After years of fighting alongside the X-Men and X-Force, the international super-thief known as Fantomex is going solo – and going to the MAX.
This October Marvel is releasing Fantomex MAX, a four-issue series featuring the one-time Weapon XIII out on his own and going back to his roots of secret agents, sexy women, weird weaponry and more. Written by Scottish comics scribe Andrew Hope he’s paired with veteran Deadpool artist Shawn Crystal, it’s described as an “old sci-fi pulp story” that blends James Bond with Diabolik as if shot through the lens of director Ridley Scott. Complimented with covers by Francesco Francavilla, this new title in Marvel’s “adults only” MAX line looks to give Fantomex’s first series dark and dangerous.
Newsarama spoke with Crystal about this project about the guns, the kicks through the skull, the cheesecake and more in the project he calls “the most creatively challenging story” he’s ever done.
Newsarama: What can you tell us about this Fantomex MAX series, Shawn?
Shawn Crystal: I'm very excited about this book. Fantomex seems like a character that’s about to come to a popularity boil, and this being his first solo book should really capitalize on the buzz. This is a fun, crazy and violent wild ride of a story that should satisfy the fix for Fantomex addicts and new readers alike.
On a personal note, I feel this is book is going to launch my career to the next level. This has been the most creatively challenging story I’ve ever worked on. I had to do so much concept work for the story; it felt more like a standalone movie than anything I’ve done previously.
Nrama: Why do you say this has been so challenging, creatively?
Crystal: The only thing in this book that has not been previously created is Fantomex. I had to create everything else. The book is like a big budget sci-fi film with multiple scenes, characters, sets, and props. I had to do a ton world building in this book. Also, there is a lot of story jammed into these four issues, which required the most out of me as a storyteller.
Nrama: Fantomex has been around for over a decade now, but this is his first series – and it’s a MAX book. Why do you think Fantomex is a great character ripe for a solo story set in the MAX line?
Crystal: Like I said, there's a real "buzz" around the character. I feel like he's the mysterious anti-hero that our culture tends to create love affairs with. Fantomex's popularity is at the sweet spot where the cool kids are all talking about him without the character hitting the over saturation zone. He's somewhere between Barracuda from Punisher MAX and Deadpool. Who's Barracuda? You've got some reading to do.
I also think this a refreshing book for Marvel because it's not steeped in continuity. It's very welcoming to new readers. It's a nice one-and-done story.
Nrama: I’m content to see Fantomex traipse around the world for four issues, but there’s got to be a villain – who is Fantomex facing off with here?
Crystal: He's not up against one bad guy; he's up against three. They're a part of an organization known as Grover Lane. I don't want to say too much here and give up the story. I will say that these three are bad news, with the sort of strange, disgusting, and ultimately engaging backstory that's reminiscent of an old sci-fi pulp story.
Along the way, he's got some mini-bosses to take care of as well. From robotic armor suits to dark water beasties, Fantomex gets to flex his skills a bit.
Nrama: Speaking of flexing, Fantomex was just seen running through the Uncanny X-Force series – does this series tie in with that at all?
Crystal: Not at all. Anyone can pick up the book and "get it" from page one.
Nrama: X-Force or not, at Fantomex’s side in the comics is his external nervous system, E.V.A. Does she play a role in this?
Crystal: E.V.A. is a major part of this story. She is much more than an external nervous system in this book, and she takes the holographic form of numerous females. Cheesecake, anyone?
Nrama: Series writer Andrew Hope calls Fantomex a Robin Hood type character. What would you say to that?
Crystal: I'd say that’s about right. He wrote the dam thing! Though, he seems much more calculating and cold (at times) than the Archer of Nottingham. Also, he doesn't have a band of Merry Men. He's a mainly a solo act, aside from E.V.A.. whose appearances will hopefully make Merry Men of the male readers.
Nrama: When Fantomex was originally introduced it was a mélange of Fantomas and Diabolik, and this new series – from the solicits at least – seem to be going back in that swanky, sexy secret agent vibe. What can you say about the tone of the series?
Crystal: Yes! I think the best way to describe the series is like a 60's Diabolik / James Bond film mixed with a Ridley Scott sci-fi film. It's a lovely blend of old and new. That retro mix seems to be all the crazy these days.
Nrama: You’re coming into this after a long stint on various Deadpool projects – so how does Fantomex stack up compared to Deadpool?
Crystal: In mob terms (because why not,) Deadpool is where I made my bones. I proved to be a good earner, and showed loyalty on the Merc with a Mouth. Now, I'm being "made" with Fantomex MAX.
Like I said earlier, I think this book is going to put me on the map. I've loved working on Deadpool, and would love continue to do so in the future, but Deadpool can be a niche book. While it did great things for launching my career at Marvel, I became known as a Deadpool artist, someone who deals with humor. It can be hard to break out of that sort of labeling. This book is extremely different. It's action, it's violence, it's sex, and it's certainly not slapstick. That’s what I mean when I say this is my breakout book. I love Deadpool, but there's more to me as a storyteller than Deadpool alone.
Nrama: Speaking of your past, you’re no stranger to the MAX line, having drawn Deadpool MAX – and also knowing the line between the MAX books and normal books having drawn Deadpool as well. Can you delineate any specific examples of things you’re able to do in this book that you wouldn’t be able to if it was a non-MAX book?
Crystal: I drew a guy getting his brain punched through the back of his skull, a sexy French maid, and a tentacle ripping in half. These are just a few examples of how i get my hands dirty in a MAX book. It's great fun, for sure.
It's entertainment for a "mature" reader. The shows I watch tend to fall under this category (The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, etc.) It's nice to work on a story that falls in line with my personal tastes.
Nrama: You're doing all this while balancing a career teaching comics art at the Atlanta campus of the Savannah College of Art & Design and also doing an artist's podcast called InkPulp Audio. Having so many things going on, how does that affect you when you're working on your boards?
Crystal: Actually, I'm least affected when I’m working on pages. I can really get into the groove and focus on the story at hand. There are times where it's challenging, because of all the stresses of having such a complicated life... But, all in all, I am very happy when I’m working on pages. I can compartmentalize the rest. When I’m at home, it's a whole different issue. That’s where my anxiety attacks occur. [Laughs]
Nrama: Speaking of that anxiety and this being such a big project for you, will you be talking about Fantomex MAX in a future episode of Inkpulp Audio?
Crystal: The writer Andrew Hope and I will be recording a podcast during New York Comic Con. I'm sure we'll talk about the book some but we'll have some deeper, more personal stuff to talk about. After all, Inkpulp Audio is more about the artist, less about the work.