Mike Carey on returning to the ‘X-Men’ with ‘No More Humans’

(CBR) In 2005’s “House of M” #8, Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel, the Scarlet Witch put the mutants of the Marvel Universe on the brink of extinction by using her reality warping powers to enforce a proclamation of “No more mutants.” Suddenly the X-Men found themselves in an even darker and more dangerous world where they were fighting for more than Charles Xavier’s dream of peaceful co-existence between man and mutant — they were fighting to stay alive.

The final issue of 2012’s “Avengers Vs. X-Men” brought hope back to the mutants. The Phoenix force undid the Scarlet Witch’s spell and now the Marvel U’s mutant population is once again on the rise. What would happen if the X-Men found themselves in an opposite situation? What would become of their founder’s dreams and ideals if they suddenly found themselves facing a world without humans? Writer Mike Carey and artist Salvador Larroca will answer those question and more in May 2014 with the release of their original graphic novel, “X-Men: No More Humans.”  We spoke with Carey about the upcoming OGN and what it’s like returning to the X-Men after more than two years away.

CBR News: Mike, you’ve been away from Marvel Comics and the X-Universe for about two years, and a lot has changed in your absence. As a writer, which of those developments from the past two years has intrigued you most?

Mike Carey: Well, it’s hard to get past the fact that Rogue just died. [Laughs] That was kind of devastating and extremely upsetting for me personally. It was a very powerful story though. I’ve been loving Bendis’ “All-New X-Men.” Having read the premise and thought, “How can that possibly work?” I discovered that he made bringing the original five X-Men to the present day work brilliantly by finding the human beats and emotional touchstones in that situation.

So I’ve been following that with interest. And arising out of that, “Battle of the Atom” where the past, present and future of the X-Men all came together, which I guess is a reoccurring theme in the X-Men. It just came from a slightly different angle this time around. I’ve also been loving Si Spurrier’s stint on “Legacy.” Some really amazing stuff happening in that book.

You’re coming back to the X-Universe to write an original graphic novel. You’ve written both prose novels and original graphic novels before, but this is the first X-Men graphic novel since 1982’s “God Loves, Man Kills” by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson. What does it mean to follow in Chris Claremont’s footsteps like that? And in your opinion, what kind of story does an X-Men graphic novel need to be?

That’s a good question. As far as following in Claremont’s footsteps goes, we’re all doing that aren’t we? It’s easy to forget, because it’s a long way back now, but all the people who work on the X-Books are on a trail that Claremont originally blazed. He did so much to establish what the X-Men were and how a book of that kind could work. He was also the one who expanded the original book into a franchise with “New Mutants” and then with “X-Factor.”

So it’s very exciting, and it feels like a great opportunity. I love having the bigger canvas. Obviously it’s the same size canvas as about five to six issues of a regular book, and it would be perfectly possible to do it that way. I think doing a story as an original graphic novel gives you certain freedoms that you wouldn’t have if you were doing it in serial form; in terms of pacing and I guess in terms of your core cast. It allows you to draw from all of the characters from all of the books when you need them. If you were doing the story as part of a run on “Uncanny X-Men” there would be an expectation that the cast of “Uncanny” would be at the center, and it’s the same for any of the other books. So an OGN can be eclectic and be paced however it needs to be paced.

I think the fact that it’s a free standing story outside the run of any particular book allows it to be about the X-Men in a broader sense. Who are these people? What are they for? What is their world like? It allows you do the global beats without any constraints. That’s what I’ve aimed to do.

Let’s move into your cast of characters. “X-Men: No More Humans” features two characters you’ve never written before — the young Cyclops and young Jean Grey from “All-New X-Men.” What’s your sense of those characters? What do you find most interesting about them?

Going back to Bendis’ “All-New X-Men,” the charm and attraction of those characters is they still have their idealism intact, but they’re in a superhero universe that’s known decades of crises, trauma, tragedy and compromise. They come untouched by any of that stuff. I think they have a world view that’s simple and idealistic. They have this innocence, but I don’t mean that they’re naïve. It’s more that they hold to their positions in an uncomplicated and pure way, as though there’s no room for the kind of appalling compromise that wins the day but leaves you holed below the waterline. That makes them easy to love.

One of my favorite beats in “All-New X-Men” is the point where Kitty is teaching Young Jean how to control her telepathic powers; how to shut out the intrusive voices. Jean asks Kitty, “Where did you pick this up from?” Then Kitty replies, “The older version of you told me.” The scene ends with Jean just reaching out and hugging Kitty — her relief and gratitude spilling over all at once into an embrace. That emotional beat stuck with me. It was incredibly moving.

