Humphries' "Uncanny X-Force" Probes the Seedy Underbelly of Mutant Life

These days being a mutant in the Marvel Universe often means being part of something larger like Wolverine and Cyclops' rival X-Men schools, or Havok's team of "Uncanny Avengers" -- but there are some mutants that don't fit in or don't want to be part of these organizations. They often dwell in seedy underworld locations, and don't have the ideals or moral compass required to be part of these groups. What they do have is a desire for self-improvement and to make the world better.

Writer Sam Humphries began chronicling the lives of just such a team when he kicked off a new Marvel NOW! volume of "Uncanny X-Force," which brought Psylocke, Storm, Puck and Spiral together to probe a mystery in the sordid underworld of Los Angeles, where they ran afoul of the time-lost former X-Man known as Bishop, who had just returned to the present, possessed by a mysterious demonic force. Complicating things even further was the presence of the three split versions of Fantomex, who were lurking in the background and looking for an opportunity to step back into the life of their former lover, Psylocke.

CBR News spoke with Humphries about the latest developments in the series' first arc, moving toward the future, his upcoming plans for the series, developing Bishop's backstory since his last appearance and the ongoing relationship saga between Psylocke and Fantomex.

CBR News: Sam, there's been a lot of interesting revelations in "Uncanny X-Force" since the last time we spoke. In "Uncanny X-Force" #5, Storm and Psylocke explored Bishop's mind, where they discovered Bishop was trapped in a possible future in the 68th Century. What has he been up to since the end of "Cable?"

Sam Humphries: The last anyone saw of Bishop, whether it was people in the Marvel Universe or readers, was when he was thrown into the 68th century as a strategic gambit by Cable. What that world was like and what Bishop has been doing were questions that remained unanswered.

That was one of the things that made Bishop an attractive character to me right off the bat. There was the potentially rich back-story in between then and now -- with "then" being the future, and "now" being the past.

He's in this world where humanity and Earth are plagued by these psychic demons called revenants, which are not entirely inventions of my own. They have a direct connection to some pretty significant pieces of X-Men continuity. What these connections are and how they are drawn back to the present, the Revenant Queen, and what that means for Uncanny X-Force will be revealed in upcoming issues.

It appeared from his memories that Bishop was a changed man in this possible future, but still haunted by his memories of trying to kill Hope. Was Bishop ashamed by what he had done? Was he able to process his crusade against Hope?

Bishop has undergone some changes. Here's a man who really and truly believed in the crusade that he was waging. One thing that's always been consistent about Bishop is that he's always been a zealot. When he was chasing after Cable and Hope, he wasn't a character who just liked to watch the world burn. He believed he was saving the world with his obsession.

Now he's been trapped in the extremely distant future and thrown into a world very different from ours. He had to contend with these revenants and he's encountered the Order -- the crew of people who have taken it upon themselves to save humanity from revenants.

All these experiences would change any person. Imagine the things that would occur to you and the changes that would happen to you if you were on a deserted island for a year. This is more severe than that!

I think some of the decisions that Bishop made in regards to Cable and Hope have come back to haunt him. And he's had a chance to take a moment, breathe, and reflect.

While we're on the topic of Bishop's memories, did Storm destroy Bishop's memory of trying to kill Hope while exploring his mind with Psylocke?

When Storm and Psylocke were performing this psychic examination of Bishop, they began experiencing memories from all over his life. One of the memories that Storm came into contact with after being separated from Betsy was the memory of Bishop hunting Hope.

When confronted by that memory Storm experienced all the anger, confusion, and rage that a lot of the X-Men felt when Bishop went so far over the edge that he began hunting down and trying to kill the only new mutant they had seen in years -- a little girl, no less. He was somebody who was a friend and trusted compatriot. So not only were they scared for Hope and the future of mutantkind, but they were also really hurt and confused by what had happened to their friend.

It appears that while Storm was in Bishop's head she made a rash decision. It's the kind of decision that telepaths like Professor X or Jean Grey vowed to never take on their own. Storm isn't a telepath though, and she's never had to make this kind of choice before. But if there's one thing we've learned from stories that involve telepathy and manipulating memories and identity it's that one bolt of lightning cannot change everything.

Storm isn't the only one messing with Bishop's mind. It's also under attack from a being we've seen before in the original volume of "New Mutants" and in the Craig Kyle and Chris Yost incarnation of "X-Force," the Demon Bear. Can you tell us more about this Demon Bear? Is this the one that debuted in "New Mutants?" Or are there many Demon Bears?

This is the Demon Bear that we've seen before in "New Mutants." It's a spiritual demon; a psychic and malevolent force of nature that existed thousands of years in the past, and now we know, survived to exist thousands of years in the future. The Demon Bear exists in the 68th century, and it appears to have been used as a pawn as much as Bishop has been.

