[SPOILER WARNING: THIS INTERVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR "UNCANNY X-FORCE" #35, ON SALE NOW]
The mutants of the Marvel Universe used to be an endangered species that was feared and hated by humanity, but in the aftermath of the recent "Avengers Vs. X-Men" story line the world has changed. New mutants are starting to reappear across the globe and humanity's opinion of mutantkind is still colored by fear and ignorance, but one of the Marvel Universe's most beloved heroes, Captain America, has become a champion of mutant rights. Cap's crusade for human-mutant co-existence is embodied in a new "Uncanny Avengers" team made up of established X-Men and Avengers, but there are some mutant heroes who are uncomfortable being on a super team that lives in the public eye.
These misfits exist on the fringes of the Marvel Universe, unable to fit into the current mutant-superhuman paradigm, but this February they'll join with two other outcasts to form a team charged with exploring and protecting the corners of the Marvel U that other heroes can't go to. They will be the title characters of writer Sam Humphries and artist Ron Garney's all-new volume of "Uncanny X-Force." Comic Book Resources spoke with Humphries about his plans for the new Marvel NOW! series that begins January 16 and how it picks up elements from writer Rick Remender's previous volume of the series.
When Humphries' new volume of "Uncanny X-Force" was announced back in September he was unable to talk about all of the characters in his book because one of them, Fantomex, was currently dead. But in "Uncanny X-Force" #35 the character's three brains were reborn in three different clone bodies, so Humphries can now officially confirm that two of those clones will play major roles in his "Uncanny X-Force" series.
"We knew when I started plotting the new 'Uncanny X-Force' that Rick was going to split Fantomex in three, and we also knew that he planned on 'killing' Fantomex for a certain number of issues. We didn't want to undercut that though. So that's why we've been very coy about Fantomex, the identity of Cluster and how and why they're involved in the book. We wanted the end of Rick's run to have as much impact as possible," Humphries told CBR News. "So we can finally reveal that Fantomex is in the new 'Uncanny X-Force.' Both Fantomex and Cluster are in issue #1 and joining the rest of the crew in this new era of mutant ninja noir. We can also reveal that Cluster is not a 'Lady Fantomex' or 'She-Fantomex.' She's the cloned third brain of Fantomex; an aspect of what used to be 'Fantomex Prime' now split off into an individual person."
The first clues readers were given of the Cluster persona's existence came in the last volume of "Uncanny X-Force" where Fantomex was shown raising Evan, the young clone of Apocalypse, in a virtual reality environment. In these scenes Evan referred to Fantomex as his Uncle Cluster.
"Cluster is the nicest and most nurturing of Fantomex's brains, but that doesn't mean she's the most heroic. I don't know if heroic is quite the right word to apply to any Fantomex. To some people saying you are the nicest version of Fantomex may be like saying you are the tallest version of Danny Devito," Humphries said with a laugh. "'Fantomex Prime,' or the old Fantomex, was constantly wrestling with the three sides of his personality. He had Fantomex, Cluster, and Jean Philipe. Jean Philipe being the dark, evil sentinel brain within him. Cluster calls herself 'the nicest' and that's certainly true. She's the most loving and most in touch with her feelings and her emotions. She's not the rakish, devil-may-care, Fantomex."
Jean Philipe, the clone that embodied the murderous and Sentinel-like aspects of Fantomex, will have a part to play in "Uncanny X-Force" as well. Humphries confirmed he'll make his presence felt in early issues of the series and, like the other two Fantomexes, he will have feelings for another member of the team, Psylocke AKA Betsy Braddock.
"All three Fantomexes have feelings for Betsy, and all three Fantomexes are still Fantomex," the writer remarked. "So you'll see the immediate ramifications of how that dynamic plays out in the first issue of 'Uncanny X-Force.' It will be something that we're going to play with in the long-term future of the book."
Humphries will also explore Psylocke's relationship to death and killing, which changed in the final issues of the previous volume of "Uncanny X-Force." "She's reformed her thoughts on killing. She was someone who used to believe in killing as a means of reaching a goal, but because of her experiences with the last incarnation of X-Force, which was a black-ops kill squad, she's recently redefined those beliefs. That doesn't mean that her new beliefs are carved in stone though. The fact that they're new makes them even more unstable," Humphries said. "Then when you put her on a team with somebody like Storm on one end, who's definitely anti-killing, and Spiral on the other, who has no problem with killing, you've got a situation where Betsy is being influenced by two opposite ends of the spectrum."
Storm's influence on Betsy in "Uncanny X-Force" stems from the friendship they developed as X-Men and the fact that they are both undergoing difficult transitional periods in their lives. "These characters are good friends and they have a long history together. They've spent a lot of time apart recently and that's because their lives have taken very different diverging paths. While Storm was being a queen in Wakanda, Psylocke was off being an assassin," Humphries explained. "Now both of those eras in their lives are over. They're both going through transitions and taking support from one another, but they've landed in different places from each other.
