INTERVIEW: Rachel Edidin and Miles Stokes X-Plain The X-Men (but will they survive the experience?)

Some of the best comic-book discussion these days takes place in the world of podcasting, with all sorts of different people now taking up a microphone and talking up the world a storm. We have reviews and news discussion from podcasts like House to Astonish or Wait, What; long-form interviews on Let’s Talk Comics, Word Balloon or Make It Then Tell Everybody; and comic creators drinking wine on a boat on Decompressed (they talk about comics too!)

But if you’re looking for a long-term discussion on the ins and outs of Chris Claremont’s Mighty Mutants – which I assume is likely one of the main things any of us are looking for in this life – then your port of call simply has to be ‘Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men’. Hosted by Rachel Edidin and Miles Stokes, the podcast started earlier this year and has quickly whipped up a passionate fanbase.

With each episode picking a period of time and delving into it, explaining the characters, their progression, and the stories they appear in, the podcast has set itself a tremendously difficult task – of making decades of storytelling accessible for everybody. But rising to the challenge, the pair have so far managed to get through the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby era unscathed, and have now launched headfirst into Claremont’s turn on the series with no fear whatsoever.

Clearly, these are two highly impressive podcast presenters. And, brilliantly, they both kindly agreed to talk to The Spire about how the podcast got started, the ups and downs of the X-Men, and their newly-launched Patreon campaign. Read on!


Artwork of Edidin and Stokes by Ming Doyle

Steve: Why did you decide to X-Plain the X-Men?

Rachel: Someone had to!

Steve: Are they really that confusing?

Miles: Any long-running shared superhero universe gets pretty gnarly after a decade or five, and the X-Men books are complex even in that context. You’ve got time travel, clones, millenia-long conspiracies, and an ever-increasingly casual attitude toward death and resurrection. Combine that with an ever-expanding lineup of X-books, and it can be almost impossible to keep everything straight.

Steve: Would you say that’s a particular problem for Marvel? Or do you think there’s a charm in having Wikipedia open while you read your first ever X-Men comics, to help learn backstories and origins?

Rachel: I think it’s a problem fairly common to shared-universe characters who’ve been around for the better part of a century. If someone did a similar podcast with the DCU, I’d listen in a minute, because I am so completely intimidated by that timeline that I don’t even know where to start.

Miles: There’s nothing wrong with Wikipedia, though – it’s like having the appendixes handy for a Game of Thrones sequel. Sometimes you just can’t remember who’s a psychic clone of who.

Steve: Do you think that the current X-Men books are fairly daunting for new readers?

Rachel: Again, I think that’s a problem pretty common to any series with as much history as X-Men. The series currently running are a pretty balanced mix of continuity-heavy and newcomer-friendly titles–we’re actually going to be looking at those at length this coming weekend!

Miles: Yeah, Marvel’s done a decent job at keeping storylines from getting too tangly lately, but readers familiar with what’s gone before will definitely catch more cool details and a greater context.

Steve: So on Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men – each week you take a stretch of comics, and delve into them, going on various associated tangents each time How did you decide on that format for the show?

Rachel: We looked at ways to organize it, and this–working mostly chronologically, with occasional digressions based on theme, characters, tie-ins, or guests–seemed like the way that’d make the most sense. Whether that will continue to hold true once we get into eras with multiple x-titles–which’ll happen very soon–remains to be seen, but it’s gone pretty well so far.

Miles: A lot of it’s been organic, honestly – we tried a bunch of different formats early on, sometimes focusing more on concepts and sometimes on a chunk of continuity. Different runs lend themselves to different formats: the Silver Age made it easy to gloss over unimportant details, but the Chris Claremont era – what we’re currently covering – is dense enough with important stuff that we find ourselves getting much more into the nitty-gritty.

Rachel: Oh, man. Remember that brief period when you were pushing for doing an issue an episode? We’d still be in the Lee/Kirby run!

Miles: I like to think I’m a wiser man now. I don’t think it would be possible to talk about Factor Three for that long.


Steve: Does that chronological approach mean you have to always be conscious of looking ahead, knowing that almost every story has been retconned or changed somehow by future stories?

Rachel: Sometimes. Giant-Size X-Men #1–the place where we’ve done this most visibly–was a very visible, very big-deal one-shot event, and a later miniseries was published explicitly to retcon it, so it made sense to do both at once; plus, we’d reached a point in the podcast where we really needed a clear example of a big retcon; so that was a bit of a perfect storm.

With other stories, like the Dark Phoenix Saga, we’ve mentioned retcons in passing, but mostly looked at the impact of the story in its context. Either way, we do a lot of research.

