Simon Spurrier’s “X-Force” is currently full-steam ahead, and its ragtag bunch of mutants have enjoyed their fair share of challenges in the All-New Marvel NOW! series.Whether it’s Cable getting thrown off a building or Marrow uncovering a dark secret about how she regained her mutant powers, the team has a lot to deal with moving forward — including the teased death of a team member, and a number of new secrets that have yet to come to light.
This week, X-Position welcomes back the always-entertaining Spurrier to answer your questions about the current incarnation of “X-Force,” the “broken” nature of its team members, and the possible return of the telepathic Starfish to Dr. Nemesis’ life. Plus, he touches on constructing story and the importance of an artist to comics as a whole and brings along exclusive art from “X-Force” #6.
CBR News: Si, thanks, as always, for taking the time out! â€¨
Simon Spurrier: As always: my pleasure, my honor and my sticky wine-guzzling justifiable-procrastination self-absorbed delight.
â€¨ Starting us off this week, Anduinel is hoping for some insight into your creative process.
What are your go-to muses for a book as simultaneously off-the-wall and dark as this new X-Force incarnation? Any particular movies, lit, or music you hit to get you into the proper (improper?) headspace? â€¨
Hey Anduinel — good question. And like all good questions, fiendishly hard to answer.
The truth is I don’t really go in much for the notion of using other comics (or books, or movies, or even music) as the source of mood-inspiration. At least, not in the way I think you mean. Sure, maybe if I see a particular narrative gimmick or an interesting word or phrase, or something along those lines — technical gubbins, y’know? — then I might think about appropriating it for myself. For this reason there’s a stack of Eisners, Moores, Ennises and Ellises next to my toilet. Steal from the best, yes? And I genuinely think a person is never more receptive to good ideas than when divesting themselves of unwanted physical baggage, like some wondrous abstract vacuum.
THAT’S A POOPING REFERENCE, EVERYONE.
But when it comes to the proverbial Muse for all the slightly more oblique business — say, generating plot, fixing the mood or flavor of a piece, triggering that febrile Engine Of Randomization which is laughably called “creativity” — for that I’m afraid no amount of reading other stuff, or watching movies, or listening to music, or indeed pooping, is going to earn a place as my personal catalyst. I tend to go for walks, or I sit in the bathtub, or I lie in dark rooms. I set myself absurd challenge>reward goals — no coffee until you’ve fixed that plot-hole… no using the hot-water faucet until you’ve worked out the ending… no breathing-out until you’re totally sure you know what that character’s voice sounds like.
I made the last one up, but you take the point.
Anyway, there’s a quaint old aphorism about the nature of invention — “You should never force it” — which in my considered opinion is the direst of bum-soup. You should absolutely force it — force it until you head breaks and your stomach hurts and your eyeballs ache, then force it some more. (Aaand we’re back to pooping references again, huzzah!)
So, no. Not really one for seeking inspiration, or letting my brain be guided by external moods. I read other comics simply to bask in the brilliance of my fellow writers and artists, to exult in the magnificence and endless potential of my most beloved medium, and to shamelessly pinch clever tricks. In as much as I’m “inspired” by this stuff it’s in the rather airy-fairy sorts of ways. Inspired To Be Better, for instance; inspired to Up My Game; inspired to murder Warren and Garth and all those other infuriatingly good bastards, etc.
As for music, I know it’s dead trendy right now to provide playlists and sympathetic mood-materials to accompany your comics, but my brain just doesn’t really work like that. The sorts of music I listen to when I’m in “listening-to-music mode” doesn’t bear much relationship to what my brain’s doing when I’m in “writing-comics mode,” so it always feels a bit disingenuous to suggest relationships between tracks and parts of a story. If I really do have such a thing as an equivalent to — say — Kieron [Gillen]’s wonderful two-way osmotic relationship with pop, then it’s quite simply watching and listening to other people. That’s the greatest inspiration my brain’s found yet.
