X-POSITION: Spurrier on "X-Force" and ForgetMeNot

Fans of Si Spurrier's "X-Men Legacy" got a nice surprise in the most recent issue of "X-Force": an appearance by one of Spurrier's unique creations, Forget-Me-Not -- a mutant with the power of utter forgetability -- who, unfortunately, met an untimely end by the close of his guest appearance. While unfortunate, his death was needed to help Cable and X-Force track down the leadership of the mysterious organization The Yellow Eye, which tracks and monitors every mutant on the planet.

In this week's X-Position, Spurrier answered many questions about "X-Force," including the untimely death of ForgetMeNot, the working relationship between Cable and Dr. Nemesis, the current status of Hope Summers and much, much more.

Si Spurrier: Hello hello hello my bubbling swampfriends of delight, and let's insert all the usual apologies for the enforced brevity of what follows. Off the back of various conventions and their inevitably-attendant illnesses I'm chasing deadlines on several projects at once -- by no means least "X-Force" #14 (wherein CYCLONIC COOLING MECHANISM + EXCREMENT) -- so I must rattle through your questions with a little more discipline than usual.

I know, I know, I said that last time and still wrote a bloody epic. I mean it this time. *sob*

Well, let's start it off, then! Tom is up first, representing the many fans of ForgetMeNot that wrote in this week.

Why oh why oh why did you have to kill ForgetMeNot? Such a new and original character, and now he's dead on his second appearance--!

Because I'm awful.

Actually, that would be a perfectly reasonable answer and I should probably leave it right there, but it smacks of Gillen-ism, which of course is abhorrent to all right thinking people, so I must back it up with Real Actual Words.

So, okay, here are two flabbier answers to choose from:

1) The Marvel Universe is a violent place. So so so much -- too much, according to one school of thought -- has been written about the artificiality of the narrative stakes in fictions where most of the readers know full well that Big Characters Don't Stay Dead.

(Counter-intuitively I'd tend to argue there's actually a very sophisticated mental technology at work there, which allows us to be moved and shocked by character deaths even though we secretly know it probably won't stick. It's the Big Lie which we're clever enough to Knowingly Fall For when it comes to emotionally responding to the material. In those cases we readers are essentially endowing a story with the verisimilitude it arguably doesn't deserve, and if you've seen me ranting before about how your brain rewards subconscious investment in a fiction with far greater emotional payoffs, then you'll see why that's actually a very powerful and positive thing. As long, that is, as it's not overused. And not over-discussed. And never actively mentioned in the story. So: shut up, Si.

Anyway, I digress. We're not talking about the big characters but awesome new ones.

So, yeah, the MU is a violent place. That's something I suspect a lot of readers unthinkingly overlook (another clever subconscious act of self-trickery, perhaps). We use terms like "all-action!" and "then they battle!" because it distinguishes the depicted violence from the real thing, which by the way is sordid and unbeautiful and uncinematic, and if you've ever been unlucky enough to witness true physical destruction then it festers in the mind of the beholder like a psychic cancer. It's Not Like In The Movies.

99% of the time it's perfectly reasonable that we craft our stories around conflict and duality without painfully laboring a point about how wretched violence truly is. In most superhero comics we're dealing with modern mythologies, after all: the complex interactions of today's cultural pantheon waging their wars in heaven. There's no need, therefore, for brutal reminders about the fibrousness of human flesh or an accurate depiction of a torn body. The Marvel Universe, seen in one light, is simply a contemporary analogue for Ragnarok, or the Kali Yuga, or the book of Revelation: a shimmering dreamspace from some uncertain future or hazy parallel, echoing and exaggerating our own world, wherein the fundamental contests of divine morality can be settled in dramatic form. In most cases the point of superhero battles is to delineate moral roles and glorify physical or mental prowess, not to underline the ickiness and self-fulfilling corruption that goes hand-in-hand with a truly violent lifestyle.

Buuuuuut with "X-Force?" I kind of decided that if any book was going to go spelunking for some value in reminding readers of the truth -- that scenes including violence are automatically about violence -- then that'd be the one. These are characters not only perfectly-positioned for being dragged through the mud, but who (and I truly believe this) can only benefit from it.

Uff. I waffle. I think it's something worth thinking about, anyway. And one of the many ways I tried to get people to do so was -- because one always has to pay a price -- by killing my own babies.

I did something similar in an episode of "X-Men Legacy" (though, this time, I seem to've avoided accusations of Fridging). Take an amazing, powerful, good-hearted, well-adjusted character, bring them into the story, use them as a contrast to throw the inadequacies and inequities of the other players (all supposedly "good guys") into sharp relief. And then kill them. Without warning or sentiment or buildup. It's a cruel trick to play on my own readers, but it's worth playing once in a blue moon to remind us all: that's how the world works. You don't get to enjoy a book about violence without it occasionally turning 'round to bite you on the arse. Sorry.

