Victor Gischler Bloodies the X-Men in ‘Curse of the Mutants’ [Interview]
The Heroic Age of the Marvel Universe has arrived. The Super-hero Registration Act has been repealed. But as the rest of Marvel’s heroes step forward into a brighter, shinier future, the X-Men — who have been fighting for their lives and the survival of their species for some time now — are about to take another turn towards horror in “Curse of the Mutants” in today’s “X-Men” #1 by Victor Gischler and artist Paco Medina, as everyone’s favorite beleaguered mutants face off against vampires.
We spoke with Gischler, the writer of “Death of Dracula,” “Deadpool Corps,” and numerous crime novels, about bringing vampires into the X-Men in the midst of a huge vampire fad, his real feelings about VAMPIRE JUBILEE, and why the X-Men can never have nice things.
CA: I was reading an interview with Neil Gaiman recently, about how he tabled a novel he’d been planning about vampires because of how omnipresent they’ve gotten in pop culture. Was that a concern with the “Curse of the Mutants” storyline?
VG: I think this is different than the “Twilight” vampires. I mean, we’re not blind and deaf to the vampire stuff going on, but there’s a history of vampires in the Marvel Universe. I think this has been a long time in coming, and maybe in some ways it’s lucky that it’s happening right as the trend is going on. Or maybe it’s unlucky, because people are saying, “You’re just being trendy.” But there’s a lot of untapped potential for vampires in the Marvel Universe, and when we started talking about “Death of Dracula” and what vampires would be like, one of the things we said is that we don’t want to disrespect the history of vampires in the Marvel Universe, but we don’t want continuity to be something that traps us and keeps us from expanding good material into better, even more current material.CA: What sort of research did you do into the history of vampires in Marvel comics?
VG: Marvel sent me a bunch of material as an electronic file, and I printed it outf, and I was surprised. Because I knew we’d seen Dracula before in the Marvel universe — he’d tangled with the X-Men before — but there was a lot more vampire stuff… I was like, “where’s this stuff been?” I guess it hasn’t been marquee stuff, hasn’t gotten top billing. One of the things I saw in the research was that there were different types of vampires, and I sort of latched onto this idea of different tribes or different sects of vampires. In a way, what you see in “Death of Dracula,” a lot of it’s a new approach to vampires, but a lot of it is also based in research and what has come before.
CA: How exactly do these vampires function, in terms of the traditional powers and weaknesses? Are they affected by sunlight, garlic, and crosses?
VG: That’s the the thing. That was a pretty energetic debate. We wanted to modernize these vampires and give them a new hip kick-ass look, but we don’t want them running around in daylight or in and out of churches – things they aren’t supposed to be doing. They’re still vampires. We had discussions about crucifixes and garlic and mirrors, and some of these things you’ll see around the edges; we’ll allude to them… We’re not just going to flush these things down the toilet because they’re traditional and they’re important to vampire lore, but maybe we’re not going to have the focus on it. I’m in the middle of scripting the first arc of “X-Men” now, pretty far into it, and so far nobody’s pulled out a crucifix and said, “Back, hellspawn! Back to the darkness with thee!” Nobody’s done that… I’m a huge fan of the Hammer [horror] films, but we’re not doing that. This isn’t Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing; this is something a little new and little more up to date. We’re walking a tightrope with the traditions, but we’re not putting them in the center.
CA: Your background is originally in novel writing, and not comics. How did you make that transition?
VG: When I was writing novels, I had a contract with Bantam Dell to write crime novels, and I was just writing crime novels. I would write one and then I would sit around and twiddle my thumbs and wait for the edits to come in. When I parted ways with Bantam Dell, I specifically went with an agent who handles other comic book writers like Duane Swierczynski or Greg Rucka. And I said, I want to branch out a little bit, and… write comics because I had been a huge comic book reader as a young person. I fell away from it, and was just starting to get back into it. It was a conscious decision.
CA: What comics were you reading as a younger fan?
VG: I grew up on that Chris Claremont run of “X-Men.” That was my introduction to the X-Men, and what I remember them being like. But I think what really captured what I loved about comics the most was the Frank Miller run of “Daredevil.” I just absolutely loved that, and how the art and the story came together so perfectly. Then when I went on to college and grad school, my reading time had to be William Faulker and Kurt Vonnegut, Ernest Hemingway and Edith Wharton. Not that school reading is bad or I didn’t enjoy it, but there are only so many hours in the day, and it was taking up a lot of my time. So that’s how I fell away [from comics]. And when I came back I started reading Punisher again. There didn’t used to be “Punisher MAX,” and I really like this idea of a very adult, Rated R comic. It also seemed like there was a real renaissance of Marvel movies that got me interested. Marvel comic book movies used to just stink, if you remember the old Captain America and old Spider-Man movies. They were just terrible. Then they got better, and that reminded me that I should start looking at [comics] again.
CA: Do you think Claremont or Miller are particularly influential to your work now?