Miles: It’s kind of a choice each time. The Dark Phoenix Saga, like Rachel said, works a lot better if you look at it in isolation of the mountain of retcons that have piled up about its events since, so we just mentioned in passing that we’d come back to what “really” happened.

Steve: As you’re going chronologically, are you worried about the fact that you’re years away from being able to talk about Pixie, the best member of the X-Men?

Rachel: Are you going to hate me if I tell you that I’m not much of a Pixie fan? I don’t have anything against her–I just have trouble caring about her when she’s not drawn by Skottie Young.

Steve: Whoa now.

Miles: It’s hard sometimes to not go off on huge tangents about stuff we love that’s coming later, and to not rush to get to stuff we’re excited about covering. Fallen Angels? The Asgardian Wars? I almost wish we could just say “and then a bunch of 1980s happened” so we could get there more quickly.

Rachel: We could!

Steve: At the start of each show, you take on a particularly difficult character – Cable, Rachel Summers/Grey (Howlett, if you subscribe to my theory that she’s secretly Wolverine’s daughter). Which characters do you think are the most difficult to get a handle on?

Miles: Yeah, Cable. Cable is emblematic of everything that’s wrong/right with X-Men continuity. But that said, it’s characters like Rachel Summers or Gambit or Xorn that are hard for me, simply because they’re so buried by retcons that it can be hard to tell what the official canon is at this point.

Rachel: For me, it’s probably Sage. She’s been retconned so far back, and so ubiquitously that it’s almost impossible to use most of the sources we generally go to to double-check stuff like first appearances. The Grey/Summers kids at least have pretty clear start and end points; it’s easier to track milestones. Their continuity involves a lot of time-travel and clones, but I can still explain it pretty coherently off the top of my head; I can’t do that at all with Sage.

Steve: When will you be X-Plaining Hollow? Because I still don’t quite know what the heck was going on with that.

Miles: Oof. Yeah, speaking of characters whose backstories have overwritten themselves a million times. Probably when we get to the middle of Generation X or thereabouts?

Rachel: I am pretty into that one scene with her and Chamber and a butterfly!


Hollow: art by Chris Bachalo

Steve: Are there any sections of X-Men history you’re really not looking forward to x-plaining? Phalanx Covenant, X-Treme X-Men, etc?

Rachel: Onslaught. Definitely Onslaught. I actually have a lot of fun with the super convoluted continuity stuff, but Onslaught is complicated and boring, and that’s a killer combination.

Miles: See, I feel like Onslaught is at least highly mockable. It’s the long boring stretches of the late 90s when there wasn’t any kind of strong editorial direction that I think are going to be hard. Talking about Claremont’s run is easy; even the story bits that don’t work are at least really out there and entertaining. Later on? Not always the case.

Rachel: She Lies With Angels. Oh, my god. Miles, I just realized that someday we’re going to have to explain She Lies With Angels.

Miles: “Read Romeo and Juliet and staple some wings on.” There. Done.

Rachel: Oh, man, and the Guthries. The Grey/Summers clan at least usually has consistent lineups. No one bothered keeping track of the Guthries for a really long time, so for years every time you saw them, there’d be a different number, with different names, and they’d all look totally different.

Steve: But on the other hand, are there any difficult sections you’re looking forward to getting into, because you’ve got particular grip on them?

Miles: Age of Apocalypse. That storyline has references and callbacks covering it like white on rice. That’s the kind of story that really rewards longtime readers, and thus is the kind of story we can really dig our podcasty fingers into.

Rachel: I cannot wait for Cable. Seriously. Cable is like our credenza: where we get to just show off and be ludicrously virtuosic.

Steve: Is it difficult to avoid ‘mind canon’ – supplanting the written comics with your own secret theories for the characters? Have you ever had to step back and think ‘wait, okay. So even though we all WANT Adam X to be Cyclops’ brother, the comics haven’t *technically* confirmed that yet’?

Rachel: Not really, at least for me. I’m pretty dry and text-driven, and part of what I love about X-Men is the convolution and contradictions. I certainly have headcanon–I think all readers do, to some extent–and when it comes to personal interpretations, I cherry-pick like crazy, but that’s personal; it doesn’t really tie into the goal of the podcast, which is to provide a coherent and entertaining trail guide to the text.

Miles: I’m usually pretty happy to go with what’s textual, but there’s some subtext – Storm and Yukio being lovers, for instance – that I definitely include when I read. But yeah, for the show, we try to be careful about differentiating between canon and our own interpretation.

Rachel: Oh, yeah. Storm and Yukio are 100% doin’ it, and I will fight anyone who claims otherwise.


Yukio and Storm: art by Paul Smith

Steve: Do you have any particular favourite dodgy theories about the characters or stories which you’ve always wanted to see come to the page?

