A Heroic Age is about to begin in the Marvel Universe. At first glance, it looks like this new era will be a time of hope where costumed champions can walk in the sunlight and get back to the business of helping people. Appearances can be deceiving, though. A secret society is putting a plan into motion that would turn this age of heroes into the Age of Apocalypse! The only thing standing in their way is the cast of “New X-Force,” a new ongoing series by the creative team behind “Fear Agent” and “Punisher,” writer Rick Remender and artist Jerome Opeña. CBR News spoke with Remender about “New X-Force,” which begins in October and was announced Sunday at Marvel's X-Men panel at the C2E2 Convention in Chicago.
The current volume of “X-Force” details the exploits of a clandestine wetworks team Cyclops put together to protect the endangered mutant species from anti-mutant hate and terrorist groups. The cast just became embroiled in “Second Coming,” a massive crossover between the various titles in the X-Men line, and recent developments in the story have lead to certain X-Men uncovering the existence and purpose of X-Force.
“Scott Summers had a heavy involvement in X-Force and felt that it was the only solution at the time. Scott was playing the role of general in a war so it felt like something that was necessary,” Remender told CBR News. “After the dust settles from 'Second Coming,' I don't know if that will be Scott's perspective anymore. People who fight wars need to believe that their war has to end at some point. Coming out of 'Second Coming,' I think we'll see a different perspective in terms of where the X-books are at. That leads to a very different working relationship with the members of the new X-Force.”
In “New X-Force,” the titular team is brought together because one of their number uncovers a shocking revelation. “One of the cast learns that Apocalypse has returned and that his followers, Clan Akkaba, have good reason to believe that the Age of Apocalypse -- the time their master takes total control of Earth -- will begin when everybody's guard is down. So it's starting to look like the Heroic Age is indicator that the Age of Apocalypse is about to begin,” Remender explained. “The person who made this discovery is worried that Apocalypse's most powerful agents, the Four Horsemen, have secretly intermingled with the rest of the mutant population. So this person can't discuss why or how he found this out. Because if they told the wrong person and that person was one of or in cahoots with the Four Horsemen, then they tip their hand and Apocalypse knows that they know he's back.”
Once certain of Apocalypse's return, the X-Men invite several heroes who they know -- or think they know -- for absolute certain aren't in league with Apocalypse. Remender had to keep the identities of most of the new team a secret, but was able to reveal that Wolverine will return as the team's field leader in “New X-Force.” “With the exception of Wolverine this is an almost entirely new team,” Remender remarked. “Only one other has any previous connection to X-Force, but they're all A-list characters. They're big, heavy hitting characters and as the story progresses we're going to see more and more of them. It's a dream team. I wish I could talk about more about them. It's exciting as hell.”
Remender is a long time X-Men fan so the chance to work with the characters involved was a dream come true for the writer. “I read the X-titles pretty damn religiously from about 1984 -- I believe the story with the Dire Wraiths was my first issue -- all the way up till the time I moved to San Francisco in 1999 . I was living in a very expensive city and was a struggling writer/artist and a teacher at the time, so I didn't have the funds for comic books. Now that I'm going to be one of the X-writers, I have the opportunity to really dig in and investigate what's going on, and I've been able to read a ton of the great recent stuff. Finally got to read Grant Morrison’s entire run in one sitting. It’s a terrific inspiration.”
Since its first incarnation, X-Force has always been a team responsible for taking on some of the dirtier jobs in the X-Universe. That gritty nature will continue in “New X-Force,” which makes the book's cast of characters even more compelling to Remender. “Lately I'm drawn to hard-boiled characters. Call it a phase. So with 'New X-Force' there is a slightly edgier tone to the series than, say, 'Uncanny X-Men.' But I think at the same time people are going to see that it's definitely going to be more tempered than in previous incarnations. The underlying theme for our band of characters is redemption,” the writer stated. “ People will understand that when they see who the team is and what they've been through in the 'Second Coming' crossover. I don't want to retread anybody's steps and one thing that I always responded to was the family aspect of the X-Universe. It seems like even the band of characters who have taken on the unpleasant assignments in order to protect the rest of the family should still echo that. X-Force should have an even tighter bond given what they must do. So family's been the focus of a lot of what I'm writing.”
Out of all the X-Men, no one has done more dirty jobs for the good of the larger family of mutantkind than Wolverine, and Remender is happy for the character to play a prominent role in “New X-Force.”
