As the first book of Marvel Comics rolling Marvel NOW! relaunch, "Uncanny Avengers" had a lot of weight on its shoulders. The series had to set the tone for what Marvel's promised "relaunch but not a reboot" facelift would be, tie up loose ends from the "Avengers Vs. X-Men" event and try to make a major player out of the X-Men's literal little brother Havok.
And while the series reported an estimated sales level over 300,000 copies, Marvel isn't taking its foot of the promotional pedal just yet. Today, the publisher invited press in for its latest "Next Big Thing" conference call where writer Rick Remender discussed an expansion of the team's cast to include former Avengers Wonder Man and the Wasp as well as X-Men anti-hero Sunfire. Marvel shared a new cover by series artist John Cassaday highlighting the expanded lineup.
"I was up until 4:00 doing the last 'X-Force' scripts," Remender said as the proceedings started, though he promised to try and avoid any naps during the interview. The writer was joined by Editor Tom Brevoort and master of ceremonies/Marvel Sales & Communications Coordinator James Viscardi.
Discussion soon turned to the new cast members as Remender joked that "Chimichanga Johnson will be a big one." Brevoort joked that for the writer "Nine members is a small cast" though Remender said he wouldn't use every hero in every issue. "Each one of them serve a very different purpose in the team moving forward," he continued, noting that there will be a natural reason for Sunfire to join, though he will have some "business" with Wolverine. "I don't think there's any character I can write that's as surly as Sunfire...and he's a classic X-Man. He's one of the guys Charles Xavier wanted on the squad in 'Giant-Size' and #94."
He went on to say that Wonder Man would be more of a pacifist this time out and will serve as the publicist for the team with his Hollywood experience, and the Wasp will be the heroine who funds the team as these Avengers will live in the Avengers Mansion and take no government funding for their activities. "Beyond that, Wasp has a few interesting things she'll be doing as well to help the mutants reputation...not all of that will go well."
Brevoort revealed that issue #5, which will be the premier of the new cast, will feature guest artist Olivier Coipel as Cassaday catches up on pencils for the next arc. "The whole issue will be revealing the team, putting them out in front of the world and letting them do their business...almost immediately, it goes horribly wrong," the editor said.
As press questions started, the issue of whether Sunfire would stick around was first up. "He really believes in the mandate and the mission of the team as well as the sub-mission that he and Wolverine will be going on, and he believes in it passionately...but he doesn't like being around people," Remender said. "He has to learn about being a social animal even though he's not one...he has an arc. Now that we've got it beat out, the first 20 issues of this thing is one big story. You'll start to see what this story is at the end of the first arc...it's Red Skull, Kang and Apocalypse rolling into something bigger than I could ever imagine."
Brevoort described Sunfire and Wolverine's solo mission as a sort of "samurai mission" and the overall story will bring a slightly different outlook to Sunfire's world. "There is a prestige and an outlook to it," the writer added.
The PR side of Wonder Man's role was asked after, and Remender said it all stems from the mutant outburst by Avalanch in the first issue and how mutant paranoia is at an all-time high. "Simon has a challenge in front of him in terms of trying to right that ship," he explained. "He has to spread what's good about the mutants he knows and show how being a mutant doesn't lead to a nefarious purpose." Remender added that Simon Williams' love of The Scarlet Witch plays in to his motivation for joining the team.
Brevoort said that this specific team has a unique Avengers mandate in that "they're an activist group." He compared them to the NAACP or the Anti-Defamation League for the mutants in the Marvel U. "While that's a goal that they've got, the reason they need people like Wonder Man and in a different way Jan is because these are people who have a great deal of experience dealing with that side of the world" while the X-Men characters are more used to just fighting missions and saving the day.
The editor added that the team would "walk the walk" to try and show what good mutants would do and that the character changes saw in Wonder Man in recent Brian Bendis-written Avengers Annuals would not be forgotten about as he takes on the challenge of being an Uncanny Avenger.
"The other fun part of it is that you've got somebody as powerful as Wonder Man...and he's in full-on pacifist mode," Remender added. "You basically have Superman sitting in your office, and he won't come help you. And he's got a good reason for it!"
