The last time the comic book community saw Andrew Hope’s name in an issue’s credits was in the 1990s as artist on the short-lived series “The Shadowmen” written by Mark Millar. After spending over a decade away from comics, Hope returns as the writer of “Fantomex MAX,” a new Marvel Comics series that gives the MAX treatment to the “Uncanny X-Force” mainstay. Joined by artist Shawn Crystal with covers by Eisner Award-winner Francesco Francavilla, Hope plans to take a substantially different look at the character for his solo miniseries.
Created by Grant Morrison and Igor Korday in 2002’s “New X-Men” #128, Fantomex is an escaped subject of the Weapon Plus program — an offshoot of which is the infamous Weapon X. Appearing sporadically in various X-Men titles since his creation, Fantomex eventually found a regular home with Rick Remender’s fan-favorite and critically acclaimed run of “Uncanny X-Force,” serving as a dedicated member of Wolverine’s black-ops X-Men squad.
In order to shed some light on Fantomex’s first solo series and how the French thief adapts well to the MAX format, Hope spoke exclusively with CBR about his work on the book, discussed his return to comics after such a long absence, how the project took flight, his new take on the character and more.
CBR News: Andrew, what’s the general story for what you’ve got planned for “Fantomex MAX?” How does Fantomex make his debut in the MAX line?
Andrew Hope: The general story is that Fantomex, a picaresque anti-hero and “greatest thief in history” — you could see him as a Robin Hood type character — is coerced by the villains of the book to steal an object of great destructive potential. As someone who has worked in screenwriting for the best part of the last decade, I approach comic book writing cinematically — not just in terms of “widescreen action” but in terms of story structure and character-driven action. I didn’t know that it was going to be a MAX book until a month or so into my work, so I felt a little more free to write events and themes I might not have been able to otherwise in the regular line.
Last year, you actually teased a “top secret” Marvel project via Twitter. Is this that project? How long has this been in the works?
Yes, this was it. It’s been in the works since March 2012. The genesis of the project actually pre-dates my involvement by a couple of months. Originally, an auld pal of mine from Glasgow came up with a storyline, and he and Marvel were just not able to work out the creative differences to mutual satisfaction. My agent brought my name into the mix, and after a few calls with Axel [Alonso], and a substantial revision of that original plot, they greenlit it almost immediately. And that’s no insult to the original writer — sometimes things just don’t work out. I could talk more about how things progressed, or what I changed to make it work, but I wouldn’t want to bore anyone. Little details will come out over the next couple of months of the development from start to finish. The important thing is not the work that went into the development of the book, it’s the finished book itself.
You’re a veteran of the comics industry, having written and drawn books since the 1990s, and Fantomex is a relatively new character — what attracted you to tackling the MAX version of his escapades?
I actually have been out of comics for a long time — the comics you’re referring to were very early ’90s, but I did get a chance to work with the now respectable drunkard Mark Millar and the insanely talented Paul Grist. Regarding that phase of my life, I was part of the extended circle of Glasgow comic creators that featured Grant and Mark, and also Gary Erskine and Dom Regan, but a major life-changing event whisked me away to America just as I was breaking into the business. Now that I’m back, with a Marvel project, even, I feel ready to resume where I left off.
You say Fantomex is relatively new, but he’s already over a decade old now. What attracted me to the character wasn’t so much what had gone before, but where I could take him. Getting under the mask and seeing who this person was, why he did what he did. It opened up my mind to the possibilities of where he could go, not simply be a continuance of what other creators had done with him.
Fantomex, while popular, isn’t necessarily on the level of Punisher, Deadpool or Wolverine — three other characters who have gotten the MAX treatment. In fact, this is his first-ever solo series. What do you think the challenge is in getting readers to relate to the character and find him compelling on an individual basis?
