Wolverine, Archangel, Psylocke, Fantomex and Deadpool, are the titular characters of Marvel Comics’ “Uncanny X-Force,” all of whom possess super powers and act heroically, though X-Force is not a super hero team — at least not in the traditional sense. That’s because in the Marvel Universe, super hero teams don’t kill. X-Force, however, marks villains they deem to be irredeemably evil for elimination and then assassinates them in secret so other heroes don’t have to. So far, their targets have included the villainous Apocalypse, the “Father” of the weapons lab known as “The World” and the malevolent, mind controlling Shadow King.
This July, in the three issue miniseries “Fear Itself:Uncanny X-Force” by writer Rob Williams and artist Simone Bianchi, the team will hunt a new target, one that seeks to exploit the chaos of Marvel’s summer event storyline. In order to achieve their objective, X-Force will have to confront a horde of heavily armed foes as well as tough questions and fears about the team’s bloody nature. CBR News spoke with Williams about the project.â€¨
CBR News: Rob, in the past we’ve talked about how much you enjoy writing heroes and how much you enjoy darker and more gray-hued characters. With “Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force.” you seem to have landed an assignment that let’s you do both.
Rob Williams: Right — the whole hook with X-Force is that they’re a kill crew. That’s a definite line and you have to honor that or otherwise it’s just another super hero book. I think writer Rick Remender has done a brilliant job of doing that in the regular series. The first arc in particular was great, and the ending really took you aback. It was bold, it was brave and it set a very, very high standard.
The culminations of Rick’s stories have felt very organic. They haven’t felt forced. The stories weren’t daring simply because they involved super heroes killing people. The stories all felt true to the characters. There’s a real trick to that, which we had to try and do with this miniseries as well. We don’t want to do something sensationalist for the sake of it.
Is that tough to do on a project like this, an event tie-in miniseries featuring characters from an ongoing title that you don’t write?
It’s intimidating to do. Especially here because the standard of the “X-Force” book is incredibly high. Plus, it’s a high profile book and it sells very well. Rick, the artists and the editorial team have been doing stellar work on “Uncanny X-Force.” I think it’s one of the best books Marvel is currently putting out. I trust editorial to tell me if I’m veering the characters away from their voices. I’m not too concerned about that. My concern is making sure this book doesn’t feel like a let down compared to the regular series. [Laughs] The bar is set pretty high and we want to maintain that. So there’s a certain amount of pressure.
I imagine it helps to have some experience writing the team’s co-leader, Wolverine. Your first work for Marvel was a special Christmas themed “Wolverine” issue with Laurence Campbell, and you recently wrote the character again in the one-shot “What If? Wolverine: Father.” What’s it like coming back to the character?
Wolverine is a character I’ve read a lot of over the years, and his voice is easy to get because we all know it. So it’s fun to write him, but the thing that I like about him is that’s he got this great sort of moral grounding. He’s a berserker at times and is one of the best killers on the planet, but there is a wisdom to him as well.
I think his choices are informed by a grim sort of realization that some things are necessary. That’s why he and Archangel made the very pragmatic choice to form their own version of X-Force. Wolverine understands that Cyclops won’t necessarily go this far, but he and the characters in X-Force feel like they’re doing necessary work they believe in. Wolverine understands the responsibilities he has with this team. X-Force isn’t something he jumped to on a whim or established after a burst of anger. He’s taken a look at the world and believes in these hard choices. For him, this is an ethical decision. That’s really attractive. It makes him far more interesting than just being a psycho with claws.
What about the other members of X-Force? What do you find most interesting about them?
They’re all gray area characters, aren’t they? They’re all compromised in one way or another, but I also think — and this is something that Rick nicely worked in — they have all made the choice to be there. No one is there because they’ve been blackmailed into it. No one has got a chip in their head which is forcing them to play along or anything like that. They’ve made a political decision and one that they feel is necessary, for the greater good. That makes them heroic, even though a lot of people would take issue with what they’re doing.
Plus, they’re all just really cool characters. From a dialogue and writing point of view, Deadpool and Fantomex are just great to write. They spark off the page. Visually, Psylocke is one very cool character. She looks terrific on the page. All of these characters have been written so well that you feel they’re three dimensional characters. It’s a nice, tight group and they all get their page time. It’s not diluted. You won’t get one or two of them for just a panel a book. As a result, they’ve been given a great amount of depth. That’s part of why the book has been so well written.
The cast of “Uncanny X-Force” is currently embroiled in a story arc titled “The Dark Angel Saga.” Will that storyline affect “Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force?” Or is this more of a story that happens in between the “continuity raindrops?”
Our mini is a three-issue story, and we wanted to keep it tight, contained and accessible. You don’t have to have read an issue of “Uncanny X-Force” to pick up this series, but it still fits in. My intention is that it feels like three issues of the regular series. The team is basically coming into the events of “Fear itself,” which are having great effect on the wider world.
This is your second “Fear Itself” tie-in. Your “Ghost Rider” ongoing, which launches in June, also ties into the event. What’s the appeal of telling stories against a back drop like “Fear Itself?”
The stakes couldn’t be any higher. The whole world is under threat here. This isn’t a small localized event. With “Fear itself,” it does look like to all concerned that the world is ending. That just sort of naturally leads to high drama. The stakes couldn’t get any higher. It’s just a great environment to tell stories in because everything is heightened. Everyone is right on the edge. It makes every story you tell feel naturally important.
