For the past few years, storylines like "Secret Invasion" and "Dark Reign" have transformed the Marvel Universe into a shadowy, paranoid world where villains hold sway. Now, the evil regime of Norman Osborn has been toppled and a new brighter "Heroic Age" has begun, though this doesn't mean the threats these heroes face have been diminished. In fact, some threats are so great that the only way to stop them is with lethal force, something many heroes aren't comfortable with. Fortunately, there's one team willing to make that sacrifice and do the things that need to be done so their colleagues don't have to. They're the stars of the new ongoing series "Uncanny X-Force" by writer Rick Remender and artist Jerome Opena. CBR News spoke with Remender about the book's cast and his plans for them once the series begins in October.
The original X-Force was founded by Cable, the time travelling mutant son of X-Men leader Scott Summers, who transformed the original New Mutants team into a more proactive and aggressive group. After several years, the team disbanded and remained so until Cyclops reformed X-Force with new members as a clandestine black ops unit, tasked with "eliminating" threats to the Marvel Universe's diminished mutant population. During the recently concluded "Second Coming" storyline the rest of the X-Men learned of X-Force's existence and Cyclops decided to disband the team. Wolverine, who was the team's field leader at the time, agreed to do just that.
At the end of "X-Men: Second Coming," readers learned that Wolverine had simply been telling Cyclops what he wanted to hear. He and his teammate Archangel had created their own new incarnation of X-Force that they plan on keeping secret from Cyclops and the rest of the X-Men.
"The mutant population is down to about 200. When you have a minority of about 200 people that are as hated as mutants, the philosophical differences among them are ripe. The relationships between these characters are tense; Logan and Warren have sort of fallen on the same side of the philosophical divide. After promising Scott that the team was over, they both secretly decided to restart the clandestine black ops squad as it is needed, in their estimation," Remender told CBR News. "They've built an entire new X-base where they can plan these missions that in their minds are absolutely necessary for the survival of their species. Like the film 'Munich,' where these guys are going out there to get some payback and proactively take out threats to the remaining mutant species."
Wolverine and Archangel's X-Force may still exist, but they're far from the same team as the previous incarnation. The last line up featured some members who had no real previous experience with killing, including Elixir and Thunderbird. For this new team, the leaders have recruited Deadpool, Fantomex and Psylocke, all characters who have had experience doing the bloody, but often necessary, work that the new team will take on.
"The philosophy isn't immediately easy or pleasant to wrap your head around; superheroes who murder. But when you realize where the mutants are, and what they're up against, it begins to make sense. It's a necessary precaution for the sake of self-preservation. This is a group of characters that have had their souls stained by evil forces in the past, a common thread connecting them. They've already made the hard compromises in the past; they've all taken life. So they've taken it upon themselves to secretly deal with the ugly things that demand the hard resolutions."
Like the original X-Force, Wolverine and Archangel's new group will be a very proactive one. "Instead of waiting for Apocalypse to come knocking on the door with the Four Horsemen and his latest scheme, they're going to go out there and get things done. Warren has Deadpool and some other characters out there playing sleuth and looking for signs of brewing trouble. Warren is funding all of this, so when they discover a potential threat, they won't wait around for it to come to them," Remender said. "Cavern X is the new base in the mountains of Sedona. It's remote, so nobody can find it. It's well hidden. From this new base, they're going to plot to take out threats before they become problems for mutants and humans."
"I love all of these characters, was a hardcore X-Men fan for twenty years, and I don't think that any of these characters are mindless savages," Remender explained. "Again, I see them as people who should have become villains, each of them, yet they overcome the black garbage inside and they fight it, they don't give in to it. But they are killers. Logan knows that black, ugly stuff can't be locked away forever, so better to point it at places it can do some good. Some people should just die, and they'll step up to that plate. The co-captain system between Wolverine and Archangel allows for checks and balances, however. There's no one person deciding who lives and dies - it's important they get it right and that their targets are 100% deserving of their form of justice. There's going to be a conversation between the co-leaders. If Wolverine targets somebody, he's going to talk to Warren about it. When they talk, they're both going to have to come to an agreement on the methodology and how they're going to implement it. The partnership between those two characters is going to play a big role for the foreseeable future. It's a little more reasoned this way."
