Fabian Nicieza and Dan Jurgens Team Up for Sinister Story in ‘X-Men Legends’
Two top-tier creators unite for a new mutant masterpiece set in one of Marvel’s most epic eras!
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The descriptor “legendary” aptly suits comic book icons Fabian Nicieza and Dan Jurgens, the writer/artist pairing responsible for X-MEN LEGENDS (2021) #10, the latest issue of the anthology series out in comic shops now. Nicieza served as scripter not only on X-MEN (1991) and X-FORCE (1991) at the height of their 90s popularity, but also quarterbacked dozens of other seminal works including the highly regarded first volume of NEW WARRIORS. Jurgens counts lengthy runs with Spider-Man, Captain America, and Thor among his luminous accomplishments which include some of the biggest events of the past 30 years.
Amazingly, despite their combined achievements as among the most successful creators in comics across several decades, Nicieza and Jurgens had never officially collaborated until now. This marks a return to X-MEN LEGENDS (2021) for Nicieza, who already concocted a multi-part tale to kick the series off, with Jurgens making his artistic debut on the X-Men, characters he has somehow never had the opportunity to draw.
We spoke with the dynamite duo about how they came to this assignment as well as why they chose Mister Sinister as a centerpiece, the joys of depicting Beast, how to balance nostalgia with other considerations, and much more!
Marvel.com: How well did you guys know one another prior to this assignment?
Fabian Nicieza: We’ve known each other a long time. We’ve always been friends, we’ve just often worked for different companies. We’ve had meals together and been at lots of shows together. I’ve always had a huge amount of respect for Dan and what he’s done both as a writer and an artist.
Dan Jurgens: We’ve always talked about doing something together at some point. We go back to when [Fabian] was on staff [at Marvel] for marketing. We’ve known each other for a long time!
So, how did you both become involved with doing this issue of X-MEN LEGENDS?
Fabian Nicieza: For my end of it, [editor] Mark [Basso] asked me in the fall of last year if I’d be interested in writing three issues for the first year of a new anthology book called X-MEN LEGENDS. He basically gave me the parameters of what the book was going to be like. I told him to let me think about it because, honestly, I don’t automatically say yes to anything that has the letter “X” in it anymore. [Laughs]
I gave it some thought, looked through some old issues, and didn’t feel like I had too many stories I really wanted to tell in a self-contained fashion. Everything was so soap operatic back then that a lot of my ideas got absorbed or destroyed in the mix of multiple titles. But I did find a few ideas. The first was the Adam-X story that I wanted to originally tell. Another one was an offshoot of plans I always had for Mister Sinister that were never able to come to fruition because any time I tried to percolate the story as a subplot in one of the monthly books, the next issue I found out he was appearing in six other books. [Laughs] This particular issue that Dan and I worked on was an offshoot of that.
Dan, how were you approached for this?
Dan Jurgens: Mark approached me and asked me if I wanted to draw an issue of X-MEN LEGENDS. I did what I always do and asked if I could read the script first. I’m kinda picky about what it is I actually end up drawing. [Laughs] He sent me the script and told me Fabian had written it, which I thought was great because we had talked about working together for quite some time. When I read it, it had this whole idea of Beast and how we would see him in his various versions as he has progressed over the years. I immediately got hooked by that. From a drawing standpoint, that would be fun to do, to find ways to accurately represent him. The easiest way would be to just mimic the artists’ styles from each point—here’s Jack Kirby, here’s Dave Cockrum, on through the years. But you can’t really do that unless it’s a Beast solo story. Anyways, that’s what I was hooked on, getting to draw all the different versions of Beast as well as Magneto and Mister Sinister, because I think they both have great designs.
Fabian Nicieza: I love that when Dan is drawing a book, even though he has written thousands of comics, he focuses on the visual. Not the fantastic use of adverbs or anything, but the visual hook of the script. [Both laugh]
Fabian, you said you were a little reticent to return to the X-Men, but now that the experience is in the rearview, how was it?
Fabian Nicieza: It was easy in that the DNA of this book is to tell stories under the pretext that you’re reading something brand-new but it’s like it came out in 1993. The issue that Dan and I did was basically X-MEN (1991) #34A. If the book had been bi-weekly, this would have been a companion piece to what was coming out from me and Andy Kubert. I didn’t approach it as if I had to copy how I wrote back then, I just tried to mimic the general style, the general verbiage. What I did with Adam-X with Brett Booth was a little easier because Brett draws in that bombastic style—he always has, he still does, it’s cool as hell, it’s fun as hell. I knew this issue was a “quieter” one. It was the kind of issue that [90s X-Men editor] Bob Harras would get excited about because he loved issues where characters interacted with each other without the threat of buildings exploding.
Dan, you’ve never had an extended run on the X-Men before, correct? There’s not a story or a series I’m forgetting?
Dan Jurgens: No, there’s not, and it’s weird, because over the years I’ve had various offers and I was always busy. This was certainly my first prolonged exposure to the X-Men in any shape or form. Doing something with the X-Men has always been on my bucket list, because I never had.
