scott and Jean, The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix was one of the first X-Men mini-series I read. So it was a real treat to see you revisit the characters in their Slym and Redd identities in your Cable run. Would you ever have an interest in revisiting this 12-year period of largely unexplored X-Men history?

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

Nadler: Revisiting that timeline was a blast because so little has been done with it, yet it’s fertile ground for mining story. So few people touch that period because it comes laden with continuity problems, but on its own, I love this idea of an isolated Scott and Jean struggling to raise their son in a very strange, ill-defined future. It’s one of the few X-Men stories of that era that feel somewhat restrained. Because of that, writing the last issue of Cable that took place in that setting was special. It became a simple story of a family out of time who struggle with the same issues as any other family behind closed doors. But they also happen to be secret mutants trying to raise a son they believe to be the savior of their people. It’s both grounded and also kind of insane and I love that contrast. It’s what the X-Men are all about, the mixture of micro and macro conflict. If given the opportunity, we’d love to revisit that period of time for the Summer family.

Thompson: Oh man. YES. We love that period of Cable’s history and believe that timeline is ripe for development in a way that we haven’t really seen before. There’s something unique about the X-Men and alternate futures that feels so right to explore in a proper series. There’s also the unique tension of Redd and Slym’s relationship and the fact that this is basically their honeymoon. But there’s also the responsibility of raising what is basically the mutant messiah in a world that wants to murder him. To take the time to properly fill in the blanks of Cable’s history is an opportunity we both dream of. Hopefully we can make it a reality one day.

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

AiPT!: Switching gears to X-Man–what is it about Nate Grey you two love so much?

Thompson: I came into comics by way of “Age of Apocalypse.” The event was going on when I was 6 years old and I would read issues completely out of order with no idea what was going on. But I knew one thing–I LOVED Nate Grey. To my very young mind, Nate was the coolest dude in the world. He had fashion sense, power, and attitude. I couldn’t resist his charms. Later in life, I came to follow his adventures in earnest and decided to read his solo series. What I found was a character that was the ultimate outsider in a band of outsiders. He’s overwhelmingly powerful and from another world. He’s never truly fit in and you can see that throughout his series. I always felt that he could do better, that he deserved better, and that his particular lens on the world of mutants was something we needed more of. Luckily, 25 years later I get to execute that vision. It’s a literal dream come true.

Nadler: The first time I saw Nate Grey was as an action figure in a toy store and I legitimately thought he was just a young version of Cyclops because his costume was so similar. My parents bought me that action figure and I loved it with all my heart. I later found a comic my brother had, it was the first issue of X-Man, and everything clicked. I became obsessed with the series and the character even though I was confused by it. What I love about Nate now is that he’s one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel U, and yet most people still treat him like a kid. His power levels are so astronomical that he experiences reality on a completely different plane than almost everyone else and that combined with his youthfulness and desire to do good is tragic. He’s destined to be alone. Those have always been the kinds of characters I feel the most affinity for.

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

AiPT!: I read X-Man’s series on a monthly basis back when it was first published, and the fact that he’s about to be at the center of a major Marvel event is something I never could have seen coming. It must be even more surreal for you two, so how exactly did you pull this off?

Nadler: We didn’t think this would ever happen either, to tell the truth. One of the first things we ever pitched to Marvel was a philosophically dense X-Man mini-series exploring who he was and who he would become in the future. I’ll spare the details because I still think it’s a great concept for a story that we should keep in our back pockets, but our editor told us what basically translates to “This will never happen. It’s not something people want to read.” I don’t think he was wrong in his inclination because at the time Nate was barely in any books, but he came back in a big way during the planning process for Uncanny X-Men. As soon as they knew “Age of X-Man” would be a thing, we got the call because they knew our existing affection for the character. We pitched a wild concept, and it was thankfully well received by Marvel.

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

Thompson: We also like to think we may have had some small roll in his inclusion in Uncanny because we kept jokingly throwing his name around. Eventually when it came time to write Cable #157 we outlined the issue with a brotherhood arc at the core. We plotted the whole issue with Cable and Nate on the off chance that they’d let us do it. Our editor was totally cool with Nate in the supporting roll and the response to the issue was thrilling. People were jazzed that Nate was back if even for a single issue.

But we don’t really have a clue how we got here, I’m just hanging on and enjoying the ride.

AiPT!: Nate’s got Scott and Jean’s uh, genes. What is one trait from each of his parents you’d say he inherited?

Thompson: I’d say Nate has Scott’s conviction for mutant rights and his dedication to better the future of mutantkind. He’s got Jean’s powers and some of her empathy.

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

Nadler: In my mind Nate takes on Scott’s brashness which is mixed with Jean’s genuine sense of care to make the world a better place. Those two things aren’t always a good mix.

AiPT!: As your “Age of X-Man” event is something of an homage to “The Age of Apocalypse,” I’m curious, of the original AoA mini-series, which did you love the most?

Nadler: I really loved X-Calibre when I was a kid. I was only 6 or 7 when it was coming out, so at the time I was buying it only because Nightcrawler was the star and the covers blew my impressionable young mind. It’s oddly fitting and a bit telling, though, because in my adulthood I realized it was written by Warren Ellis and he’s becoming a huge influence on my (our) work. I just read over the first issue again recently and it still stands up. Ellis’ opening page is perfect. His writing brings a sense of poetry and flow to this crazy alternate universe, treating it with real seriousness, and that’s still what Zac and I strive to do. It’s very strange to look back from my vantage point now to the stuff I read as a kid and to be able to pinpoint the things that clearly influenced the writer I am today even though back then it was just acting on impulse and intuition. So it’s still my favorite series from AoA today.

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

Thompson: I’m gonna have to go with Generation NeXt simply for that sweet sweet Chris Bachalo pencils/Mark Buckingham inks combo. The book looks like a dream and the team really jived with me on a revisit. As a title in this complicated world, I feel like the story in this one felt relatively self-contained. I also love following a team of young mutants… and that ending. It’s perfect.

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

AiPT!: We know how the “Age of X-Man” will share similarities to the AoA, but what is one way in which it’s entirely different?

Thompson: This is an era of peace. This is a world where the X-Men won, where they are no longer feared, hated, or persecuted… I’d say that’s a pretty big difference.

Nadler: There’s less exposition.

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

AiPT!: Thanks for taking the time to talk, Lonnie and Zac!

Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson’s Age of X-Man Alpha goes on sale January 30, while the writing duo’s five-issue Marvelous X-Men kicks off February 6!

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