The targets that Wolverine and Archangel green light for X-Force will include all manner of unrepentant villainy, not just traditional X-villains. "I think it's important that their immersion into the Marvel Universe be clear; these guys are out to protect mutants, but they're also out to protect humanity," Remender remarked. "If they discover something that's not a mutant-centric threat and needs the sort of resolution that they're capable of, you'll see them take that on. They'll be on all kinds of different paths. I think it's a very important distinction, because what they're doing doesn't seem very heroic if it's only for their survival. Heroism is a personal sacrifice for the good of others. Survival is, well, survival. What they're capable of doing is ugly, and they know that, but they also know it can be useful and that it's an ugly world. So they'll be taking care of whatever threats they find."
Wolverine and Archangel are already formidable opponents on their own, and when you combine their abilities with the other X-Force members, you have a team that's capable of taking on virtually any threat they go after. "As far as teams go, you don't need more than these five characters, [though] that's not to say the roster is full. The interpersonal dynamics and what each character is capable of work very well together. They're all so dissimilar yet share many common experiences," Remender said. "Each character definitely plays a distinct role. It's been a lot of fun writing fight sequences and seeing how they play out."
In Deadpool, X-Force has a virtually unkillable soldier with years of experience practicing his bloody trade. The Merc with a Mouth is not known for keeping his mouth shut, however, so some readers may be wondering why he was recruited for the clandestine group.
"I don't want to give too much away, but it was Warren's idea. I don't think Wolverine is excited about it. One of the downsides of having a co-leader is that you have to compromise. There's not one simple vision for things," Remender explained. "I think that can be quite beneficial, but in this case, I think that Warren's reason for bringing Deadpool into the group is probably going to play a big enough role in this story that I should probably hold back on it. Beyond his abilities to go out and 'make the murder,' Deadpool has other skills that I believe Warren values. We'll see that play out in the coming arcs."
Among those skills that Warren may find useful is that Deadpool's often insane perspective allows him to spot things and come up with useful plans that other, more sane characters might not be able to. "The way I'm using Deadpool in the first arc is that he's the guy in the field. He's doing the detective work trying to uncover the next big threat. Warren's thinking is that, on one hand, he's got the right man on the job. On the other, it keeps Deadpool off the streets and out of trouble."
Deadpool is, of course, more than happy to provide his services to X-Force. In doing so he gets two things he enjoys: money and a sense of belonging. "I think that a lot of the lunacy of the character, which is a real joy to write, is born of what most humor is, and that's a need for acceptance. I know some other writers may disagree with that, but I think anybody, if they're insane or not, who is constantly riffing and constantly making jokes has a very visible need for acceptance. We all have that, on some level," Remender stated. "It's not necessarily a negative attribute. It's just a very prominent one in Deadpool, and his dynamic within this team is one of acceptance. Deadpool was never officially a weapon in the Weapon Plus program. He was a reject. He was never officially an X-Man, but he's officially part of the 'Uncanny X-Force.' This is Logan and Warren's X-Men team. Deadpool has been brought in and made part of this family. I think that really opens up the character for an exploration of humanity. That's the stuff I like to write."
Running down and doing away with the scum of the Marvel Universe means infiltrating dangerous and heavily guarded facilities. Fortunately that's one Fantomex's specialties. "He's a tomb raider as well as an international thief. We get to that in the first issue, but there is a short intro story that leads into issue #1 in the pages of the 'Wolverine: Road to Hell' special," Remender revealed. "In that issue, I define the relationship between Wolverine and Fantomex. That was my focus for the opening story. It's an eight-page tale that sets up the first issue. That entire special is actually going to be a big deal. People are going to want to pick it up. Everything that appears in that special is all stuff that you won't be able to get anywhere else. It sets up a giant corner of the Marvel Universe."
