Comics
Published November 23, 2021

Rob Liefeld on Celebrating 30 Years of X-Force with 'X-Force: Killshot Anniversary Special' #1

Hear from the Modern Marvel Master right here, then read the ish at your local comic shop this week!

In 1991, Rob Liefeld re-energized the mutant landscape of Marvel Comics when he took the wide-eyed kids of NEW MUTANTS and transformed them into a paramilitary strikeforce starring in the newly launched X-FORCE. Led by Liefeld’s own creation, Cable, established characters like Cannonball welcomed new recruits including Domino and Shatterstar to the fold. X-FORCE #1 broke sales records and established a high bar for the burgeoning 1990s comic book scene.

Thirty years later, Liefeld returns to the team he put on the map as writer and artist on the X-FORCE: KILLSHOT ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL. Alongside scripter Chad Bowers, the maestro of mutant mayhem has plans to celebrate the pillars of the book across three decades, including the requisite appearance by more than one Deadpool.

X-FORCE: KILLSHOT ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL #1 cover by Rob Liefeld
X-FORCE: KILLSHOT ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL #1 cover by Rob Liefeld

We spoke with Liefeld about igniting the flame of X-Force and how he still has more left in the tank with this collection of characters!

Going back to the beginning, where did the idea for Cable's creation come from?

Rob Liefeld: I was tasked with introducing a new character to impact the NEW MUTANTS comic which had fallen way back from the rest of the X-Men line terms of sales. I wanted a character that looked like a tough guy on the surface but who was as smart as Reed Richards. All the mystery I brought to the character was inspired by my love of soap operas, as well as my love of the Wolverine character who I had followed from his first appearance. Slowly I was able to peel back all the layers, the time travel, his secret legacy, his ultimate mission; it was a blast watching the fans welcome him and see the comic turn a corner as a result. 

Was Cable always meant to fit into the X-Men mythology or was he an original idea that could fit anywhere?

He was always a legacy character, a Summers son. Look no further than X-FORCE #1, pages 32-33, when I’m finally depicting him using his telekinesis and Domino freaks out, cautioning him from revealing his true identity. That was the next escalation of his mystery I’d been building toward. I knew exactly what I was doing, peeling back the mystery layer by layer. 

X-FORCE #1

What made the idea of Cable mentoring younger characters, initially the New Mutants, work?

New Mutants needed a spark. I had collected the comic from the start and they were really without a firm identity for about a year prior to my coming on board. They were kids in a clubhouse with no real purpose. Cable brought a new identity to the book, a new purpose, focus and mission. They were becoming X-Force. 

How was the decision made to transition from New Mutants to X-Force? Was it your call or did it come from on high?

I begged for it. On social media, I’ve shared my exchanges, via FAX, with the sales department after our second turn down by the committee. The sales guys continued to help me shape the message in order to convince the higher-ups, who were reluctant to do it. There was serious push back on the face lift I was asking for. It was really helpful advice from the sales manager, and on our third try we were successful and convinced them to move on a name change and a new launch! 

What work did you need to do in order to set up X-FORCE?

Once we had the green light, I had to adjust my schedule, I could only provide layouts for the big crossover “X-Tinction Agenda”. I ended up only doing two of three issues while I pivoted to setting up the endgame that would culminate in NEW MUTANTS #100 and create the opening for X-FORCE #1. I’d bitten off a lot but I was young and had my sights set on pulling it all off! 

NEW MUTANTS #100 cover by Rob Liefeld
NEW MUTANTS #100 cover by Rob Liefeld

Where did the new characters like Domino and Shatterstar come from? Were they all in your head for a while or did you create as the need arose?

My sketchbooks and notebooks were chock full of new characters and concepts, I was excited about transforming the line up with a more warrior-centric line up! Because of the overwhelming success of Cable, my editors were open to any and all of the characters I was bringing along! 

How fleshed out was the connection between Cable and Stryfe early on?

