‘I’m Gonna Write It Like I Stole It’ — Sam Humphries On Taking Over ‘Uncanny X-Force’ [Interview]
In January, Marvel is relaunching Uncanny X-Force as part of their “Marvel Now!” initiative with the new creative team of Sam Humphries and Ron Garney. For Humphries, it’s a pretty big deal: Not only is this his second major gig at Marvel after landing the job on The Ultimates, but he’s also taking over a book that he loves as a fan. So how does he plan to deal with the pressure of stepping into a title that’s gotten rave reviews for dealing with strange, unexpected corners of the Marvel Universe? By going all out.
I spoke to Humphries about where he plans to go with the book, how he wants to set himself apart from his predecessor, and why Puck needs more love.ComicsAlliance: X-Force as a concept has always been geared towards aspects that are outside the core X-Men titles, whether it’s the Rob Liefeld stuff that kicked it off or the Peter Milligan / Mike Allred run that became X-Statix, and then into Rick Remender’s run as well. Where do you see your run fitting into that? Are you planning on dealing with things outside that core?
Sam Humphries: Yeah, absolutely. One of my favorite things about this book, not just working on it but reading it over the years, is that it delivers a story that you can’t find in any other X-Book. Theres’s a combination of characters and character dynamics, and they go out and find and deal with situations and beings and all sorts of dark secrets that you can’t find anywhere else. Through the different incarnations, we’ve seen that implemented in different ways. You have the Rob Liefeld paramilitary extreme version, you have the wacked-out, nearly psychedelic Milligan/Allred version, you’ve got Rick Remender doing his thing with questions of killing and murder and when it’s okay and when it isn’t.
Even though it’s a definition, it gives you a lot of room to move within that definition. There’s a lot of different things that you can pick apart in the Marvel Universe, and specifically the mutant universe, that aren’t ever really addressed in the main book. It’s a huge opportunity to do some cool things, new things, to get people excited and present the whole mutant world in a new light.
CA: In terms of stuff that you can’t deal with in the other books, are there any obscure bits from past X-Men or X-Force stories that you’re keen on revisiting, or is it more that you want to go to new places that we haven’t seen?
SH: I gotta say, it’s a little of column A, little of column B. I was a huge X-Men fan growing up, a huge Claremont and Simonson era fan, and so I have a lot of knowledge of the mutant world whether I wished to keep it or not. Certainly, over the years, there have been times when I’ve wished I could delete that information and make way for something useful, but thank God I didn’t, because now it’s actually useful.
So I’ve been using a lot of that material and doing a lot of hard work. A lot of hard research, a.k.a. sitting around reading old comics. But X-Force is a real opportunity to go down new roads and see new things. For me, it’s a mix. Long-term X-Men fans will definitely find juicy bits to sink their teeth into. Familiar characters, familiar locations, familiar themes. But my job is to take these into the context of X-Force and present them in a whole new light. To see a new, perhaps dark corner of locations you’ve seen before.
CA: What kind of locations? You said before that you wanted to go places that aren’t seen in the other books, so there won’t be much at the Jean Grey School or Utopia.
SH: Exactly. It’s not that we won’t ever see those places, but you’ll see a lot of them in the other books. What we’re going to do is cut this crew loose and let them roam around the world to various locations. Some are real-life locations, some are Marvel Universe, some may not even be on Planet Earth.
When the X-Men show up in London, Captain Britain comes right out and maybe they meet the Queen. If X-Force comes around, they see a different side of London. Kind of like if Justin Bieber goes to New York, he sees a very different New York than you and I would see. His experience of the world is very different from ours, and I think there’s definitely differences in the way that X-Men experience locations and the way X-Force does.
CA: Do you think there’ll be a difficult balance there, in terms of what fans want to see or are expecting to see, and what you want to do as a creator that’s outside that?
SH: Yeah. I think it’s always a balance. There are lots of things that are cool and fun to write and not necessarily cool and fun to read, you know? There’s always a balance in terms of mining past issues and past continuity for material versus making up new sh**, but there’s a balance that X-Force as a book is uniquely positioned to explore. It’s always had its own particular identity and its own unique lens to look through and see things in new ways.
CA: You mentioned that you feel it’s a book with a unique cast. Is it going to be the same group we’ve seen in Remender’s run?
SH: No, it’s not. This is not any cast that I think anyone can say they’ve ever seen before. This is not a classic Wolverine, Rogue, Colossus line-up. It’s definitely a new mix of characters thrown together in ways that they really have never encountered each other before.
The group that we start off with right off the bat is Psylocke, Storm, Puck and Spiral, and we have a few more characters joining the group in the first few issues. In my mind, all those characters are wild cards. They’re all strong personalities, they’re all strong in terms of their powers, they’ve all got dark secrets and they’ve all got a rebellious streak. That to me is a really attractive part of the book, being able to balance all those character dynamics at once.
CA: When I think of the most powerful X-Men characters, Puck is definitely one that always comes to mind.