The other answer to this question, 2), which somewhat deflates an awful lot of what I just said, is that you should go track down the solicitation copy for "X-Force" #14. Because I'm a dreadful, dreadful hypocrite.

(I love ForgetMeNot so much.)

RLRtheSecond shifts the conversation to Dr. Nemesis and Cable -- and the fact that they've worked together for an extended period of time.

Cable and Dr. Nemesis have been working together for quite some time now, dating back to the previous "Cable and X-Force" series. Do you see a friendship there, or are they simply allies with a common goal and nothing more?

Ooh, good question.

I think, at the point we've now reached in "X-Force," that it's problematic to assign the capacity for anything like emotional fondness to Cable's successive clones. My guess is that each one comes out of the meat-printer with a pretty solid sense of What's Important and What's Not. Each has 24 hours to progress their particular cause, and not a lot else. My guess is that they've come to regard their teammates in the most utilitarian way possible: as conduits through which specific ends can be achieved rather than anything more socially complex or ambiguous. (And yes, that's even true of the every-other-day liaisons we learned about in #10).

I won't go too far into this, but one of the big controlling ideas which underlies everything in X-Force has to do with characters' ability to change. That which evolves overcomes that which stagnates. By this point in our story Cable has become the antithetical exemplar.

As for Doctor Nemesis, well... I think we're all familiar enough by now with that paragon of pissiness to know that all his bluster is in fact the most exquisite act of Protesting Too Much, and all he secretly wants is a cuddle. So yes: I should jolly well cocoa that he considers Cable a friend.

Longtime Cable fan antiochene wants to know more about Cable's long history and how it applies to "X-Force."

Since I'm a long-time Cable fan, I'm going to be totally self-indulgent with my question. How has the character's (long, insanely complicated) history informed your approach to writing him?


How has Cable's past informed this iteration of him? About as much as you'd think, I suppose. If you've read any of my insanely verbose interviews before you'll know I'm perhaps a teensy bit more continuity-averse than some. Stories should always stand on their own two feet, without the silent assumption that one couldn't understand or enjoy them unless one's done endless hours of homework. My take on continuity is that it should serve as a reward for the diligent reader rather than an obstacle for the casual one.

With Cable, that meant approaching this story with a recognizable distillation of all his previous trials and tribulations. If I've done my job right it was made clear from the get-go that here we're dealing with a taciturn soldier, fixated on duty, with a significantly reduced power-set, an innate desire to strengthen what he regards as his Nation, and an overwhelming preoccupation with the safety and health of his daughter. Nothing more, nothing less, and the "why" wasn't an issue. Of course some of those positions were predicated upon mysteries integral to the first arc of my story, others were the visible parts of the iceberg of Cable's convoluted past, but hopefully none of them were so problematic that readers felts they were missing out on something that wasn't eventually going to be explained.

Whiiiich is the roundabout way of saying I was more interested in who Cable is than all the fiddly stuff that made him that way, but have hopefully treated it with the requisite respect.

Of course all of this was made much easier for me thanks to Cable's unique current status quo. He really isn't himself at the moment. Or himself. Or himself. Or himself.

harashkupo wants to know more about the voices in Si's head.

Hello Mr. Si,

Your X-Force is currently my favorite x-book right now and I have to say thanks for some awesomely fun storytelling. Sadly I don't really have any good questions so I'll just ask who's voice do you hear when you write Psylocke? Actually do you hear anyone's voice when you write your characters?

Tricky one. I tend to say all my characters' dialogue out loud while I'm writing it (one among many reasons I'm utterly insufferable to be around while working) so I suppose the most accurate answer is that I hear my own bloody voice when writing Psylocke and the rest. But that's a pretty cruel aural impression to inflict upon (I assume?) a Psylocke fan, so I suppose the more appropriate answer would be that I base her voice, and more importantly her choice of words, on two or three of my friends who fit the mould. That is: born into money, well educated, well spoken -- "queen's English," daahling -- but with all the elegant corners filed off by years of experience, perspective, camouflage and damage. You probably don't need me to tell you the class system is alive and well in the UK, and the most telling metric of which side you're on in the secret war is often the plumminess of your voice. It follows that a lot of very well-to-do people, who recognize and despise the unfairness of the system despite being born to privilege, develop a fascinating hybrid syntax mixing "posh" enunciation and articulacy with slang, inventive neologisms and the ability to swear like a fucking trooper. Many of my snobbiest pals have the most delightfully dirty mouths.

