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The Mary Sue Interviews Jeanine Schaefer, Editor of Marvel’s New All-Female X-Men Series

Today sees the release of Marvel Now!’s relaunched X-Men series, starring Jubilee, Storm, Rogue, Kitty Pryde, Rachel Grey, and Psylocke as an all-female X-team. I don’t think I need to tell you that we’ve had our eyes on this one for a while. We had the chance to speak with Marvel Editor Jeanine Schaefer about the new title: Its origins, its art, its characters, and how she dealt with some of the negative reactions to this groundbreaking new series.

The Mary Sue (TMS): How did the conversation start for this new book/team?

Jeanine Schaefer: When Brian Wood created his team for his run on X-Men last year, it was four women and Colossus. And it wasn’t designed that way, it’s just the characters he gravitated towards out of who was available, characters he thought would be fun to play with for the story he wanted to tell. And as he got deeper into it, we started talking about how you could do this with the X-Men, you could have a team that was mostly or all women and never have to make that a part of the book, or make it about being women, because they’re all X-Men.

When I mentioned the idea to Brian he had been thinking the exact same thing and already had a billion ideas and characters he wanted to play with. So we brought it to X-Men Senior Editor Nick Lowe and Editor in Chief Axel Alonso, and they were thrilled with it. Axel has been saying for a few years that we have a real dearth of female-driven books in our line-up and has been working hard to combat that, giving the editorial team the support and resources to make it happen. And you can see that in our current line-up: Captain Marvel, Journey Into Mystery, Fearless Defenders, Uncanny X-Force.

TMS: Was the fact that a lot of Marvel’s most famous female characters are X-Men, and that the team itself has a large female following, a factor in executing the idea?

Schaefer: For sure! That’s the thing—these women are already heavy hitters in the Marvel universe, and every X-Man is someone’s favorite, so the line-up just clicked into place. I think there’s a lurking fear that by doing something like this we might drive away the core readership (read: dudes). But the X-Men speak to so many people on so many different levels that I think a book like this is for that core readership [and will also] reach out to new readers.

TMS: Sometimes it seems there’s a bit of a disconnect between women who love superhero characters but don’t buy the books for whatever reason, be it the art, how the female characters are represented, etc.. Is that something you considered when putting together this book?

Schaefer: One of the things Brian is doing so well with this book is making sure each character has her own story going on that isn’t necessarily “lady problems,” which is, I think, one of the pieces that can be lacking in stories where women feel cheated out of female characters with agency. To be fair, it takes work, especially when the woman isn’t the hero of the story. But it’s in acknowledging that you need to take that extra step that things begin to change. Make sure all your characters are actual characters. Make sure all these women have personality, have agency, have actual motivation, have meaningful interaction with each other. Like in Breaking Bad, you’ve got a character in Skyler that I think a lot of viewers hated at first because she was perceived to be getting in Walt’s way. But as the seasons progressed the layers peeled back and you saw that she was the hero of her own story, a story that was happening right alongside Walt’s, we just couldn’t see it until now.

TMS: Can you talk to us a bit about the talent involved and why you think they were right for the job?

Schaefer: Not only does Brian write great women, he writes great people full stop, with real interior lives. And he writes awesome team books—I think what he does best really comes across when he lets his characters talk to each other, have real reactions to things. And on top of everything else, his action sequences are awesome! He’s got some fantastic ideas that feel very real when you read them, like you could be watching them in real life. Art-wise, Olivier Coipel is so perfect. I mean, he’s Olivier! Everything he draws has mass appeal. He draws women that everyone wants to look at (and/or be), his action sequences are huge (and a great match for Brian’s writing—he marries the fantastic with reality so seamlessly!), and his characters have so much personality and style. The level of detail in this book is astounding. There’s a sequence in the next issue in Beast’s lab that has so many tiny lines I felt like I was being hypnotized! I could go on. I’m gushing at this point.

TMS: An all-female team shouldn’t be a big deal, especially when you consider we’ve seen plenty of all-male teams, but it is to many people. What did you think of the initial reaction from fans when the news was revealed?

Schaefer: Honestly, most of it was so positive, and I was so psyched! And really, I don’t think anything could have burst my bubble, even if everyone hated it! [laughs] I was obsessively checking Tumblr to see what people were saying. I think I drove most of the hits that week on any Tumblr that so much as mentioned X-Men.

TMS: What did you think of the backlash, the segment of people who called an all-female team reverse sexism or pandering?

Schaefer: I was ready for it. I could have made up pre-printed bingo cards with words like “reverse-sexism,” “pandering,” “countdown to adding men to the line-up,” and “but it’s not okay to have an all-male team, I get it.” I think a lot of that is fear, though. Fear that a thing they love will be unrecognizably changed “now that women are reading it,” or that the safe space they built for themselves is being invaded. I’ve felt that way when a band I love goes mainstream, or when an actor I love gets popular, so I get it, and I try not to read real hostility in their words. But women already are reading comics, and these characters are already much-loved characters. I do think that once the book comes out and people see that this is an X-Men book through and through, a lot of those fears will be laid to rest. And then the next time an all-female team comes out the backlash will be a little less, and then a little less the time after that.

