Rob Williams Leads the UNCANNY X-FORCE Team Into FEAR ITSELF

Williams on FEAR ITSELF: UNCANNY X-FORCE

Launching this past October, the Rick Remender-written Uncanny X-Force has become both a critical and commercial hit for Marvel. The team’s a hit squad within the X-Men so secret that even Cyclops doesn’t know they exist, and with members — Wolverine, Deadpool, Archangel, Psylocke and Fantomex — willing to do what it takes to get the job done.

That crew is joining Marvel’s massive Fear Itself conflict this coming July with a three-issue Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force miniseries, written by the increasingly busy Rob Williams (Skaar: King of the Savage Land, Daken: Dark Wolverine and the upcoming The Iron Age and Ghost Rider, just to name a few) and illustrated by Simone Bianchi, who most recently worked on Thor: For Asgard.

In Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force, the team faces off against a particularly extreme branch of the Purifiers — the anti-mutant group first seen in 1982’s revered X-Men tale God Loves, Man Kills — and are forced to ask some heavy questions about their own existence. Newsarama talked with Williams via email to find out more.

Newsarama: Rob, the work Rick Remender, Jerome Opeña, Esad Ribic and Rafael Albuquerque have been doing on the ongoing Uncanny X-Force series has definitely made it one of the most buzzed-about Marvel titles in the past six months. Essentially, you're the first writer to be running with these concepts other than Remender since the series started — what kind of responsibility is that?

Rob Williams: An intimidating one. It's not just the fact that X-Force has been a big hit, it's the quality of work that Rick Remender and his artists have been producing in the book. I genuinely think Uncanny X-Force is one of the best books on the market at the moment. It's really admirable how Rick paces the book with a ton of ideas, a high action pace and some great, intimate character moments. Also, the whole moral conundrum setup of a “Kill Crew” offers so many storytelling opportunities. And the end of the book's initial arc certainly didn't shirk that. It's a great comic. So, obviously, that's a lot for us to live up to. I'm aware of that. The standard's very high. It's a little scary.

Nrama: I think a big part of the appeal of Uncanny X-Force is the different dynamics between the five main characters — it's small enough of a team that everyone gets worthwhile moments, and it looks like the lineup will remain constant for a while. What appeals to you about this team?

Williams: It's a great cast. And yes, I agree that the fact that there's five very strong characters there means that nothing is getting dilated. Everyone gets their screentime. I love writing Deadpool. I've done it a few times now and that's a comic voice that comes very easily to me. He really adds something to what could easily be a po-faced navel-gazing exercise. What I found when I was writing the miniseries was how much I enjoyed writing Fantomex. These characters are fun, which the concept of a kill crew really needs as a balance. They lift the book. But Wolverine, Psylocke and Archangel are great characters in their own right. And visually, somehow they really click together. It's a great looking team.

Nrama: You've got a good amount of experience writing Deadpool and Wolverine, but you haven’t really gotten a chance to write Archangel, Psylocke or Fantomex before. Were you eager to tackle those characters?

Williams: I was. You're always a little nervous coming to characters who are new to you. Trying to get inside their head. I've read Angel and Psylocke forever so I figure I had a fairly decent idea about them and where they're coming from. Fantomex is an esoteric character to write. Rick gets his unusual speech patterns, that bonkersness that Grant Morrison originally gave him. I like his inherent sarcastic tone. I enjoy writing sarcastic characters. I can't imagine why. (That may be sarcasm.)

Nrama: In any tie-in to an event series like Fear Itself, there are comics that relate very closely to the main story, and ones that deal with the fallout and larger impact of the main book's events — often taking the story in some unexpected directions. This one sounds like the latter. Is that an accurate assessment?

Williams: Kind of. It's a thematic exploration of the ideas behind Fear Itself. It seems to the people of Earth, from the actions of the main Fear Itself storyline, that this may well be the end of the world. That type of climate can lead people to extreme actions. We concentrate on a rogue cell of Purifiers who believe that the superhumans have brought about the actions of the Book of Revelations. That the devil will soon come and take the souls of everyone unless they can send their souls to Heaven first. So off on a major random killing spree they go. And this desperate action is born of fear, of course, even if they won't admit that to themselves.

The idea was to ask, "What is a superhuman kill crew afraid of?" And X-Force will find themselves considering that maybe the Purifiers, as askew as they are, have a point. Maybe the superhumans, and their lapsing moral centre, are responsible for bring about the end of the world. Should superheroes be in a kill crew in the first place?

Nrama: It seems that when writing protagonists that are willing to kill, the challenge is always to present opponents that are loathsome enough that the audience feels that death is what they deserve. Is that what you're looking to do with this group of Purifiers? (It certainly sounds like they're engaging in some upsetting behavior.)

And since it looks like Fear Itself will include some crises of confidence in Thor and Steve Rogers, can we expect Fear Itself to raise some doubt within the Uncanny X-Force team about the way they handle things? (They already had some disagreements over Fantomex's actions in the end of the first arc, after all.)

Williams:  I don't think readers will have any doubt from our storyline that The Purifiers deserve X-Force's line in brutal justice. But the question of whether or not X-Force should exist in the first place is central to our storyline. There's a good writing edict that goes: It's not enough to put the protagonist's life on the line. You have to put their soul on the line too. That's at the heart of this story.

Nrama: Simone Bianchi's interior work at Marvel has been limited to rather high-profile projects, like Astonishing X-Men with Warren Ellis and Jeph Loeb's run on Wolverine. How excited are you to be working with him on this series?

Williams: Hugely excited. You just have to take a look at Simone's cover for #1 to see what he brings to a project. Absolutely stunning visuals. When I asked on the phone who was drawing this and they told me it was Simone it felt like the whole nature of the project lifted. This is going to be a great looking story with some killer action sequences. I can't wait for people to see it.

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