But of course that’s a dreary answer, and maybe even a bit creepy, and not at all what you wanted to hear, so let me delicately gesture you towards — for instance — The Ozric Tentacles: a band whose gorgeous and endlessly varied output doesn’t bear the slightest relationship to the kinds of moods I’m aiming for when I write “X-Force,” but whose frothing organic insanity so perfectly encapsulates the sheer weirdness, dissonance and cascading beauty of The Brain Being Inventive that it might illustrate the above wafflement better than mere words ever could.
â€¨ Next up is Ryan, who wants to know what happened to Cable’s physiology in between “Cable and X-Force” and “X-Force.”
â€¨â€¨ I have a question regarding Cable. When we last saw Cable in Cable and X-Force, he had replaced his eye-patch with a nifty laser-shooting cybereye, and he had his left arm although it was rather gimpy and needed the cyberarm Forge had made. When we see him in the current X-Force, he’s back to wearing an eye-patch and his cyberarm seems to be completely cybernetic. When and how will that be explained? â€¨
It won’t! HA. My true, secret goal — when I first took the “X-Force” gig — was to establish a million continuity errors and moments of bare-faced wrongnesses, which I justified to my editors along-the-way as being tiny pieces of a huge “Lost”-like mosaic leading-up to a grand mystery, but are in fact just pernicious acts of narrative mischief. I consider this a glorious transcendent artwork! A smashing-down of the invisible cages which box your minds! A breaking-free from the shackles of continuity in whose neurotic loops we have all willingly enmeshed ourselves! A nihilistic experiment to demolish all illusion of verity in fictional personality! And an act of corporate sabotage designed to ruin your favorite characters forever! Ahahahaha! FOR THIS I AM WELL PAID BY BATMAN.
Nah, c’mon. You know me better. Answers to all your questions are coming. Most of them, in fact, just around the corner in episode #6. As for “how will that be explained,” I’ve controversially chosen to use text and pictures in deliberate juxtaposing sequence.
â€¨ Ned Katz has a query about the exploration of X-Force as a team of “broken” people.
â€¨â€¨ Definitely one of my favorite parts of the title is how the team is full of “broken” characters. Everyone on the team is in their own individually intriguing way completely insane and shattered, and I love it. The specificities of the cracks in their psyches are all absolutely fascinating, and very in tune with how you approached David. (Hell, in a way, one could say that David was more together than anyone in this squad.) Do you plan on attempting to come to a resolution of sorts for any of the X-Forcers’ gaping mental issues, or do you plan on leaving them as lasting parts of their personality?
â€¨â€¨Oooh, now that’s a very good question. And rather than having a correspondingly tough answer, the problem now is that there are in fact several potential answers, and I’m being deliberately vague with myself about which of them shall develop. Let me explain.
These characters are broken. They’re more broken even than we’ve seen yet — some of them far more than the others.
The fact of their brokenness — the fact that all these familiar characters are now, thanks to XF, canonically established as being (frankly) really ill-adjusted people — was my first step towards… well, stuff. Towards some big thematic questions in whose direction I’m sneakily maneuvering everything: from the characters and the plot all the way up to you and me. I have questions I want to ask you and questions I want to ask myself. I don’t want to give them away because — well, obvious reasons — but also because they’re not the sort of questions that can be put into sentences. They’re questions which will be asked and/or answered in the form of how satisfying certain pieces of story feel to us all. They’re questions which are more accurately challenges. To your preconceptions, your desires and your comfort-zone. And mine.
I obviously don’t want to go into it too much here, but it has a lot to do with power and responsibility. And with the fact that you don’t always have to believe me when I tell you something via the story, especially when it’s a subjective moral judgement, and especially, especially when it’s delivered from the point of view of a biased character.
That’s all horribly vague, isn’t it? Sorry.
Anyway, one part of that — a relatively small part — is to do with the precise details of how and why each of these guys and gals are broken. And more importantly (and you read “[X-Men] Legacy,” right? So you know that this part really is way, way more important) how they deal with their brokenness.
