Following the events of House of X and Powers of X, Marvel’s mutants have entered an all-new, all-different era. It is the Dawn of X. To celebrate, AiPT! Brings you X-MEN WEEK–seven days of original interviews with past and present X-Creators. Pax Krakoa!
“Fallen Angels.” When X-Men fans see or hear that title, visions of super-powered lobsters likely come to mind. Soon, however, that could change as acclaimed writer Bryan Hill (Batman and the Outsiders, Titans) takes that classic title and brings it into the Dawn of X. Step aside, Ariel and Gomi, the new Fallen Angels are Psylocke (the Kwannon version), Kid Cable, X-23 and soon–as revealed at New York Comic Con 2019–Husk and Bling! To learn more about what could be Marvel’s most mysterious new mutant title, I reached out to the always interesting Mr. Hill.
AiPT!: Is Fallen Angels and this series’ concept something you pitched to the X-Office, or was it pitched to you?
Bryan Hill: I’ve known Jonathan Hickman for a while, since my book Romulus. I’ve always admired his mind and we’ve been looking for a project. He reached out to me while I was working on Titans, asked me if I would be interested in this next evolution of the X-Men, and I was… with caveats. I LOVE the X-Men, but I also had walked away from the books for a bit, not because they weren’t great books, but I got lost in the continuity and never felt like I could catch up. Hickman shared his House of X plans with me and I was hooked right back in, I felt fluent again. From there, we talked characters.
Ever since Elizabeth Braddock separated from Kwannon, I’ve been concerned about what would happen to Kwannon. I didn’t want her lost in the shuffle because I’ve always thought she was an underdeveloped and interesting character. I also felt that there was a tremendous injustice in Kwannon being robbed of the agency of her own body. How would she feel part of a mutant community that she’s never actually known? That’s where the conversation started. When I realized that I could have Psylocke, the one I identified with as a kid, then I was in… but I still didn’t want to do something rote. I’m not particularly good at banter–action–banter–joke–action, and right now I’m going through a personal transformation that I think shows up in my work, where my mind is. I told Hickman I wanted to do something that was lyrical, philosophical, and about the role that warriors play in a utopia. I wanted to explore identity and purpose and how peace itself can be an enemy. I also wanted to explore what would happen if mutants left humanity to evolve itself, and what the role of technology would be in that. There’s a lot of William Gibson in this. A lot of futurism. From those conversations, I came up with a story and we moved forward.
When I think of the phrase “Fallen Angels,” I think of Lucifer, in a mythological sense. Lucifer the Light-bearer that saw no justice in Heaven and rebelled against it. Lucifer punished by a lake of endless fire, but in a Miltonian sense, reigning in Hell rather than serving Heaven. What does it mean to be of Heaven but also an enemy of Heaven? Mutants leaving the human world behind creates a vacuum in evolution, and what will fill that vacuum? After a mutant exodus to Heaven, what will happen to the world left behind? What “gods” step into that world and how would they shape it? When you are given Heaven, how easy is it to cease to care about the world you’re leaving behind?
Those are all questions I wanted to explore and Marvel gave me an opportunity.
AiPT!: That’s all very fascinating stuff, Bryan! Now, I wanted to follow up on something else you said that I found interesting–in X-Men Monday #25. Regarding Magneto, you said, “When you’re a black kid growing up in Saint Louis and you feel like the world is trying to get you, Magneto makes a WHOLE LOT of sense.” I’m curious, when writing Fallen Angels, are you drawing on anything from your own real-life experiences?
Hill: Growing up in the ’90s, in the Midwest, I did feel “different” and judged a bit because of that difference. Magneto represented a ferocity, a certainty that you deserved to exist, to gain power and thrive and if someone or something stood in your way, you could take it head on. Magneto wasn’t afraid of being considered a “villain” because his existence threatened the status quo. Those things spoke to me. My father died when I was a kid so I think I also looked for father figures in fiction, for better or worse. As far as Fallen Angels is concerned, yeah, there’s a lot of “me” in it. I am a martial artist and I study Bushido daily. I’m not a particularly good martial artist, but I try to apply what I think are the ethical elements of Bushido into my daily life. Funnily enough, I’ve never studied much of the Japanese arts. I studied Korean Tae Kwon Do and a bit of Chinese boxing, just a touch of Shotokan Karate and Judo, but not very much of it. I have a rudimentary understanding of Japanese martial arts, but philosophically, I have gravitated toward ideas present in Bushido, Shinkendo and even Ninjitsu. Psylocke is a character that was raised with almost an ancient system of ethics, a POV that would be considered extreme and even dangerous by today’s standards. There’s also me in Laura (X-23) and young Cable. This book is about adolescence in a lot of ways, about that fury you have inside when you’re trying to figure out your purpose and your capability. A lot of my adolescent pain lives in this story, not uncommon for writers, I think.
AiPT!: Obviously, the original Fallen Angels has some pretty hardcore fans. What was your immediate reaction to learning how beloved Bill the Lobster is to so many X-Fans?
Hill: I am never surprised by what comic book fans love.
AiPT!: You and X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White have spoken about how you plan to develop Kwannon in this series, but Kid Cable is also a relatively new character. Is it safe to assume you’ll be exploring who exactly this younger version of Cable is?
