SPOILER WARNING: THE FOLLOWING INTERVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR "UNCANNY AVENGERS" #4, ON SALE NOW
Captain America was present for Charles Xavier's murder in the penultimate issue of Marvel Comics' "Avengers Vs. X-Men" series, but he was powerless to stop it. In the aftermath of that series Cap decided he needed to do something to keep the X-Men founder's dream of peaceful co-existence between man and mutant from dying with him, and in the debut issue of "Uncanny Avengers" by writer Rick Remender and artist John Cassaday, Cap assembled a new "Avengers Unity Squad" made up of veteran Avengers and X-Men to show the world that humans and mutants can not only coexist, but also work together.
The series' first story arc came to an end in "Uncanny Avengers" #4 when Cap and his teammates foiled the Red Skull's attempt to rally humanity to his side using mutants as the scapegoat. The day was won, but many challenges for the team to tackle remain. In the final pages of the issue readers were given a glimpse of the scope and scale of those threats in a scene that jumped three months ahead and offered up shocking revelations about some upcoming story lines. CBR News spoke with Remender about the events of the issue and his plans for the series as a whole.
In the future sequence at the end of "Uncanny Avengers" #4 readers followed team leader Havok, his comrade the Scarlet Witch and his future teammate Sunfire through a ruined cityscape as Sentinel-like robots buzzed overhead. The dialogue between the three characters mentions the Apocalypse Twins that will be part of the upcoming "Ragnarok Now" story arc, but the sequence featured clues to stories that will happen after that arc as well.
"This gives us a little taste of what's going to happen in 'Uncanny Avengers' for the first two years," Remender told CBR News. "It definitely hints at things that are going to happen in the 'Ragnarok Now' story with the Apocalypse Twins, but the elements they're dealing with in that sequence go on much further."
As the sequence progressed readers were given more and more clues that time travel and its consequences will play a large role in future "Uncanny Avengers" stories. Those clues included the corpse of the character known as Immortus, and mentions of Stark Nimrod robots and the fact that the era had become "locked" by the Apocalypse twins.
"Time travel of course means Kang will be playing a large role in this series and you'll get your first real taste of what he is up to in issue #5. It serves as a big sequel piece to 'The Dark Angel Saga' story line from my 'Uncanny X-Force' run. It's where we start to lay the foundation for the 24 issues of insanity that we're embarking upon."
Kang and his future incarnation Immortus won't be the only time travelers involved in the upcoming action of "Uncanny Avengers." Remender also has plans for the time traveling criminal that would become Kang, Rama-Tut.
"Writing Kang and his various incarnations is tricky. You've got Immortus who's the older Kang, who is trying to be a better man. You've got Kang who is this conqueror that wants to win battles and dominate, but always through honor. So he can time travel and change history to suit his purposes, but only when it's absolutely necessary. He wants to win on the field of battle for the most part," Remender explained. "Kang has this sort of mixed ethical compass. He's clearly a scumbag, but he's somewhat of an honorable one. Then you have Rama Tut who I see as the younger, more confused, and ultimately more evil of the Kang and Immortus incarnations.
"In issue #6 we get a lot of what Rama Tut has been doing and it's complicated,' Remender continued with a laugh. "I've got a giant map on my wall that's connected in almost 'A Beautiful Mind' style way and documents how the time travel works. You won't understand everything that's going on until around issue #17 when a big reveal drops."
The dialogue in the three-month flash-forward sequence also made reference to two other time travelers: Cable, who recently encountered the Uncanny Avengers in the pages of "Cable & X-Force," and Ahab. the villainous cyborg that served as master of the "hounds" in the "Days of Future Past" reality. "With Cable, I don't want to spoil any of the plans we have for further down the road, but ['Cable & X-Force' writer] Dennis Hopeless and I have had some conversations about interconnections between our two books," Remender remarked. "And to me, Ahab is one of the architects of the 'Days of Future Past' time line. He's the guy that's training the 'hounds' and he's the guy that's responsible for a lot of the evil experiments and concentration camps in that future time line. He was always a very interesting villain and one I thought there was a lot of intrigue being built around; especially dealing with the modern version of him that was stumbling around.
"That all kind of fizzled as writers were changed and that thread with Ahab was never picked back up. I know it was hit on a couple times but it was never explored the way I always wanted it to be explored," Remender continued. "So we're alluding to Ahab in issue #4 because... you'll see."
