Humphries Enters the Shadowy World of "Uncanny X-Force"

Like all super heroes, Marvel Comics heroes stand tall against the forces of evil. What makes Marvel heroes so unique and inspiring is that in order to make a stand they must make difficult choices. Occasionally they make the wrong choice and have to deal with the consequences. This is something the heroes of writer Rick Remender's "Uncanny X-Force" series know a lot about. As a covert villain assassination squad they literally make life and death decisions every time they enter the field and the consequences of those choices come back to haunt them in a big way.

This December Remender's run on "Uncanny X-Force" ends with issue #35. What exactly will happen to the team members is unclear, but when the series ends there will still be dark corners of the Marvel Universe and a need for a group of heroes to enter those shadowy domains and make difficult choices about what needs to be done. Enter writer Sam Humphries and artist Ron Garney, who will expand the Marvel NOW! initiative this January with a new volume of "Uncanny X-Force" featuring a cast of new and familiar characters. CBR News spoke with Humphries about his plans for the series.

Humphries has self-published comics and produced several titles for independent publishers, but Marvel fans probably know him best from his current gig as the writer of "Ultimate Comics Ultimates." Penning the Ultimates gave the writer a chance to tackle the interesting and often complicated dynamic that drives super hero teams. So when he was offered the chance to do something similar with a team of heroes in the main Marvel Universe he jumped at the chance.

"With super teams you're throwing a bunch of strong personalities together in a room and giving them a reason why they have to get along even if they don't like each other. If you are a super powered individual nine out of 10 times you're going to have a very strong personality. And nine out of ten times if you get a bunch of strong personalities in a room, mansion, quinjet, or battlefield together they're not all going to get along right off the bat. Everyone has their own background, personality, and histories with other characters. Even if they have a united goal they all have their own motivations for being there," Humphries told CBR News. "So I love drawing on that web of character interaction because if you have a strong enough web you can throw them into any situation and see them push and pull each other in exciting and surprising ways."

The other element that lured Humphries to the new volume of "Uncanny X-Force" was the work currently being done on the book by Rick Remender. "I've been a fan of Rick's 'X-Force' run since before I had ever had a single conversation with Marvel about writing any book. So I've been an admirer of 'Uncanny X-Force' for quite some time. That is motivation for me to want to take over this book, and to run away screaming from intimidation. I think Rick's run is superlative. I know what happens at the end," Humphries said. "When Rick finishes his run on the book he really is finishing his run on the book. He's told a complete story about X-Force and while it does have ramifications in my book and other books, his story really has a beginning, middle, and end. He raises questions and he addresses them.

"That gave me a certain amount of freedom to say, 'Look, Rick did it. He knocked it out of the park. He dropped the microphone and he's walking off the stage.' So I now have the ability to come up with a new angle for X-Force; to ask some new questions and do some new things and work with a new team," Humphries continued. "Because nobody wants to see me try and do a lame imitation of Rick Remender. It's disrespectful to what Rick has accomplished. It's disrespectful to Marvel, and it's disrespectful to the readers. Nobody is fooled by that."

Following an acclaimed run on a book by a beloved creator is a daunting task, but for Humphries it's a little easier thanks to a bit of advice he received from former "Ultimates" writer Jonathan Hickman. "At the very beginning of our collaboration on 'Ultimates' Jonathan said, 'Don't try and write a Jonathan Hickman book. Don't try and write a Mark Millar book. Don't try to write a book like anyone else but yourself.' That just opened everything up for me. I can't deliver a Jonathan Hickman or Rick Remender book. I can deliver a Sam Humphries book for sure. That I know I can do. I don't know if you're going to like it," Humphries said with a laugh. "But at least I know I can deliver a book that I would write. So with that kind of support from Marvel and people like Rick and Hickman it allows me to relax -- and when you relax, amazing things can happen."

Humphries' new volume of "Uncanny X-Force" is a new story with new characters, but the writer wants to make sure it's rooted in the stories that came before his run. One of the ways in which he'll do that is by including cast members who were major players in Rick Remender's "X-Force" run including the ninja trained telepath Psylocke (AKA Betsy Braddock).