The Demon Bear isn't the only malevolent spirit that came back from the 68th Century. The other Revenant appears to be one of the chief menaces from that time period, the White Owl who recently moved from possessing Bishop to possessing the young mutant Ginny. Can you talk at all about this being's goals and motivations? Is it acting out what it believes to be prophecy or history?

The White Owl Revenant is an entity that we'll see again shortly, and we'll learn a lot more about. It's a character with a direct connection to a fairly prominent X-Men villain of the past ten years or so. To say anything more would be saying too much. A lot of these questions will start to become clear in "Uncanny X-Force" #10.

While your cast explores the mystery of Bishop and the Revenants, the three Fantomexes were working their way back into the life of Betsy Braddock. We still don't know why Fantomex's relationship with Betsy fell apart, but is it safe to assume that whatever he did disappointed her and it's why she's been so angry in the first few issues of this series?

Yes, we saw a change in Betsy emotionally between the end of Rick Remender's volume of "Uncanny X-Force" and my new volume. Those changes are definitely connected to what happened between Betsy and Fantomex in Paris and what happened after they walked off together into the sunset to a happy ending.

What happened during that time period will be revealed in a three-part story that runs through issues #7-9. Part of the story in those three issues takes place in the present day in Madripoor where we see Betsy and the female Fantomex personality known as Cluster going after Weapon XIII, Fantomex's dark persona who has captured the sort of regular Fantomex persona.

Then the other half of the story unfolds in flashbacks in Paris where we see firsthand what happened between Betsy, Fantomex and Cluster during that time. We'll see what went so wrong between them all. The things that went bad went very, very bad.

What we've seen so far suggests that Fantomex's feelings for Betsy might be complicated by his feelings for Cluster and her feelings for Betsy. What exactly is the nature of this dynamic? Is it a love triangle in the traditional sense of the word? How does Fantomex feel about Cluster? Are his feelings for her romantic love? Egotistical love? All of those? None of those?

Those are great questions. I don't think there's anything traditional about this triangle [Laughs]. It's a very complex web that developed during that summer in Paris, which we'll see firsthand very shortly.

In terms of Fantomex's feelings, one thing that defines their relationship is that Fantomex and Betsy feel in love when Fantomex was one person. Later he was split into three different people. Certain aspects of Fantomex were split between the three of them. So the person who Betsy fell in love with may no longer be the same person. They have different aspects of each other and they are no longer together in a way that helps them balance each other out.

There are some aspects of Fantomex that are very "lovable," for lack of a better word, and there are some aspects that are very -- despicable. The way those traits were distributed is the crux of what happened to that relationship

Let's move from Psylocke's ex-lover to her old enemy in the cast, Spiral. You gave us a quick glimpse into Spiral's psyche in these first few issues. Those scenes seem to suggest that she's feeling lost and adrift after Mojo cut off her ability to traverse other dimensions. Is that what's going on, or is there more to what's troubling Spiral?

That's certainly what she's indicated, but Spiral is not a character that has been very trustworthy over time. Issue #6 will answer some of these questions, and it will also answer perhaps the most crucial question: what does Betsy believe when Spiral says these things? And after all this time and what's gone on between them, do they have any common ground?

Betsy has been kidnapped, mutilated, manipulated and changed forever by Mojo. He destroyed her life, but it's something that she survived, and pushed through. What Betsy has survived, Spiral has had to endure times ten. There's a question -- if we can have sympathy for Betsy can we have sympathy for Spiral as well?

I think that's an open question for all these characters, but Betsy is going to find herself in a position in issue #6 to make a decision, and act on it

What exactly did Ginny mean to Spiral? Did she make Spiral feel genuinely needed?

Yeah, Ginny is the first genuine relationship Spiral has had since she was a human. And although she's a six armed, cybernetic, cosmic, ninja, she's still human underneath all those swords, arms, and gear. So having the opportunity to have a genuine relationship is something that any human would value, and because Spiral is so unmoored right now, that relationship would be incredibly precious to her.

Although "Uncanny X-Force" has its fair share of troubled characters, there is one character who appears to be pretty happy go lucky: Puck. Is he as happy as he seems?

Like Betsy, Puck is a survivor. He's a hundred years old, he's been through a lot, and he's seen it all. I think Puck is someone who's leaned over the years that a positive and happy go lucky attitude is something that serves him well, especially in times of danger. He's like the rest of them though. He's got emotions that plague him; things that keep him up in the dark of the night, things that have troubled him over the years.

Puck came to Los Angeles to help Psylocke and Storm take down a drug dealer as a favor to Wolverine, but now that the favor has been accomplished why is he sticking around? Why hasn't he gone back to Canada?

The mission and Wolverine is something we're addressing directly in issue #6. We're addressing that partially with an appearance by Wolverine. He's coming from the perspective of someone who used to run with X-Force. He ran this team that didn't ask for permission, played fast and loose, and worked in the moment.