What’s quite exciting for me this time round, as someone who’s spoken super-neurotically elsewhere about having to know everything up front, and always having an ending in place before launching your beginning, is that I’m not completely sure how those breakages are going to shake out. I know how I want the story to end and I know how I think the sheer galloping wrongosity of these characters is going to bear on that… I even have a pretty good idea of the actions each of them might take along the way. But given how unpredictable these people are it felt right, for the first time, to deliberately build-in a bunch of wiggle room. I’ve already had a taste of it — one of the characters insisted upon being way nastier than I’d expected — and I’m excited to see more.
Some will achieve stability, some will find redemption, some will damn themselves forever. But, frankly, it may not be the ones I was expecting.
Tricksy bastards, this lot.
harashkupo wants to know more about the artist’s influence on a comic book story.
â€¨â€¨ Hello Mr. Spurrier, I wanted to start by saying that the recent issue of X-Force was incredible and my favorite comic this week. Your ability to fit so much story and action within each issue without rushing the plot amazes and honestly the x-line is better for having you adding to it’s history.
Thanks — that means a lot. I’d suggest you take a quick peek at the work of John “Judge Dredd” Wagner — in particular his creator owned book “Button Man.” For me it’s the single greatest example of how comics can feel tense, languid, and atmospherically paced, while nonetheless tearing through plot at a giddying rate. Very, very clever, and if I’m ever half as good at controlling pace I’ll be a proud chap.
In some of the interviews I’ve read, writers would talk about the artist’s influence on the story. You’ve already had two with very different styles and I was wondering what if any kind of influence they might have had with this series. Keep up the good workâ€¨
Artists influencing the tale? Yeah, indubitably. It goes without saying that if you’ve got a pretty good idea of how the art will look even before it’s drawn — that is, because you know the artist’s work, or better yet because you’ve already got a working relationship with her or him — then you’re far better able to write to their strengths. One of the challenges of working in the perpetual-motion-machine that is Big Two Comics is that you simply don’t always have that luxury. There’s no point sugar-coating or glossing-over that reality: it’s a fact, and as a writer you have to be pre-warned and pre-armed to deal with those challenges. Yes, sometimes it can be a pain in the arse — because all successful collaborations can be boiled down to the Act Of Communication, and if the communication is impersonal, anonymous, or filtered through multiple languages then of course there’s way more that can go wrong. But for all the same reasons it can also be the generator of wonderful synergistic surprises. When the writer/artist dynamic is greater than the sum of its parts: that’s the magic of comics.
So. We’d never worked with Rock-He Kim before “X-Force.” We’d seen some of his Korean work and been rightly impressed. In particular his gift for those massive moments of jarring action and his wonderfully monstrous characters. Luckily there was plenty of that in the script for issue #1, so we had scads of those synergistic surprises I mentioned above. The ragemonster faceknuckling on — I think — page 3, will stand for me a very long time as the new Best Punch In Comics. Plus Marrow headbutting the plane, etc. I’d written the first draft of the script not knowing who I’d be working with, so I’d been careful not to overload the artist, letting the dialogue take a bit more strain (perhaps a bit too much bloody strain with hindsight), and generally being cautious not to give him too much fiddliness on his first episode. He handled it beautifully, and within a few short episodes he’s already grown, sealed his visual USP and let us all know how much further we can push him. By the time we got to episode 3, for instance, we’d learned he’s remarkably adept at the quieter feelsy moments too, so we could start to make a bit more out of those.
As I hope you’ll agree, when episodes 7-9 roll round — written specifically with Rock-He in mind — that “greater than the sum of its parts” synergy will be even more obvious. Just wait until you see the big bad in Ep 7 and tell me I’m wrong.
As for Jorge Molina…? Oh, Jorge. We’d worked before on “Legacy” so I knew already what he can do (i.e. “Anything”). Episodes 4-6 were duly let right off the leash. I prefixed every page with, “If you can think of a better way of doing this, do it,” which is really unlike me. Jorge’s one of the few artists I’ve worked with who will willingly add more panels to a page rather than chopping them out. He’s as mad as an eel’s elbow and if ever you get the chance to write a parkour-in-Paris sequence I strongly advise that you engage his services.