Fantomex has other useful and dangerous abilities, as well. In one of the character's earliest appearances, his creator Grant Morrison revealed that Fantomex was born and bred to be a Super Sentinel agent by the Weapon Plus Program, the same organization that created Wolverine.
"It's very important to me that with Fantomex it's not just, 'Oh, he's got guns and looks cool!' He's got nano sentinels in his blood. He was built for the destruction of mutants, but he's never done it. He's chosen not to do what he was built for, and it's only been explored a little bit here and there. I think if anybody can understand being made for killing and struggling to come to terms with that, it's Logan," Remender remarked. "I think that Wolverine's solution is to try and find a peaceful meditative place where he can kind of reground himself as a human and not just savagely slaughter anything in his way. Also, though, he understands that he is a killer and that thing inside of him is going to come out. It's going to come out of Fantomex as well, and Wolverine's theory is, 'It's in us all. We've all been tampered with. I'd like to point this ugly thing at the right place.'"
Since Fantomex is a mutant assassin turned thief with more than one brain and the ability to create complex illusions that he calls misdirections, it's obvious that he's a very complex and multifaceted character. Remender agrees, saying, "I think there is a lot going on in somebody with multiple brains and the power of misdirection. He was described by Grant Morrison as a hall of mirrors, which is a terrific concept, because you never know what's going on," Remender explained. "If you've got a couple brains and your major attribute is misdirection, maybe one brain is misdirecting the other. There's so much complexity to the character that at first it can be a little daunting to get your head around [him], but I definitely view him as noble. We're going to put him in some situations where his actions are going to define his character. It may be a little surprising for some people to see what he does. In the coming year of stories, he'll have some big ups and downs."
The reasoning behind the decision to recruit Psylocke to the team is rather apparent, as her presence gives the new X-Force some much needed psionic firepower. "Obviously, Betsy's strengths for the team are that she's an omega level telepath and a stealthy ninja bad ass," Remender said. "Like her teammates, she's another character who's been tampered with; another good person who's had bad infused into her psyche. She's a person who has been shattered and then rebuilt. Every one of these characters has had the same thing happen to them. They've all been tampered with. They've all had somebody else come in and reprogram some part of their brain to be wild and maybe even villainous, and that's a common thread throughout the series."
Psylocke is also dealing with her death and recent resurrection at the hands of the Sisterhood of Evil Mutants. It's made her very reflective about her past, which is something Remender certainly plans to explore. "I think there's a lot to rediscover and be reconnected with in terms of her past. I believe both her brother and her father had some small connection with Fantomex," the writer revealed "There's a duality and conflict inside of Betsy, and I'm really fascinated by that. I've been reading the character since ,85 and up through the changeover into what she is now. Her mind is hard to define at this point, if you follow every point of continuity. It was transferred and tampered with, and then she went through the Siege Perilous. It's easier for me to get my head around if you just think, after all these things, her mind is broken and she's trying to put it back together. She's trying to rediscover the center of who she is and see past all of this smoke that other people have filled her mind with."
Long time X-Men fans know that Psylocke and Archangel were once romantically linked, an aspect of their relationship which will play an important role in "Uncanny X-Force." "That's one of the reasons they're both on the team. There's an element of that. Something in their past relationship is a big reason why they're on this team together," Remender told CBR. "I reread a lot of the issues that featured their relationship, just to see why it worked and why it just wasn't a convenient thing. I don't want to give anything away, but I think what I've done with these characters is sort of the natural conclusion and a natural thing for them to come to."
The members of "Uncanny X-Force" have all come together to use their skills and inner darkness against the Marvel Universe's most dangerous and despicable villains, but that doesn't mean they'll be entirely comfortable with the reality of what they're doing. "I think every one of these characters has an internal struggle with the dichotomy between heroism and taking life. As do we all with things like capital punishment and other topics. The debate is not solved," Remender said. "I think all of these characters will probably display that throughout the run. That internal argument is part of the fun of writing this book. The external arguments between the cast also plays a big role as well."