"Storm has killed, but has never been a big fan of it, and Betsy is moving away from the killing, but that doesn't mean they're not going to disagree about how things should be done. And when the stakes get high enough, that disagreement could turn into conflict," Humphries continued. "Plus they're both leaders. Storm has been a leader of the X-Men in the past and Betsy is now a character coming into her role as a leader. This is Betsy's time. It's time for her as a character within the fictional Marvel Universe, but also as a character in the comic book world to stand up and take the spotlight. She's a character who's been through quite an experience with the previous 'Uncanny X-Force' where she saw some things go right and some things go wrong. So she has a lot of strong ideas about what the team should and shouldn't do next."
One of the things Psylocke has strong feelings about is the extradimensional sorceress known as Spiral. Spiral was part of a recent plot that used a brainwashed Psylocke to attack the X-Men, and there's no love lost between the two characters.
"Spiral has done a lot of terrible things in her life, but she's also a character who has been through her own violent transformation at the hands of others," Humphries said. "So while Betsy and Spiral definitely have a lot of unfinished business together -- business that's not going to be solved with a handshake -- they may have a lot more in common than they think."
One of the common traits shared by Psylocke and Spiral is an affinity for swords, but as Humphries hinted earlier Spiral is more inclined to employ lethal force when using her swords. "If Captain America's moral compass points north, then Spiral's points south-southwest," the writer joked. "She's not completely amoral, but she's done thing in the past that are completely amoral. So what we're going to see in this title is a different side of Spiral; a side that we haven't seen before, and a side that can make her a little more vulnerable. That side is going to push her into a position where she has to spend time with people who used to be her enemies. They're also people who frankly she hates and despises. So she's certainly not what you would call a good guy. She's not even necessarily a 'gray hat,' but she is a character who will reveal a new side of herself."
Spiral's teammate Puck will also have his own unique perspective on morality and killing. It's perspective that is colored by the many exploits he's had over his long life, especially his recent escape from hell and subsequent resurrection.
"Puck has had had a lot of experiences in his lifetime. He's an adventurer and an explorer. He's the Canadian Indiana Jones. He was a bouncer in Saskatchewan. He was in Alpha Flight. He was a drinking buddy of Wolverine, and he was in hell. Those are the elements of Puck that we'll be playing up," Humphries explained. "You'll see the smart-ass, the adventurer, the charmer, and the bad-ass. Puck is a guy who even though he's short, has never been in a situation where he couldn't kick some ass."
Puck is unique among the initial cast of "Uncanny X-Force" in that he's not a mutant or a former X-Men villain. He's primarily known as a member of the Canadian super team Alpha Flight, but he does have a number of connections to the mutant community of the Marvel Universe, his biggest being with Wolverine. Those connections allowed Humphries to bring Puck into the book in an organic way and explore his many interesting character traits.
"I think Puck is an under-recognized nexus of the Marvel Universe. He's a character with a lot of connections to a lot of different groups. He's rough and tumble, but he's also very loyal, very trustworthy, and very dependable," Humphries stated. "His most obvious connection with the X-Men is his friendship with Wolverine, but Storm has a long relationship with Puck as well. They've know each other for years."
Puck, Spiral, Storm, Psylocke, Fantomex and Cluster will not be teammates when the new volume of "Uncanny X-Force" begins. Humphries' initial story takes place six months after the conclusion of the previous "Uncanny X-Force" series and is a "making of the band" style story.
"A lot happens in those six months that we will gradually fill in for the reader," Humphries said. "And in this first story we get all the characters together quite rapidly, but for them this is not a natural grouping. There's a web of interdependent relationships that pull and push on everyone. The effect of that will determine whether or not the team stays together or falls apart."
Humphries sets a number of seemingly unrelated events in motion in "Uncanny X-Force" #1 that will bring his cast together. "One of the things that sets the events of the series in motion happens in the six month gap between Rick's last issue and my first issue," the writer said. "Another thing that sets up our initial story is that somebody is kicked out of the Jean Grey School. And the final thing that sets the events of 'Uncanny X-Force' in motion is the discovery of a new mutant."
The emergence of that new mutant brings Humphries' cast into conflict with their initial adversary, the former X-Man known as Bishop, whose belief that the mutant messiah Hope Summers was an anti-Christ like figure led him to turn on the team. When readers last saw Bishop he had failed in his quest to assassinate Hope, and was trapped in a desolate far future world.
"Bishop comes back to the present a changed man. He's changed because he's had some time to think about his actions. He's also changed because of the things he's had to do to survive in the future. So the Bishop that we see in 'Uncanny X-Force' #1 is a character who has been through a lot just to stay alive, and has done things that he didn't particularly want to do to get back to this time line," Humphries said of the time-displaced Mutant. "This is a character who's developed a lot of back story since the last time we saw him. We'll gradually reveal that back story in these first few issues.