"Psylocke has always been one of my favorite X-Men characters. She is a character of contradictions. Her history is convoluted, but it's convoluted in a way that only adds to the depth and complexity of her character. Plus she's not afraid to look into these dark corners of the mutant and Marvel Universe and deal with them," Humphries remarked. "Also, as a telepath, her skill set is very interesting. A telepath like Professor X is always noble and true. You can trust him to look at your secrets, but I think Betsy in terms of where and when she decides to use her power is a little more gray and fluid. That's something that's very interesting for me to explore.
"I really like the strength of her character," Humphries continued. "She's been through a lot, and come out on top. I don't think she gets enough respect for that; not just in the real world, but also from fellow X-Men. I don't think a lot of them realize her potential not just as a ninja or a telepath, but as a survivor."

In recent issues of "Uncanny X-Force" Betsy has come to regret the homicidal nature of the team and some readers may be wondering why she's a part of its new incarnation and what role she'll play in the group.

"This is something that we'll reveal in the book, but what I can say is, Rick has asked a lot of questions about assassination. He explored that idea through these characters and all of them will come to a separate conclusion about those questions at the end of his run," Humphries said. "None of them are necessarily going to be right or wrong, but Betsy's role moving forward with X-Force and the purpose of X-Force will come directly out of the period that Rick Remender puts at the end of his story."

The outcome of Remender's run will also determine the exact nature of the work done by the new X-Force. Humphries was unable to clarify whether or not the cast of his "Uncanny X-Force" series were interested in "wet work" or simply just a covert ops team.

"What I love so much about this book is that this is the X-Men book where you can explore dark secrets. Rick took that and made it about wet work and the morality of killing, but this book is not necessarily all about murder. There are other dark things and characters lurking in the Marvel Universe that we can confront and explore," Humphries remarked. "I'm not going to be telling the type of stories that Jason Aaron will be telling in 'Wolverine & the X-Men' or Brian Bendis is telling 'All-New X-Men.' We're really going to take advantage of the opportunity, the tone, the atmosphere, and the mandate of X-Force and go as far with it as we can. Like my dad used to say, 'Drive it like you stole it.' So I'm going to be writing this book like a stolen car and go as far with it as I can go."

In terms of plot, tone, and feel, Humphries' "Uncanny X-Force" stories will feel like action-espionage epics brought to life in the surreal, and ethereal style of a film maker like David Lynch. "My initial pitch to Marvel was 'David Lynch does a 'Mission Impossible' or a James Bond film.' That kind of vibe has really informed all the decisions we've made on the book since that point," Humphries explained. "So 'Uncanny X-Force' is a mutant book that is not going to take place at any of the traditional locations for mutant books after 'AvX.' We're not going to spend a lot of time at the Jean Grey School. We're not going to be on Utopia. We're not going to be hanging out at the diner in Westchester County. This is a book that's going to go to some very remote and shady locations throughout the Marvel Universe."

An eclectic cast of new and familiar faces will accompany Psylocke on her missions to the shadowy and sometimes sinister places of the Marvel Universe. "There will definitely be some faces that you'll recognize. There will be some faces from X-Men history that we haven't seen in a long, long time," Humphries said. "Plus there will be some recent characters, and there will be at least one new character who has never been seen before.

"This is also an X-Team character dynamic that has never been seen before," Humphries continued. "These are not necessarily characters who you've seen pal around together for years and years. It's a very interesting group of not really misfits, but these are characters who may or may not feel welcome at places like the Jean Grey School or Utopia. These are characters who may have conflicting feelings about the ideologies of Charles Xavier, Magneto, Cyclops, and Wolverine. These are people who may not be an easy fit in the mutant universe as it stands after 'Avengers Vs. X-Men.' So it's not a traditional line up by any means and I'm really excited to see what everyone thinks about it."

The initial cast of "Uncanny X-Force" will come together quickly, but the dynamic between the team members will develop over the course of Humphries' inaugural and subsequent arcs. "This is a story where we definitely hit the ground running. We put our characters together right away and place them in an interesting position within the Marvel Universe. These are characters who are not immediately going to feel compelled to call themselves a team, though," Humphries explained. "That's something that I'm really excited to play with in terms of the fluid character dynamic of a super hero team and why people stick around, why they leave, and why they threaten to leave, but never do.

"So we'll look at issues of trust. You've got a crew of wildcards. Some of them are more wild than others, and some of them nobody in the group trusts," Humphries continued. "There are definitely some conflicts and issues that runs deep between these characters."

While more characters will join as the series progresses, Humphries' initial line up of characters will include Psylocke, Storm, Alpha Flight member Puck, and the six armed sorceress known as Spiral. "This is a line up of haunted, powerful people. You may not want to be in a room with them, but it's a great line up for a comic."