TMS: I know this might be getting ahead of things a bit, but are there any plans to expand the roster going forward?

Schaefer: Right now Brian’s roster is pretty solid. He’s got great stories in mind for all the women on the team, and I think adding to that would upset the balance he’s got going on. Of course, Pixie does keep popping up the background of pretty much every script he turns in, so. [laughs]

TMS: What’s your pitch to get people pre-ordering this title and picking it up every month?

Schaefer: Everything you want in an X-Men comic is right here: Huge ideas, heroes getting put through the wringer, break-ups, make-ups, giant robots, and tons of style.

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  • Laralock

    I just read it. It was SO awesome! Minor unimportant details here and there, but the overall feeling I got after finishing is that the X-Men are a family again. And seriously, if not because this was actually publicized as an “all female rooster”, I don’t think I would have noticed after my third or fourth read.

    Way to go, Marvel!

  • Anonymous

    It was awesome. I do wish they’d made it a little more newbie friendly (since this got some mainstream free press in places like the NY Post!) but the character interactions were all great.

  • Carly Hunter

    Do you think this one would be a good one to read for someone to read if they only know general character backgrounds andmarcs? Or would I just get lost looking at the pretty pictures? :P

  • Talia

    Looks really interesting! It’s been a long time since I’ve read an X-men comic (like years) and really have no idea what is going on in the universe. Is this series a good one for a relative “newbie” to pick up and not be totally confused?

  • Laralock

    I’d say it is friendly enough. One does not need to know the whole 50 years of X-history to relate to the characters. I myself haven’t been a frequent reader and was unfamiliar with certain character there, but knowing his background wasn’t necessary to enjoy the story. Give it a go :)

  • DJRM

    I really want to like this book but I still have a huge problem with Jubilee being a god damn vampire. Seriously the X-men fighting vampires should be a one off thing not something that has this kind of lasting effect on a character. I hope Jubilee having her vampirism cured and going back to being a regular mutant is something that happens very soon in this title otherwise I am not sure how much longer I will be able to read it. Until now I have refused to read any X-title as long as Jubilee remains a vampire. I know that is a small thing that Marvel does not notice but I will stand by it.

  • ACF

    I’m a big X-men fan, so maybe I don’t have the most helpful perspective, but I loved the first issue, and it didn’t really require any knowledge of what’s going on in the X-world. There’s a fair amount of internal politics going on with the X-men right now, but none of it came into play (or looks like it’s going to).

  • Mandy

    I definitely pre-ordered this so hopefully it will show up in my mail box soon!

  • ACF

    I don’t disagree about Jubilee’s vampirism, but I’m not going to lie: that seems a little extreme (or should I say….X-Treme? Probably I shouldn’t, but I still want to). Anyway, I’d sort of forgotten, because it didn’t come up at all in this issue.

  • ACF

    I think it would be fine; the prior plots from the X-men world don’t really come into it at all.

  • ACF

    I was thinking about all the anticipation I’d had for this book, and worrying that it wouldn’t live up to that when I started and had forgotten it all by the second page, as I got caught in the story. One issue in, and I feel like this has already secured its own place in the (fairly large) X-men lineup.

  • Carly Hunter

    Cool thanks :) been in a kind of paralysis of where to dip my toe in for x-men might try this and go from there

  • Anonymous

    First X-Men I’ve bought in a while and it’s off to a good start. I like to see Jubilee front and center, though I miss her usually quick and wicked tongue – hope she gets her mojo back in coming issues.
    Like I said, it’s been a while for me so I was a bit thrown off track by the Sublime guy (who now?) but I can just check out a wiki on him.

    Excellent art work.

  • The Gaf

    Can’t wait!

  • Matt Graham

    It’s my dream line up if Dazzler was there.

  • DJRM

    As I have aged I become increasingly intolerant of stupid things that happen in comics. There are a lot of things I can accept but when you turn a character into a vampire in a title that has never had anything to do with vampires before and make it permanent for this long and even if she does get cured they will reference it later because it will be part of “continuity” actually now that I think about I am overall much less tolerant of the comic book industry’s obsession with its own continuity that I used to be. There was time when I was all for continuity but at some point you have to be willing to let go of some crap. Okay I am getting way off topic but Jubilee being a vampire is just the most obvious symptom of some things in comic books that are just really beginning to bug me. Do they want to get new readers or not? DC obviously doesn’t but I thought maybe Marvel was on their way to making better decisions than this what with their mainstream movie success but then they turn an X-women into a god damn vampire what the hell is wrong with them.

  • ACF

    I don’t know, I liked her in Cable and X-Force; I’m kind of rooting for her to become a permanent or semi-permanent member of that group.

  • Anonymous

    Eh, Sublime seems to be a big part of it and I’m not sure if they plan on getting into more of the details. They outlined it a bit, but…

    Other than that, it seems like it’d be okay as an introductory book.