Anyway, that's kind of how I hear Psylocke. Two parts frosty well-spoken aristocracy to one part affable gutter.

I'm actually a bit hesitant to go suggesting Known Names -- actors, etc -- to give you a sense of whose voices I hear when I write these characters, because it smacks of being a little restrictive, if not outright problematic. What if that voice feels totally wrong compared to the one you -- as a reader -- have already subconsciously assigned? You're going to be constantly tripping yourself up wondering if you're Hearing It Right, when in truth yours is really the only "right" which matters.

I think part of the joy of these things is the personal touch that comes from each reader experiencing a character in a subtly different way, y'know? The Betsy Braddock in your head won't ever sound quite like the Betsy Braddock in someone else's, and that's magical and mystical and marvelous. In fact the only thing I'll commit to text right here, as a sliver of I-stand-by-it personal wisdom, it's this: you'll enjoy these comics better if you move your lips while you read.

Seriously. Accents live in mouths, not brains.

X-POSITION: Spurrier Constructs an All-New "X-Force"

homme_araignee wants to know more about Fantomex and how much lower he can go.

Hello. Before I start, let me join the what should be an army of fan in thanking you for your brilliant take on these awesome character

Wait... ARMIES MEAN WAR. Who're we fighting? Is it the people who aren't buying the comic? Because, y'know, eternal optimism and all that, but I'm concerned we might be a tad outnumbered there.

Anyway, thanks. Means a lot.

1) What attracted you to writing Fantomex and how low are you going to make him sink? Making him kill ForgetMeNot must have been one of your most painful experience as a writer, I bet.

Yeah, not far off. As you will have gathered, ForgetMeNot is to some extent the story's avatar for normality, well-adjusted-ness, and -- in as non Mary Sue-esque a way as possible -- the mouthpiece for advocating my own perfect-world values. Killing him (*cough* -- as I said above, go check out some of the more recent advance solicitations) felt a lot like watching "my" story maliciously stabbing me in the back, just to prove it could.

But let's not get into that meta stuff -- it gets scary.

I said a few times, back when I started writing this book, that one of my goals was to make the nay-sayers go back to liking Fantomex. That was... well... a slightly weaselly way of putting it -- sorry -- because I didn't want to give too much away. The more accurate goal was to make the nay-sayers like reading about Fantomex, which isn't the same thing at all. More specifically I wanted to start with a rather pathetic joke of a man, with his unconvincing accent and abyssal levels of insecurity, then do the one thing you're really not supposed to do: take him seriously. To genuinely wonder why someone would see fit to live their life like a swaggering cartoon character. What deeply-rooted psychological borkery must underlie all of that?

Fantomex's tale in "X-Force" has quite simply been about turning him inside out. Scraping back the layers of overblown silliness as quickly as they emerge, and exposing what's underneath. And, as we're finally starting to learn, what lies underneath is simply this: a big, deep, black, empty hole.

So, yeah, I'm not suggesting anyone should like Fantomex in his current guise per se, but with a little luck we can at least all agree he's capable of anchoring many more enjoyable storylines now that some of his more cataclysmic complexities are bubbling their way to the surface. You don't have to like the bastard to like the stories that he engenders.

As for how low he's going to sink... I'm obviously not going to give anything away, but over the next few issues I think you're going to get your answer. And then, because I'm me, you might get a whole different answer not long after.

2) As the bot explained, these are all very broken people and that is something that is not lacking in the Marvel Universe. Are there plans to bring more people to the brokenedness party?

Not in the immediate future, no. I chose these characters for very specific reasons; it's important to me that I get to bring their stories to their proper close. There's a moment coming down the pipe where a particular character essentially looks out of the page and says aloud what -- really -- we should all have been thinking from the getgo. That moment really crystallizes one of my central goals in taking on this job; the critical magic thing which every writer must discover or invent in order to feel properly invested in, and enthused by, a work for hire project.

And of course I can't tell you what it is yet. Sorry.

But no. The temptation to try and INJECT! NEW! BUZZ! or COMBINE! TWO! FANDOMS! by endlessly plugging-in guest characters is a dangerous one, I think. It works very well for certain books (aaaand we're back to the pantheonic tropes I was harping on about earlier; that sense of mythology and presence being more critical than the detail), but for something like X-Force I think it'd be a mistake to go too far down that route. These characters were chosen and brought together for good reasons (even if, hey, let's be honest, sometimes those reasons might have started with "because the other guy wasn't available"). The macro story arc was built specifically around them (and with an ending in mind). Hence to opportunistically crowbar-in the big names, in anything other than a cameo capacity, might've felt cynical at best and downright dishonest at worst.