â€¨ Next up is R. Smith with a question about the arc’s current villain, Volga.
â€¨â€¨ So I really want to ask what’s up with Cable, but I know you can’t answer that. Instead I’ll ask about Volga constantly referring to him as “old guy” when the man doesn’t look so spry himself. Exactly how old do you envision Cable as being? It’s often hard to get an idea from the art alone. â€¨
Ah, may I first of all congratulate you on casting aside the waste-of-time question and concentrating on something I can actually answer. As I believe I’ve X-Positioned before, it never ceases to amaze me how many people write to, say, Tom Brevoort, on his endlessly entertaining and superhumanly patient Tumblr, to ask questions whose answers would spoil the relevant stories. As I’ve said before, if someone screamed “drink” every time dear Tom calmly wrote a cognate of “I can’t answer that, you’ll have to wait and see” then we’d all have liver poisoning by teatime.
Anyway. How old’s Cable? Oof, I don’t know. I mean, we’re all cognizant — aren’t we — of the “never specify anything” rule of not-writing-yourself-into-a-corner, which is especially true in the context of a universe whose relationship to accurate chronology is Exceedingly Sophisticated at best and Mind-Meltingly-Problematic at worst. Again, something Tom B. has written eloquently about on his Formspring. The best advice, which of course will never satisfy everyone, is “the less you think about it the happier you’ll be.”
Being as I am a supremely pretentious writer I choose to provide an adjective rather than a number. How old is Cable? He’s “grizzled,” that’s how old.
RELATED: Soule Puts an “Endpoint” on Logan’s Story with “Death of Wolverine”
â€¨ Also, will Wolverine’s upcoming death or its ramifications have any impact on this title? Seems like it’ll be a pretty big deal and be felt across a number of books and teams he’s appeared in. Since he led a couple of incarnations of X-Force just wondering if we’ll see anything Logan related here soon. â€¨â€¨
WAIT WHAT WTF THEY’RE KILLING WOLVERINE? WHO TOLD YOU THAT?
Alas, that really is one of those “I can’t answer that, you’ll have to wait and see” things. And you were doing so well too.
“X-Men Legacy” fan SuperCooper wants to know more about what other teams you might be interested in writing.
â€¨â€¨ Hi Mr. Spurrier, first off let me say that your entire run on “X-Men Legacy” was pure gold, expertly crafted from beginning to end. And your story in the 300th issue of Legacy just about brought a tear to my eye, I’ll gladly admit.
(Interjection! Thanks very much! Apropos that last point, might I sneakily mention that “X-Force” #10 will be therefore very worth you looking out for..?)
“X-Force” has been fantastic so far. I know you enjoyed using heroes from across the pond like Pete Wisdom, Lila Cheney, Chamber and so on before, any plans for a few different ones to pop up to lend Cable and co. a hand? Are there any other international heroes and teams you’re interested in, like Big Hero 6 or Alpha Flight?
â€¨â€¨Regarding over-the-pond heroes: yes, actually, very soon in fact. Issues #8 and #9 take place in the tribal hills of Southern Afghanistan, where a team of British soldiers get themselves into… well… difficulty. And then various familiar faces start to rock-up to make things worse.
As for other international teams: I’m always interested. For fairly obvious reasons Marvel comics tend to skew towards US, UK and Canadian characters, but I’m always interested to think a little further afield. So whereas I’ve always got nebulous plans in mind for how I might use, say, Alpha Flight, part of my brain gets way more excited about inventing new characters from other parts of the world.