Hill: I start to peel his layers, but there’s a beautiful simplicity about him. In a lot of ways, he’s the character that has the strongest sense of self in the story and that provides contrast with the story and the world.
AiPT!: As a writer, what about the X-Men’s new status quo has you most excited?
Hill: New thematics are always interesting. Analogies to the civil rights movement can only get you so far. Once, that was cutting edge in and of itself, but identity has shifted in society. There are nesting dolls of identity and prejudice, so I appreciate the world evolving past “Mutie Go Home” and exploring what an evolutionary response to prejudice would be. There’s also a bit of fascism in what Xavier is doing, a danger in it, and that raises the stakes of the actions of the characters in the story, how they react to the existence and power of Krakoa. There’s a lot here to mine.
AiPT!: Let’s play a quick game of word association. What one word comes to mind when you think of your Fallen Angels? X-23…
AiPT!: Kid Cable…
AiPT!: And Bling…
AiPT!: That was fun, and I’m still stuck on “Middleton.” But moving on, has writing for TV and film at all affected the way you write comics?
Hill: I’m in the eye of my own hurricane, so it’s hard to say. I suppose I see these characters like real people, almost like actors playing on my mental cinema screen, so there’s that. Big differences between comics and filmed media though. They get compared a lot, but I don’t really see them similar at all. The way time works in comics, dialogue, sound, all of it is a unique thing to its form. I guess I have firm act breaks in my storytelling, so in a structural sense there’s an effect, but an outside person to my work would be able to provide better analysis than I could. It’s hard to get an objective view of yourself, from yourself, you know?
AiPT!: Definitely. Finally, I’ve been following you on Twitter a longtime, and one of the things that’s always impressed me is how you handle, let’s say, the more passionate and confrontational fans in the comics community. You never really lose your cool and it’s quite admirable. I was wondering if you could share any advice for the larger comics community, as I think calm, rational and respectful conversation among fans and creators is something everyone should strive for.
Hill: Hmm. Advice should come from the wise, and I am decidedly not wise. To be honest, I don’t understand all of the sanguine conflict. I’m a stoic, by nature. I don’t like allowing myself to be provoked because that takes my power, my agency away. My emotion is just that, mine. I’ve been open about how I don’t feel like I’m part of comics culture. I’ve never felt adopted by it. I feel like a guest in it, but a little distant from it. Not from readers, I love and appreciate all of my readers, but from the “culture” writ large. My schedule prevents me from meeting a lot of people in person, so my contribution to it is really the work and that’s where my voice is heard. When it comes to social media, I think social media is awful. I don’t think our brains were made to endure this much social comparison, this much hyperbole, the endless stream of unverified data and emotionally charged opinions. Social media is psychologically engineered to awaken our most base instincts. It’s made to pummel our self-esteem and create a need for attention that may have existed in all of us, but it’s weaponized now. To be honest, I don’t know why I’m on it at all, but I do have great conversations with readers and that’s positive and there’s the professional need to market one’s work, so there’s that. I’m still reconciling with its place in our lives. The way I see it, if someone is yelling at me on social media then they’re not having a very good day. That speaks to their own happiness and sense of self-esteem. Anger is just a symptom of fear and I’m not afraid of words on the internet. Unless someone has actual power over me, their words can’t actually injure me. It’s relatively easy to not react to incoming fire because everyone is firing blanks. What I don’t want to do is contribute to the anger. Has yelling at someone on the internet ever changed someone’s mind? Likely not. Would browbeating people with my ethical point of view change someone? Probably not. Seems a pointless waste of energy and time. The easiest way I’ve found to regulate your behavior is to consider the cost and benefit of your actions. There’s a clear cost to getting in the middle of the fray and no clear benefit.
I have a theory, and it’s just that, but I think we live in a society where our self-esteem is constantly under attack. We’re told we’re not good enough, that everything is out to destroy us, that we’re the prey of so many things. The collective power of social media, its ability to make us feel as if we’re part of something and that the larger “something” we’re part of has power, is a powerful thing. It’s seductive. The moment we’re hitting, in that fleeting moment we forget the fear of being hit, so there’s catharsis and a sense of safety in being aggressive. We’re also in an age of social comparison so we live to perform our lives for others. That’s just a vast oversimplification of things, but it all leads to a fragility of self. I’m not under the illusion that anyone gives a damn about a photo of my lunch. No one cares about me taking a selfie when I travel. No one is genuinely interested in a photograph my cat. It’s such a strange thing, this age of constant sharing, of constant self-awareness. We’re the most documented generation in history but should we be? Is that helpful for us? The pressure to share every experience we have in a manicured way can’t be good for our minds and souls. I make my living from my imagination, from my thoughts, so I have to relegate what thoughts I have, what I will allow to influence me. I can’t create AND fight wars online at the same time. When I fight, I fight within the work I do. Online, I just try to be positive and show how grateful I am for the little patch of pop culture I have.
AiPT!: Wow, so much good in what you just said, Bryan–thank you. And a HUGE thank you for taking the time to chat about Fallen Angels. I know you feel like a guest in the comics scene, but hopefully you’ll stick around for a long while.
Be sure to return to AiPT! tomorrow for X-Men Week: Day 4!