Cullen Bunn | No Trust Falls

The Magneto author—and St. Louis native—discusses the contentious new team at the heart of Uncanny X-Men.

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I knew of Cullen Bunn from his work on the 2014 Magneto solo title that was running as I was dipping my toe back into the comic scene, but he also written for Venom, Sinestro, Deadpool, Captain America, Aquaman, and various other titles, including the creator-owned series The Sixth Gun (with artist Brian Hurtt). Currently, you can find his name still attached to Sinestro and Drax, among other things, but when we sat down to chat in December of last year, the topics d’jour were comic book writing, his favorite mutant, and the newest title he’s writing. Starting in January, Cullen Bunn has teamed up with artist Greg Land to navigate the new Uncanny X-Men lineup consisting of Magneto, Sabretooth, Archangel, M, Psylocke, Fantomex, and Mystique. Choosing to continue the Uncanny X-Men title and then give it to a team that consists of the less-than-nice mutants in the Marvel universe was, in my opinion, a bold move, and the first issue of Uncanny X-Men definitely delivers on the hard image that Bunn describes during our conversation

PLAYBACK:stl: Having come back into comics a year or so ago, it was mind-blowing, to me, that Magneto had his own solo title. How difficult has it been to write Magneto in a group title after writing him as a solo title?

Bunn: It is definitely a change of pace to write Magneto as part of an ensemble cast. For 21 issues, he was my sole focus in a book that I intentionally left most guest stars out of. It would have been easy to bring in guests that had shared a spotlight with Magneto, but I wanted it to be very, very focused on him. So, it is—I don’t want to say it’s been a challenge, but there has definitely been some adjustment needed because my tendency, still, is to want this to be a Magneto book and I need to rein that in a bit to make sure that I’m giving all the other characters some time to shine as well. So when people read Uncanny X-Men, I think it feels like there will be moments that feel like they’re still reading a Magneto solo book, but at the same time I hope there will be moments where they will see Psylocke get as much attention, and Monet get as much attention, and Sabretooth get as much attention—they’ll come at different times in the book. I have to focus on giving all of these characters their moments to shine.

You definitely have quite the ensemble here.

Yeah, it’s a weird group.

All of these characters aren’t good guys—they have their occasional moments. How difficult is it to navigate those shades of grey when you’re planning out the things they’re going to be dealing with?

The shades of grey weren’t that difficult for me. I have a mission statement in mind for these characters that will be revealed in the next five to six issues. I’m more focused on adhering to that mission statement and giving these characters a goal that they can be focused on, and they’re going to handle it in the way they handle things. It may be a little more hardline than you’re used to with Uncanny X-Men. Within the team, we have different opinions on how things should be handled: some characters are more merciless than others and will cause friction in the group, and that’s fun to play with. In the end, it’s not that difficult because I have the mission statement in mind. This is a tough group of characters, so finding things that are going to challenge them, that’s a little more difficult. Any one of those characters is probably a formidable opponent in any situation, so when you put them all together, they’re a pretty tough group of hardasses.

For sure. I remember reading the names of all the mutants under this title and thinking, “What is that going to look like?”

To some degree, some of the team will be formed right off the bat, in the first issue. We’ve seen all of these characters together, but the way the rest of the team comes together will be a little different and will not be immediate. You won’t open the first issue and see all seven of these characters working together in the beginning. In the first issue, we’re going to see a few of them who have started working together, and then other characters will be sort of fed into the series—and in ways that people will not expect.

This seems to be a trend across the All-New All-Different teams: the team is on the cover, but not necessarily in the first issue.

uxm1bDefinitely. I know that in Extraordinary X-Men, that first arc is all about that team coming together and in All-New X-Men, it’s a little different—the team is together, but we’re still seeing that team coming up with their driving force. Then, in Uncanny, we’re seeing the team together and how the other characters come in. It’s not going to be a typical recruitment drive.

I don’t see that working very well.

Right.

Do you feel like there’s an extra set of pressure for delivery when writing under the Uncanny X-Men title because that is the flagship X-Men title?

Yeah. It’s kind of intimidating and I’m honored to be a part of Uncanny X-Men because it was important to me when I was growing up and is important to me now, as far as superhero comics are concerned. There was a lot of discussion on titles for this book and it was always going to be an X-Men title, although a lot of people said that it was obviously an X-Force book – and that’s not the case. I think once you see the team in action and see the adventures they’re going on that it’s a different kind of book than what you’ve seen with X-Force in the past. It was always going to be X-Men, but we went back and forth with the adjectives and what the final title would be, and I was really pushing and hoping for Uncanny X-Men. I’m super excited that’s the case.

Yeah, I imagine that must be really awesome. Did you always want to be a comic book writer when you grew up?

I always wanted to tell stories, since I was very young. I wish I still had the comic book I drew about monsters attacking cities when I was pre-kindergarten. I remember working on this comic.

Wow.

I’ve been writing since I was very young. When I was in fourth and fifth grade, I did a comic that came out weekly that I wrote and drew, and it was sort of a science fiction/superhero comic. That I wrote for a couple of years and would handout to my friends, and yeah—I’ve loved comics. So, yeah, I guess you could say that it’s something that has been with me since forever.

That is so awesome. So Magneto’s been through a lot lately, from what I’ve been able to read in the X-Men storylines. How do you see this new team interacting with the other X-Men teams in a crossover situation with the All-New All-Different roster shake-ups?

Well, if they were to crossover, I think it would be a very volatile meeting. It’s tough and you will see, within my first arc, what some of the other X-Men teams think about what Magneto is doing. I wouldn’t call it a team-to-team meeting, but the readers will get a view of what the other X-Men think and really what sets this team apart from them. But, if we got into a crossover event, I think—at least with some members of the other teams—I think it would be pretty volatile. But with that said, I think even within the Uncanny X-Men team itself, some of the members are going to be pretty volatile with each other. When you look at a character like Psylocke and Sabretooth, one of their first encounters involved Sabretooth trying to viciously kill Psylocke. So I think there are histories between these characters and they’re definitely not a group that that is going to be doing trust falls with each other.

[laughs.]

There’s definitely some animosity between these characters. We’ve got Sabretooth and Psylocke, and Psylocke and Fantomex also have some kind of history between them that’s not going to make them best friends anytime soon. Mystique is a whole ‘nother hornet’s nest that is going to be jumping right into the mix of it. So, this team’s got to survive each other first, and then maybe they can encounter some of the other teams.

Yeah, I feel like Magneto, Sabretooth, Mystique, and Fantomex would work okay together, but then you chose to throw Psylocke in there and then—

uxm1Psylocke and Monet both seem sort of out of place in this group.

For sure.

Keep in mind that eight months have passed in the comic book world since the last storyline. The entire Marvel universe is jumping eight months into the future. So, a lot of what’s happened in that eight months will inform why this team is willing to work together. What I think is interesting about it, is that Sabretooth is the moral compass of the team, as much as he’s been one of the most ghastly villains in the Marvel Universe. A couple months ago, through some magical act, he was inverted so that his personality switched and now he’s sort of on a quest for redemption, and now he’s definitely the guy who’s like, “No, no, let’s not kill anybody.” So Sabretooth might be trying to calm some of these other members down.

That’s going to be really interesting to read.

Yeah, it’s a strange setup, when you think about it. Sabretooth might be the most heroic of these characters.

You’re definitely in trouble if Sabretooth is your moral compass.

Right, right.

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