By Ben Morse
Avengers Vs. X-Men split the Marvel Universe in two. Now Rick Remender’s ready to begin the healing process and ignite Marvel NOW!
In UNCANNY AVENGERS, which debuts on October 10, writer Remender will be joined by artist John Cassaday in crafting a team made up of both Avengers and X-Men dedicated to fighting for equality between humans and mutants while also attempting to protect the world at large. It will be the first series in the Marvel NOW! initiative and set the stage for over 20 new titles to come.
Remender promises a very different look at both Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the Children of the Atom, with fresh elements including Captain America taking orders from Havok, The Scarlet Witch seeking redemption that may be unattainable and a Red Skull unlike any ever seen before.
We spoke with the writer about all this and much more as he prepares for the massive launch.
|Uncanny Avengers #1 cover by John Cassaday|
Marvel.com: To start, how did you get this gig? How did UNCANNY AVENGERS come about?
Rick Remender: It goes about three creative retreats back when I was having dinner with Jason Aaron and we were talking about our plans for UNCANNY X-FORCE and WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN. We were also talking about Avengers Vs. X-Men and the fallout and things that were being thrown around and the idea came to me for an X-Men/Avengers mash-up thing. Given some of the things that are coming up in AvX it seemed to make a lot of sense.
So the next day we had the X-Retreat and I pitched it to Nick Lowe, and then the next day in the main retreat the idea started bubbling up in a few places and everybody seemed pretty down with it. But it sort of fizzled. And I think it was a phone call with Jason Aaron where he was like “But what about the Uncanny Avengers thing?” and I was like “Oh yeah! That’s a stupid thing to have forgotten.” I brought it back up at the next retreat and everybody really dug it.
There are some events at the end of AvX that I think naturally feed into something like this; sort of a healing book that would not just deal with the ramifications but with sort of a new flagship bridge between the two worlds that had been separated in their own little pockets for so long.
Marvel.com: So you had this great idea for a book you wanted to do, but suddenly we’ve got this line-wide initiative and it turns out to be the perfect flagship title for the whole thing. It’s the first book coming out, it’s got a big name artist in John Cassaday, it’s going to lead the way for Marvel NOW!—what’s all that like?
Rick Remender: Well, there’s no pressure there right? And then you find out that the book is going to be the flagship of the new re-launch. Hey, no pressure! [Laughs]
It’s great to have someone like John Cassaday on art. At first I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t have a Jerome Opeña or a Tony Moore or somebody who I had a long history with just because of comfort levels, but I think one of the cool things about Marvel NOW! is that it’s a big ball peen hammer to the [Marvel line] and everything gets shifted up and mixed up and everybody’s working with new people and on new characters. So I had to take a breath and trust that everything was going to be okay. And obviously with a genius like John Cassaday it will be. Adding to the pressure of course, John’s last big, major project [ASTONISHING X-MEN] was with Joss Whedon, who made [“Marvel’s The Avengers”] into this worldwide phenomenon that it is with his brilliant writing and directing on that film. So the pressure is coming from a few directions and you kind of have to forget it. You kind of just have to cut it in half and scrape aside the part of it that is the scope and size and magnitude of what it’s going to be and really just focus in on what the story you want to tell is.
|Astonishing X-Men by John Cassaday|
And to that end, I spent hours and hours with Tom Brevoort on the phone just rolling this over. John Cassaday and I spent like, an entire day on the phone. I really like collaborating. I think the best stories always come when you find that third idea. A buddy of mine who works in television gave me that term and I like it a lot because it’s when two people are bouncing a story around, it’s the idea you wouldn’t have come to on your own. It’s neither of your ideas. It’s the third idea. So, in collaborating with Tom and John and really beating this thing into shape, over time you can do a pretty good job of forgetting the weight of the expectation on the project and really just focus on the creative. And frankly, you have to or else it’ll crush you. You’ll sort of lose sight. What you’re doing here is trying to tell the most amazing, exciting, never-before-seen kind of story you can. If that’s not your focus, if you’re worried at all about anything else or what Internet reaction’s going to be, you’re pandering to people’s expectations. You’re not going to tell your best story. You’re not going to do what’s true to your sensibilities. So that’s been sort of the goal. Tom and John have been really helpful.
Marvel.com: Given how closely UNCANNY AVENGERS is tied into the end of AvX, how has the handoff been with the guys working on that?
