Over the past year plus, Marvel Comics "Uncanny X-Force" has hit comic shops with a surprising mix of neon-tinted science fiction, broken hearted killers and critical acclaim. But when writer Rick Remender ends his run with the series in its next, 35th issue, the franchise won't be ending with him. As part of the ongoing Marvel NOW! relaunch of the publisher's superhero titles, "Uncanny X-Force" will be reborn under the pens of writer Sam Humphries and artist Ron Garney.
When it arrives with a new #1 in the new year, the series will feature some familiar faces like Psylocke and some new members including a mohawk sporting Storm, but the plan remains for the book to focus on the darker side of the X-Universe. For more insight into the series, Marvel hosted one of its "Next Big Thing" conference calls with Humphries, Senior Editor Nick Lowe and host Marvel Sales & Communications Coordinator James Viscardi.
"Even though my first issue doesn't come out until January, I'm on pins and needles for Rick's final issue to come out," Humphries started. "Rick's run is fantastic – a book I loved long before Marvel had any idea who I was." His being a fan of the comic before his tenure writing at the publisher made taking the gig a no brainer, though he compared the end of Remender's issues to "dropping the mic and walking off stage" so he had to reinvent things to a certain extent, spliting the overall "X-Force" franchise with Dennis Hopeless on "Cable & The X-Men."
"This is not a book where you have Wolverine and Cyclops and Nightcrawler...this is not the marquee team you've seen a million times before," he said, adding that the cast may come from left field but will have " a complex web of relationships with one another...this is a book for characters and readers who don't necessarily feel 100% comfortable in the limelight of 'Uncanny Avengers'...there has still got to be a place where the uncanny mutants of the world to go and thrive and be themselves."
Talk shifted towards the cast. Humphries copped to having more knowledge in his head about obscure X-Men stories than he does about U.S. history and politics. With that in mind, he pushed for Storm to return to her mohawk phase. "It wasn't just about the punk rock look [in the old issues]...it was about what Storm was going through in her life," he said, saying that he wanted to use the hairstyle as "a symptom of the changes in Storm's life." Now with her relationship with Black Panther falling apart, "She's finding herself in a new place where the future she banked on is no longer there."
On the other side of the coin is returning heroine Psylocke. The writer had to play coy so as to not spoil her role in Remender's final issue. "With some characters, we're specifically picking up on threads Rick has so generously left dangling...and where Betsy's life is at is one of those threads," he said. "She's in a similar place to Storm. They have a lot to bond over." Humphries described her as a survivor both as an X-Man and as a character.
Out of left field, the former Alpha Flight member Puck will join the team, and Lowe called him the "breakout character" of the book while noting that Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso suggested the character for the cast. "The more I thought about him and thought about some key story moments I remembered about him over the years, the more I realized he was a bad ass," the writer said of the diminutive mutant. He called Puck "the Indiana Jones of Canada" as well as a light-hearted addition who would add some wit and sarcasm to a team that can tend to get series. Lowe said Puck would be akin to Fantomex's role in Remender's "Uncanny X-Force."
Spiral, the multi-armed carryover from the Mojoverse, is probably better known to "Marvel Vs. Capcom" video gamers, they explained. "She can't be a part of the whole 'Uncanny Avengers' scheme. She can't go to the school. She can't join Cyclops and his crew. She has nowhere to belong to right now," Humphries said. "Her trying to get by put her in direct confrontation with Betsy and Storm." He added that the history between Spiral and Psylocke will play a big role in her first appearance in issue #1 and beyond. "She's a surprise," Lowe said. "She was the character Sam threw out that completely threw me for a loop...but I thought, 'You know what? That would be awesome!'" The writer added that she has been a villain for years, but "You're going to see a side of her that's never been explored before...she's not just a villain but a victim of Mojo."
On the villain side, future mutant Bishop will return after three years out of the X-Books as he's been "stranded in the year 6,700 A.D....and that can't be fun," joked Humphries. After having failed to kill Hope Summers and confronting that he may have been wrong about his choice has changed Bishop along with the journey back to the present of the Marvel U. "He's been through quite a bit since the last time we saw him, and he's going to come into direct collision with Spiral, Stom, Betsy, Puck and the whole team, and that's going to be explosive."