  • Anonymous

    If you’re ever looking for a good starting point for the modern era, Grant Morrisson’s New X-Men is a good place to start. It seems to have set the tone of the modern X-Men era, and it also introduces some of the characters focused on in this new series (John Sublime). It’s also a focused book, with only a few core cast members, which might be a nicer way to dive in without getting overwhelmed.

    There are some details in between, but if you want to explore the characters, I would recommend the following:

    - I probably wouldn’t normally recommend Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon if the goal is to understand this story, but it is a fabulous read and would probably show up on most people’s recommendations in general. However, I think it’s a bit insular, so it won’t help a broader understanding of X-Men, but the benefit of reading that series is that it 1) is a great run, 2) is the continuation from Morrison’s New X-Men conclusion and 3) is likewise a core cast book without a lot of complicated cross-title continuity. Plus, it will get you familiar with Kitty Pryde’s characterization as she is (basically) now. The book brought Kitty Pryde back from writer’s limbo and used her as a perspective character really effectively.

    - Psylocke is more complicated, and probably best informed by reading Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force run.

    - Rogue is probably best informed by reading X-Men Legacy by Mike Carey (starting with issue #226). He turned the book to focus on Rogue and the eventual control of her powers, which informs her characterization best here.

    - Unfortunately, Rachel’s characterization in Marvel NOW! seems sort of vague. i hadn’t followed much of her recent appearances (Uncanny X-Men 475 – 486) where she was in space. I think you just need to know that she’s the future daughter of Jean Grey and Cyclops, with strong telepathy and telekinesis and a history with the cosmic Phoenix Force. They seem to be writing her as a bit uncertain, which is a bummer, since she’s previously been written quite confident and powerful.

    - Jubilee is a whirlwind of not-so-great recent history. If you ever watched the 90′s cartoon, you’re probably good to go. She’s basically stayed the same, then she got depowered, and then she got turned into a vampire and left the X-Men to learn how to control her vampirism with some monk-like heroic vamps. Now she’s returning home.

    - And Storm, well, nothing’s really focused on Storm like the others that hasn’t been about her hokey marriage to Black Panther that has since dissolved. Just know that she’s a badass leader with a ton of senior authority among the X-Men and general Marvel community.

  • Anonymous

    Well, we all know where she is right now…

  • Anonymous

    Sublime’s weird, because he should be dead. He was introduced in New X-Men and basically revealed to be a human body largely controlled by a sentient bacterial colony (“Sublime”) that has existed since creation, that has a huge bone to pick with evolved lifeforms. It’s been in the background of history, causing war and destruction in the hopes of resulting in its singular existence on earth. It found that mutants seemed to be immune to its machinations or a threat to its existence, so it pushes humans to be bigoted against mutants in a effort to wipe them out. To wit, as John Sublime, it created a whole subculture of mutant-hunters who want to harvest mutant organs and “become mutants” as well as a whole litany of scientific experiments designed to kill all mutants.

    Emma Frost killed John Sublime, but it seems like he keeps showing up as a computer hologram or something. I don’t get his appearance here, because if he’s dead why wouldn’t Sublime just infect someone else to function in the same manner? It’s a “smart” hive-minded bacterial colony. It isn’t “him”. He’s just the vessel. Do they have clones of the original John Sublime waiting for them to use as a vessel?

  • Amanda Murray

    Right. And it’s awesome. Right? RIGHT?

  • Amanda Murray

    Dazzler should be everywhere, always.

  • Emily

    Oh man am i excited for this! I might have to pre-order this just to make sure I don’t put off getting my hands on it. The more I hear the more excited I get and the better it sounds!

  • Carly Hunter

    Thanks for the info will definetly use it to guide my choices of what to pick when I try to figure all of it out :)

  • James Schee

    I thought it was a pretty good start, I wish a bit more time had been used to explain who Sublime was. Hopefully we’ll learn more in future issues,as from their reaction he’s this big bad. Yet this was my first exposure to the character so i was left going ?? on his parts at times.

    Not sure about the cast yet, I read X-Men for years before stopping (until recently) and I don’t even know much about some of these characters(Rachel Grey for instance). Woods could hardly have found characters with a larger and at times confusing back story. I’ll be curious to see how he juggles it all.

  • Anonymous

    I noted that he was called by another name at the Romanian airport – perhaps he does have a new host (all these lantern jawed white guys look the same to me…). Jubilee didn’t recognize him (not sure if she would) but it seems Psylocke picked up on his identity through telepathhy.

  • ACF

    Honestly, I vaguely recalled hearing Sublime’s name before, but couldn’t remember who he was, and I didn’t feel like it mattered. He may be obscure, but that sort of actually works to the new readers advantage, since it’s not assumed they know who he is.

  • Matt Graham

    Did we just become best friends? I think we did.

  • Matt Graham

    Yes, yes it is. Of course, I have a collection of commissions and a statue of the Dynamic Disco Diva, so I’m biased.

  • Penny Dreadful

    you are a legend. thank you. *runs to the comic book store*