Rick Remender: I know what they’re doing. And fortunately, as Jason was writing the final issue I got to chat him up a bit. We coordinate very well. I think we’ve done a great job in the X-Office of tying the books together subtly in ways that link but feel natural. That’s something that I benefit from having with Jason. We [talked about] how he’s ending things in the issue itself and I gave him my first script and we changed a few things to kind of meld them together. Tom’s obviously the editor of both so I’m hip to what’s going on. We’re all in communication about these things to make sure that it’s cohesive.
Marvel.com: In a broad sense, how does UNCANNY AVENGERS reflect a post-AvX Marvel Universe?
Rick Remender: There’s something that Cyclops said to [Captain America] on Utopia that’s ringing in his head. He didn’t do enough to help. And Steve is taking that to heart. Coming out of AvX with the landscape shifted and changed as much as it is, there are events that lead Steve to recognizing that he needs to do more and there are five new things that lead to the creation of the team. The team itself really isn’t even created until halfway through the first year. It’s still chaos. I didn’t want it to just be like “And now everybody shakes hands and hugs!” There’s still a really good arc of these things kind of coalescing and cooking into a soufflé of A and X. So without being able to discuss the specific events, I’ll just say that it comes from a place of healing and it comes from a guy who has firsthand experience with the horrors of prejudice and hatred and sees that this is his potentially final opportunity to stand and do something about it and help.
Now, that’s just where Steve’s at. I have gone to great lengths to make sure every character involved has a very specific reason for being there, a very specific reason for being put on the team, and chosen, and they all have very unique perspectives on the team’s necessity, where they’re at as people and why they think that this is a good thing to do. Wolverine’s motives come half from AvX and the other half from the end of the “Final Execution” arc in UNCANNY X-FORCE. So those two things, without giving them away, [change] him in a way that I’m really excited to be writing. I think that we’re helping to really develop and progress Wolverine as a character in these books.
Marvel.com: All that said, Cap doesn’t so much keep himself at the center of the team as he gets the ball rolling and then passes the baton to Havok of all people—why is that?
Rick Remender: I think that the bottom line is that he sees the value in people seeing Captain America and Havok descend down to save the day when things go gnarly. There needs to be a face in the Avengers that could be the Captain America for [mutants]. And going through his list, Havok is the very best choice for that. You’ve got somebody who’s trained by Xavier, he’s a beloved X-Man, he’s well-educated, he’s formerly a government agent—with X-Factor being what it was in the nineties he was part of a government-sanctioned unit—so he’s got a shiny veneer that you can present to the public and hopefully help people see mutants as something different. There’s other reasons as well—two, three huge ones coming out of AvX—that will lead to that decision, but that’s how Havok becomes the guy that Cap sees as “You’re going to lead this squad, you’ve got a ton of experience leading, and this is your time to stand up and be the big public face of the Avengers.” And of course Alex, having had such a chaotic past for the last, you know, forever, this is going to be a very difficult situation, and not one that he’s necessarily going to just grab the reins on.
Marvel.com: Why did you gravitate toward Havok as a lead character?
Rick Remender I always saw him as the black sheep of the Summers family. He was always one of my favorite characters reading the X-Men growing up. He’s conflicted, and I love the idea that the older brother—who is the star football player, basically—Cyclops is the beloved son, leader of the X-Men and the first guy who they turn to and he’s basically the star pupil in terms of the Xavier School. I like the idea that his younger brother has not hostility toward him necessarily, but he’s always walked a very different path. And I like him as a character because he’s a little rock and roll. I mean, going back to that [HAVOK & WOLVERINE: MELTDOWN limited series]—which was one of the things that really solidified him as a favorite of mine—where he’s James Dean. He’s sunglasses and a pint of scotch and a convertible on the weekends and I think I’d like that rock and roll attitude that he’s got. He’s got a dry, sarcastic wit. He’s somebody who’s never been in the forefront in a big, huge public way of anything, not like his brother has, and he’s okay with that. I’ve never seen Alex as somebody who’s seeking that out. That’s all the more reason that it’s exciting to take him and put him in the most chaotic point in mutant history and the most chaotic point in the Marvel Universe, to have Captain America come tap him and say “You’re going to lead the Avengers,” that, to me, is drama. There’s just so much meat there for character that—it all just seemed perfect, I couldn’t think of anybody who I more wanted to put in that situation beyond just having an affinity for the character from youth.