I’d actually say that from a creative aspect, Fantomex is a perfect character to be given a solo book, specifically because he isn’t as popular as the three characters you mentioned. He’s mysterious, he’s a man of power and action. With more famous character you go in with your eyes open. You’re looking for a great story, sure, but you also need it to hit the right notes. With Fantomex, he’s kind of a blank slate. Readers will come in with some preconceptions based on his appearances in the books to date, but also with more curiosity. It’s up to me and Shawn, and Lee, to deliver something they weren’t expecting and do it in a way that’s entertaining. From seeing Shawn’s art, and knowing Lee’s talents as a colorist, there’s no doubt whatsoever in my mind that we have achieved that. He may not be at the level of the others, but it hasn’t stopped me writing this book as if he was.
Fantomex is traditionally a solo act, but recent events in the Marvel Universe proper have seen him working with others fairly regularly. Will “Fantomex MAX” have a supporting cast at all?
No, not really. My mandate from Axel was simply to find the core of Fantomex and write something that didn’t rely on continuity. I did keep EVA, though, and I really enjoy writing that character a lot. There is a new character introduced early on, who propels Fantomex’s involvement in the story, so I suppose that makes her a supporting cast member. But you’ve hit on an important note for me, one that struck me immediately as i was getting further into development, and that’s Fantomex being a traditionally solo act. That one detail was actually the lynchpin for my understanding of him, and I’ve tried to build him up in layers and make him a complex character.
How much of Fantomex’s lore will be retained in your miniseries? Is it more of a ground-level, realistic take, or can Fantomex fans also expect concepts like The World to show up? How does this version of the character differ from the Marvel Universe’s?
Substantially. One of the questions I asked early on — my biggest concern, of course — was how much should I stick to what people already know of him. The answer was to make this MAX version my version, which I did. It doesn’t make mine better or worse, but I felt very comfortable starting from the ground up. Fantomex has a lot of loyal fans — but there are also a lot of people out there who have never read a story with him in it. It’s the job of me and the other giant cogs in the creative team to deliver something that will entertain a lot of people. A lot. Axel has told me if it sells less than 100,000 units per issue, not only will I never work in comics again, like ever, he’ll also cut the head off my beagle. I’m actually okay with that part, though. He’d be doing me a favor.
You’re working with Shawn Crystal, who’s illustrated a great many issues featuring Deadpool, both as a penciler and an inker. What do you think makes his art a good fit for the story you have planned?
I hadn’t seen much of Shawn’s work at all when it was announced he’d be the artist. As a visual writer, someone who’s also an artist, like myself, you tend to have the look of the story already figured out, from thumbnails, to panel arrangement, to choice of camera angles. Shawn’s style wasn’t something I was expecting, but what I have seen so far is fucking dynamite. Dy-no-mite. Shawn and I have spoken quite a bit since we started work on the book, and he feels that he’s doing his best work ever. He’s not wrong. The work is gorgeous — but I think more than that, he owns the look of this book. This is his Fantomex as much as it’s my Fantomex. I write full script screenplay style, a lot like Mark, and in the first issue I was pretty specific in what I wanted to see. After seeing what Shawn was capable of, I didn’t think twice about seeing how far I could push him. He’s stepped up his game with almost every page, in terms of sheer quality, but also Shawn’s visual imagination. It’s been a real treat for me to see these pages come in — I’m proud to be writing a book that looks this good.
What do you find most appealing about the character, and how will you bring that out in your miniseries?
To go back to an earlier answer, Fantomex’s solo status. One of the things that intrigues me about costumed characters is something that’s rarely explored — the psychology of those who choose to wear costumes and masks. Are they extensions of one’s personality, or are they necessary evils, barriers that you throw up to keep things secret? In either case, that says a lot, but it also has an affect on people, on how they behave, how they live. There’s not enough time spent on the people behind the masks in comics these days. One of my pet themes is the nature of identity. What it really is, when you think and talk to yourself in your secret voice, not what you show to the world. Fantomex is solo, as a costumed character, but also as a human being, but why? I don’t even begin to answer that question in the book, but I have some small moments that offer insights to his character that will intrigue the readers. But most of all, Fantomex is a leader. He’s decisive, he takes action. He’s brilliant, and he also knows it. This is someone that is a dream to write, and maybe I’ll get the chance to do it all over again.