Writer/Artist Brahm Revel Delves Into 'Marvel Knights: X-Men' [INTERVIEW]

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Earlier this week, Marvel announced plans to relaunch their 'Marvel Knights' imprint, as a forum for indie creators to leave their mark on some of the company's most famous superheroes.  We got the chance to talk with Brahm Revel, the man behind November's 'Marvel Knights: X-Men' title about the origins of this project and his plans for the series.

MTV Geek: Brahm, you're best known for your indie work for Oni and other companies.  How did you end up taking on this series?

Brahm Revel: Last year I was living on the west coast, so I was able to attend my first San Diego Comic Con. While I was promoting my creator owned book, GUERILLAS, at the Oni booth, a guy from Marvel named Axel quickly dropped by and gave me his card. I later found out that this guy, Axel Alonso, was kind of an important guy at Marvel. I know, working in this field, I probably should have known who the Editor in Chief at Marvel Comics was, but honestly, I follow artists, not editors.

Axel told me he liked what I was doing with GUERILLAS and that he might have a project he could use me on. Over the next couple months I sent some pitches in and we slowly arrived at the story I’m working on now. There were very few parameters or restrictions set forth by Marvel, I was given free reign to come up with ideas, even the choice of characters was more or less up to me. It was too good to be true. So much so that I honestly didn’t think anything would ever come of it. I was just happy to have some new contacts at Marvel and hoped it might translate to some work in the future.

Geek: You're both the artist and writer on this title – how long have you been working on this series, and how far ahead of the publication schedule are you?

Revel: I’m halfway through the second issue right now. All five issues are plotted out but I’m scripting as I go to accommodate new ideas as they come. I’d say we’ve been in production for roughly two and a half months? We took a little more time in the beginning to lock in the story and themes but I think it was well worth the extra effort.

Geek: What can you tell us about the set-up for this title?  Who's the cast, what's the general premise?

Revel: Wolverine, Rogue and Kitty are alerted to the possibility that two young mutants are in serious danger in a small backwater town in West Virginia. A third mutant has already ended up dead and these two girls could be next. But when they get to the town, their presence is not entirely welcomed. This is an area of the country where people don’t like outsiders coming in and telling them what to do and it’s no different when the X-men show up.

One of the girls has no control over her abilities, so she’s been forced to isolated herself from the rest of town in a little cabin in the woods. When the X-men take her out of her self imposed isolation her powers start to go haywire. This forces the X-men to ask two very difficult questions of themselves. How do you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped? And, is the X-men’s presence in this situation doing more harm than good?

Geek: It can be a little unclear with Marvel Knights titles, so is this series specifically in or out of continuity?

Revel: One of the only restrictions that was put on me, was to try to keep it in continuity. It’s my impression that the readers like to have everything match up as best as possible. As I have not kept up with the X-men since the early ’90’s this was initially rather daunting, and was one of the main reasons I decided to invent some new characters that didn’t have epically long histories that I had to make sure I stayed true to. The other idea I had, was to have it take place back in the 80’s with a team and a history that I was more familiar with. But as the story came together, my editor suggested that maybe it wasn’t necessary to have a story about people’s pasts take place in the past. And I think, ultimately, she was right.

Geek: With a Marvel Knights book like this, how much freedom do you have to push the envelope?  Were there moments where you needed to rein yourself in?

Revel: Not really. If anything, maybe the opposite. I grew up reading primarily Marvel Universe comics, and in particular the X-titles. So, when I was asked to come up with ideas for this, I wanted to do an X-men story that had a lot of those elements that I loved as a kid.  To celebrate all the fantastic stuff that can happen in superhero books, not to force the X-men into some kind of darker version of reality. In practice, due to my somewhat ingrained indie tendencies, the story probably ended up falling somewhere in between anyways. It has some angst and murder and drugs play a fairly big role, but I think it’s found a nice balance. So, to answer your question, I think the “Marvel Knights” vibe happened pretty naturally, which, I’m assuming, is what Axel was hoping for when he picked indie creators to pen these series’.

