Mike Carey: Re-Telling the Origin of The X-Men's Beast

A comics interview article by: Keith Dallas
Besides writing such current titles as X-Men: Legacy, Mike Carey is taking up a beginning of a new sort with the X-Men Origins title, his story focusing on Hank "Beast" McCoy. Carey, writer of such varied titles as Lucifer, Crossing Midnight and God Save the Queen sat down with Comics Bulletin to talk about his latest Marvel work.

Matthew McLean (MM): The last time we spoke was about X-Men: Legacy which is taking readers on a tour of Xavier's early life as he recovers from being shot by Bishop. X-Men Origins, however, is a straight re-telling of the beginnings of some of our fabled and favorite mutants. What can you tell us about the Beasts upcoming one-shot?

Mike Carey (MC): As you say, it is a very straightforward re-telling of the classic origin story which is very much the brief for the Mythos books and for these Origin books which have grown out of Mythos. So I went back to that story which was first told as a backup in Uncanny X-Men during its first run. I was really looking for a handle on it – it's a very compelling story, the story of how Beast comes into his powers and how he joins the X-Men, how he was recruited by Professor Xavier. But it's also a strange story in some ways, particularly in terms of the nature of the villain, who's a sort of set 'em up and knock 'em down evil genius who for some reason chooses to dress up like a Spanish conquistador and has evil henchmen who similarly dress as historic Spanish hidalgos. It's all a bit strange in some ways.

I've stayed very faithful to the events of the story, but I guess you can say that I shifted the emotional weight of the story. I've tried to define what's at stake for Hank and where he is; his personal life, his family life at that time and to just give more punch to the ending. The ending is very strange. There's a decision that Professor Xavier makes that for those not familiar with the story will come as a bit of a shock.

MM: It did for me. But let's save any spoilers for the end of the interview.


MM: How did you end up re-writing the origin for Hank McCoy?

MC: Back when the Mythos line was still running, Nick Lowe asked me if I’d be interested in writing an origin story for anybody in the X-Men cast. Beast was the name that came up immediately because I love the character and I've always loved the character. And because the story does have that weird beat at the end, which is something I've referred to a couple of times in the Divided We Stand anthology and in Legacy, so it was a chance to really go back to the source. But the Mythos line was curtailed, and this Origins series really grew up in place of it, so my Beast story was transferred – very naturally, I think – to this new home.

MM: Why did you want to write Hank's origin as opposed to any other X-Men?

MC: I actually came up with three names, Hank was one of them and the one I was hoping would get accepted. He's one of my half-dozen favorite X-characters along with Rogue, Iceman, Cannonball and Cyclops and… I don’t know who the sixth would be. Too many contenders.

I wanted to write Beast because he's an intellectual and an esthete, an intelligent and cultured man in the body of a monster and that's a paradox that I've always found intriguing and interesting. I love writing him. He's got a very enjoyable register which is part Frasier Crane and part stand up comedian, very slick and yet very highbrow. It's a nice mix.

MM: He's definitely got his own wit about him.

MC: Yeah. But at rock bottom he's kind of a tragic character because of what he's lost, because in order to become a super-hero he's had to become more and more this savage figure. There's a moment I keep going back to, in Grant Morrison's run when Jean Grey compliments him on how well he's looking. Hank holds up his hands, with these three-inch claws, and says, "You remember me when I could play the guitar."

MM: That's a well put moment. Hank's been around since the beginning. I mean, the beginning. What are the challenges you face as a writer when handling a venerable and beloved character of this type?

MC: Most of the time when you're writing comics, particularly mainstream comics, you're dealing with other people's characters so you get used to looking at what's already there, picking out what you think is the kernel, the absolute core of the character and writing to that. I've always tried very hard not to be the guy that comes in and tears down existing continuity in order to scrawl their name all over a book.