VG: I try not to be too self-reflective. It’s only after seven novels that I can start scratching the surface about how I got to be the type of novelist I am, what my influences are, and things like that. I think I’m going to be doing comics for a while, six or seven years, before I can look back and say how I did it. Some writers are very self-analytical, and it doesn’t mess them up, but I like I could have some kind of brainfreeze if I started looking inward too much. I have to keep focused on moving forward and getting the words down on the page. And at some point in the distant future… When I’m doing my memoirs I’ll allow myself to be reflective about how I did it.
CA: You published a supernatural novel called “Vampire a Go Go” last year; did that work feed into your approach to vampires in the Marvel Universe?
VG: …There is a vampire character in “Vampire a Go Go,” but it’s not really a vampire book. This is a true story: My publisher said, “Vampires are hot right now! Put the word vampire in the title; make it a vampire book.” My original title was “Bad Alchemy,” because 15th century alchemists play a large role in the book. The vampire is actually a strong supporting character, but I didn’t really pick the title. Most of the research for that book was not for vampires, so that didn’t really translate.
CA: What strikes me about “Curse of the Mutants” is the contrast with the rest of the Heroic Age, where it seems to be taking the X-Men in a darker direction again. Why is that? Why can’t they ever have nice things?
VG: That conversation happened as well. We knew there was going to be another book, and we wanted it to be an X-Men title for the Heroic Age, in which the X-Men engage with the Marvel universe a little bit more in a way that they haven’t in other titles in the past. Recently, the X-Men have been fighting for their lives and their existence, but now they’re going to help some other people; now they’re going to be heroes. It’s going to be a Heroic Age X-Men book, but with a little bit of a delay. It’s like, “We’re going to have a Heroic Age! Oh wait, there are some vampires.” Just when it looked like things were bright and sunny and nice, here are these vampires, posing a huge threat. So the Heroic Age is coming for the X-Men, it’s just a little bit delayed while we see what happens… It’s almost like the X-Men had the rug pulled out from under them a little bit. But after this arc we’ll be coming out more into the Heroic Age. They’ve just got to earn it a little bit longer than everybody else. [laughs] You know we like to pick on these guys.
CA: So you’re going to be writing the title past the vampire arc?
VG: That is the plan. But there’s every possibility that I’ll screw it up and they’ll fire me. [laughs] That always could happen.
CA: What X-Men characters are you going to focus on in “Curse of the Mutants”?
VG: We started to narrow down the roster before we knew what the story was going to be, and that didn’t really make sense… You know how things are in the early stages; you’re just brainstorming. They said to start thinking about who you want your roster to be, and once we got going with “Curse of Mutants” and brought the vampires in, it went from zero to sixty pretty fast, and my head was spinning. I was in the middle of thinking, “Who’s my core roster going to be?” And all of a sudden we’re in the middle of an event. For this first arc, it’s all hands on deck. You’re going to see a lot of familiar faces, and then after that, I have a team of five that I’d like to see… Not to give anything away, but I’d like a mix of veterans and popular characters that readers love, and maybe some people that need some more facetime. And while anything could change at any time, I’m looking hard at Gambit, because I don’t think he gets enough face time.
CA: Speaking of characters that don’t get enough face time, what really got my attention about “Curse of the Mutants” was VAMPIRE JUBILEE. Was that another character that you wanted to get back in the spotlight?
VG: That artwork – that’s weird, because Jubilee’s not in the arc at all.
VG: No, I’m joking. She is. But I remember I got a lot of e-mails and tweets about Jubilee. I think we all sort of realized that Jubilee has her fans, and Jubilee’s interesting in her own way. We wanted to find a way to get her involved again that was cool and would get people’s attention and make them open their eyes and take notice. I’m not going to lie and say I’m a huge Jubilee fan, but I don’t have anything against Jubilee. I think I’m more a fan of the Jubilee that’s coming up, because what’s happening to her is very interesting and dramatic and cool. I’ve heard whisperings. I’m a little cagey answering questions about Jubilee because she does figure prominently into the arc.
CA: Well, let me ask this about vampires generally: If you’re a vampire, you’re dead, right? You’re not alive.
VG: You’re undead.
CA: But you’re not alive.
VG: No, I guess not.
CA: That hasn’t stopped plenty of heroes, though, I suppose. Are you interested in that sort of thematic similarity between mutants and vampires, where they’re both outsiders with special powers who seem to walk this line of life and death?
VG: We talked about the fact that humanity – maybe not to the same degree or in exactly the same way – but humanity fears and dislikes mutants and vampires. So we have this strange kinship between the two groups. And that seemed to find its way into the arc.
CA: There are certainly mutants who see their powers as a curse. How different is a vampire, really, from a bad mutant, or someone like Rogue whose powers literally involve draining others?
VG: That’s an incredibly good point. And we talked about that. We talked about how these two groups would relate to each other in some other circumstances. Would they be able to see those similarities and feel some kind of kinship? The similarities are there, but are they enough to mean anything or do the differences outweigh them?