Most Marvel Comics super heroes don't kill, and as a result find themselves facing the same villains over and over again. Killing these villains won't make their lives any easier, though. The mutant heroes of writer Rick Remender's ongoing "Uncanny X-Force" series are discovering that the hard way. Remender's cast comprise a clandestine kill squad led by Wolverine that targets the Marvel Universe's vilest villains for elimination.
X-Force's opponents have included killer cyborgs, the super powered cult of the villain Apocalypse, and Apocalypse's chosen heir, their former teammate Archangel. X-Force successfully neutralized these foes without anyone knowing about their involvement -- at least they thought they did. In the current "Otherworld" arc X-Force has become embroiled in a war in the titular realm after Captain Britain discovered the team's existence. Then in May, an arc titled "Final Execution" begins, which finds the team in greater danger thanks to a mysterious villain who has targeted them. CBR News spoke with Remender about both arcs and his future plans for the series.
X-Force's ranks include Wolverine, Psylocke, Fantomex, Deadpool, and the extra-dimensional counterpart of Wolverine's deceased friend, Nightcrawler, who hails from the "Age of Apocalypse" reality and joined the team in the aftermath of the recent "Dark Angel Saga" arc. "I liked the idea of exploring this Nightcrawler because so much of this series has been about nurture versus nature. I liked the idea of looking at someone who was inherently good, jovial, and kind, like Kurt in our world and seeing what a very different set of circumstances could have given birth to," Remender told CBR News. "I think what we're discovering especially in issue #22, in stores now, is that in the core of his heart this Nightcrawler isn't too different from our own, and maybe it's the sort of toothy enamel that he uses to protect himself that's different.
"I've got an arc for him, too," Remender continued. "You don't put a character on your team unless you have a really strong arc in mind. So we'll get a real good look at where this Nightcrawler's story is headed soon and then it will take off around issue #27."
The Age of Apocalypse Nightcrawler isn't the only X-Force cast member Remender has plans for. The writer has arcs planned for his entire cast, especially Wolverine, who will have to deal with some big changes during the upcoming "Final Execution" arc.
"In order to be interested in a character I need to have an arc. I need to see them learn, grow, and change. Often it's impossible to have all these big changes happen to these characters since they appear in multiple books and whoever is writing one book will have to adapt their story and that can be really difficult," Remender explained. "You don't normally see this type of thing. I worked very closely with my editor Nick Lowe to make sure that it tied in and everybody else was okay with it. The big idea here is to do something that you don't see very often with a character like Wolverine. Given the mandate and the kind of things that this team does, this seemed like the right book to conclude a chapter of his life and to majorly change who he is in a natural and exciting way. I think that's why Nick and I were both excited about it and why everyone else bought into it. We weren't doing this just for the sake of doing it. This was something that was born out of the story we were telling and everybody thought it was terrific."
In the current "Otherworld" arc of "Uncanny X-Force," which features art by Remender's "Last Days of American Crime" partner Greg Tocchini, Wolverine and his team have traveled to Otherworld to rescue their teammates Fantomex and Psylocke, who had been abducted by Psylocke's brother, Captain Britain. Britain abducted them after discovering Fantomex shot and killed Apocalypse shortly after the villain was reborn as a small boy. The Secret Avenger then put Fantomex on trial and tried to convince his sister to leave the team.
"I'm showing this story to you from Fantomex's point of view because he's one of the main characters in the book, but had this been a story about Captain Britain and the Captain Britain Corps, Fantomex would be the bad guy. From their perspective this guy shot a kid in the head! So they're sort of right in the way they view him. They've also got other reasons for wanting Fantomex gone that have yet to be revealed. Brian is hoping that Betsy will trust him when he says this guy isn't good and shouldn't be left alive. So yeah, everyone loves Fantomex and this is his book so the Captain Britain Corps is seen as the villains, but they really haven't done anything shady except to say, 'We probably need to take care of the child killer,'" Remender remarked. "If you look at things from Captain Britain's point of view his sister is running around murdering people and hanging out with a guy who shot a kid in the forehead. For him, his sister is lost. She might as well be in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants."