I dunno, I go back and forth on this sort of thing. Part of me thinks that if you find yourself with a need for a character to fulfil a role in your plot, you might as well jump on the opportunity to create a new one (as with ForgetMeNot, Volga, MeMe, et al). Part of me thinks USE DEADPOOL AND SELL AN EXTRA 10,000 COPIES. Ultimately these are uncertainties best fielded by editors, and you'd be amazed at how often they take the creative route rather than the cynical one.

Justin K hopes for some more insight into the motivation behind Hope Summers.

I was wondering what you find compelling about Hope Summers? For me, there was a bit of a let down post AvX. We had several years worth of Hope-centric plots that all led up to her doing what Cyclops predicted she'd do; reignite the mutant gene. I guess part of the let down for me was the Jean red herring tease. Great that she turned out to be her own person (and I'm very much enjoying with the story Bendis is telling with young Jean over in All New X-Men, so that worked out), but now I just don't know why I need to care about Hope anymore. What's your take?

You don't need to. I'm certainly not going to force you.

Look, this touches on the answer I gave above about Cable; about whether or not all the fiddly minutiae of what's gone before should serve as an obstacle to readers' ability to enjoy a story or a character, or a reward for those who know about it. I'd always argue that the background continuity absolutely shouldn't be a vital part of a newly launching story, and my strategy with Hope has been to -- frankly -- reconstruct her character in the most stealthy and sneaky way possible. As you probably already know -- and I'm dodging spoilers here for those of you who haven't read the first arc yet -- we'd sort of established Hope's character, goals and interests before anyone really realized it was her.

As for the whys and wherefores, as we head into the next few episodes you're going to see precisely what it is about Hope that I think makes her so important. Partly, of course, it's about family and trust, and all those really important meaty issues which The Superhero Team analogizes so perfectly. Perhaps more importantly it's not so much about what Hope is but -- in comparison to the other members of the team -- what she isn't.

I'm being cryptic, sorry. All I'll say is that by the end of episode (saaay) #13, it's my hope that you'll be a lot closer to the inside of her heart and mind than you've ever been before.

Finally, cc008 wraps up this X-Po with a question about the relationship between Cable and everyone's favorite Merc with a Mouth.

How would you describe the relationship between Deadpool and Cable? The two haven't met much recently (with the exception of Cable's small appearance at Wade's wedding). Is that something you'd be interested in exploring?

I know Deadpool isn't a member... just curious. As he's worked with a lot of the team.

Definitely something I'd love to explore, though as I was saying above it'd feel disingenuous to cram that into the bounds of the present story, especially at the expense of some of the purer character stuff I want to deploy with care. And that's not to mention the awkwardness of matching Deadpool's characteristic vibe to the context around him. The X-Force story I'm telling is so thematically serious that Wade's inclusion would require me to either alter it, or underplay his more comedic strengths -- neither of which I want to do at this point.

But as a general thing? Deadpool's one of those characters I've always wanted to write, sure -- the mix of anarchy, cheerful insanity and metafictional strangeness strikes me as a perfect three-bar on the slot machine of my strengths -- so it's really just a case of finding or forcing the right opportunity.

As for the Cable/Deadpool double team, you don't have to be a genius to figure it's the fundamental Double Act trope: you've always got to have a straight man. Someone to control and constrain the chaos, to aim it and trigger it, and to pick up the pieces when it inevitably goes too far. Or at least to sigh and roll his eyes.

As it happens I've actually got a funny little list of characters in my brain I think would work rather well as Wade Wranglers, which is something I think about occasionally. No joke, I have the seeds of a miniseries called "Deadpool Vs. Empirical Science" in mind, wherein Doc Nemesis and Wade explore the cusp of physical, metaphysical and metafictional reality, and kill a metric fuckton of nazi dolphins along the way.


Special thanks, as always, to Si Spurrier for taking on this week's questions!

This is actually where the usual blurb about next week's guest would be -- but before we get to that, this will be my last column as steward of X-Position. It's been a wonderful two years getting to ask questions with some of the X-Office's best writers, and the X-Positioneers have made it such a pleasure to coordinate this column every week.

Coming on to the column is none other than CBR's own Brett White, "In Your Face Jam" columnist and X-Fan extraordinaire! Please make him feel welcome in the coming weeks and send in some truly excellent questions.

Thanks so much for your questions, your comments and for reading over the last couple years!

Next week, Greg Pak joins X-Position to answer any questions about his work on "Storm" -- so, if you've got a pressing query, go ahead and send 'em in via e-mail with the subject line "X-Position. Make sure those questions are in by Friday! Do it to it!

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