Rush to ‘Judgment Day’
We speak to event creators Kieron Gillen and Valerio Schiti about the enormous conflict between the Avengers, the X-Men, and the Eternals!
The wait comes to an end as A.X.E.: JUDGMENT DAY (2022) #1 unleashes upon the world and brings the X-Men and Eternals into combat with the Avengers attempting to play peacemaker. ETERNALS (2021) and IMMORTAL X-MEN (2022) writer Kieron Gillen has the reins on this event while exemplary artist Valerio Schiti also brings “Judgment Day” to life.
We spoke with Gillen and Schiti on everything to expect as JUDGMENT DAY rocks the Marvel Universe!
For those coming in late, give us the pitch for A.X.E.: JUDGMENT DAY…
KIERON GILLEN: I wanted to do a big emotional end of the world epic. In one sentence, it’s probably “a conflict between the Eternals and the X-Men explodes into something much more dangerous.” It’s got three solid acts. It’s an event that absolutely grows from all the books. In X-MEN (2021) #12, the fact that the X-Men have immortality has just gone public. How does everybody respond to that having been kept secret? That’s one of the inciting incidents.
Over in ETERNALS (2021), we’ve seen the erosion of their society and leadership. In issue #12, Druig is in far too big a pair of shoes and is desperately trying to prove his position. He’s discovered that according to some Eternal logic, mutants count as Deviants. The Eternals’ job is to fight Deviants, so it’s their religious duty to go to war here.
Then the Avengers are over here going, “You guys have been up to what?!” [Laughs] And that’s our first act. It’s a big X-Men/Eternals war with the Eternals very much the aggressors, and the Avengers trying to make sure they don’t kill the planet.
The attempted solution is act two, which is somehow more apocalyptic than act one.
As both the ETERNALS and the IMMORTAL X-MEN writer, was this story something you pitched or were you brought on when it was fully formed?
KIERON GILLEN: [Editor] Tom [Brevoort] reached out and asked if I had any ideas for an Avengers/Eternals/X-Men crossover. Basically, I was one of the busiest people in the Marvel Universe at the moment and he asked if I had an idea for an event. I’d already been planning a much quieter Eternals/X-Men war. That kind of story, which I was going to do in IMMORTAL X-MEN, became a lot more overt. [Laughs]
How did you come to be involved in the project, Valerio?
VALERIO SCHITI: I was still working on INFERNO (2021) when Tom Brevoort asked me to join Kieron on JUDGMENT DAY. The pitch was so good that I immediately started to think about this new adventure; it was so exciting that I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. But at the same time I had to complete the X-Men event. I was in the middle of a beautifully written action-packed and dramatic story. I really loved the script by Jonathan Hickman for INFERNO too, so basically my brain was split in half!
I needed all of my concentration, to put aside my excitement for JUDGMENT DAY for a while and focus on “one event at the time.” Even now that I have almost completed both the events I can’t believe how lucky I am, as an artist, to have this kind of problem!
Talk to me about the unique position of writing both the Eternals and the X-Men regularly. So, you’ve got two thirds of this equation covered, but then also working in the one group you don’t normally work with, the Avengers.
KIERON GILLEN: I’ve gotten to wear multiple hats. Being the Eternals writer is different from being the X-Men writer, and it’s definitely different from being the writer of the event. On the infamous X-Men group chat, I have to approach things both as the IMMORTAL X-MEN writer as well as the ambassador of an event which needs certain things from the X-Men books. There are a lot of hats to wear. However, since I’m wearing all the hats, I know what the team on the other side wants. Especially because I’m the only Eternals writer. [Laughs] The Eternals writer can’t complain about JUDGMENT DAY derailing his comic!
AVENGERS (2018) being somewhat out of my orbit actually makes it useful. Jason Aaron has been telling a defined story and we’re not derailing it. At the same time, I’m using the setup in AVENGERS to my advantage. They’re the outsiders. The X-Men are keeping secrets. The Eternals are dealing with the existential crisis that their existence is pointless. Those are the two sides of the war and then the Avengers are outside of it, but they’re connected by living in a Celestial and knowing everybody who’s involved.
The first issue of JUDGMENT DAY is the Avengers catching up with what the hell has been going on. I’ve got the Avengers as viewpoint characters. When Iron Man is freaking out over something, you know it means something. In some ways this is an Avengers procedural. “We’re not mutants and we’re not Eternals, but we are humans,” and that’s kind of what the Avengers are.
What sets JUDGMENT DAY apart from other events you’ve worked on, Valerio?
VALERIO SCHITI: Lately a lot of Super Hero books are revolving just around Super Heroes. A “human” point of view is very important because it makes the story relatable and it helps to make clear the scale of what’s happening. A building exploding might not be a big deal for Thor, but it is for you and me! So this is what makes JUDGMENT DAY different: the reader can feel the danger because normal people are involved, and the story is engaging because it’s not just about Super Heroes, it’s about people. It’s about us.
With the Avengers, the Eternals, the X-Men and more all fighting for panel space, how do you decide who gets the love, especially in the main JUDGMENT DAY book?
KIERON GILLEN: That’s the real problem. If you just have all the characters it becomes emotional noise. You need characters to carry the story, characters with viewpoints, including people we hate—the villains also matter. One of the advantages of me writing so many books is if I have a story for, say, Emma Frost, I can move it elsewhere if I need to. You realize whose story it is, and you want to keep an equal number from each side.
For the Avengers, it’s basically Captain America and Iron Man, they’re our two main characters. The Avengers are split between a fighting team and a science team, so I needed one from each. Thematically, it makes sense. The book is called JUDGMENT DAY, and their respective views on judgment and justification are interesting. The iconic symbol of all that is good in the Marvel Universe and this deeply flawed workaholic. I miss Tony, so I wanted to give him another shot, and I’ve barely written any Cap.
