Bryan Edward Hill Reveals the Tech World of the Upcoming 'What If? X-Men'
"Imagine a future where cyberspace and human interactions with it have evolved certain humans."
This October, WHAT IF? is returning as a series of one-shots that dive into previously unexplored territory with Marvel’s greatest characters. On Wednesday, October 3, writer Bryan Edward Hill and artists Neil Edwards and Giannis Milonogiannis are teaming up for WHAT IF? X-MEN #1, and it’s unlike any version of the mutant heroes that you’ve seen before.
Within the world of this story, humanity has embraced the EXE/scape, a fusion of tech and bio-modifications. However, Charles Xavier and his .EXE/men were born with the ability to interface with the EXE/scape without technology. Now, Xavier is calling upon Free-roamers Domino and Cable to save the life of Erik Lehnsherr from a threat to their very existence.
Marvel.com had the chance to speak with Hill about WHAT IF? X-MEN #1, and he gave us a taste of what we can expect to see in this wild, new world.
Marvel.com: Which classic WHAT IF? story has proven to have the most influence on you and your work?
Bryan Edward Hill: I am besieged by honesty tonight, so I'll tell you none of them. Not because they aren't excellent. I'm sure they are, but I haven't read any of them. My history with the X-MEN is a world of Chris Claremont, Jim Lee, and loads of ‘90s cartoons.
Marvel.com: How did you pitch this new WHAT IF? X-MEN story?
Bryan Edward Hill: This was edited by Chris Robinson. He and I worked on a TOTALLY AWESOME HULK one shot (with a story from the even more awesome Leah Williams). We became friends during that process, and he's one of the best editors I've ever worked with in comics. Recently, he and I worked on the SPIDER-MAN, Miles Morales annual. So we have a pretty back and forth relationship, a lot of conversations about comics, film, animation, etc. He knows I'm a tremendous fan of Mamoru Oshii's GHOST IN THE SHELL OVA, and we talked about how to do something at Marvel that brings that feeling, those aesthetics. This came out of those conversations.
Marvel.com: Can you give us a rundown on the world of the EXE/scape?
Bryan Edward Hill: Imagine a future where cyberspace and human interactions with it have evolved certain humans. These evolved humans have the nicknamed "EXE" gene, which results in mutant-style abilities in the real world, but even more so in the world of cyberspace. This sudden change in human evolution has created a crisis-point in the world, with the EXEs being feared and hunted. That's the background in which this story takes place, familiar to the classic concepts of the X-Men, but also rendered with the realities of transhumanism and cyberspace.
Marvel.com: Why did you decide to focus on Cable, Domino, and Xavier?
Bryan Edward Hill: Chris suggested Cable and Domino, and I thought they would be fun, physical characters to frame this issue. I flat-out refused to write my first X-MEN story without Charles Xavier. He's one of my favorite characters in all of comics.
Marvel.com: Domino and Cable seem to be much closer in this story than we've seen in quite a while. How would you define their relationship here?
Bryan Edward Hill: They're mercenaries. If you see similarities between them and Batou and Motoko Kusanagi from GHOST IN THE SHELL, that's a bit intentional. They have the closeness that you need to have when you risk your life and trust your life to your partner. They'd die to protect each other. We see that in action here.
Marvel.com: Do you see this world's Erik Lehnsherr as the counterpart of a real world tech guru?
Bryan Edward Hill: Hahaha. You thinking Elon Musk? Erik is the CEO of LENSHERR-TECH, and it's the leading company in cyberspace development. He's not an analogue to any one person, but an amalgam of many people. Musk. Carnegie. Edison. The men who changed the world.
Marvel.com: Is future technology the closest thing we'll see to mutation in the real world?
Bryan Edward Hill: In this story, perhaps. If we revisit this world, which I would love to do, you'll see more of this explored in both the virtual and the physical world.
Marvel.com: Are there any of your favorite X-Men characters that you just couldn't touch upon here?
Bryan Edward Hill: Psylocke and Dazzler are favorites of mine. Again, were I to continue on with this re-imagining, they would certainly make an appearance.
Marvel.com: How much of this alternate world did you develop beyond what we see in the issue?
Bryan Edward Hill: A great deal, actually. It's the way my mind works. I have to build a world around the story in order to tell the story. In all honesty, this world is just as developed as “Blade Runner,” and I hope readers get to see more of it.
Marvel.com: Tell us about working with Neil Edwards on this tale.
Bryan Edward Hill: He's great. Classic lines. Classic panel design. His work makes a great contrast with Giannis' equally incredible work.
Marvel.com: There's definitely an anime/manga vibe to some of this story, especially Giannis Milonogiannis' pages. Can you tell us how that came into the story?
Bryan Edward Hill: I don't read a lot of manga, but I do love the work of Tsutomu Nihei. BIOMEGA, BLAME!, those works. I wanted to bring some of that feeling into a Marvel book, so that was definitely part of our early conversations.
Marvel.com: Would you like to revisit the .EXE/men after this issue?
Bryan Edward Hill: AB-SO-LUTE-LY.
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