Defending a dream is never easy. The Children of the Atom, Marvel Comics' X-Men, are especially aware of this painful truth. The mutant heroes' dream of a peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants has been repeatedly jeopardized by humanity's intolerance of mutants. In 1995 their dream came under attack from a different enemy -- mutants themselves. That's because a new alternate reality was established where Charles Xavier, the founder of the X-Men, had been murdered years before and the mutant villain Apocalypse had conquered Earth. Xavier's friend Magneto formed the X-Men to end Apocalypse's violent campaign of genocide against humans.
The X-Men's adventures in that timeline were detailed in an X-Men event titled "The Age of Apocalypse." It ended with Apocalypse’s death and the dystopian world's supposed destruction; history was again altered so that Charles Xavier was never murdered and the familiar status quo returned. In 2005, readers learned that this world still existed when Marvel Comics launched "X-Men: Age of Apocalypse", a six issue mini-series that chronicled life after Apocalypse's demise. That series ended on a hopeful note for the world, but what will life be like a decade later? Announced earlier today at C2E2, the cast of "Uncanny X-Force" will find out as they travel to the reality on desperate mission to save one of their own in an arc titled "The Dark Angel Saga" this spring.
CBR News spoke with writer Rick Remender about the storyline that begins with a prelude in May's "Uncanny X-Force" #10.
In "The Apocalypse Solution," the introductory arc of "Uncanny X-Force" by Remender and artist Jerome Opeña, X-Men members Wolverine and Archangel recruited fellow teammate Psylocke, the mercenary Deadpool, and the mutant thief Fantomex for a clandestine force they were assembling to eliminate super villains they felt were too dangerous or too evil to live. Their first target was Apocalypse, the villain responsible for transforming Warren Worthington into his current form, Archangel, and implanting a violent and unpredictable "Death" persona in his mind. The mission was a success, and in the recently released #5, Remender began the series' second arc, "Deathlok Nation," with art by Esad Ribic.
"Deathlok Nation" promises to be a personal and traumatic arc for Fantomex -- dimension-hopping cyborgs attacked him and murdered his mother in front of his eyes in "Uncanny X-Force" #5. "That was a pretty awful moment for him wasn't it? We talked a lot about the mystery of Fantomex and we put together a mythology that we'll slowly be unveiling over the next two years," Remender told CBR News. "This story is definitely a piece of it; losing a mother."
The current arc runs through "Uncanny X-Force" #5-7 and in #8 Remender and artist Billy Tan kick off "Before the Fall," an arc that sets the stage for "The Dark Angel Saga." "We've seen Warren's behavior changing a little bit and we've seen the divide between his two personas in his mind," Remender said. "I think by issue #10 that finally blows up in every one's face in a way that they definitely didn't see coming and is pretty heavy.
"The ramifications of this are in issues #8-10. In these three issues we have a chain of events that lead to the ascension of Archangel's Death persona. Without giving away too much, I can reveal that you're going to see the results of the internal conflict that we've been seeding since the very first issue," Remender continued. "For this arc Billy Tan is working in a similar fashion to Jerome Opeña on our first arc. He's working from tight pencils and Dean White is going in and digitally painting them with the same method he used to paint over Jerome in our first arc. The pages are absolutely stunning. Billy's always great, but he's never looked like this."
The events of "Before the Fall" will cause some tension in the group, but when "The Dark Angel saga" begins X-Force is determined and united in their quest to rid Archangel of the Death persona that's taken him over. "They're pretty tight knit. You have to imagine them as a family unit because they're all friends and people who have a history together. Now they're all carrying the burden of the same secret and the continuing ramifications of this secret that they share together," Remender explained. "That really forces them to be a family because there's no one else they can talk to about all of these things. So if, say, Deadpool is sitting around having nightmares about what they've done and what he's dealing with, there are only four other people he could talk to about it. I think that creates a band of brothers style bond."
Archangel's condition in "The Dark Angel Saga" won't be curable with any of the technology available in the main Marvel Universe reality of Earth 616, which is why X-Force will look to the Age of Apocalypse for answers. "Psylocke's experiences with the dimension hopping super team, the Exiles, is why they'll look to other dimensions and her Exiles teammate, the Age of Apocalypse's Sabretooth, is why they'll look to this reality in particular," Remender said. "I was lucky to have a band of characters who need something that is a product of a world where Apocalypse's technology was given time to grow and flourish. I was also lucky to have a character who knows where just such a dimension exists. It so happens that all of those pieces were just right in front of me."