The Red Skull established his presence as a major villainous player in the debut issue of "Uncanny Avengers" when he stole Charles Xavier's telepathic abilities by grafting the late mutant's brain onto his own. The flash-forward in issue #4 suggested that when the Skull returns to menace the Avengers Unity Division he will be even more dangerous: the final page revealed that the Red Skull had merged with the being created from the darkest portions of Xavier's consciousness, Onslaught.
"Early on in the development of this series, Jeph Loeb suggested at a retreat that I try to develop Red Skull as the villain. Upon sitting down to do this, I found it to be incredibly difficult. Because I kept picturing Red Skull standing there with Captain America, Rogue, Thor, Scarlet Witch, Havok and Wolverine all charging at him. The next scene from that is that the Red Skull gets beaten up really badly," Remender said with a laugh. "Of course he'd have machinations and all sorts of wonderful traps and henchmen, but it wasn't a very satisfying thing for me. Then my mind went to the Cosmic Cube, but I thought, 'Really? Every single time we see this guy he's going to have a new Marvel Universe power relic?' It makes the character, in terms of being an Avengers level threat, not work no matter how smart, mischievous or conniving he is. So that's where the idea to use the brain of Charles Xavier came from.
"Charles' brain isn't just a relic and with Zola's help he bio welds it into his own head. It also gave the Red Skull mask a little more importance because it houses Xavier's brain. It made him a much more interesting character," Remender continued. "Then as I was developing the story I needed an escalation for a big villain reveal. The previous escalation was that the Red Skull is now as powerful as Charles Xavier, but I couldn't figure out the next step up from there. I wanted something that grew naturally out of the merging of Red Skull and Charles Xavier. That was when my editor Tom Brevoort mentioned Onslaught.
"We both kind of sat there for awhile and stared off into the distance considering what was being proposed," Remender continued with a laugh. "It just hit me like thunder. This was early enough in the planning that once I saw this as the next step in the escalation of this character it really does fit perfectly with what Onslaught was. I'll just leave it at that because I don't want to spoil any of the big surprises we have coming up."
Onslaught is just the latest in a line of iconic characters and concepts from the '90s that includes Apocalypse, Venom, and X-Force which Remender has taken and polished up. "I never saw myself as being the guy to take ideas from the '90s and to polish them up, but it's been fun trying to do something unique and new with them," the writer said. "I've discovered that I like taking these recognizable, iconic pieces that I was once disdainful of and trying to give them a new life. It's a fun challenge. Hopefully when people see what we have coming up with this and the scale of it all they'll be pretty excited."
The Red Skull merging with Onslaught will make an already formidable foe even more dangerous. In "Uncanny Avengers" readers saw the Skull use his newfound telepathic powers in cunning and devious ways like trying to make his arch-enemy Captain America lose faith in the country he represents.
"This Red Skull is obviously pure Nazi. He comes from the early 1940s and doesn't even temper it with 50 years of watching the world change. So he believes in subjugation, fascism and all of the terrible things that the Nazi regime were working towards," Remender continued. "So I think more than anything he's trying to confuse Steve's own desire for an orderly and clean society with the Red Skull's. That was the one point I found where their interests may intersect. So he uses that over and over to kind of drive home the fact that Steve's country is changing. It's falling apart. 'You're propping up the husk of a dying empire.'
"Steve doesn't believe that. I think he believes in America and while things might not be perfect in his country he believes that there's plenty to fight for," Remender explained. "I think Red Skull's mojo was strong enough to make him consider it though."
While the Skull's new telepathic powers outclassed the "Uncanny Avengers" mentally, the team was more than a match for him physically. When he escaped the team at the end of issue #4 the Nazi had lost a hand, been burned by Havok's cosmic energy, and taken a vicious hit from Captain America's shield.
"I think what's important to remember here is that this Red Skull is a duplicate of the original that Arnim Zola created during the final years of World War II and we don't know all of what Zola did when he created this version of the Skull," Remender said of the villain. "We'll reveal more as time goes on about augmentations and things, but he's not Steve Rogers with the Super Soldier Serum. He's also not a regular guy who gets a concussion and goes to sleep when he gets hit. His frame is a little studier than that, but we saw him lose a hand and that's not going to grow back. So he's going to want to get even with Wolverine."
The battle against the Skull was a difficult one that forged together bonds and relationships between the various members of the "Uncanny Avengers" like team leader Havok and the Scarlet Witch. When the two fought side by side in issue #4 the chemistry they shared left many to wonder if they were witnessing the early stages of a burgeoning romance between Alex Summers and Wanda Maximoff.
"I have big plans for Havok's love life and his life in general moving forward," Remender said. "Who that will be with and how that all comes together is part of the mystery. There's definitely some chemistry there though."
