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‘It’ll never be boring’ – Benjamin Percy and Joshua Cassara talk ‘X-Force’

X-Men Week continues with a look at Krakoa’s iteration of X-Force!

Following the events of House of X and Powers of X, Marvel’s mutants have entered an all-new, all-different era. It is the Dawn of X. To celebrate, AiPT! Brings you X-MEN WEEK–seven days of original interviews with past and present X-Creators. Pax Krakoa!

Like most of Marvel’s mutant teams, X-Force has undergone several mutations since it exploded onto the comics scene back in 1991. This squad has been extreme, lethal, uncanny and now, something a little more professional. To learn what the Dawn of X means for X-Force, I caught up with the upcoming series’ writer Benjamin Percy at New York Comic Con 2019, as well as his collaborator, artist Joshua Cassara (who wasn’t at the con). Here’s what the creative team had to say about Beast, Black Tom Cassidy, Colossus, Domino, Jean Grey, Quentin Quire, Sage and Wolverine’s new gig!

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

AiPT!: Saying X-Force has quite the cast is an understatement. How did this team come together? Were these all your picks, or did Jonathan Hickman and Jordan D. White also have a say in who ended up on this team?

Benjamin Percy: In January, we all got together and had out first X-Men summit. Part of that discussion was who’s on your team? We made hundreds of 3×5 notecards and slid them around on the table and talked about different formations. And there was a little bit of horse trading that went on. But I knew from the very beginning I wanted Wolverine and Beast.

Benjamin Percy at NYCC 2019.

The reason I wanted those two was because this current formation of X-Force is unlike one we’ve ever seen before. This is a mutant nation, which means X-Force is equivalent to the CIA. So we have an intelligence unit–a group of analysts. Then we have those involved in the wetwork. So if you think of Beast as the head, Wolverine is the fist. I was really interested in that dynamic and the ways in which they would align with each other, but also bash up against each other as well, because of unsound decisions that those parties might make.

AiPT!: Speaking of those two, I think a lot of X-Fans are ready to learn what’s going on in that preview art where Logan and Hank appear to be naked by the waterfall.

Pages from X-Force #1, shown at the NYCC 2019 Dawn of X panel.

Percy: Shirtless Wolverine is something that will happen in every issue.

AiPT!: On the topic of the team and the various members’ roles, will the intelligence characters like Jean and Beast see any action in the field?

Percy: Of course. It does have a procedural quality to it, with the investigative and field work dynamic, but we’re going to shake that up constantly. There’s no terra firma. The status quo will always be shifting and, without saying too much, know that the cast of X-Force is sometimes mission-dependent, so you see this big group of people–that doesn’t mean this big group of people will be in every issue. 20 pages isn’t a lot of real estate, so we’ll have issues that just focus on one character, we’ll have issues that focus on the investigative arm, we’ll have issues that focus on dynamic action in the field, and not everybody is going to stick around. Some people will slide off and return later. The thing you can expect is the unexpected.

AiPT!: Expect the unexpected. Nice.

Percy: Emphasis on the “x.”

AiPT!: Joshua, which of the cast members are you having the most fun drawing?

Joshua Cassara: Do I really have to choose? Honestly, the most fun and surprising of the bunch is Black Tom Cassidy. Ben writes him with so much personality that it’s fun to do the character acting for him. He’s basically plugged into Krakoa and I love the sense of pride and how defensive he is of his place on the island. Plus, he has an old-timey villain mustache.

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

AiPT!: You mentioned Krakoa. Your art style is very detailed. Do you feel it lends itself well to the X-Men’s new island home, with all the various flora and fauna you get to draw?

Cassara: Detailed is a nice way of saying I take way too long draw things, isn’t it?! I feel right at home on Krakoa. Making everything organic and covered in vines is so much fun. I get to use a combination of real life flora and fauna mixed in with things straight from my imagination. From the various caves and hubs and habitats, to the raised beds of moss for hospital beds, or tables made from gnarled wood or tree stumps; I’ll never want to leave this island.

And let me tell you that this book isn’t what it is without [Color Artist] Dean White. What he is doing in this book is blowing Ben and I away. He’s so good, not just because of his insane technical skill, but because he is always asking about character motivations and moments and is so concerned with the storytelling aspects. That’s what separates him from the rest. His work elevates the story in ways I couldn’t even imagine. He’s an awesome artist and great dude, and is a pillar with which this book could not stand.