Marvel.com: Now will he still be appearing in X-FACTOR as well as UNCANNY AVENGERS or do you have Havok to yourself?
Rick Remender: He is going to be solely in UNCANNY AVENGERS, as will be Rogue and The Scarlet Witch; this is the home book for those characters. The nature of this book demands that he no longer have other obligations and [X-FACTOR writer] Peter David worked that out really well with what he has planned for the character; he’s got great stuff coming up there that feeds into this as well.
Marvel.com: The Scarlet Witch has been off the table for awhile and been a huge wildcard in AvX. It’s going to be interesting to see her back in a team, particularly with these unfamiliar people. How are you working her into the dynamic of the group?
|The Scarlet Witch|
Rick Remender: She’s in a unique situation. She and her brother were the first mutants that Cap ever tapped for the Avengers, and they were on the second Avengers team. So she is a long-time Avenger who caused a lot of heartbreak and death, and depowered a whole lot of mutants. Obviously the events that led to that, she was not entirely in her right mind. Doctor Doom had helped confuse her with an energy source that had driven her quite crazy. And she had lost her kids. There’s redemption potential there, but I want to make sure that I’m careful with it.
She’s a great character and she’s sort of torn between these two worlds. She’s always really been an Avenger when it comes down to it, but her community should be the mutant community. But they don’t necessarily dig her. She’s the daughter of Magneto, former Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, an Avenger—she’s never really fit in with the X-Men. But at the same time, it’s kind of her people. Or should be. So she’s in a situation now where she’s reviled by most mutants for what she did, at least those who know what she did. And then you’ve got the Avengers, who she also played a big whammy on. It’s still not necessarily very easy to go “Oh, well if charged up you can alter reality—that’s a bad thing and we might maybe not want to go down that road with you.”
But, conversely, you’ve got somebody who’s a friend and a long-time Avenger, and somebody who really wants to make a difference. Wanda is very motivated to never be used as a weapon again, to never be a tool, to never be a thing that somebody can grab and misuse. She wants to stand up and she wants to be the face for mutants and sort of promote peace between the people—but she can’t. That’s not really a thing she can do. So she has to sit in the sidelines and sort of earn her redemption here—if that’s even possible—but in the meantime it’s kind of a case of “You’re going to be out there and doing the good work, but we should keep your public profile to a minimum. Keep you out of people’s eyes, probably.” And that continues to drive a knife in her belly.
Marvel.com: Then we’ve got Rogue, who may be an even more volatile choice, having started off as an Avengers villain and now coming full circle. What brings her to the team and why would they accept her?
Rick Remender: There’s a chaos factor in the first arc. It’s not necessarily somebody going through a list for all of the members. That would be a perfect person. There is a story that unfolds and the team is sort of forced to come together and work together during the course of this very heinous plot that The Red Skull is hatching, and Rogue is involved in that. I don’t want to give away all of the reasoning as to why she sticks around, but it’s definitely tumultuous. Thor is not a fan of her at all. He sees her as the exact opposite kind of mutant they need on this team. Now they’ve got two women who have both been in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and if they’re trying to do something that’s going to be public and help sort of heal mutant/human relations, having two former members of something called the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants is probably frowned upon by the PR people. But then again, there’s recollection and the reality is the X-Men almost disbanded when Rogue first joined. It was Xavier who said every mutant deserves a second chance. He was the one who vouched for her and put himself out there for her. In the case of this, there’s a somewhat similar situation. And it’s somebody who doesn’t have a track record like Wanda at this point. So when Thor points at her and sees the woman who was with the Brotherhood and attacked him, all she has to do is point and go “Hey, there’s Magneto’s daughter who almost wiped out reality and she’s an Avenger. You’re okay with her though, right? ‘Cause you have history.”
There’s so much great character grist there. Everybody’s got a very unique perspective and I wanted there to be a lot of chaos here because that also helps me define the argument between humans and mutants and what the problems are with this movement in the Marvel Universe. Each one of these characters is having this very unique history and this very unique perspective—Rogue included. Rogue doesn’t necessarily want to be an Avenger. You have to remember she was basically raised through her teens by Mystique to be a terrorist and hate the Avengers. The Avengers were, like you said, one of her very first targets. So she’s got her own issues with the fact that these golden super heroes who everybody loves didn’t do a damn thing to come to the X-Men’s aid on so many occasions. Her landing on the squad— it’s definitely a lot of drama coming up.