How exactly does your X-Force mini tie-into the larger tapestry of “Fear Itself?”
The general populace of the Marvel Universe is unaware that the evil fear god, The Serpent, is behind everything. All they know is that it looks like the end of the world. It looks like Armageddon. That’s causing a lot of people to freak out in different ways.
A splinter faction of the extreme anti-mutant religious group, the Purifiers, believes that it’s not just mutants that are responsible for things. This is a group that’s visually and technologically different from the main branch of the Purifiers. They have their own belief system. They feel all super-powered people are at fault for the world coming to an end, not just mutants. They think society has come to its end and people are morally bankrupt.
So the question we’re asking through our story is, when you have a super hero team that’s a kill crew, do these guys have a point? Maybe society’s morals have gone down the toilet. X-Force will be forced to look at themselves and go, “As nutty as these super terrorists are, maybe they’re right. Maybe we’ve brought on the end of the world.” There’s a line where Wolverine says, “We’ve all saved the world so many times, it stands to reason that sooner or later we’d fail.” We’re really looking at the ethics inherent in them being X-Force in the first place.
It’s interesting that you’re writing a story involving a religious sect’s belief that the world is coming to an end right around the time some religious figures in America were predicting the end of the world. Did the predictions about the Rapture figure into or influence your story at all?
It wasn’t something I was aware of at the time. I was putting the finishing touches on the series last week and then I read about all the Rapture stuff. So it wasn’t something that was on my mind when I wrote this, but it’s exactly the type of thing we’re exploring in this story. Thankfully, the predicted Rapture wasn’t quite on the same scale as “Fear Itself.” [Laughs]
What type of scale is the conflict you’re featuring in “Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force?” How dangerous is this splinter group of the Purifiers? I’ve seen some covers, and it looks like they’re armed with high tech and cybernetic weaponry.
Simone had the chance to design some cool looking battle suits and the Purifiers will be employing some high-powered weaponry. We’re going to have some intense fight scenes. You need to create villains who are a threat. When you’re dealing with incredibly powerful heroes, they need to go up against people who are a challenge.
Our villains aren’t just interested in physical assaults, either. They’re also after people’s minds and spirits. Initially, they use the internet. In our first issue they broadcast a message to the world that says, “The end of the world is here and the devil is coming.” So they’re trying persuade people to die now, before the devil arrives to take them. They call out to people via the internet to commit suicide. That’s a challenge you can’t just punch.
Interesting. So a team of assassins is being put into a position where they’ll have to stop suicides?
Yes. We talked about that. My editor and I talked about how X-Force is not just a kill crew. They operate that way for a reason, and the reason is to save lives. They believe that’s what they’re doing. They’re not out there just to murder. It’s all for the greater good. So again, we’re trying to come up with a thematic ,emotional core to a book where it’s not just about battles. It’s something that’s going to make the characters look at themselves and question themselves, where they’ll wonder if they took the correct positions in the first place
What can you tell us about the man in charge of the Purifiers sect in this story? What’s his background? Why does he feel the way he does?
He’s a new character named Jonathan Standish. He’s an ex-neurosurgeon. Basically, he has an epiphany and believes he’s the chosen one, he’s given the message from God to give to humanity. So he’s out to save as many people as he can. He has an unshakeable faith and believes he’s doing the right thing. The most interesting villains usually believe they are doing the right thing, and in his own warped way, he does have a point. Maybe if the super heroes hadn’t existed then villains like The Serpent wouldn’t have come along.
It’s the “did Batman create the Joker” thing. Standish thinks the world would have been a far better place without super heroes and maybe he’s got a point.
Where will Standish try and prove his point? What are some of the important settings in this story?
It’s all set in America, and not just the cities. It hits the small towns, too. An internet suicide call goes out worldwide, too. A message on the internet can kill more people than any number of super villains.
From what you’ve described, “Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force” really does seem like a story full of characters, conflicts and other elements Simone Bianchi could really sink his teeth into.
Yes, with Simone drawing the book it’s going to look absolutely beautiful regardless of what I do. [Laughs] His take on the characters are great.
That’s another thing that was important to us. Artists like Jerome Opena and Esad Ribic have been doing fantastic work on “Uncanny X-Force,” and now Simone is providing some stunning pages here. It’s a story with a great emotional core and socially relevant themes with the ideas of faith and terrorism and things like that. It’s also got really, really big action set pieces. It’s kind of a pseudo religious Hollywood blockbuster.
Sounds intense. I imagine with characters like Fantomex and Deadpool there will be moments of levity and humor in “Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force” as well.
Oh, yeah. That was part of the appeal of the assignment, especially with those two. Like I said earlier, they’re so much fun to write. I really enjoy writing sarcastic characters. Plus, Deadpool’s perspective gives the story a surreal bent. You need a bit of comedy in these stories because otherwise, with all the themes were talking about and the fact that we’re dealing with a mutant kill crew, things would get dangerously dark and not particularly entertaining. These guys help keep the pace and levity up and put a few laughs in what would otherwise be some very dark material.
So it’s got a sort of heavy aspect to it, but there’s a lot of laughs in it, which I’m not entirely sure is appropriate. [Laughs] These are the types of books I like, though. You deal with a serious subject but you do so in a way that entertains as well. Hopefully it will provide something for everyone and fits in with the tone of the overall series.