It was there from the beginning but I was determined to delay the reveal until I had the helm writing the book. I felt if earned the right to position the reveal. Honestly, I was really nervous when I was finally depicting the scene, I wanted it to have big impact and I had my doubts and considered backing off and changing it but I stuck to my guns and the fans were not shy with their approval. They loved it. NEW MUTANTS #100 went back to press repeatedly, second print, third print.. The book has no gimmicks, no cover enhancements, it was just story and art that met with roaring fan enthusiasm. There’s nothing like it. It’s so exciting.

Why did Stryfe and the Mutant Liberation Front make such perfect foes for Cable and X-Force?

NEW MUTANTS, prior to issue #86, was lacking in focus and direction. Who was the dedicated villain? Foe? Threat? Cable/Stryfe and the MLF provided a real punch. Look, I’m a comic book fan going back to seven years of age. I was inspired by Jack Kirby, Jim Starlin, Frank Miller; I watched those gentleman transform franchises, quickly, by establishing high stakes, consequences and drama. Miller took DAREDEVIL from a bi-monthly comic that was near cancelation to the top of the charts. I was there for all of that. I understood the blueprint and was quick to apply it to New Mutants. Fresh faces, consequences. The audience responded when the stakes were raised. 

NEW MUTANTS #86

Why do you think Cable, X-Force, and, of course, Deadpool have retained their popularity so thoroughly through the years?

They are the templates for much what followed. Suddenly a bunch of sci-fi, gun-toting warriors became everyone’s go-to solution for higher sales. But Cable and co. were the forbearers of that style because of the impact they had. Cable transformed the X-Universe in the span of 13 months.  

Do you enjoy revisiting these characters in projects like KILLSHOT?

X-FORCE: KILLSHOT was a highlight of my last year. I couldn’t stop smiling as I produced each panel, every page. Who loves these characters more than I do? No one. I think it shows.

Where did the idea to do something like KILLSHOT come from and how early were you involved?

I put in a request to C.B. Cebulski, our EIC, to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of X-Force and he responded with great enthusiasm and single handily set about to make it happen. C.B. came through and delivered on all of it and I hope I was able to return the favor and delivered for him. Time will tell. 

For those on the fence, sum up KILLSHOT briefly—why both old and new fans should check it out.

Wow, oh man, I guess that of you like action packed story telling, then, this is the comic for you. I’d like to think that anyone who samples it will enjoy it. I hope that’s the case. And for long time fans, if you’ve missed seeing these characters, I think you will enjoy the ride. It’s brief but hopefully satisfying. 

MAJOR X #1 cover by Rob Liefeld

Since he's one of the newer additions to this world but plays a big role in KILLSHOT, what can you tell us about Major X?

Well, fans and readers of MAJOR X know that he is Cable’s son with Storm. The mini-series established an important mission that introduced him, but this X-Force story reveals his purpose. He plays an important role! 

Do you want to tease any of the fun guest appearances in the book?

I just want to encourage fans to pick it up and sample it. I hope it entertains. 

How has it been collaborating with guys like Chad Bowers who started out as fans?

I love Chad! We’ve been jamming for several years now. He’s great, at this point I’m having him script all my work. 

What is still left that you'd like to do with X-Force?

I could continue with these characters forever. I have a never ending stream of concepts and stories with them. As I said, no one loves these characters more than me. They leapt out of my notebooks and sketchbooks and we’ve achieved ridiculous levels of success together. 

I just want to thank everyone at Marvel, C.B., my editor Mark Basso, everyone at the helm, for giving me the opportunity to make this comic. It was so much fun, I’m grateful for this opportunity. 

Pick up X-FORCE: KILLSHOT ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL #1 at your local comic shop on November 24, True Believers! Pax et Justitia!

X-FORCE (1991) #1 cover by Rob Liefeld
X-FORCE (1991) #1 cover by Rob Liefeld

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