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Geek: As you're both artist and writer, are there ever moments where you find yourself writing in a scene just because it's something you'd like to draw?  Conversely, do you ever edit back your work when you realize the scale of your ideas, and how hard it would be to accurately transfer them to paper?

Revel: In general, when I’m writing, I try to separate the drawing side of my brain from the writing side of my brain for exactly that reason. I don’t want to censor any ideas because they may be hard or uninteresting for me to draw. I tend to think that the flow of the story should dictate what I draw not the other way around. Then it’s my job as an artist to make all that stuff look interesting, and if need be, to figure out ways to draw the stuff I didn’t know how to previously. That’s how you learn and get better.

However, more recently, and specifically for this project, I’ve been making more of a point to amp up the comic book visuals within my stories. As I said earlier, I want this series to celebrate all the craziness that can happen in superhero comics. Comics are a visual medium where anything that we can conceive of can happen. So, consciously trying to inject a little more of the fantastic into my work has been on my mind lately, and this series seemed like a perfect excuse to start!

Geek: Youth and the lives of young people have been essential elements of Marvel's mutant titles since day one.  Was the 'adolescence = mutation' metaphor a central part of the concept for this series, or is the fact that this story centers on teenagers simply a coincidence?

Revel: No, that’s definitely something that I was interested in exploring. Because it’s at that moment in peoples lives that they can be the most irresponsible, and that’s the point where all this power is being dumped on them. Let’s face it, teenagers think they know everything, and I thought it’d be interesting for the X-men to run in to some teens that don’t want anything to do with them. At the same time, nothing is cut and dry, these kids could use their help. They’re on the fringes of society and really don’t have any idea how to control their powers. I think this dichotomy raises some interesting questions for the X-men, who for so long have been an anti-establishment type of group, but who are now becoming the establishment in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to mutants. And when that happens, the rights of the individual can sometimes be overlooked for some kind of perception of a greater good.

I’m not a big fan of absolutes. I like stories that take place in that gray area where no one is completely right or completely wrong. This is that kind of story, and I think that’s kinda what it can be like being a teenager. It’s that wobbly gray area where you’re not quite a kid and not quite an adult.

Geek: What was your first exposure to the X-Men?

Revel: It was in a comic book store. The Ninja Turtles had got me into the comic shops and then I started branching out. First it was Wolverine, and then I started getting into X-men and then all the other X-titles. I think the first issue I got was Uncanny #244, which is a weird one because it was like a girl’s day out on the town. All the X-ladies are out shopping and hanging out and they get attacked by the Reavers or something. But I really got into it, I started getting back issues immediately and collected as far back as around #170 before the back issues started getting too expensive.

I think what I liked about the mutant mythos was it’s simplicity. Unlike Spiderman or the Hulk who have these fantastic origin stories, mutants just changed. It was very democratic, it could happen to you or me, you didn’t have to go to outer space or to a super science lab, you could just wake up one morning and be different. Which is another thing I think I liked about the X-men. They were the freaks of the Marvel Universe, the underground, and everyone loves the underdogs. Am I right?

Geek: Following this, what other projects do you have in the pipeline?

Revel: The main thing I have to finish is the final volume of my Oni Press series, GUERILLAS. It’s a three volume series about a platoon of specially trained chimpanzees soldiers that have gone AWOL in the middle of the Vietnam War. I’m about halfway through that, but I had to put it on the shelf for a while to focus on this. After that I have another creator owner book I’d like to start, but it’d be great if I could periodically drop into the mainstream and do some work-for-hire projects. It’s a lot of fun to play in someone else’s sandbox every once and a while. It sets up an entirely different set creative challenges and it’s always fun to put your stamp on some characters that have endured the test of time and will likely be around long after i’m gone. Nuff said!