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

AiPT!: Aside from working with Dean, what’s it like working with each other?

Percy: Joshua and I text, email and talk virtually every day and we’ve achieved a mind-meld. We’re strenuously trying to make this the best story possible and if you’ve seen his work in Venom, its extraordinary. But he’s taken things to a whole new level. When I’m uploading some of these images to the boards, C.B., Jordan and Hickman are all stunned by the awesomeness of his work. He has a dirty, gritty noir-like quality to his work that’s perfectly suited to this story, because bad things are coming.

AiPT!: Like those warthog creatures we’ve seen in the preview art.

Percy: Krakoa grows more than plants.

AiPT!: And Joshua?

Cassara: Total and complete mind-meld for sure, and it’s awesome. Ben and I have really synced up with this one. His knack for grit and how he frames and paces the story is a great match for my kind of dirty artwork. We have a constant back and forth through text, email and especially phone calls that gets deep and heavy into what we are trying to do. He is a great partner and collaborator and incorporates the ideas or notes I have for this series. He is never completely married to his script and lets me ad lib as I see fit visually.

The only photo of himself Joshua Cassara would allow.

Ben is laying the foundation for a long run in this brave new Krakoan world with our mutant version of the CIA while exploring the depths of each character as we go along.

Also, Ben and I chop wood together on the weekends and go hunting for large game with our bare hands. So there’s that.

AiPT!: The brave new Krakoan world… Benjamin, what about the new status quo has you most excited as a writer?

Percy: I mean, I’ve been reading X-Men since I was a kid. I would at any point in my career be geeked to write some mutant mayhem, but especially right now, the paradigm shift that’s occurring feels like there’s no better time to be writing X-Force, and to be writing Wolverine. There are years of stories in the sandbox we’re playing in and we’ve been given a lot of real estate to tell these stories. They’re not hurrying us along, they’re not making strict demands–they’re encouraging us to go wild with our imaginations. One of the great things about the experience so far is that the synergy of all the different writers and artists. Yes, we’re all writing individual books, but we’re also writing one big story together.

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

AiPT!: And Jonathan’s overseeing it all?

Percy: He’s orchestrating. And props to our editors Jordan, Chris and Annalise–they’re keeping all of this straight, keeping all these ducks in a row.

AiPT!: When preparing to write X-Force, were there any movies or television shows you looked to for inspiration?

Percy: Without giving too much away, let me say there are some storylines in the future that might draw some inspiration from Michael Mann films like Heat. If you look at procedural dramas on television, of course I’m following those closely and looking for cues from them on how to arrange the narration of the story, the architecture of the story. I’m also channeling the legacy of X-Force. It’s a new beginning, but we’re not disregarding the past.

AiPT!: Well, there have been a few X-Force runs. Are there any you hold in particularly high regard?

Percy: I’ve enjoyed many of them including, Brisson’s recent run. The gonzo quality of Rick Remender’s run–he reminds of Grant Morrison in that he holds nothing back and the joyousness of that. I get a real kick out of that, so I’ll tip my hat to him.

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

AiPT!: Jean and Wolverine, Domino and Colossus… there’s some real romantic baggage on this team. Is there room for romance in this procedural comic, or are you going to send X-Force after me for asking that question?

Percy: It’s an adrenaline-fueled soap opera, so there’ll be drama on Krakoa, and there’ll be drama on the field–some of it will be blood-soaked and some of it will have shades of sexual tension. So the whole range of human experiences. The thing I can promise you is it’ll never be boring.

AiPT!: As we wrap up, I need to ask about Jean’s controversial costume. Does she wear her ‘90s pants under her ‘60s dress as the first issue’s cover seems to suggest?

Percy: No.

AiPT!: Joshua, without spoiling anything, you’ve been drawing Jean… for the Jean fans out there, is she going to continue to be a badass even if not every fan loves her current costume?

Cassara: Jean can rock whatever she wants. That’s the beauty of Krakoa. Plus, she’s so powerful, who would have the gall to criticize her fashion choices?

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

AiPT!: Why X-Men fans, of course! But seriously, thank you, both for taking the time to talk X-Force with me for X-Men Week at AiPT!

Be sure to return to AiPT! tomorrow for X-Men Week: Day 3!

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