Captain Britain and his Corps may be playing an antagonistic role in "Otherworld" but they are not the villains of the arc. That role is filled by an army of demonic invaders warring with Captain Britain and the Corps. When the other X-Force members travelled to Otherworld to rescue their teammates they became embroiled in that battle. The conflict has largely involved monsters and magic and while Remender has demonstrated a flair for many genres in both his creator-owned and Marvel work, he's not known for telling large fantasy-style stories.
"I did a 40-page 'Red Sonja' story because Paul Renaud, a brilliant artist and friend of mine, asked me to write it for him and I'm incredibly proud of it. I think it's one of the coolest things I've done. It's this 40-page one-shot called 'Red Sonja: Vacant Shell.' Once I started writing a story in a fantasy setting I really found that it was a lot of fun," Remender said. "Plus, I want to challenge myself and my readers as well as do things that are different. We've seen a lot of different tones in X-Force so far. We've see a sci-fi mission on the moon to assassinate a god-child. We've seen futuristic Deathlok cyborgs traveling through time and dimensions. Plus we've had the epic, grand sci-fi of the 'Dark Angel Saga.'
"So 'Otherworld' grew out of two things. One is that I thought the aesthetic would be prefect for Greg Tocchini and the other was that we often don't get a lot of time to examine where these characters come from and their histories and their families," Remender continued. "Those are interesting stories, though. For example, in Frank Miller's 'Born Again' Matt Murdock's mother plays a vitally important role. So I was thinking in terms of Psylocke whose family has a rich history in the Marvel Universe. Why not explore that and force her to choose between her old identity and her new one as a member of X-Force? I wanted to make that decision very difficult and to see the reaction of her family."
That connection to Psylocke's family gave Remender a way to properly introduce a new villain named the Skinless Man, who was imprisoned in Otherworld by the Captain Britain Corps. In "Uncanny X-Force" #22 readers learned the Skinless Man was a product of the Weapon Plus Program that created Wolverine and his former partner and now arch-enemy, Fantomex.
"The Skinless Man is Weapon III. I touch upon his history with Fantomex, but just enough. I don't want to give too much exposition. So we flashed back and saw some of their history together in issue #22 and then later on in my run we'll get a deeper look at their rivalry and see what their hatred for one another is built upon," Remender said. "The Skinless Man is basically Fantomex's Sabretooth. I've got a lot of fun ideas for him like the fact that his skin is part of the sentient bullets Fantomex has been using for all these years."
The Skinless Man and the demonic invaders of Otherworld are proving to be formidable enemies. Fortunately X-Force and Captain Britain have some allies. In "Uncanny X-Force" #21, Nightcrawler met up with the mutant Meggan and the robotic Widget, who along with Captain Britain and the deceased Marvel Universe Nightcrawler starred in Marvel's "Excalibur" title which originally ran from the late '80s to the late '90s.
"I was such a die hard fan of Excalibur. I believe I was first exposed to their book as a teenager. I really remember loving it because it was science fiction with all these big, crazy ideas and wild characters," Remender explained. "I later discovered that those characters were created by Chris Claremont, Alan Davis, and Alan Moore in earlier Captain Britain comics that I hunted down. It really felt unique with its big science fiction ideas.
"That team felt like a family for a long, long time and they haven't really been back together. There's so many different pieces that have come back and come and gone, but I always thought there was a bond between those characters and that they felt right there," Remender continued. "I really enjoyed bringing Widget back and adding Meggan into the mix. There's some fun scenes in issue #23 between Meggan and this Nightcrawler. Obviously they're going to have an emotional reaction to seeing this Nightcrawler who's not their friend. That's something we'll hit on a little bit."
The "Otherworld" arc of "Uncanny X-Force" concludes on March 28th with #23. "It features some shocking revelations about what you've been reading the whole time," Remender said. "I don't believe anyone has figured them out yet, so it will be fun to see people's reactions to them."
April's "Uncanny X-Force" #24 is a one-off issue featuring art by "X-23" artist Phil Noto that focuses on the AoA Nightcrawler as he enlists Wolverine and Deadpool to kill his reality's sinister version of Iceman. "Nightcrawler has decided to stay in this reality to hunt and kill a number of the Age of Apocalypse characters that are stumbling around this world. Iceman is at the top of his list because his betrayal led to the death of several of Nightcrawler's friends. So this is the reason that Nightcrawler has been helping out X-Force," Remender explained. "He went off to Otherworld and did his best to aid Wolverine and his teammates, and when they get back he's got a list and says, 'All right. Now we're going to go do one of my things.' So they go to Madripoor where Iceman is high, drunk, and enjoying prostitution. Then things get ugly. That issue and #25 will be nice pay off issues for elements that we've had bubbling in the B-story of the book."