Fabian Nicieza: Dan and I are at the same point in our careers where if I’m doing something, I want to enjoy it. I prefer to be paired with an artist I like and an editor I like. I’ve got a bucket list too. I want to cross certain things off. When I did a custom comic with Black Panther a few years ago, I wanted to do it because I had never written Black Panther before! I got to do a New York Jets custom comic that I wanted to do because it was Thor and the Hulk, and I realized I had never written Thor in 30+ years of writing for Marvel Comics.
Dan Jurgens: That’s so weird because I wrote THOR for like seven years–and you are supposed to be the Marvel guy! [Both laugh]
Talk to me about the impetus for centering this story around Mister Sinister.
Fabian Nicieza: I always liked Sinister, from his introduction. He had a Machiavellian nature to him, an insidious approach to what he was doing, unlike the other big villains that the X-Men offered, from Magneto to Apocalypse. Sinister was almost like a shadow operative in the mutant world. That’s a bonus. I had always intended that at some point we would start to unravel this guy’s machinations. We had established that he was long lived. We had hinted he might not have been a mutant at birth...
It was fertile ground because it always spoke to the inherent DNA of the book, the divergence between humans and mutants and what that means. What does that mean for everyone in this fictional world? I saw Sinister as a spider building a web between the two. Most people think he’s trying to control one or the other, or one versus the other, but I always saw it as more interesting, more shades of gray.
Dan, speaking to the visual aspect of Sinister, what’s cool about him and what was fun to draw?
Dan Jurgens: The face that looks like he should play lead guitar for KISS–it’s just fun! I like that he has that sense of dramatic flair. In this story he holds up a wine glass and toasts his enemies; that’s just dramatic fun to do artistically. Part of that look is the color combination, the white face without much in the way of color, the black lips—you get to play around with the emotional expressions a little more. That gives it a unique look. You throw in the... I wouldn’t call it a cape, but the scalloped things hanging from him, it’s a cool look.
Fabian Nicieza: It wouldn’t have been a deep cut in 1993, it would have been a precursor, and that’s how I approached this whole thing. I percolated Black Womb from my very first two issues writing X-MEN that Art Thibert drew, issues #12 and #13.
I used Black Womb in GAMBIT (1999), I used her in X-MEN FOREVER, she’s been lingering in the fringes of my mind. I always saw her as a really unique and interesting opportunity to tell basically the last 100 years of genetic manipulation that would be a flip to the side of the coin that Sinister was presenting. This was a case of me going down to my basement and finding a notebook of ideas I had never gotten to resolve.
Who else did you enjoy drawing, Dan?
Dan Jurgens: Professor X. Over time a lot of people have drawn Professor X as if he’s just a typical bald guy who shaved his head while other artists have given him weird eyebrows, which was kind of fun. Certainly drawing Professor X was a fun part of this. Even getting to draw Moira MacTaggert. She’s been around a long time and ended up being such an important character in the mythos, which I don’t think people would have thought of when she first showed up.
How do you balance the nostalgic factor of a book like X-MEN LEGENDS with telling a story for a modern audience?
Dan Jurgens: From an artistic standpoint, I think you lean into [the nostalgia], you embrace it. It’s called X-MEN LEGENDS for a reason. The title implies that it is a throwback to something else. Looking at the previous issues, whether it was Brett or Walter [Simonson], the reason people like this is that as a creator you embrace it wholeheartedly. I think you might adapt a couple of little things. Right now it appears to me that 90s nostalgia is sort of hot anyway.
Fabian Nicieza: I agree with what Dan is saying as far as how you approach it. It depends on the story that you’re actually telling. This story never felt to me like channeling 90s nostalgia. The Adam-X one certainly did because Brett was drawing it in that fashion. It also depends on the characters involved. This was, for the most part, adult characters in a relatively adult story. There’s a little less of that early 90s excess just because of the nature of who’s in it and what’s going on. If Cable were in it, I’m sure Dan would have been required to draw a two-thirds page shot of him with guns and ammo even if he was just there to have dinner. [Laughs]
Dan Jurgens: There’s our next plot!
Where do you see the place of books like X-MEN LEGENDS in the larger sphere both of the X-Men specifically and comics more broadly?
Fabian Nicieza: I’m a big proponent of the belief that no comic book is more valuable to you as a person than the one you read when you were 14 years old. To me this book has a place because we should always be speaking to the 14-year-old in you. Mainstream Super Hero publishing should always cater to the nostalgia in older readers and hopefully afford something in that story that can appeal to a newer reader too. The worth is in whatever entertainment a reader gets out of it.
Dan Jurgens: We are now dealing with characters that have been around for multiple decades. If I go to a comic store or a convention, I’m seeing readers who are that 14-year-old up to much older and in between. From a publishing perspective, I think there’s nothing wrong, and in fact I think it’s admirable, to say we have different books for different audiences. If we have a group of readers out there who want something from the 90s, from the 70s, whatever, we can give that to them.
If given the opportunity, would you like to pick up on this story in the future?
Fabian Nicieza: I’d be interested in getting to work with Dan again on just about anything, though I’m not sure it would be this particular story…
Dan Jurgens: I agree. I’d add that while this story is left somewhat open-ended, I also really like the ending because it allows the reader to pick it up and go where they want. Sometimes there’s a beauty in the ending that you just want to leave alone, and I do think that’s the case here. It brings it to a nice point. Yes there is stuff left, but I think that’s where you let the readers’ imaginations fill in the blanks.
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