"One thing that's been a constant with Bishop though is that he's always been a zealot. Whatever he does, he does it a thousand percent. So whether it's being a mutant lawman, trying to kill Hope Summers, or taking on X-Force, he does it with everything he's got," Humphries continued. "Bishop is certainly relentless and he's enough of a threat to take on the entire team. When we see him in 'Uncanny X-Force' he's at the tail end on a long quest that's taken him across thousands of years. Just to get back to 2013 has taken a lot out of him. So by the time he gets here he's already invested in his mission, and if 'Uncanny X-Force' tries to stand in his way he's not going to back down."
Another element of Bishop's personality that hasn't changed is his penchant for direct action. "Bishop is not going to be moving pawns across the board," Humphries stated. "He's going to sweep the pieces off that board and lunge across the table at you."
X-Force's initial battle with Bishop will unfold in Los Angeles, the city Humphries currently calls home. "If you haven't spent a lot of time in LA you're likely to have this montage in your mind from any TV show or movie that takes place in Los Angeles. It starts with a palm tree and then you cut to things like the Hollywood sign, the stars on the Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive, and a person in a Lamborghini. That's not the Los Angeles we're going to see in 'Uncanny X-Force,'" the writer remarked. "I've lived in Los Angeles for 14 years and I can tell you that's a small slice of what the city is. It's unrepresentative of the people or life in Los Angeles.
"Another way to look at is when someone like Justin Bieber goes to New York City it's all limos, five star hotels, and private admissions to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When you and I go to New York we're doing things like riding on the subway, taking cabs from JFK, ordering falafels from food carts, and waiting in line just like anybody else," Humphries continued. "And when someone like Captain America goes somewhere he gets that Justin Bieber style red carpet treatment. When Uncanny X-Force goes somewhere they don't see that side of an environment. They are the outcasts and outsiders. Nobody is really happy to see them. So that's the side of Los Angeles that they're going to interact with."
X-Force will get plenty of interaction with the City of Angels because they'll come to call it home, but that doesn't mean their adventures will occur strictly in the L.A. area. "They'll explore a lot of the areas of the Marvel Universe, especially the darker corners," Humphries explained. "We're not going to spend a lot of time in the places you'll see in other books like Avengers Tower or the Jean Grey School. We're going to take you to places you don't see on a regular basis."
Artist Ron Garney will bring to life the characters and locales of the first "Uncanny X-Force" arc before moving on to start work on the series' third story line. For the second "Uncanny X-Force" arc Humphries will be joined by a collaborator who's identity he had to keep secret.
"I wish I could tell you who it is," Humphries said. "People are going to love the story that we're doing with this artist. They're fantastic and this really plays to their strengths.
"I can talk a little more about the work Ron is doing though. 'Uncanny X-Force' was teased with the word 'Killers.' That was the Marvel NOW! teaser and now I can finally reveal that the true 'killer' of 'Uncanny X-Force' is Ron Garney," Humphries continued. "Everybody knows that Ron is an amazing artist, a top notch story teller, and a guy who can deliver knuckle blistering action, but this is a different side of Ron Garney than we've ever seen before. He's got this sleek, sexy style that he's been waiting for the right opportunity to bring out and wow everyone. That's what he's done here. He's killing it on this book."
Garney's style and Humphries' vision for the book means when readers pick up the new volume of "Uncanny X-Force" later this month they'll be getting a book unlike the last volume of the series or any other X-title Marvel currently publishes.
"'Uncanny X-Force' is a book about outsiders. This is a Marvel Universe where Wolverine is running a prep school and Rogue and Sunfire are Avengers! This is a post-'AvX' world where Avengers and X-Men are bending over backwards to promote this new era of unity and harmony, but there are still outsiders in this world. There are still scoundrels and weirdos and people who can't or don't buy into the whole Uncanny Avengers idea. All of these characters have reasons to feel like misfits. They're people who don't belong in Captain America's grand plan even if they are invited. These scoundrels and truly weird characters need a home and 'Uncanny X-Force' is that home. There are a lot of books with Uncanny in the title, but this book is going to be the most Uncanny of them all.
"The title X-Force has had a lot of incarnations over the years, from the extreme '90s, the Milligan era, to the Kyle and Yost era, and Rick Remender's black ops era. The only constant through all these eras is change and the fact that it's a mutant book about outsiders," Humphries continued. "This is the mutant book where you're going to have characters go to places and do things you don't see in any other super hero comic book. So we're going to take a left turn out of black ops-wetwork territory and head straight into mutant-ninja-noir territory. That's what the new 'Uncanny X-Force' is going to be about."
"Uncanny X-Force" #1 goes on sale January 16.