I think young Cyclops is a fascinating counterpoint to the battle-scarred Cyclops that we have today. While young Jean has the tragedy of her own future hanging over her; the fact that she already knows what she’s going to become and how she’s going to die.

Wolverine and the Cyclops of the present day are also in “No More Humans.” How would you describe the dynamic between them going into this book? Is there still tension between them and the schools they run?

Definitely. I think they’ve taken up irreconcilable positions. Each of them is aware that there’s a gulf between them which is probably not crossable without some massive sacrifices by one side or the other.

So we play to those tensions and the different mission statements and senses of identity that the two groups have. That will cause them to react differently to the situations that unfold in this story.

One of your favorite X-Men characters, Magneto, is also part of this book. What’s it like returning to him?

As you said, he’s one of my favorite X-Men characters along with Rogue and Professor X. It’s always a huge pleasure to write Magneto, and it’s even more interesting now that he’s pulled away from the rest of the X-Men. He’s in a very interesting place. He’s not aligned with any of the factions any more. He’s got his own agenda. Well, of course he’s always had his own agenda, but he’s now pursuing it in a very unmediated and direct way. There are no influences to soften or restrain him.

In other words, “No More Humans” picks up with the status quo for Magneto, which is established in the debut issue of his new ongoing series that launches in March? Bunn Hunts the Enemies of Mutantkind in “Magneto”

Yeah. He’s with the X-Men in the OGN, but he’s not one of them. He’s with them because he’s responding to the same situation they’re responding to. He actually gets to say at one point, in a deeply sarcastic way, “Who gets to be the X-Men today?” Meaning which team are they going to put into the field, and how are they going to make it hold together?

The cover to “X-Men: No More Humans” also suggests that Storm, Emma Frost and Beast will also be part of your story. Can you tell us what roles they’ll play in the book?

There’s a crisis that strikes pretty early on in the book, which requires the X-Men to put their best foot forward. They’re consciously putting together a team of their heaviest hitters. It’s the team that you see on the cover of the OGN.

They’re also aware that they have to protect their schools and the younger mutants. So there’s a reason why it’s a small but over powered group instead of a gigantic one. That group goes off to battle at the start of the story.

Also I was trying to choose a team that would have personalities and agendas that would play off each other. So there will be a fair amount of sparks throughout the story as those characters interact. But we’ll cut away a lot and see what’s going on elsewhere — what the other X-Men are doing and what’s at stake for them.

The central plot of “No More Humans,” the disappearance of humans across the Marvel Universe, is big enough to impact almost everyone still remaining in the Marvel Universe. Who are some of the supporting players and cameo appearances we’ll see in this book?

We literally have a situation at the start of the story where the only sentient beings on Earth are carriers of the X-Gene. Everyone else is gone, and there’s a reason why that’s happened. Which means if you’re a mutant supremacist that’s an amazing opportunity. You’ve inherited the world, but there are reasons why it’s not a stable situation. That’s something the X-Men have to respond to.

They have to figure out what’s happening and why it’s happening and put it right. It’s a deeply divisive situation though. It’s a situation that everybody has a different response to.

Going back to your cameos question, the cameos are restricted to other mutants. We do meet a couple of humans, but our supporting cast is pretty much all mutants. Iceman is in the mix a lot. So is Beast. Rachel Grey. *cough* Rogue *cough*. Some of the students from both schools…

So the situation on Earth extends to other races beyond humans then? Gods and aliens disappear as well?

Yes, because it’s whether or not you have an X-Gene that makes the difference — not whether or not you’re Homo Sapien.

In terms of plot and tone it sounds like “No More Humans” is both a mystery story — because the X-Men have to get to the bottom of this new situation — and a science fiction tale — because they’re dealing with this new possible world without humans. Is that correct?

Yes, the mystery element is very much played up in the first half. We’ll know certain parts of what happened and more will be revealed as we go on.Then there’s a huge reveal about two thirds of the way through the book which will make the story even more epic for long term X-Men readers.

But I wanted the story to be at least as much about personalities as it was about external events; a story that would allow us to define who these characters were and where they’re coming from.

So it’s almost like a zombie story in that the sci-fi elements are there to sort of unleash these characters’ personalities and show us what they’re like when they’re not constrained by normal society?

