Published June 16, 2023

X-Men: Grant Morrison & Jonathan Hickman on 'Dancing Between the Raindrops of Continuity'

At Marvel Unlimited's 'X-Men: 60 Uncanny Years Live Virtual Event,' writers Grant Morrison and Jonathan Hickman discussed the ways they honored X-Men tradition while building something new.

To commemorate the X-Men’s 60th anniversary, NEW X-MEN writer Grant Morrison and Krakoa architect Jonathan Hickman sat down with This Week in Marvel host Ryan Penagos for Marvel Unlimited's X-Men: 60 Uncanny Years Live Virtual Event to discuss their respective work and memories on the title. From unused story ideas to the way they see the X-Men within the larger Marvel Universe, this engrossing discussion is essential viewing for any fan of Marvel’s mutants. Here’s a recap of their conversation about the X-Men’s continuing legacy.

“It was a really exciting time,” Morrison recalled, observing that Editor in Chief Joe Quesada was bringing in new talent and launching initiatives like the MARVEL KNIGHTS publishing line at the time they joined NEW X-MEN. “We were given carte blanche to revamp this whole thing and it was so exciting and there was so much energy. I think everything came from that energy, the freedom of it. My goal for X-Men was to first make it more contemporary. I thought it deserved to be in the 21st century; it was the turn of the millennium.”

“I thought we needed a new way to look at these things. X-Men had been a Super Hero comic for a long time, with battles, costumes, and big Super Hero things,” Morrison continued. “I saw the potential to make it more of a science fiction story. That was the original power of the X-Men, the science fiction thing.”

With the original X-Men attending a private school together, Morrison didn’t see Marvel’s Merry Mutants as traditional Super Heroes like Spider-Man or Thor and began thinking about how that sensibility would translate to modern audiences.

“My thinking was they would be an emergency rescue team for the mutants and mutant culture worldwide,” Morrison explained. “It’s not just about fighting battles all the time; it’s about helping people and bringing people out of danger into the safety of the school.” They aimed to evolve X-Men from a standard Super Hero slugfest to one about science fiction and culture, while retaining all the fan-favorite heroes that readers have loved for decades.

Hickman's entry into X-Men lore happened on a family vacation in 1980, when he picked up an issue during the “Dark Phoenix Saga.” Regarding the Chris Claremont and John Byrne run as more than simply formative, Hickman revealed X-Men was the first Marvel title he really kept up with as a reader growing up before he expanded to the rest of the Marvel Universe, which later informed his creative approach to writing such iconic characters.

Hickman admitted that the titles he worked on at Marvel prior to HOUSE OF X (2019) and POWERS OF X (2019) were characters and teams he didn’t actively read growing up. DAWN OF X marked the first time Hickman drew upon story ideas for characters that had been percolating for “20-30 years,” and he found it easier and faster creatively to explore than some of his previous work. 

Morrison’s run on NEW X-MEN (2001) introduced the notion of mutants gaining secondary powers, most notably when Emma Frost underwent a nigh-indestructible diamond transformation. For Morrison, this was more for storytelling convenience, as they had wanted to use Colossus in their story but were unable to do so at the time. Deciding Frost’s white attire and upper-class demeanor lent itself to diamonds, Morrison made the change to the character while realizing it opened a whole new realm of possibility for mutantkind.

Since the X-Men have so much established history, Morrison found it “essential” to honor everything that came before, especially because he saw the Marvel Universe as “more coherent” than other shared comic book universes. Hickman called this “dancing between the raindrops of continuity” a major part of modern myth-making. Hickman referred to continuity as “the cool stuff that people remember and is the glue” that stands out from different characters’ history and legacy. In writing the X-Men, Hickman's intent was to build on the nostalgia surrounding the title, while also presenting it in a “shiny and new” way for readers.

In reflecting on their NEW X-MEN (2001) run, Morrison shared that the one character they wanted to do more with was Siryn. Morrison wanted to give Siryn a place on the team, drawing from her Celtic heritage as “a fighting Irish woman” on the X-Men. Nevertheless, Morrison is grateful they got to do stories with their other favorite characters, and particularly that they got the chance to work Multiple Man into their overarching story.

Morrison’s run on NEW X-MEN (2001) ended with an adventure in a dystopian alternate future, with a variant of Beast taking on a terrifyingly antagonistic role. Despite this, Morrison doesn’t necessarily see Beast as a villain in and of himself.

“I always saw him as vulnerable,” Morrison pointed out. “The thing about Hank McCoy is that he was always presented as the loquacious, happy-go-lucky character and then he became a little darker when Jim Starlin turned him into the furry Beast, but then he became happy again in AVENGERS. Basically, I’m looking at this bipolar kid. It’s not so much that he’s a villain; he just falls into bad situations and that makes him more human.”

Morrison noted that Beast’s poor choices and attempts to overcompensate made his heel turn all the more heartbreaking, but they still don’t see him as an out-and-out Super Villain. Hickman concurred, describing Beast as “the sweetest guy” with “the best heart” who was put in a “series of impossible decisions” that has broken him somewhat. Without going into specifics, Hickman also noted Moira MacTaggert wasn’t originally intended to be a major villain in DAWN OF X, but that her role changed as the story developed.

With that, the discussion closed with a few fun fan questions regarding Cyclops’ dancing prowess. Morrison donned their own pair of ruby sunglasses to offer their take on Scott Summers' dance moves, with Hickman deferring to Morrison’s expertise.

Did you miss Marvel Unlimited's X-Men: 60 Uncanny Years Live Virtual Event? Check out more panels from the event: Editors Jordan D. White & Lauren AmaroChris Claremont, Walter Simonson, & Louise SimonsonRob Liefeld & Marc Silvestri

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