Think of it like this. One in every five people alive on the planet today are Chinese. Almost as many are Indian. That’s 36.4% of the entire population of the world coming from just two countries. By comparison you add together the US, the UK and Canada and you’ve got 5.8% of the global population. So if I write an episode where X-Force jumps out of a helicopter into a fight against random international supertypes, a smart gambler wouldn’t put down much cash on them being characters we’ve met before. That’s one of the many things I really wanted to emphasize when I got into this book: the idea that the whole world is an active player in the sorts of vicious, violent, secret politics our team’s into. We all slightly want to believe that our country’s leaders are totally in control of everything that could ever hurt us — the biggest players in an abstract game — and it’s unsettling to realize just how puny we all really are in the grand scheme of things.
Which isn’t really anything to do with your question, but I’m feeling societally paranoid this morning and nothing helps a bad mood like spreading it round.
The other interesting thing, when you get into inventing new characters from other countries, is trying to avoid really clunky cliches. Like… say you’re inventing a character from Norway? What does everyone know about Norway? Vikings! Norse Gods! So let’s put him in a spiky helmet and call him Edda!
Orrrrr we could be less lazy and rubbish, put him in a sensible outfit and call him Captain Top-Of-The-Human-Development-Index-Charts, or Expensive Beer Guy, or Sergeant Fjord Cruises, or Problematic Whaling Policy Man… or… or…
Anyway. I digress. Just a personal bugbear of mine. People very rarely define themselves according to the ancient history local to their nation — I don’t imagine many heroes and villains would either.
Looking beyond the current arc, Paddy wants to know if the new X-Force team will have the opportunity to face down some of Marvel U’s well-known villains.
â€¨â€¨ Any chance to see X-Force take on some well-known villains? Not even just X-Villains either, because I’ve always been intrigued by stories where rogues galleries get mixed up & plus it makes sense that other well-known villains might/do pose a threat to mutants. â€¨
Yes indeed. The second arc introduces at least one, and arguably more — depending on your point of view. You may not recognize him/her at first, but take my word for it.
Actually, it won’t have escaped your attention by now that Volga — the big bad of the first arc — started out life as… well… as a massive sociopathic arsehole. That is, just a normal guy. Yeah, sure, he’s now been revealed as having powers of his own because Comics, but really our initial aim was to deliberately sidestep the obvious route of having X-Force fighting Recognizable-Returned-Supervillain #4367 from the get-go, and instead demonstrate what a real bad guy looks like. That is, an irritating little prick in bad clothes, with an extraordinary amount of political power, who literally does not give a **** about anyone below a certain level of importance.
As a villain, Volga is simply a distillation of the sorts of people who control all of our lives.
But, yeah. The other kind’s coming too.
Psylocke fan Liam hopes to gain some insight into Betsy’s current rationale when it comes to being a part of the new X-Force.
â€¨â€¨ Psylocke was never fully on board with Wolverine/Jean Grey School’s views during/after the Schism. Do you think she aligns herself with Cable’s proactive views or she’s in it just to quench her thirst for blood? Does she feel her X-Men teammates are failing to aid mutantkind? â€¨
I think… well, this slightly goes back to a question I answered above, about being deliberately open to evolutions in these characters’ minds, because Betsy’s arguably the most complicatedly messed-up of the whole bunch, and the most liable to go off in a weird direction. Psychologically she’s like a swan on a still pond: graceful, beautiful, streamlined, full of dignity and poise and clarity of design — but you look a little bit closer and you can see her feet paddling like mental just below the surface.
So, let’s start with what we know. At her most rational she’s inarguably a Good Person. She wants what’s best for the highest number of people, with a natural skew towards the rights and dignities of her fellow mutants. I tend to imagine her childhood — raised in extreme wealth and privilege — has given her the sort of fascinating reverse-sensitivity for class, poverty and societal fairness one occasionally sees in spoilt brattish kids. She’s the Siddhartha of the mutant set: the social warrior who feels the suffering of others most keenly precisely because she was raised so far beyond its reach. In that respect, yeah, I think she fits with the abstract manifesto of the Jean Grey bunch: to provide succor, education and benevolent oversight to one of the most downtrodden groups on the planet. She undoubtedly quibbled over the detail, but I think the concept is something she’d buy into.