New friendships were also formed because of the "Uncanny Avengers" battle with the Red Skull. At the end of issue #4 when Wolverine was mourning Charles Xavier's death Thor appeared to ensure his teammate that the battle for Xavier's dream was not over and that he could now count the Thunder God as an ally in that struggle.
"Those guys are going to become BFFs," Remender stated. "They're hard drinking warriors. I see them as having a lot in common and without giving away too much I see them as real allies moving forward."
Not everyone was so excepting of their new teammates though. At the end of issue #4 Rogue refused the Scarlet Witch's request for friendship.
"I don't think Rogue believes that Wanda is sane. I think she feels like she's looking at a weapon of mass destruction that might have the core of a good person, but has taken her incredible powers and done so many incredible feats that have hurt people," Remender explained. "Rogue sees that everyone else on the team is giving Wanda a second chance and she's on this redemption arc. So Rogue is going to stand guard and be diligent and make sure another M-Day doesn't happen. She's not going to let Wanda go off like a time bomb on her watch while everybody else is giving her teammate a second chance.
Rogue's wariness over the Scarlet Witch's powers and mental state is not unwarranted. In the opening arc of "Uncanny Avengers" Wanda Maximoff used her elemental mutant power and magical abilities to accomplish a number of impressive feats.
"Wanda has had so many different powers and I want to acknowledge the continuity of the character and try to cook up a soufflé of that. So my understanding is that Wanda can do anything she's done in the past with the appropriate power source and time to cast the spell," Remender stated. "That's the way I reconcile the all the versions of Wanda we've seen like Kurt Busiek's, Bendis', and up through my version.
"She draws power from a well of cosmic chaos energy. That chaos energy can be used on the field of battle to cast probability hexes that cause a building to collapse or a water main to break. Because that power is so unpredictable though she also needs to make sure that she's got spells. She is a witch and uses chaos energy as a power source to complete her spells," Remender continued. "She was born an elemental mutant and she could have become somebody like her father, Magneto, but with Wundagore Mountain, her magic training, and all of the other mystical fiddling that went on with her that elemental aspect of has become a conduit for elemental power to control chaos magic."
The Scarlet Witch's ability to tap into and manipulate chaos energy means she's incredibly powerful, but it also means she has some has some very real and dangerous limitations. "She can bend reality, but can she bend reality in the middle of a fight to suit her purposes? No. Can she bend reality if she has a power source great enough, such as the life force that led her to do what she did on M-Day? Yes. So with a great enough power source, the time to cast the spell, and the inclination to cast it she can do almost anything. That doesn't help her in the field of battle though where she can really only draw upon chaos energy, probability hexes and the occasional elemental spell," Remender explained. "Plus the way I see the chaos power is that it's almost like using a nuclear reactor to charge your cell phone. It has the potential to fry it out because chaos is raw, powerful, and unpredictable.
"So when Wanda opens the well of chaos to draw in a certain amount of energy there's a danger that the chaos energy molecules can split, multiply, or break the laws of nature. In issue #4 we see her dig deep into that well of chaos so she can cast a spell to hurl Thor away from her. She allowed the chaos to fill her and if that went sideways, if she held on for too long, or if some part of the chaos of that power were to twist she could overload and it could fry her mind," Remender continued. "She could become a chaos demon or she could become a vegetable. So I'm trying to have that same kind of fun with chaos as an energy source that I did with Fantomex's misdirections in 'Uncanny X-Force.'"
The Scarlet Witch's powers helped her teammates win the battle against the Red Skull. It was a victory that came at a crucial time in mutant-human relations and gave the mutants of the world a much needed image bolstering.
"The general public has seen all this infighting. They saw mutants take over the planet during 'AvX,' and they saw mutants fighting the Avengers. So they've seen all of this chaos and now mutants' numbers are on the rise. The point of these first four issues was to set up the idea that people are afraid again and Red Skull is going to exploit that to grow an army," Remender explained. "In the first issue of this series Wolverine gives the eulogy for Charles Xavier and says, 'We failed Chuck. He died with his dream unfulfilled and we as his students should be ashamed of ourselves.' Then people saw Havok, Rogue, Thor and Captain America working together to take down a guy in the streets spreading hatred and murdering human beings. So it started to feel like that this was a very human thing that was happening.
"The end result was that Logan got visual confirmation that Cap's idea of Avengers and X-Men working together on the same squad in public will help the general population regain their confidence and hope that people can work together," Remender continued. "It's hope. So Wolverine goes from feeling like he failed Xavier to seeing that there is still hope and he's not alone. There's a sense of, "Xavier knew you would get it right and you won't be fighting alone this time."