Once the team arrives in the Age of Apocalypse reality they'll need a guide to help them find what they're looking for, which is why they'll form a dangerous alliance with a native of the dimension, the villainous Dark Beast. "X-Force makes a Faustian pact with Dark Beast that seems like it would guarantee that neither side would betray each other," Remender said. "The dynamic between X-Force and Dark Beast is going to be one of pure mistrust. When your tour guide is essentially going to fleece you at any moment, you tend to not enjoy the tour as much."
Remender feels that part of the reason the original "Age of Apocalypse" storyline resonated with fans lies in familar concepts and characters reimagined in new and interesting ways. The writer wants to recreate some of that experience, which is why Dark Beast and Uncanny X-Force will arrive in the Age of Apocalypse reality ten years after the events of the 2005 miniseries.
"The great thing about doing this story nearly a decade after the last story was that the landscape of the world had changed so much," Remender explained. "That gave us characters who hadn't been touched on; characters whose fates you thought you understood one way or another. So with that decade that passed I respected the continuity quite a bit, but I wasn't slavishly tied to every single piece of it. I got to have a little bit of fun.
"The last time we saw this reality in 2005 it seemed like there was hope and the world was going to be fixed. When we see it again here the years have passed and the world has not been fixed. There's a small band of X-Men that have survived. Every one else is dead," Remender said. "The survivors are hiding in Atlantis where they have made their home and are trying to topple the person who has caused all of this."
Remender couldn't reveal much about the architect of the reality's devastation. "I can't really touch on the antagonist of this story because that's a big kick in the teeth reveal," the writer explained. "It also has quite a bit to do with the new Apocalypse mythology that we're building. It's all growing out of the idea of the Death persona; what it is and why after killing Apocalypse Warren is having such trouble controlling the Death persona. All of these things are connected with the new antagonist that we're building in the 616 reality."
The supporting cast of "The Dark Angel" saga will include the AoA incarnations of Sabretooth, Wild Child, Nightcrawler, Jean Grey, Magneto, Gambit and Rogue. "Wolverine and Betsy coming face-to-face with Jean Grey, Nightcrawler and some of the other Age of Apocalypse characters will have ramifications," Remender said. "In fact, the ramifications of this arc will be felt throughout the Marvel Universe in a pretty big way. That's not just a way to wave the 'important continuity' flag and say, 'Hey look over here.' We wanted to make sure that anything that dealt with in an alternate reality 'mattered.' I know that can be a dirty word but in terms of this we figured out a way to make it matter in a pretty huge way that I think fans will be excited about."
When readers who have been following "Uncanny X-Force" since #1 pick up "The Dark Angel" saga they'll discover it's not just the dimension hopping and Apocalypse elements that link this story to the previous two. "Early on, as I was building the story for this series, I was having discussions with my then-editor Axel Alonso and my current editor Jody LeHeup. Everyone contributed big ideas -- five huge ideas were born out of those conversations and we were able to get all of them approved," Remender said. "It's really been a case of, you know where you want to go, and then you start slowly building from the bottom up. You know you need to get this or that character to experience this. Then it's just a matter of figuring out the best way to do it.
"I built the stories that way and they sort of become rich tapestries where I'm seeding things in issue #5 that then pay off in issue #14. And you're seeding things in issue #4 that then pay off in issue #7. Then you're seeding things in issue #9 that pay off in issue #18," Remender explained. "You get to build a story that has a lot of great moments and is a big, exciting story with a lot of momentum, which has a lot things seeded that then grow. I don't think people will know what to expect next, but when they get it, I think they'll realize that every single one of the big revelations has been there growing the whole time."
"The Dark Angel Saga" is an eight-part storyline that features art by Mark Brooks and Jerome Opeña and serve as the final chapter in Remender's first long-form story for "Uncanny X-Force." "The first three issues where we enter the Age of Apocalypse reality will be drawn by Mark. Then Jerome will draw the following five issues," Remender stated. "By issue #18 we've come full circle. Issues #1-18 are one big story. There's not one thing we've seen that doesn't play a big role in what's coming up. I think that's the fun of it. Everything we've seeded is important, especially in the first seven issues, which may seem disconnected at first. I think it's a nice little puzzle that people will enjoy seeing come together."