Marvel.com: I’m excited about all the drama you’re teasing out. As you said, it sounds like a very chaotic team set-up.
Rick Remender: Yeah, I mean you’ve got to have that. As long as it’s not like “I want some conflict, so this guy hates that guy for something I’m going to make up.” I’ve had plenty of time on this title to go through with the history. When we selected our cast, we went through tons and tons of characters and the initial six we start out with, plus the characters that join in the next 10 issues as the cast slowly grows—it’s crazy. It’s a lot of classic Avengers, a lot of classic X-Men, and each one of them has been selected for different character purposes that, I think, will be some fun drama.
Marvel.com: The last guy on the initial team is Thor, who’s not a mutant, and technically not even human. Where does he fit?
Rick Remender: There’s an event in the first issue that forces his hand, and he’s as noble as a being comes, but to him the argument between mutants and humans is akin to flies mewling and puking over the color of their wings. So he sees this debate as just asinine. Humans or mutants, you’re all humans. You’re all just people on this planet. Initially he doesn’t necessarily have a pony in the race. He’s not on one side or the other. He’s clearly an Avenger. Those are his family, those are his people. But what I think is important to build is going to come from his relationship with Wolverine that exists and how he perceives Alex and Rogue and how he begins to interact with them. There will be a changing arc for him in the first 18 issues that I don’t want to give too much away, but there is growth and learning to be had. I think that more than anything he just sees it as an Avengers group that can do some good to heal a rift between factions of humanity. And he’s also probably first just doing it as a favor to Cap just to do what he does. Use that hammer of his to try and do away with evil and keep innocents safe and keep everybody living in a prosperous community. But the heart of why he’s there is something that I grow over the first mega arc.
Marvel.com: Can you say anything about the additional members coming down the pike?
Rick Remender: I could say, but I feel like it’s more fun if we get to that point without having sort of broadcast it everything. I wanted the core six, and two or three more characters coming in the second and third arc. I wanted to focus on these six at first and really get their personal dynamics and who they are, get those kettles boiling before I brought in the new characters to then play very specific roles within the team dynamic that can then take strange dynamics or strange relationships or tension and ratchet it even higher. So the selection for who comes next, it’ll be one former X-Man and one former Avenger who will, hopefully, keep things interesting. I want to make sure there’s so much there. I’ve already got enough for two years right now with just the nine characters that I’ve got.
Marvel.com: On the flipside, we’ve got The Red Skull as the first villain they face and he’s got some big ambitious plans. Why him and what’s his agenda here?
|The Red Skull|
Rick Remender: When we were talking about it at the retreat, it was actually Jeph Loeb who said Red Skull. And at first I was like “Well, not actually The Red Skull.” And he was like, “Why not?” And then that question immediately told me a story. I’m like, well of course The Red Skull. That’s crazy.
There are things happening in the Marvel universe at the end of AvX that lead somebody like The Red Skull to seeing a reason for doing away with the mutants, and that’s a plot that we’ve obviously seen many, many times. Somebody wants to kill off the mutants, the mutants are chased and killed off. I can’t tell you the specifics of what makes this different because it’s all pinned on the end of AvX, but it’s a very clean motive that he has.
This Red Skull is a digital recording that Arnim Zola took during the middle of World War II and saved it with a machine that can create a clone that was basically in a bunker. Red Skull said “Create a duplicate of me that will wake up in 70 or 80 years when everybody has forgotten what I’ve done, and the world won’t be out hunting me anymore.” And so this Red Skull, he woke up however many months or years back from now, and he’s a Red Skull taken directly out of World War II. The Red Skull we’ve seen as he grew and progressed in the Marvel Universe, that guy died. This guy is almost a reset of The Red Skull, and that works really well for the analogy with civil rights stuff.
What his plan is, I wanted it to be big but very human and very grounded. So while it’s awful and big and, I think, interesting motivation for him, at the same time it’s very ground-level and rooted in human interaction and character stuff that will then hopefully give birth to a lot of emotional impact, which is the goal. I want to make sure all this stuff has context. And obviously Cap and Red Skull have a very personal relationship. By the end of the fourth issue, all of these characters have a very personal animosity toward Red Skull, and he them. There’s a very personal grudge there.