The ranks of the "Uncanny Avengers" will grow in issue #5 with the addition of Wasp, Sunfire, and Wonder Man who will play a limited role on the team. "With Wonder Man you've got somebody who's got a long term relationship with Wanda. She is responsible for him being alive and he's still very much in love with her. So that's a very complicated relationship," Remender said. "Plus, Wonder Man is basically Superman, but he's now a pacifist. He recently came to see that nothing good comes from fighting and that the Avengers are causing as much trouble as they're solving. So he's here to help with the mansion, their PR, and to try and win back Wanda. He's not going to fight though. I love the idea that when the shit goes down and you're in it that you turn to Superman and say, 'help.' Then he says 'I'm a pacifist.' So that's got a lot of grist and there's a lot of drama that I'm building on with that.
"Then, for me, Wasp is as much the traditional leader of the Avengers as Captain America. She was the chairwoman of the Avengers for a long, long time and in my mind she's not just a great tactician and field leader. She's got ideas based on her skills as a fashion designer on how to help mutants change their PR, and how to structure an image that helps people get their head around liking mutants," Remender continued. "She has a line in issue #5 where she says, 'You'll never make their parents like you, but if you make the kids think you're cool you win the next generation.' So she's got all kinds of ideas for a line of fashions and a PR campaign that's going to help clean up the image of mutants for the general population in the Marvel Universe. Beyond that, she's a terrific character. She's smart, sassy and sexy. I really like Wasp a lot and I'm excited to build her back up."
With Sunfire, Remender has a character with a unique perspective that enlivens the group dynamic of the Uncanny Avengers. "Sunfire is noble, but he's a nationalist that only really cares about Japan. So he sees the opportunity to be in the Avengers as something that helps that image and helps his nation," the writer said. "Plus, as a former Horseman he's got a lot of the same connective tissues that a character like Archangel had when dealing [with] the Akkaba and [the] Apocalypse stuff I'm building. So there's a lot of fun stuff there, but beyond that I like having a character who's an unapologetic asshole on the team just for the dialogue," Remender said with a laugh. "It's fun to have somebody point out how ridiculous something may be or to make fun of a character behaving in a stereotypical or clichéd way. So I just like the idea of Sunfire being a dick."
Sunfire's attitude is certain to rub many of his teammates the wrong way, especially Wolverine, who became the unofficial heir to Xavier's dream after opening a new school for mutants. That status means he'll feel obligated to see past Sunfire's obnoxiousness and try and realize Xavier's hopes for the Japanese mutant.
"Wolverine knows that Chuck always wanted Sunfire to be part of the new guard of X-Men. Sunfire kept shunning it though. He went at it alone and it never worked out for him. He was twisted and manipulated. What happened with Apocalypse lead to his dealings with Sinister in 'Messiah CompleX,'" Remender explained. "Wolverine sees Sunfire as an opportunity for him to live up to something that Chuck wanted, which was to put a lot of faith in Sunfire and give him a chance to show his integrity and what he's capable of. Xavier always thought Sunfire was going to be a big hero. That never worked out because he can't work with other people. That of course feeds into the overall theme of this series, which is unity. This is a book about a team of people learning to get over their differences and their petty ugliness and working together for the greater good."
As Remender hinted earlier, upcoming issues of "Uncanny Avengers" will have the team working together for the greater good by trying to defeat the threat of Kang and the mysterious Apocalypse Twins. "This book is all one big narrative, and the inciting incident of these first four issues is the powering up of Red Skull and the team's formation. The first thing that they're dealing with after that is the Apocalypse twins," Remender remarked. "In issue #6 we'll get a flashback where we see Thor, Rama Tut, Apocalypse and Kang in a conflict that creates a relic that we've currently been seeing in Jason Aaron's 'Thor: God of Thunder' series. It's Thor's axe. We'll see why the Axe is now the most powerful relic in the Marvel Universe, how it became that, and what role it's going to play moving forward.
"Then issue #7 is where the story takes off. That's where we get to meet the Apocalypse Twins and get an idea where they come from. Issue #7 is the real beginning of the 'Ragnarok Now' story," Remender continued. "The first year we'll mostly be focusing on the new Four Horsemen, the Apocalypse Twins and Kang as our villains."