Miles: For a while for me, it was the connection between Ricochet Rita and Spiral, but then they finally made all of that official. Same thing with what the deal really was between Longshot and Shatterstar. Wasn’t expecting the way that one turned out, though.

Apparently I really like Mojoverse stories.

Rachel: I would like Marvel to explain Wolverine’s ubiquity on-page, because there is no canon-compliant explanation for it that would not be hilarious.

Steve: Do you script the show? How much is written in advance?

Rachel: We script the cold opens–they’re so data-dense, and such fast patter, that ad-libbing them would be pretty much impossible–and the closing is the same every time. Everything else is ad-libbed from a varyingly loose outline; we usually get a 45-55-minute show from about an hour of recording.

Miles: Yep – the outline is mostly there just to keep us on track and to help us pace ourselves.

Rachel: Can I complain briefly about the cold opens and how they are literally the hardest part of the show to write? Their point is to fit an incredibly dense amount of information into very little time and very few words, with very rapid escalation. I spend more time researching for those 90-second bits than we do on the rest of any given episode.

Steve: How long-form a project do you think the podcast will prove to be? Do you see this running indefinitely?

Rachel: There’s a lot of X-Men out there…

Miles: Yeah, in theory, it could go on for years. I guess the biggest question is how long we can keep this up, you know? It’s a ton of fun, but it’s pretty time-intensive. That said, it’s also gotten easier as we’ve developed more efficient routines for researching and writing and stuff. I guess it’ll mostly depend on how long people find listening to a couple of geeks babble on about the same comic interesting!

Steve: This month you’ve set up a Patreon page to help support the show. What made you decide to utilise crowdfunding? Is it expensive for you to run the podcast?

Miles: Yes and no. Hosting is the obvious expense, and it’s become more of an issue as we’ve gotten more listeners and have had to upgrade – we definitely had our site down for almost a full day when we got a sudden influx of new listeners from a Comics Alliance article.

Comics are another: we subscribe to Marvel Unlimited, but its coverage is really hit-and-miss, especially for more obscure stuff like miniseries and spinoffs, so we’re mostly reliant on buying trade paperbacks for research since we’ve tried hard to stay legit about acquiring comics.

Rachel: For us, though, the most significant budget issue is time: between research, writing, recording, and post-production work, each episode takes about 6-10 hours, which leaves us with very little time to work on any additional content or features we’d really like to do.

Part of the point of the Patreon is to justify the show becoming part of my freelance workload–if I can budget actual paid work hours toward it, that’ll open the door to additional content we’d like to offer but don’t currently have the bandwidth to support; as well as letting us commission more work from artists we’ve collaborated with.


Logo designed by Kathryn Moody

Steve: What rewards can people find if they head to your page and support the show?

Rachel: Oh, man, a ton. The ones I’m most excited about are the Milestone Goals, because, as an X-Men fan, I am into teamwork, but there’s a lot of cool individual stuff, too. We’ve got fancy foil variant stickers, tote bags, along with a lot of varyingly weird stuff you can get in the mail.

Miles: We’re also hoping to do stuff like Google Hangouts with supporters, Giant-Size Annual episodes, maybe even zines…

Steve: Do you have any other projects underway? Where else can people find you online?

Rachel: I’m a freelance writer and editor, so I am all over the place, both online and in print. There are a lot of projects can’t talk about yet, but here are a few I can: Beginning in August, I’ll be doing a lot of writing at Comics Alliance, which I’m really excited for–it’s a set of monthly columns about areas of comics I love.

I’m co-editing Beyond, which is an amazing anthology of queer SFF comics that’ll be coming to Kickstarter in the next few months. And I’ve just started doing some work with The Digits, which is a fantastic locally produced kids’ show about math by way of a space-robot rock band.

Online, my main professional hub is, but in practical terms, I spend the most time on Twitter. @RaeBeta is my main account, but I also run @WorstMuse–which is significantly more famous than I am at this point–and the podcast’s Twitter, @XplainTheXMen.

Miles: I am a shadow on the Internet. Just as you turn to see me, I’m gone. (I do hang out some on our site’s forum, though!) But yeah – I work full time at a pretty standard day job, so I have a lot less free time online than I’d like and thus not much of a presence.

Steve: Finally – do you have a preferred shipping name? Riles? Machel? Ramilechel?

Rachel: I like Ramilechel, ‘cause it makes it sound like we’ve fused into some kind of eldritch abomination.

Miles: Oh, man – go with the last names, I say. Stedidin! Edidokes! They just roll off the tongue.

Rachel: What about X-Pert/X-Pert, in the spirit of Spy vs. Spy?


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