May's "Uncanny X-Force" #25 is a milestone issue, and what's especially impressive is that Remender and his collaborators have reached the issue in less than two years time. "The accelerated shipping schedule is great if we can keep the book good. It's been hard, but I think we've maintained the quality of the book because we've been fortunate to have a lot of A-List talent work on it," Remender remarked. "We were very lucky to have Esad Ribic stick around for 18 issues and lend things some consistency. And Jerome Opena's going to be doing the covers from issue #25 on. Plus, I don't think there's a way to properly express my appreciation for colorist Dean White who puts in four times more effort and love on every page than he has any earthly reason to do so. He's a passionate guy and he goes through and digitally paints under and on top of the line art. He adds such an amazing depth and tonal consistency to the series."
Helping Remender and White celebrate "X-Force" #25 is artist Mike McKone. "Mike is a professional and storytelling always come first in everything you see him do. Plus he's always got strong, clean, dynamic figures," Remender said. "And Dean White has been doing a fantastic job digitally painting his work. I've seen some samples of what those guys can do together and it's crazy good."
McKone will bring the first three issues of the "Final Execution" arc to life, which the writer promises will turn the book upside down. That status quo change will come about because an X-Men villain, who has not yet appeared in "Uncanny X-Force," discovers the team's existence.
"This is a natural character to make this discovery and they do so because of another character we have seen in this book. It was one one of those things that was born out of working on 'The Dark Angel Saga.' I thought, 'This person fits right in here.' So I called Nick Lowe and asked, 'What if this person was told by that person and he did this and this?' Then the next thing I know we were beating out the 'Final Execution' story," Remender explained. "So we've got the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. The members of that group that we have revealed are three new characters that collectively make up the Omega Clan. They are Omega Red, Omega White, and Omega Black. They're all built from the remains of the original Omega Red who was killed by Wolverine a few years ago."
The Omega Clan are creations of a clandestine weapons manufacturing group called the White Sky. "Final Execution" opens with Deadpool investigating the organization's chief base of operations.
"The White Sky operate out of a giant cumulous cloud that floats around the world and can't be tracked. Inside of it is this giant, beautiful show room where you can get an assassin made to order," Remender said. "Their clients are mostly corporate, but anybody who has the money can get in touch with them and special order custom made and specific assassins. It's kind of a giant Toys 'R Us/Mercedes Benz dealership where you can get all types of assassins made to order: robots, ninjas, sexy secretaries, you name it."
Dusting off and reviving the concepts of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and Omega Red were easy for Remender because their presence in "Final Execution" grew out of the story the writer wanted to tell. "That's always the best place because you don't have to dance around to come up with character motives and who they are," Remender remarked. "In this case the X-Villain who has reformed the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants has a very clear reason for doing so and it ties into what we've seen in the first 20 issues of "X-Force." Then when you see who the members of the Brotherhood are you'll see that each one of them have a perfect motive. They're not just perfect members of the Brotherhood. They're also perfect foils for X-Force. These guys are aware of X-Force. They know they're out there and they have a plan. The Omegas are part of that plan and we'll see it in the first three issues."
The Brotherhood's plan will devastate X-Force and have a major impact on the book's status quo. "After issue #27 there will be a death in the team. There will be a new member and there will almost be a complete reset. A ball-peen hammer is going to come down around issue #27 in a pretty huge and crazy way. If you've been a fan of the series so far you're not going to want to miss this," Remender said. "This was something that I didn't think would get approved, to be honest. Nick Lowe and I worked on it quite a bit and made sure that it was natural, unpredictable, and was much bigger than 'The Dark Angel Saga.' That was a huge challenge too because I went pretty big in that story. I wanted to make sure that if we were going to do another big epic that this thing was an escalation and we definitely have that. I think people will see that by issue #27."
"Uncanny X-Force" #23 is on sale March 28.