X-Men—people probably won’t guess who I consider the main characters. I thought Jean Grey was really interesting. Nightcrawler is more important than he appears. With Nightcrawler there’s a bit of faith and belief built in. I don’t want to say Mister Sinister is a lead, but he’s an important character.
Over in Eternals, Sersi has some really deep cut X-Men connections that people might not know. Also, she was an Avenger. She’s a conflicted, interesting, messy person. Ajak and Makkari, but mainly Ajak. If you’ve been following ETERNALS, Ajak is in a really tormented and awful place. She wants to build new gods. She’s absolutely engaged in the plot.
Those are the main six I focus on, but the supporting cast is really interesting. Druig is the leader of the bad guys, and he’s a major player. Uranos—who would be stupid enough to release him? He’s really interesting. Magneto, Destiny, Exodus—Exodus became way more important. These are all interesting characters circling the main plot. There are a few characters you haven’t even met yet. Have I said Moira MacTaggert? Moira is in the mix.
The six I mentioned are the backbone, the rest are useful supporting players who become bigger or smaller as the plot goes on.
VALERIO SCHITI: I love to draw the bad guys and so far I’m really enjoying Mister Sinister and Uranos. There’s also another creepy character that I love to draw, but I guess we can’t talk about him yet…
Were there any characters who surprised you that maybe weren’t a big part of the initial plan, but got more time because they were fun to write?
KIERON GILLEN: There’s more Logan than I expected, he just keeps sticking his claws in. [Laughs] Exodus from the IMMORTAL X-MEN side. He just kept turning up as a useful sort of foil. Exodus is a bit obscure, as far as the people outside of the X-Men readers don’t really know him and will be wondering who he is. You know how when you’re a kid and you pick up a crossover there’s that one character you don’t know? That’s Exodus.
Some of the supporting cast is great. There’s a Greek chorus. Human perspectives. It’s easy for these crossovers to get too cosmic. For me the Marvel Universe is about having a slice of New York City. There’s a way to refresh Super Heroes by grounding them. What does it feel like to have Spider-Man swing by you on the street? Having these viewpoint characters, they’re interesting. Some of them are the emotional heart of the book.
Kro the Deviant comes in and has a nice moment. There are moments like that where characters come in and kill it.
VALERIO SCHITI: At the beginning I was very scared of all the Eternals and in particular I was worried about the Uni-Mind. I was afraid that I wasn’t able to depict that as [ETERNALS artist] Esad Ribic did: a powerful, scary, organic apparition. Turned out that struggling with the proportions of that huge screaming brain was actually very cool!
Valerio, are there any costumes or looks you’ve been able to play with a bit?
VALERIO SCHITI: Yes, there is! I’d love to talk about it but I’m afraid that this would be a huge spoiler. All that I can say is that it’s the costume for a character that I love, that I had a lot of freedom, that I changed a lot of things, and that I did two new outfits for him. Be prepared!
Kieron, is this the first time you’ve worked with Valerio? How has the collaboration been?
KIERON GILLEN: After I left JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY (2011) it carried on as a Sif book and Valerio was the artist. That was the first I saw of him and even then I knew he was going to be something. After a decade to be able to work with him is amazing.
It’s going well. Valerio is so smart. When I say “smart” I mean that he’s a really interesting storyteller. He’s doing career best work here. Because he makes it look so easy, I have not shied away from writing hard stuff. [Laughs] Sorry, Valerio!
JUDGMENT DAY #1 starts off in New York and I was thinking a lot about the original ULTIMATES. That was one of the things about ULTIMATES is they would do a splash page in a living city to ground it. But then you get the high level stuff, truly cosmic and berserk, and that’s what [Valerio] is giving you, he’s giving you the entire Marvel Universe.
And how have things been on your end, Valerio?
VALERIO SCHITI: Kieron is one of the kindest, funniest, and more professional writers that I have ever worked with. I am a huge fan of his work but unfortunately we didn't have the chance to work together until JUDGMENT DAY.
I was very surprised by his friendliness and his willingness: he involved me in the creative process, he made me feel more than just a “tool to draw,” and even if we haven’t met yet, we also shared a few good moments talking about our lives and not just about our work. Also he’s always on time with the script, which is not as obvious as one might think. Plus, he made an awesome playlist on Spotify for this event!
What are you most excited for people to see in JUDGMENT DAY #1?
VALERIO SCHITI: I can’t wait to show to the readers my take on the Eternals, because it’s the first time that I had the chance to draw them. Also the colorist Marte Gracia did an impressive job on this series, he really outdid himself. The lights and the colors that he used are so epic, the perfect choice for a huge event like this one.
KIERON GILLEN: JUDGMENT DAY #1 is a steamroller of an issue. It hits scene after scene after scene. It hits like HOUSE OF X but as a major crossover movie type event. It’s hard to separate out. It feels like a machine. It feels like it motors. A lot is happening in every single panel. When the Hex arrives, when Uranos arrives, what the Uni-Mind does, Jack of Knives, Sersi’s dinner date going terribly, Cap doing the right thing, what Ajak does to Sinister. [Laughs]
My favorite minor thing about it is that for the whole comic, Druig is eating a bagel. I was thinking of the bagels at the Marvel retreats, because Druig is like a guy writing a mid-level book who is handed an event. I suppose I’m Druig, the bald, evil guy. So let’s have Druig eat a bagel. That grounds him. Let’s make him a person. He’s a Super Villain, but he’s also a guy eating a bagel, and that says a lot to me about the tone of the book.
I just want people to thrill. A lot of it is just Valerio. See what Valerio and Marte do. It’s a love song to what Marvel events do. This summer we’re going to make your lives better even if we have to end all life on the planet. That’s the plan.
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