Lowe promised many surprises surrounding new cast member Cluster (AKA The Lady Fantomex) of whom Humphries had little to say for fear of spoiling things, but he promised clues would appear in the current "Uncanny X-Force" #35. He also said that another member will join the team a few issues in.
Getting into questions from the press, the writer said that he couldn't quite reveal the mission of the team in specifics because Remender's run would impact that, but the overall idea behind the series of it being about the dark corners of the Marvel U would stay intact. Lowe called it, "Mission Impossible as directed by David Lynch."
A high quotient of female members on the team breaks the mold for superhero comics in some ways, though Humphries said, "This is not a 'female force' by any means," but the creative team thought a lot about diversity – making sure there were outsiders from all corners of the Marvel U on the team. Lowe said he was surprised when he realized Puck was the only man on the team, saying, "We just wanted a mix of big, marquee X-characters along with some new ones you can do some new things with. It was just a happy accident."
Aesthetically, the team spoke to the well-known style of Jerome Opeña and other pervious "Uncanny" artists with a heavy Euro-sci-fi style and how they would continue that even with a more traditional artist like Garney. "He comes to us and says, 'Throw anything at me'" Humphries said of his artist. Lowe said they were trying to show a different side of Garney's art with Danny Miki inking him. "Ron is kicking so much ass on the pages. It's stunning, and there's HUGE visuals." Both writer and editor talked up Garney's storytelling chops in pulling off a world build on a stranger style.
The costumes for the run were designed by Kris Anka to fit that stylistic idea of "Uncanny X-Force's" outsider status, and Anka will provide variants such as the one at left for issue #2. The pair also promised that after Garney's opening arc, a special guest artist would join for a few issues to let the regular penciler work on later issues. The artist remained a secret, but Humphries said the artist "Drew one of my favorite Marvel runs of the past ten years."
As can be seen from the preview pages, Wolverine will appear in the first issue of the book, but "Wolverine has moved on to a new era in his life," Humphries said. There will be fallout from the end of Remender's run and Wolverine's connection to X-Force in general that needs to be dealt with early.
Asked whether Psylocke would lead the team, the group played coy. "Betsy is exactly where I want here...she's where I wanted to take over writing her as a character in that she's really interesting to me," the writer said. "In my mind, Betsy is as strong in the Marvel Universe as Wolverine, Rogue, Storm or any of those characters. What that means in the reality of who will lead the team" remains unknown as there are multiple people with leadership potential.
Asked about the wide number of X-books in Marvel's line and how this book played off the bigger titles, Lowe said that what "Uncanny X-Force" taught Marvel is that people wanted good stories with this franchise, and it allowed them to blow the franchise up to two monthlies. He doesn't want the book to be seen as "the eighth X-Men book."
"I don't want to overshadow books like 'All-New X-Men' and 'Wolverine and The X-Men' because those books are being taken over by some really good up-and-comers," joked Humphries. "I look at this book as something similar to 'Ultimates.' My mandate is to deliver something you can't find anywhere else...there's a real freedom in that. There's a real ability to relax and know that your job is to do the crazy thing. Your job is to dig deep into the forgotten stories and characters as opposed to 'You're writing Wolverine's book. Don't mess it up.'"
He added, "I promise you, Marvel will occasionally regret giving me that freedom."
Ultimately, they view the whole Marvel NOW! relaunch as a challenge to make each book as good as any other. Humphries is aware that in a very direct way, he's competing with Brian Bendis, Jason Aaron and other big name writers.
One twist coming to the series is that the book will start in Los Angeles, where Humphries lives and where fewer Marvel Comics take place. "Los Angeles is neglected in the shared superhero universes of comics," he said, noting that usually what's portrayed in the page is an idealized LA like out of "Beverly Hills Cop." The writer wants to show off the broken down underbelly of the city where teams like Uncanny Avengers will only ever stop by tourist attractions.
Finally, the panel was asked about a potential crossover between "Cable & The X-Force." Nothing official was confirmed, but Humphries talked up the fact that Psylocke and company view themselves as the only legitimate X-Force team, and so tensions between the two groups would be high. Particularly, he noted one book starring Cable and one featuring Bishop meant that some old rivalries would have to clash eventually.
"Uncanny X-Force" #1 will ship to comic shops in January from Marvel Comics.