With the X-Men, you're absolutely right, because there's 40-plus years of continuity and Beast has been there for the whole of that time, so you're aware that he has a huge fan base and people will literally be picking over every word and making their own judgments on whether he's acting in character or out of character. That is a challenge. Fortunately, it's also great fun. You write with respect, you write with sensitivity and you try to write with love.

MM: I guess if you want to stay true to the continuity, that's probably the best way to go.

MC: Well, the other problem you face, of course, is that 40 years is a hell of a long time. And in that time the character would have been through many incarnations. You write what you think is the core of the character. It may not be what other people see as the core of the character.

MM: Certainly. Speaking of the 40 year time span, McCoy originally appeared in 1963, but the Origin story obviously doesn't take place back then. While there are cell phones and hard drives, things of today, there's also things littered around that look like they're from Way Back When. What's it like writing stories in that kind of 'No Time'?

MC: [Laughter] A little bit surreal. You have to develop a kind of Zen mentality.

MM: [Laughter]

MC: This came to the fore, really, when I was writing Legacy because I had a flashback to Professor Xavier's experiences in the Korean War. Which is, of course, canonical, but impossible because if he had fought in the Korean War he'd be in his 80s by now. You have to have a kind of rolling present in the X-Men and I think in a lot of books. The past you have to hearken back to remains more or less static, but your present has to keep pace with the world's present. We weren't consciously playing games with that in the story, but you get to a point where it's not quite the '60s, it's not quite the '80s, so what is it? You have to stretch and work through the double vision. You have to double think.

MM: [Laughter] That seems like it'd be very challenging to me. But I'm constantly stuck in my own present.

MC: [Laughter]

MM: OK, so since we've gotten far enough into this that we can put a big SPOILERS WARNING, I'd really like to get your take on the origin of the Beast, particularly since there is a very interesting choice that Xavier makes when he comes in at the end. Would you like to talk about that?

MC: Yeah. Basically when he recruits Beast, Xavier says that he can excise him from his own past, that he can extract him from this town, his relationships, this life he's grown up with. "I can make it so no one remembers you, no one misses you."

MM: Including his parents.

MC: In my version including his parents, yeah. And Beast – who is at a very vulnerable stage right then - just accepts this. But more to the point, Professor X kind of takes it for granted that he will accept this. He does the magic while he's making the offer. It's the most extreme use of Xavier's power in the early issues of the X-Men, and it’s an extraordinary moment. It's a life altering moment in the most visceral sense possible. I think it's one of the most fascinating beats from those early stories. When I wrote the Beast story for Divided We Stand I had him rescue a few very trivial artifacts from the mansion, just a few relics from his past, basically because there's nothing else for him to hold onto. At that moment, he's completely uprooted. In Legacy I have Emma Frost ask Xavier, "Why did you do this? Was it just because you could?" Just the sheer hugeness of using that power, it's scary. And I think you have to play it with its full weight to make that scariness as real as you can.

MM: Something you just touched on definitely struck me when I was reading the story is the fact that Xavier performs this act before he gets consent from the Beast on whether or not this is something that he wants. Why do you think Xavier chose to do this?

MC: We are dealing with a younger incarnation of the professor. I guess he's absolutely convinced of the rightness of his cause and that this is the best thing for Hank. He's kind of heavy handedly and paternalistically taking charge of Hank's life. I guess that it's a hallmark of the professor's formative years, that the sense of his mission is so great that it overrides any purely personal considerations. He's as heavy handed with the X-Men as he is with himself. He expects nothing less than absolute commitment from them all the time. He's an extremist, in his way. An extremist doesn't worry about the fine details.

MM: [Laughter] That's certainly true. So when does the book come out?

MC: September 3rd.

MM: Great. Is there anything you'd like to add?

MC: Well, I'd like to put in a plug for James Woodward's artwork. This is a fully painted book, and it's really amazing. The danger with painted art is that while it's beautiful to look at you can sometimes lose the organic flow of the storytelling. It can become quite static. But this is anything but static: it's great visual storytelling.

If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to check out more of the interviewer's work at http://madbastard.hypersites.com

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