Remender plans to follow up "Ragnarok Now" with a story that will examine the repercussions of several Marvel Universe characters discovering what the Red Skull did to Charles Xavier's brain. "It's fascinating to imagine what might happen if someone like Magneto discovered that the Red Skull had taken Charles Xavier's brain and was using it to kill mutants," the writer said. "It seems like Magneto wouldn't be super excited about something like that and it might lead to some conflict. It might lead to some conflict between Scott Summers and Alex Summers as well. So there's a lot of fun stuff coming up."
The members of the "Uncanny Avengers" will also have to deal with threats from outside their book like the homicidal robot Ultron who will rise to a position of incredible power in the upcoming "Age of Ultron" crossover. In "Uncanny Avengers" #8AU, a tie-in issue to the crossover, Remender and co-writer Gerry Duggan will give readers a tale that involves the titular robotic era and advances the story of Kang and the Apocalypse Twins.
"That was a tremendous opportunity because one of the problems I was having was that I didn't have enough real estate to really develop these twins. So when the potential for this crossover came up and Tom Brevoort threw out that this would be a great place to do this, and it really was," Remender explained. "Gerry Duggan is a friend and one of my favorite writers, so we talk shop a lot. We've been workshopping my Avengers stories, and his 'Deadpool' stuff. Then over the course of one of these conversations some ideas came up for what's going to take place in the 'Uncanny Avengers' issue that ties into 'Age of Ultron.' It's great and I was really grateful that Gerry had this idea that so perfectly fit the overall story.
"What we ended up with was a story that basically hints at a lot of the big revelations and things that are going to be coming up in the Marvel 616 Universe," Remender continued. "It will also define the Apocalypse Twins and their relationship to Kang as well as giving a very nice indication of what their overall motivations are. So in issues #10 and #11 where we start to get an idea of what they're doing you'll realize it was all seeded back in the 'Age of Ultron' tie-in. The issue is drawn by Adam Kubert with a cover by Jimmy Cheung. It's going to be a really great issue that nobody should miss."
Adam Kubert is just one of many new artists that Remender has found himself working with on "Uncanny Avengers." "Because I'm an artist I know a lot of great artists. So I can approach Jerome Opena, Tony Moore or any number of great guys that I've been able to work with over the years," Remender stated. "I think with Marvel NOW! they wanted us all split up. That was very uncomfortable for me because I'm used to working with the same guys. We talk on the phone, they are personal friends and they're relationships I'm comfortable with. I know exactly what I'll get on the page. They wanted to team us up with new people though and that's been a blast! I'm working with John Romita Jr, John Cassaday, and now Adam Kubert, Olivier Copiel and Daniel Acuña. Insanity."
Remender is excited to be working with Acuña and to give readers a chance to enjoy the artist's work on a monthly basis. "Fans haven't really been given a chance to know Acuña for a long run because he's rarely been given more than one arc in a row. This is an opportunity moving forward for people to really get a feel for the brilliance of Daniel Acuña and grow comfortable with him because the idea is we're going to keep this book monthly and we're going to keep Acuña as our regular artist," the writer explained. "You don't get one artist on a book usually these days, and that's the experiment on my books right now. 'Captain America' and 'Uncanny Avengers' are going to remain monthly.
"I think these are the books where Marvel is testing the waters to see if people are as receptive to consistency as they are to double shipping," Remender continued. "I had such luck with double shipping on 'Venom' and 'Uncanny X-Force' that it's sort of tough for me to go back to just monthlies. It feels like I'm moving at a much slower pace. I'm used to a book going out every three weeks. This way though I can keep the same art teams and that consistency will pay off in the long run."
Besides working with Acuña and other all-star artists the other draw of "Uncanny Avengers" for Remender has been the chance to take some of best elements and characters from both the Avengers and X-Men franchises and combine them for a title that's a completely new and different experience. "The book is going to have to really define itself, but fortunately I found that some of the rough ideas I had for the sequel to 'The Dark Angel Saga' worked much better here through the spectrum of an Avengers squad," the writer explained. "That's because some of the events of 'Uncanny X-Force' and some of the other elements that are going to play into our story really help define the team and their place in the world. The death of Xavier helps do that as well.
"In issue #5 Alex Summers gives an in-depth view on his position. To Alex, mutant is the M word. It's divisive and it causes segregation. It makes people see mutants as something different. So he won't be called a mutant. He'll punch you in the nose if you call him a mutant. It's the M word," Remender continued. "So it's a matter of those sorts of things. It's a matter of this team finding its legs and its identity. I think that its identity is different than the X-Men because it's a very public Avengers team based out of the Avengers mansion. So they're sort of the classic Avengers, but their mandate and their mission is to try and solve the problem of human-mutant relations."
"Uncanny Avengers" #4 is on sale now.