“I've always thought the great thing about Wolverine is that he probably should have ended up being a bad guy, but he fights against that animalistic nature and all of the things that have been done to him,” Remender remarked. “He's endured a ton of mind altering bullshit and has decades and decades of blood on his hands, but at his core is a person that is struggling to maintain nobility and a person still trying to fight a beast that has grown inside of him and hold on to his humanity. He does his best to aim that beast at things that he deems to be evil. So for me that's always a fascinating juxtaposition
“One of the themes of 'New X-Force' will be that duality of character. We have a lot of characters on the team who are the same in that sense. They have an inherent duality, people who very much want to do good and make the world a better place, but at the same time there is blood on their hands and they find themselves at cross purposes,” Remender continued. “This is a family of X-characters who at one point or another have all had to kill for the common good. I think what's really important to them beyond continuing to help mutants survive is to have a life worth fighting for. Survival just isn't enough. These aren't characters who are going to go out and happily do murder. Plus, there are voices of dissent within the team. I like the idea of having the characters put forth the debate about what they do and that it's not so simple.”
The first arc of “New X-Force” is about the team coming together to engage Apocalypse and his followers in a global game of chess. “I like the idea that Apocalypse is a master manipulator. I think one of the focal points in this series and things that will be coming up is the game of chess that Apocalypse is playing with these characters,” Remender explained. “And the character who discovers that Apocalypse has returned also uncovers the fact that Clan Akkaba is entrenched in four big bases and ready to bring about the Age of Apocalypse. Nobody on X-Force knows how far-reaching the Clan's grasp is. Things are very bad and the plans are way further along than they thought. So they're forced to kill Apocalypse. X-Force is defunct, shouldn’t exist. The Four Horsemen could be anyone. So they can't tell anybody else what they're doing. There's definitely a feeling of paranoia in the first story arc.”
In addition to the action and the intrigue, the initial arc of “New X-Force” will also feature some mysterious elements. “On the surface level this may look like another story of an X-Villain putting his forces together and preparing his rise to power, but there's a lot more involved. Later, when we start to see what's really going on, it's going to be wild. There's a lot under the surface,” Remender explained. “People who read 'Fear Agent’ know that I like to seed things early and have pay off arcs later. So there are under currents going the whole time and thing are slowly building. There will be a lot of fun pay offs, ratcheting up the tension, tossing X-Force from frying pan to bigger frying pan then into the sun.”
Remender's long term plans for “New X-Force” call for his characters to diversify and greatly expand their rogues’ gallery. “The first arc is obviously focused on Apocalypse and these Four Horsemen, we'll see whether or not that's resolved or becomes something that plays out across my tenure on the book,” the writer said. “For the second arc, we have plans for things that aren't necessarily associated with the X-Universe. The threats in this book don’t have to be X-centric. (See what I did there?) It won't be like, 'Okay, now we're doing Apocalypse again. Or here's Mister Sinister coming back. And now it's time for the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants again.' Those are great villains. They're perfect for these characters, but there's a whole world out there, and as fans of my work on 'Punisher' know, I like to put peanut butter and chocolate together. I like the idea that X-Force will be drawn into things involving all aspects of the Marvel Universe.”
One of the reasons Remender feels so comfortable throwing together various elements in “New X-Force” is his collaborator, Jerome Opeña. “When you get an assignment like 'New X-Force,' your first instinct is 'Yay!' And your second instinct is, 'Oh shit! That's pretty big! There are a lot of people who are going to read that!' As soon as Jerome signed on to join me on this book, all fear went out the window. The stuff that we have planned is really exciting, and Jerome’s pages are next generation amazing,” Remender stated. “We've been working together for like five years now and Jerome is one of those guys where their pages come in and I just go through them and spend an evening cutting dialogue. I trim things down to the bare essentials because the art does everything for you. You don't need to paint any more of a picture. Now the art does it.”
“New X-Force” is Remender's highest profile Marvel assignment to date and the writer is going out of his way to craft a story that pleases both hardcore fans of the X-Books and new readers. “As somebody who very religiously followed the X-Universe for 20 some years and obsessively collected everything, it was always important to me as a reader that creators who came on the books were fans of the books and knew the characters beyond just knowing what cool fights to put them in. They had to know what made them tick; this team of assassins doing these ugly jobs are complex characters and how they came to this, where they come from and why they’re here is important to explore,” Remender said. “I know a good deal about what makes them who they are and those are I'm focusing on using that past to lead to their natural futures. It's going to be a nice balance. We're going to have full throttle action and character development. Most importantly, we stay grounded with a firm sense of these characters’ humanity. So hopefully anybody who is unfamiliar with my work can at least feel settled knowing that the person at the helm is somebody who loves the characters.
“Also, I also can't stress enough how new-reader-friendly this series is. We don't rely on anyone having prior knowledge of who a character is in order to tell a story,” Remender continued. “You can read this series with no knowledge of who these characters are and I promise you, by the first five issues I will have done my job in showing you who they are and further developing them for you; showing you who they are, how their pasts connects to their presents and why it shapes them and motivates them. It will all be in there. So it's as new-reader-friendly as a book can be. 'New X-Force' isn't just for X-Men fans. It's for fans of Marvel Comics in general.”