On the other hand, there’s definitely a whole lot more going on in there than an attempt to make amends for her own off-center class identity. She’s traveled extensively, she’s seen injustice of all kinds, she’s undergone the most bizarre series of physical/mental/dysmorphic adjustments conceivable, she’s lost lovers, betrayed family members and pried into some of the most obscenely evil minds in the world. By anyone’s estimation she’s been bombarded by so much sheer nerve-jangling experience that she should by rights be a dribbling wreck.
My suspicion is that she’s simply too strong — mentally — to succumb to the almost unbearable weight of pain, horror, guilt and self-revulsion sloshing about in there. And perhaps most importantly: the weight of complication. She’s so complex, so full of contradiction and uncertainty, that there’s literally no way of unmuddling the mess. And so she’s done what seems like the only sensible thing: she’s internalized it. She’s anesthetized herself against the darkness, she’s tamped it right down into the chilly little core of who she is, where she thinks (wrongly) it can’t hurt her, and it’s left her surface-layers utterly numb. The swan on the pond.
It follows that whenever that darkness finds a way out — which it always will and always does — it’s explosive, it’s nasty and it’s unpredictable. Even worse it’s oh-so-seductive — because when you spend your life being numb even horror feels like joy — and there’s no easy way of overcoming it. So Betsy will always self-sabotage. She’ll always push people away — partly to save them, partly because she can’t help feeling secretly thrilled by the perverse joy of hurting people. She’ll always befriend or seduce the worst conceivable candidates. She’ll always destroy everything good that comes into her life, whether because the sickness comes out to play or because she rationally pre-empts it in order to limit the damage. Above all else, remember, she’s Good And Noble, which means she literally cannot allow other Good And Noble people to get too close to her for fear of what might happen. She tries to control who she is — even tries to rationalize and use the negative energy — but unless she can find a way to dig it right out and purge the core, there is no way that anything in her life will ever be easy, simple or smooth.
So to go right back to your question… let’s say you’re her. Let’s say you’re a seething black-hole of ugliness and pain, held together — just barely — by a paper-thin veneer of poise and grace. Let’s say you know that in order to survive you need to let out some of that craziness, now and then, to keep it from bursting out. And let’s say that on a far more conscious level your defining aim is to provide a safer, better world for downtrodden mutants.
So, yeah, by day? You can probably fake it. Work at the school, be noble, be idealistic, be part of a functional team. Be the swan, Betsy.
By night? You need an excuse to go slit throats and howl at the moon.
Finally, Nix Uotan needs to know the fate of one of his favorite characters. â€¨â€¨
Mr Spurrier, my question is perhaps about the biggest most important oversight, no not oversight but original sin of them all: Where is the telepathic starfish? And will he return to Dr Nemesis’ life?
I’m delighted to take this opportunity to announce — and oh lord this has been a long time coming — a brand new ongoing Marvel MAX series, starting in the fall, titled “X-INODERM: OUTER-MONOLOGUE OF DOOM.” It’s basically 20 pages per month of our heroic empathy-starfish traveling the ocean and saying funny things about what’s going on in the heads of random sea creatures. There’s one issue — I think it’s probably Eisner material but I hate to jinx it — about a pod of dolphins, where the only line of dialogue on endless repeat is RAGEHUMP. Oh, and the issue where our hero encounters a colony of communist manatees is nth-level feelsy. Tumblr’s going to sob out its own intestines, seriously it’s beautiful.
No plans to bring him back into Doc Nemesis’s life, though — I think we can probably all agree he’s a bit too A-list to be slumming it in “X-Force,” right? — but look out for a hilarious escapade involving everyone’s favorite science bastard and a cup of Quantum Coffee in a few episodes’ time.
As always, special thanks to Simon Spurrier for taking on this week’s questions!
Next week, “Deadpool” scribe Gerry Duggan returns to X-Position to take on your questions about the Merc With a Mouth! Got a question for Gerry? Send ’em over via e-mail with the subject line “X-Position or in a 140 character question via Twitter. Either way, make sure those questions are in by Friday! Do it to it!