Remender also said that he doesn't see the seldom used heroes on his team as B-listers, and from Havok to Sunfire, his Avengers stand as some of his favorite heroes from the past. "Wonder Man was a big deal in the Avengers when I was growing up...he was a HUGE part of that team with his relationship to the Vision and the Scarlet Witch," he said. "I don't view them as broken toys...I always saw those as guys who turned their back on the limelight...the same thing attracts me to Rogue given her history. She has a tumultuous past that makes her fun to write." He said he connects with each of the characters on their own and as a part of the team.
The Wasp's role as financier came up, and the writer said, "She tires to find a way to make mutants hip and profitable that I think a lot of people will have fun with. She's a smart gal, and she's got a fashion sense and a plan to make mutants hip." He said there's a fine line between dangerous and cool, and Janet will exploit that idea to promote the team in the Marvel U.
Asked whether Coipel would be the first of a number of artist or whether a single artist would trade off with Cassaday to keep the book on time, Brevoort said that would be dealt with in the future, and that when the time came to announce an additional regular artist, they'd do another conference call.
The issue of Wonder Man and Sunfire's arguably dark pasts as a litmus test for their membership, the writer explained that they wouldn't have too many issues. "Everybody has a period in their lives where they might seem a little sketchy," Remender said, noting that Rogue, Wolverine and many others had times as bad guys. Rogue in particular will have a journey focused on her past as an Avengers villain before she was ever an X-Man. "There's all that wonderful grist for drama there as well."
Based on the cover of #5, Remender was asked if this was an angry team, to which the writer said, "That just looks cooler" before more seriously answering, "The demeanor of the team is that as soon as they come together, a family friend is murdered...and then everything goes into the sewer." There would be a lot of fallout from the Red Skull's early attack, but the team would be a powerhouse Avenger squad to deal with the dire threats coming their way. That's part of the reason why the story plan will go for 19 or 20 issues. "These people [are] becoming a family as they have to face something bigger than the Avengers or the X-Men have ever faced."
Brevoort said the team is committed to moving forward with a common goal for mutants, but within the group, there will be tensions on how to get that job done. He particularly pointed to Rogue and Scarlet Witch not getting along even as they agree to work towards Charles Xavier's dream of mutant equality. "It won't always be a harmonious group...but the thing they share amongst them is a commitment to this ideal."
As to which side of the coin – the "Uncanny" or the "Avengers" – was weighing heavier on the book, Remender said that the opening arc feels more like an X-Men story as it follows up on the death of Xavier and the role of mutants, but from there the Avengers side of the equation would pick up more. Overall, he wants an even balance between missions, villains and ideas. "It's really a balancing act because that's part of the fun of why people are coming to see this thing."
The book's delays early in the system came up, to which Brevoort said, "There are assurances until something goes wrong." He said Marvel is working on hitting the ship dates for the book and inviting Coipel on board for #5 was part of that. "John hasn't done a lot of comics over the past few years, and so his coming back is really an event," he added of Cassaday, saying the first issue was longer than a traditional Marvel title. "I know it sucks when the books are late...but I always tend to come down in the same place. I'm dealing with the short game of readers salivating for the next issue and retailers hoping that money is in their coffers while I also focus on the long game and ensuring we get a book that can sell forever." He cited long term sales for "Astonishing X-Men" trades as an argument for giving Cassaday room to finish issues when he needs to. For now, issue #2 is off to press and he believes #3 and 4 will be coming at a regular pace afterwards.
Wrapping up, Remender said that the nine members revealed in #5 will be the overall cast while arc-by-arc, there will be smaller teams within the team. It's similar to what he's doing now in "Secret Avengers." There are some characters coming into the cast that aren't necessarily on the team as well as guest stars along the way. "From there, it's just a matter of squeezing the real estate to give each one of them space for their stories to exist in...that's the challenge of a team book."
Brevoort added that Firestar and Vision can't be ruled out as possible guest stars, but neither would join the team.