Yes, exactly! When all of the external structures that normally define you are removed, you have to make your own rules and decide what is most important to you.

It’s been revealed that one of the antagonists of “X-Men: No More Humans” is Raze, the son of Wolverine and Mystique from a possible future world. What do you find most interesting about the character? What do you feel drives him?

Raze is the extremist’s extremist. He’ll go to any lengths to insure that in the struggle between mutants and humans it’s mutants who will get the upper hand. And he does view it very much as a struggle. He’s not interested in compromise, or peaceful solutions. He’s all about pushing the mutant agenda as hard and as far as he can.

In “Battle of the Atom” he and his team had come to the conclusion that sending the original X-Men back to the past would keep the modern day X-Men on an aggressive and confrontational course. That it would stop them from allying themselves with humans.

In the OGN we see him basically tackling the same agenda, but from a very different point of view. What we’re drawing on here is that he’s somebody who’s come to our time from the near future. So he’s had the opportunity to see every single aspect of our history. He knows what’s going to happen and he knows when it’s going to happen. So he’s able to adjust his vantage point in battles so that he has all the cards on his side.

This is very much the Raze we saw in “Battle of the Atom.” He’s just using different tools and weapons and in a way raising the stakes even higher.

Is he responsible for the situation in “No More Humans?” Or is he mainly out to exploit it? It’s a little bit of both. He’s exploiting stuff that he knows is going to happen and he’s putting his own twist on things as well. I don’t want to be any more specific than that.

Are there any other antagonists in this story that you can talk about? Will we see Raze’s team mates from the future Brotherhood?

No, but he does have a team. He’s assembled some other people to aid his cause. Some of them are mutants we know very well, but in slightly different guises. And there’s at least one big surprise.

Let’s start to wrap things up by talking about Salvador Larroca’s art. What do you feel he brings to this book as an artist?

Salva is just a fantastic visual storyteller. He does the widescreen action scenes so effortlessly. I love the clarity and the power of his renditions of the characters. He draws Magneto in a way that gives you a sense of his stature and charisma. I love the way he draws Iceman and Beast. I think he’s got a great handle on these characters and this universe.

His page designs are so kinetic and beautiful. There’s a double page spread of the X-Men arriving in an empty New York and exploring the area around Times Square that’s just gorgeous.

I actually worked with Salva on one of the very first things I did at Marvel. The “Ultimate Elektra and Daredevil: miniseries. So it’s great to be working with him again. I really love his stuff.

It sounds like you and Salva have gone out of your way to make this a powerful and gigantic story. Can you offer up a final grand overview of “X-Men: No More Humans?”

My editor Nick Lowe encouraged me to think big here and come up with a scenario that would feel really extreme. I wanted to do an X-Men epic in 100 or so pages. That’s what I set out to do, and I had a blast revisiting these characters. It felt like the last couple of years just melted away.

Finally, we know you’re a busy guy these days with your work on “The Unwritten” at Vertigo and “Suicide Risk” from BOOM! Do you have any other Marvel work on the horizon? And do you have any current work that you think fans of your Marvel stuff might enjoy?

I am involved with another Marvel project. It’s a smaller one-off, but very significant to me. It’s “X-Men Legacy’s” 300th issue, which is coming up. There’s a whole bunch of us working together on that — me and Si Spurrier and Christos Gage.

Apart from that, there’s “Suicide Risk,” the first trade of which is now out. We’re coming to end of the first year of that book’s run, and I’m having a great time with it. “The Unwritten” is about to relaunch in January with “The Unwritten: Apocalypse.” I’m also doing “Houses of the Holy” as a Madefire app for the iPad and iPhone. Dave Kendall is doing some spectacular work on it. It’s a horror story set in 1930s Berlin. That’s a free download if you have an iPhone or an iPad.

Then I have a new novel coming out in January, “The Girl with all the Gifts,” which I’m very, very happy with. It’s sort of horror, but there’s other things going on in it as well.

As a fan of the series, I wanted to see if there was any word on when we would see your next Felix Castor novel?

No, unfortunately not. This novel that comes out in January was kind of done instead of Castor #6, which was already commissioned. We changed the contract so I could do this because it was obsessing me. So now I have to get Castor #6 commissioned again. It’s thoroughly planned out and I’m ready to start writing it, but there’s a couple of other things I’ll have to do first. It will come out though. I swear it will.

“X-Men: No More Humans” goes on sale in May 2014.