Thursday, July 5, 2007

The 198 Files

At Comic Book Resources, a frequently unnervingly chummy gent named George A. Tramountanas has been conducting a series of interviews with various editors and writers working on Marvel Comics' X-Men titles. Last week, it was X-Men group editor Axel Alonso's turn and, to my surprise, Alonso formulated an official editorial stance on the meaning of the number 198 with regard to the Marvel Universe's mutant population.
One-hundred-and-ninety-eight isn't a hard number. After M-Day, official counts placed the mutant population at 198, but this didn't take into account mutants that were uncountable - either because they were indisposed, thought dead, never revealed as mutants initially, or hidden (either intentionally or otherwise). As such, the number became a common talking point. Kind of like the way the "Hundred Years' War" is never referred to as the "Hundred-and-Sixteen Years' War."

This doesn't mean that there are hundreds of mutants just waiting to be discovered, however. One-hundred-and-ninety-eight, as a count, is fairly accurate. But "198" as a symbol represents more than the number of survivors; it represents the plight of mutantkind.
This shouldn't be big news. After all, it's been one and a half years since a crossover storyline called "Decimation" first introduced the concept. Until last week, though, Marvel had provided numerous varying explanations of the number in and out of their books, and most were irreconcilable not only with each other, but also with the book which had first explained it, right back in early 2006: a sourcebook called X-Men: The 198 Files.

My special interest in the matter stems from the fact that I co-wrote The 198 Files. Specifically, among other things, the task of laying out the meaning of the number 198 on the book's intro page fell to me, in the shape of a mock presidential "Executive Order" and an E-mail message by General Lazer, the character in charge of the Office of National Emergency (or O*N*E), a new branch of the Pentagon created to monitor and contain the remaining mutants.

At the time, I was working from the script for X-Men: The 198 #1, a limited series written by David Hine which debuted around the same time The 198 Files came out. According to Hine's script, 198 wasn't the final number, but merely the "first confirmed number," meaning that there was a possibility that the government had missed a bunch of remaining mutants in its initial count. Also, in Hine's book as well as in various other X-Men titles, it was going to be the number first released to the Marvel Universe public, leading to a group of surviving mutants calling themselves "The 198."

To my frustration, other Marvel books began contradicting the explanation given in The 198 Files immediately after our little sourcebook had hit the stands. And, what was worse, various editors and writers began doing the same when asked about it. So, bearing this in mind, seeing that the new group editor (back then it was Mike Marts, who's now editing DC's Countdown and, I should add, seemed like a nice chap the few times we interacted) has gone back to the source and finally establishes the initial concept of the number as gospel gave me a bit of late satisfaction.

Overall, looking at the book, I'm still pretty happy with how our end of the job turned out, considering the tight schedule and conceptual restraints. While we're at it, though, I should probably extend a belated apology to Eric J. Moreels (of Comixfan), who oversaw the project and brought me on as a co-writer. If I have one regret about working on X-Men: The 198 Files, it's that I spent time being a royal pain in the ass to Eric which I could have invested in the book instead. Still, it was a fun, interesting experience, all told.

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