Psylocke, Puck, and Spiral have all done morally ambiguous -- and especially in Spiral's case -- down right villainous deeds. Each of these characters would be somewhat at home in a team that tackles morally murky missions like X-Force. Storm, however, has more of an uncompromising reputation so her inclusion in the team might surprise some readers -- but not Humphries. "Listen, Storm is the same woman who ran off in Tokyo and re-emerged looking like a punk rocker from CBGB. She may be a queen, a goddess, a teacher and a leader, but she's still a rebel, and a wild card."

Like Storm, Puck is a veteran of hero teams, but the diminutive adventurer is not a mutant and therefore has never been a member of the X-Men. He's best known as a member of the Canadian super team Alpha Flight and was last seen helping his team mates and the Red Hulk repel an invasion of Earth by the Mayan Gods. "Puck is a bad ass. He's like the Marvel Universe Indiana Jones. Despite being small of stature the guy has no problem staring into the dark abyss and responding with a sarcastic jab."

Spiral is also a team veteran, but she's spent most her time in groups fighting along side some of the X-Men's most fiercest foes. The six armed sorceress assassin started off as an agent of the interdimensional war lord and television magnate Mojo. She then served as a member of Mystique's Freedom Force and the Red Queen's Sisterhood of Evil Mutants. "Spiral's been through some rough patches, even for a villain. We'll see her pop up in an unusual milieu, and be the focus of some unwanted attention. I mean, she has white hair, six arms, and a sword, but she's trying to lay low. It won't last long."

In Humphies' initial "Uncanny X-Force" arc his cast will run afoul of an adversary that knows quite a bit about the X-Men and their related organizations, the time traveling former X-Man known as Bishop. "Bishop is definitely going to make his presence felt in 'Uncanny X-Force' in a big way. He's a character we haven't seen in a book in several years and the last time we saw him he was abandoned I believe in the year 6300," the writer said. "So he was left a very, very long ways away. Coming back to the present from 6300 AD changes a man. He's going to be an unpredictable adversary."

Bishop's unpredictability and prior knowledge of the X-Men means he'll be an especially dangerous foe, and he's just one of a whole host of adversaries that Humphries has lined up to test his cast's mettle. "This is a book that's very different from the 'Ultimates' because any villain the Ultimates face must to be able to destroy a building in five seconds or less. They deal with epic, wide screen style threats. 'Uncanny X-Force' is a team that confronts these dark corners of the Marvel Universe, so they'll come face to face with adversaries that raise some sticky and difficult questions," Humphries explained. "These are adversaries who are going to try and bring out the worst in our characters. These are adversaries who won't just punch and shoot at our heroes. They'll bring up questions that even if X-Force wins the battle they're not going to be able to run away from these questions. These are adversaries that are going to change the nature of the group with each battle and really bring out dark, difficult, sticky questions of identity, good, and evil, and all that fun stuff," the writer said with a wicked grin.

Ron Garney will depict the clash between the cast members of "Uncanny X-Force" and their morally challenging foes. Humphries worked briefly with the veteran artist on a recent issue of "Ultimate Comics Ultimates" and is excited to collaborate with him again in a larger way with this new title.

"Ron has been in the industry for awhile and he's got some real chops. He's got such an immediate raw energy to his work and he builds up such atmosphere. This is going to be Ron Garney in the dark shadows of the Marvel Universe," Humphries stated. "The other thing that Ron brings to the table is that he's just as happy to play the sadistic task master with these characters as I am."

When Humphries and Garney put the new incarnation of "Uncanny X-Force" through their paces this January they'll put the team on a collision course with many other Marvel characters and concepts, and they won't be the only X-Force team running around the Marvel Universe. The fugitive cast of writer Dennis Hopeless' "Cable & X-Force" series will also have laid claim to the team name.

"Dennis and I have been friends for a long time. We've already talked about the ways in which our books are going to be different and the ways in which they'll be similar," Humphries said. "In terms of the rest of the Marvel Universe? This is my first Marvel U book and there's going to be a lot of things moving and shaking on both the Avengers and X-Men side of the equation. I don't think it's going to leave any book untouched. This is a book that's in the Marvel Universe. You can look at it two ways: that's the nature of the beast and you have to endure it. Or, it's a huge opportunity to tell crazy stories with meaningful characters. I tend to see it as the latter. After awhile, they may question why they ever game me access to the larger Marvel Universe to begin with," the writer concluded with a laugh.

"Uncanny X-Force" #1 by Sam Humphries and Ron Garney launches as part of Marvel NOW! in January.

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