Now though Wolverine runs a school and there's so much trouble in the Marvel Universe right now. He's in a position to have an opposite reaction to the team. This is going to come to a head in issue #6 in a direct confrontation with Betsy.

Going back to your question about Puck, I think there's something about a team like this that really appeals to a personality like Puck. This is a team that doesn't ask for permission. It's a team that doesn't necessarily marry itself to one high faluting ideology or the other. Although he certainly has loyalty to Wolverine, it doesn't mean he's going to follow in lock step with the choices that Wolverine makes.

I've noticed that your titles of your first few issues are titles of Rolling Stones songs. Can you talk about why you chose the Stones and these particular songs?

There are four main albums that the Rolling Stones released between 1968-1972: "Beggar's Banquet," "Exile on Main Street," "Sticky Fingers," and "Let it Bleed." "Let it Bleed" is also the title of our first collection.

The titles of the first six issues are borrowed from songs you can find on four albums the Rolling Stones released between 1968-1972: "Beggar's Banquet," "Exile on Main Street," "Sticky Fingers," and "Let it Bleed." These four albums have been in heavy rotation while I write "Uncanny X-Force." Whenever I don't know what to do, I put them on and find my way.

The Rolling Stones recorded these albums when they were in exile from the UK for tax reasons, in places like Paris and Los Angeles. They lived this unmoored lifestyle that led them to some incredible places creatively, but some dark places as well. The act of breaking off on your own and going into uncharted waters is a double edged sword. That's because there's a lot of promise and a lot of danger. That's the kind of feeling I wanted to capture for all these characters in "Uncanny X-Force."

This book has a fun seedy crime feel to it and part of that comes from the censored profanity in the characters' dialogue. What made you decide to include that?

I like the black boxes because they felt a little riskier, a little dirtier than using dingbats. Back in the day before they started dubbing in safe words for swear words when movies aired on network television they just used to bleep words out. There's something a little jarring and uncouth about that; almost as jarring and uncouth as an actual curse word. Whereas, dingbats or some of the other solutions can feel a little more comical or cartoony.

The locales also add to that seedy tone. Moving forward, will you continue to explore the underbelly of Los Angeles and other real world and Marvel Universe settings?

Yeah I'm really excited about our next three issues because they take place in two different cities: Madripoor and Paris. They also take place in two different times: Then and now. We've also got two great artists who are tackling these issues and dividing them up between them. For the Paris pages, which tell this decadent love story we've got Adrian Aphona who's sticking with the book. Those pages are kind of this lush fairy tale of Betsy and Fantomex' summer together.

Then on the Madripoor pages we have Dalibor Talajic. He's got this great, dark gritty, noir-crime infused style to his work. So there's going to be a great contrast between the two stories that run through these three issues. It really brings the before and after of the relationship between Betsy and Fantomex into stark relief.It's a great pairing. The issues look fantastic, and I can't wait for people to check them out.

You've had some great art talent on the book so far, and obviously quite a few talented artists for the upcoming arcs. What about the more immediate future? Who have you got coming on for art duties?

We've got the same art team for issue #6 that we had for issue #5. Adrian Alphona will handle all the psychic world sequences and Dexter Soy will handle all the real world sequences. Then as I mentioned, Adrian and Dalibor will handle the story running through issues #7-9

We've all worked hard to make sure that these books feel right and most of the credit for that goes to our editor Daniel Ketchum, who has taken a look at the stories and the outlines that I've been sending him and finding the right artists to do the job. So we've got Dexter Soy and Adrian on issues #5-6 and then Adrian and Dalibor on issues #7-9. That will mean that we've had Adrian Alphona on issues #3-9, which I believe is the longest streak we've seen from Adrian in many, many years.

Then starting in issue #10 we've got Ramon Perez hopping over from his recent stint on "Wolverine & the X-Men." Ramon and I worked together on "John Carter: The Gods of Mars," which was my first Marvel work. We had a great collaborative relationship and since the day the last issue of "Gods of Mars" went to press he and I have been looking for the right opportunity to team up together.

So we're really excited to work together on "Uncanny X-Force." I think this book really plays into a lot of Ramon's sensibilities. What we've got coming up starting in issue #10 is after Paris and Madripoor and the love triangle with Betsy, Fantomex, and Cluster we've got a return to Los Angeles and a focus on Bishop.

Moving forward, what kind of plans do you have for Bishop and the rest of the cast?

We'll focus on how what he's been through in the future is going to affect him moving forward in the present. That has to do with everything from Hope, to the revenants, to exactly what he brings to the table in the current day Marvel Universe. A lot has changed since he's been gone. We'll also have the threat of the revenants coming to the present day and colliding with Uncanny X-Force in a big way. We'll learn a lot more about who the revenants are, where they came from, how they connect to X-Men continuity, and what the Revenant Queen ultimately wants.

"Uncanny X-Force" #7 is on sale June 26.

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