Dennis Hopeless Talks Jean Grey

Searching for truth and fighting evil can take the heroes of the Marvel Universe to some pretty strange locales — underwater cities, outer space, that kind of thing — but those with telepathic powers have access to an especially surreal and enigmatic environment: the human mind. Entering someone’s mind isn’t something a heroic telepath takes lightly. To protect a person’s privacy permission is usually given, but when the possible solution to saving the world and yourself from the destructive might of a cosmic entity lies in the mindscape of your archenemy, some psychic breaking and entering might be required.

That’s the situation the time-displaced adolescent title character of Marvel’s current Jean Grey series finds herself in. She’s desperately searching for info that will allow her to escape the Phoenix’s plans to transform her into a vessel, and she believes Emma Frost might have some answers. So in October’s Jean Grey #8 writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Victor Ibanez will kick off the Marvel Legacy era of the series with an titled “Psych War,” which finds Jean pulling a desperate heist in the mindscape of one of the Marvel Universe’s most powerful and ruthless psychics.

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Hopeless spoke exclusively with CBR about bringing Emma Frost into the series, what Jean will find in Emma’s mind, the connective tissue between his work with Jean and Cullen Bunn’s work with with the character in X-Men Blue, and the Marvel heroes Jean will cross paths with before “Psych War.”

CBR: Dennis, let’s start with the big news. In Jean Grey #8 your protagonist turns to an unlikely source — Emma Frost — for help in her battle against the Phoenix. What’s it like bringing Emma into the book, and bouncing her off of teen Jean?

Dennis Hopeless: That’s my favorite thing about this book. Bouncing Jean around the Marvel Universe and up against various guest stars in preparation for the Phoenix’s return. We’ve been really focused on making every encounter unique and giving each teacher/foil/guest star a lot of room to shine. From a grindhouse desert gun battle with Hope to an undersea dragon slaying with Namor, Jean is getting a real education in Marvel Universe weird. We very much wanted to do the same thing with Emma for “Psych War”… and I’m really excited about what we came up with. It’s a sort of heist story with Emma Frost’s intimidating mind as the vault. Jean has to get in and get out without one of the scariest psychics in Marvel history catching her.

Jean Grey #8 cover by David Yardin.

So this isn’t a team-up story between Jean and Emma? Is Emma the antagonist of “Psych War?”

This is a sort of Inception story so, yes, at least at first, Emma is Jean’s primary antagonist. She has to figure out how to penetrate the crazy stronghold that is Emma’s mind, find what she needs and get out fast. This obviously isn’t a great plan, but it’s what Jean sets out to do. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s safe to assume hijinks ensue.

Emma has been through a lot in recent years, and is continuing to evolve in the current Secret Empire event. So what can you tell us about the encounters Jean will have as she probes Emma’s mindscape?

Well, Emma is sort of a sleeping dragon in issue #8. If Jean does her job correctly, her dynamic with Ms. Frost will involve tiptoeing out the door with a bag of gold under her arm. I’m sure we can all imagine what version of Emma Jean will encounter if she screws that up. That said, Emma’s mindscape plays a major role in the story. Jean will be bumping up against Emma’s memories, daydreams and nightmares while she’s in there… Which gives us the opportunity to play around with all different sorts of Emma Frosts.

Emma Frost won’t be the first X or Marvel Universe character Jean turns to in her quest to foil the Phoenix’s plans for her. So what can you tell us about the other characters she’ll seek out and adventures she’ll have with them in Jean Grey #4-7?

Issue #4 is a fun barroom Orc brawl with a drunken Odinson. In #5, Jean fights ninjas and claustrophobia with Psylocke. Doctor Strange shows up to perform a séance in #6 and in our seventh issue Jean battles some inner demons with Scarlet Witch. It’s a wild ride that has been so much fun to write.

Jean Grey #8, continues your collaboration with artist Victor Ibanez, who does especially great work with acting and big action. What’s it like working with Victor? It feels like he’s up for and can handle anything, since your plans call for him drawing important characters and settings from both the X-Men books and larger Marvel Universes.

Victor is a dream. He’s super collaborative, we text back and forth almost every day. He can pull off any facial expression which makes the quiet character moments jump off the page. Then he turns around and crushes the huge action set pieces. And maybe my favorite thing about Victor’s work is his world building and scene setting. The underwater sequences in issue #3 absolutely blew my mind. I thought I was giving him a lot of void backgrounds and easy pages… then Victor turns in this rich horrifying seascape with giant plants and sea life everywhere. It’s gorgeous and spooky and absolutely perfect for the story.

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Another collaborator I wanted to ask about is writer Cullen Bunn, who details Jean’s team exploits in X-Men Blue, and is also writing the one-shot Generations: Jean Grey and Phoenix. Over the next few months, how much connective tissue will there be between what you’re doing in the Jean Grey solo book and what Cullen is doing over in X-Men Blue and in his Generations one-shot?

Despite my near-constant claims that Cullen Bunn is a monster (he totally is), he and I are actually really good friends. I have a son named after Cullen. We’ve been discussing our respective plans for Jean from the very beginning. The three stories definitely run parallel and we’re all headed in the same direction, but we’ve made a concerted effort to tell different sorts of stories in the different books. We want readers to have a unique and enjoyable experience if they pick up one, two or all three of these.

Finally, Jean’s preparation for the Phoenix of course begs the question of when we’ll see the showdown between her and the massively powerful cosmic entity? Is that something we’ll see soon? Or is there still a lot of story to tell before you reach that point?

The Phoenix is absolutely where we’re headed. Our whole story is careening ever faster toward that ultimate showdown. But this is an ongoing series, so we get to build toward it at our own pace. The Phoenix is such an epic boogeyman for teenage Jean, we definitely want to make sure the encounter has gravitas. We need to earn it.

I’d like to conclude by thanking fans for reading. Solo X-Men books can be a challenge but the reception to Jean Grey has been overwhelmingly positive. I hear from fans every day. Readers are stoked Jean finally has her own solo ongoing and seem totally on board for the story we’re telling. The response has been equal parts humbling and gratifying. Stick around… Jean has a wild winding road ahead.

Jean Grey #8 is scheduled for release from Marvel in October.

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