The Red Skull has an army of S-Men, as I’m calling them right now, and these are augmented humans who have all had their lives adversely affected in some major way by a mutant and see the good in joining him. And they’re all different ethnicities and creeds and colors as well, as The Red Skull sees that the mistake he made was to focus in on ethnicities of humanity when the real threat was bubbling up all around him, which was the mutants and their inevitable takeover of humanity.
Marvel.com: How long term a nemesis will The Red Skull be for the book and what other threats will be coming?
Rick Remender: Red Skull is long-term, but there are two other equally awesome villains that are also going to be popping up. I’m trying to do here what I did with UNCANNY X-FORCE where you have four stories that are self-contained and can be read by themselves but also form a mega-arc when you put them together. So what we’ll be seeing is Red Skull and a couple of other A-list, heavy hitter villains all with different motivations that are at odd purpose that basically lead to some earth-shattering, giant Avengers/X-Men business. And given the power set of my team at this point, I needed to create things that were gigantic. So the Red Skull’s motive in the first story starts at ground level and then we really ratchet things and build from there all of the crazy sort of sci-fi shenanigans that I like to delve into.
Marvel.com: Let’s talk about John Cassaday for a moment. What does he bring to this collaboration you spoke of earlier?
Rick Remender: I’m a huge fan of his work. He’s a pure storyteller and really dynamic and—you know, he’s John Cassaday. He’s one of those rare, rare artists who manage to be very attractive to the indie crowd as well as the mainstream crowd. He’s easily accessible, and he’s just got one of those styles that the polish is so crisp and clean, yet it’s quirky enough to have a voice of its own. It’s very clearly a John Cassaday drawing, and at the same time I’ve never seen it sacrifice his illustration take hold where that’s more important than storytelling. All of his pages, the storytelling is always amazingly clean. It’s perfectly done, dynamic, and that’s what you look for beyond just the fact that he’s a superstar; when it comes to people I like to work with that skill set, not only being a tremendous illustrator but a tremendous storyteller—those are the two things that are the magic combo.
Marvel.com: Ok, final questions, kind of a broad one: Where do you see the place of UNCANNY AVENGERS in the larger scope that is Marvel NOW!?
Rick Remender: Well there’s a whole new status quo in the Marvel Universe and this book is ground zero for putting a light on that, and to looking around at this giant shakeup that’s happened and the ramifications of AvX; to not only move forward, but to give meaning and clarity to what happened so far. So a good portion of issue #1 is spent really hitting the emotional heart of what’s going on with the characters and where they’re at and to really, hopefully, build empathy for the reader with each one of them to see who they are, to get a very clear idea of what their place is going to be now that this cast is going to be such a pivotal and important team.
|Marvel NOW! teaser by Joe Quesada|
And I think we’ve got, again, additions of characters like Rogue and Havok, characters who don’t normally interact or deal with threats on this level on a regular basis like the Avengers do, so you’re going to see very complicated character arcs take place. And then in terms of how this team is perceived publicly, and who they are, and what their importance is to the Marvel Universe—that is obviously going to come down to the gravity and the size of the threats, and the public’s perception of who they are. This is going to be a very public team that is going to have a PR campaign and their mission statement is going to be “We want to help people see mutants and humans working together to live out Xavier’s dream, and to the betterment of mankind, and to put a face to mutants that people can hopefully help quell their fear of and prejudice against.”
So it’s an exciting time, it’s an exciting thing to be writing because it’s never been done. So while they’ll be based out of the Avengers Mansion, and there will be all of these very familiar things, you’re going to have characters arguing over “Should there be a giant painting of the first Avengers in the hallway or of the first X-Men?” This is something where the X-Men part of this is not going to be happy to be overshadowed by the Avengers part of it. So it’s this perfect amalgamation, but that’s not going to be an easy process. We’ve never seen that built before, nor have we seen the public’s reaction to something like that. And how do the other X-Men react to Rogue and Havok and Wolverine going off and doing this? How do the other Avengers react? How do the other folks at Avengers Tower, when they look over at the mansion, how do they respond to it all? How does the FF respond to it? It’s a fairly new team, and obviously being the flagship for Marvel NOW!, I think that’s perfect. Because I think that one of the focuses for Marvel NOW! is to do big and inventive new things. And I know that every single one of these books has a huge hook that we’ve never seen before and goes to a really interesting new place, and it’s really exciting to have the book that sort of sets that tone.
For more on Marvel NOW!, visit the official hub page, and stay tuned to Marvel.com for all the latest news on UNCANNY AVENGERS!