SH: [Laughs] Oh, you sweet talker. Don’t lie to me. I think Puck is a character that deserves more love. He’s like a Canadian Indiana Jones, he’s an adventurer. He’s also gone out and faced a lot of dark stuff out in the world, but he does it with this wry sense of humor. He’s a guy that despite being short of stature, he always finds a way to kick somebody’s ass. That kind of character who has a wit and determination is fun to write, and I think he’s going to be a good mix with these other characters in the book who all tend to be super-serious all the time.
CA: Was that roster something you brought to the table?
SH: Yeah, absolutely. You know, it’s a collaborative effort, especially because this book spins out of the end of Rick’s run and there were characters that I couldn’t use and characters that they felt I should take a really strong look at, but in the end, I’m really psyched about this roster. A lot of these ideas, not just the ones I mentioned but the ones we’ve got coming up, came directly from me and my desire to write them and put them through their paces, see what they’re made of, put them against each other and see what happens.
It’s going to be a fun book. It’s going to be a fun group of characters to spend some time with.
CA: You mentioned that the focus is on Psylocke. I’m curious as to your take on her, because she’s another one of those characters that’s been all over the map.
SH: She’s been through the machine in more ways than one, you know? In the comics, she’s been through a lot. In real life, she’s been handled by a bunch of different writers, some of whom take her in opposite directions. In both cases, I think it’s fair to say that Psylocke is a survivor. She’s someone who rises above her complicated past and the tragedy and figures out what’s best for Betsy.
I can’t spoil anything, but at the end of Rick’s run, we leave Betsy in one situation, and in the first issue of my run, we pick up six months later, and Betsey is definitely in a life transition point. It’s kind of being in that moment that kicks off the events of that first arc.
CA: How has it been working with Ron Garney?
SH: Ron is awesome. This is technically not our first collaboration, we worked together on two pages of Ultimates. Even just in those two pages… I was already a fan of his work, especially Captain America, which I referenced a lot in my Ultimates run, and we just hit it off right away. So someone says “hey, it’d be cool to work together someday!” and you go “hey, that’d be awesome!” When is that ever going to happen? Turns out it happens on my very next assignment.
He’s got such a great energy and vibe for this book, and I can’t wait to make him draw all kinds of disturbing sh**.
CA: Remender’s run has been pretty universally praised. Obviously, you’re writing Ultimates as well, so it’s not like this is an entirely new thing for you to be on a high-profile book, but was there any pressure? Did you get together with him and compare notes?
SH: Hell yeah there’s pressure. The other book I write for Marvel is following up Jonathan Hickman on the Ultimates, so it seems to be a pattern at this point that I just have to figure out how to fill pretty big shoes on really excellent titles. This is not a Jack Kirby walking into DC’s office and saying “give me your lowest selling title” situation. It’s intimidating.
X-Force has been one of my favorite books since before Marvel even knew my name. I’ve been loving the sh** out of Rick’s run, and Rick and I have known each other for years. He was very open, very generous with his notes and his thoughts about where to go, and his experiences writing the book. But the thing about Rick’s run, and I can say this because I know what happens, is that Rick nails the end of his run. Kills it. His whole run on Uncanny X-Force is a complete story, it has a beginning, a middle and an end. I love his run enough to respect that and acknowledge it, but I also love it enough to leave it alone.
Nobody wants to see me try and continue X-Force as a watered-down version of Rick Remender. Rick asked questions in the book and addressed them. There’s nothing left for me to continue, but it would not be an enjoyable experience for anyone involved, for the readers, for Rick, for me or for Marvel. No one would come out pleased. This spins directly out of the events of Rick’s run, but it takes the concept of X-Force, the mandate of the book and the characters down a new path with a new focus.
CA: Is there a conscious decision to stay away from plot elements like Otherworld and Apocalypse?
SH: I wouldn’t say it’s a conscious boycott by any means, but I read Rick’s stuff with Apocalypse and I’m like “Damn, he did it.” Slam dunk. I don’t really have anything to add to that right now, nor, I think, is anyone asking me to add to it right now. “The Dark Angel” saga f***in’ kicks ass, you know?
That’s not to say that if, down the road, I had an idea for a good Apocalypse story, I wouldn’t do it. It’s like the difference between having Bruce Springsteen onstage and a Bruce Springsteen marionette onstage. It makes everything look terrible. So right off the bat, I’m focused on a new status quo for this team, a new line-up. It’s a new #1, a new focus, and we have new things to address. The most important things I take from Rick’s legacy are just writing the hell out of the book.
I’m gonna write it like I stole it, basically.
Rick did not yield or stop at any stop signs in his run. It’s ruthless and compelling and exciting, and those are the things we’re going to take. That’s the kind of mandate you get when you hop on X-Force. They’ve got all the mainstream X-Men stuff handled, you know? You have Bendis and Jason Aaron steering the X-Men ship, they don’t need a knockoff of that or someone doing that with a different set of characters. My job is to deliver stories and surprises and excitement and experiences that you can’t get anywhere else.