Since Marvel Comics teased its upcoming "AXIS" event at C2E2 2014, fans have been chomping at the bit to hear more about what to expect from the Avengers/X-Men team-up event. Details slowly began to emerge in the past few months, with Jim Cheung "AXIS" promotional art released in May as well as new details from series scribe Rick Remender earlier in June.
To bring some more clarity to the upcoming 9-issue event series, Rick Remender and Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort were on hand for a special "AXIS" press conference call, ready to tease details for the crossover that spans "Uncanny Avengers," "Magneto," "Loki: Agent of Asgard" and more.
Marvel PR guru Chris D'Lando kicked off the call, noting that the Red Skull has quietly been amassing his power base in Genosha, and the X-Men and Avengers must unite to take down the threat of an Onslaught-powered Red Skull. For his part, Remender is excited for readers to see what he's been building to since the beginning of "Uncanny Avengers."
"At first blush, I said, 'Onslaught? Hm...," Remender said, going on to mention that the idea had potential when being combined with the pure evil of the Red Skull. "We started building that as a B-Story that would percolate and build into something huge. Now that we're in the midst of it, I'm having a blast. ... It's nice to have the seeds that we planted so long ago build into something."
In terms of the Avengers and X-Men's contribution to "AXIS," the alliance between the two teams is still somewhat on shaky ground -- something that Remender has been exploring in "Uncanny Avengers." "As the [current] story concludes, the events of that story leads to the two teams becoming unified in a way we haven't seen," said Remender. "That's going to be tested here. They finally come together in the worst possible moment of their lives and it's a bit too late. They are bonded at first, but how that plays out with the current threat isn't going to be a lot of fun for them."
Act one of "AXIS" is called "The Red Supremacy," and will build from "The March to AXIS," which will span "Uncanny Avengers," "Captain America," "Loki: Agent of Asgard" and "Magneto." Supposedly, much of the Apocalypse Twins' motivation is as a result of knowing what's about to happen with the Red Skull. "The build up has been slow, and it's been necessary for the Red Skull to accomplish what he wants to accomplish in the background," said Remender. The Red Skull has re-education camps in Genosha, and it was "necessary" to reduce his visibility for a bit to help build his forces.
"Avengers Vs. X-Men" had a large cast, and "AXIS" is likely to follow in step. However, there are quite a few characters that might play a larger role. "There'll be an extraordinarily large cast, particularly as 'AXIS' gets underway. It will touch every corner of the Marvel Universe," said Brevoort. "Most of the characters you recognize will play a role."
It's Remender's first real go at writing Tony Stark, and the writer noted that crafting dialogue for both Iron Man and Deadpool was very satisfying. Continuing on the Iron Man thread, Remender revealed there were big changes in store for Tony Stark and that events between the Iron Avenger and the Red Skull were percolating in the background. The writer called out Genesis, Deadpool, Psylocke, Rogue, Cyclops and many more as playing a role in the series. "Nightcrawler has a very big role in this," he said.
The event is structured in such a way that every three issues is almost structured as an event in and of themselves. "The Red Supremacy," and Brevoort noted that it'll be three issues, "you'll see a lot of your favorite characters doing what they do," and the editor said readers will see the invasion of Genosha, the Red Skull empowered "as never before," and that what's kept the Red Skull from being a truly "world-class" villain is the fact that he can't physically go toe-to-toe with the major Marvel heavy hitters. "That is no longer the case," said Brevoort. "Having the brain of Professor X ... puts him on a level as a tangible threat to anybody who might be opposing him in a very personal and direct way. As Rick said, the Skull is about the most evil dude in the Marvel Universe. ... We've given him all the power he'll ever need to make the world over in his image as he sees fit."
There aren't many truly evil telepaths in the Marvel Universe, and Remender said the concept came with its own dilemma -- trying to give the heroes hope against the most powerful psychic power in the Marvel U. "That was the puzzle ... not having him walk up to them and have it be, 'Game over!'" Remender said.
"March to AXIS" hits in September in the four aforementioned titles, two of which are written by Remender. "One of the things that was important in building this was finding natural way to utilize the villains, who will also have reason to become involved in this story. Magneto and Loki are two of the big ones. Magneto's beginning in 'Uncanny Avengers' as some of the team find themselves in the Genosha re-education camps. Cullen is telling the story of how Magneto ends up there. The Loki stuff, it ties in to the Doom of it all -- I have to dance a little bit, it's tough to talk about where we go after issue #3. Those characters all have significant arcs in this. That's one of the things that was important to me -- while the action is big bombastic comic book fun ... it feels true to who the characters are. There's romance, there's heartbreaks ... you're not going to get a lot of people eating cereal. This is big and incredibly exciting." Remender also stated he would focus a bit on the interactions between characters that might not get a chance to interact usually.
Magneto and the Red Skull will be set up as huge rivals during the event for good reason. Not only will Magneto find out that the Red Skull stole his best friend's brain, but "what he's doing with the reeducation camps really strikes a chord with Erik." "March to AXIS" serves to help get readers more invested in the series and "root for characters you might not normally root for."
In terms of "AXIS" tie-ins, Brevoort said there will be a "fleet" of tie-ins, probably around the number of "Original Sin" tie-ins. They'll be "more traditional" in that they'll bounce off one another and relate back to the core-book. "These are quintessentially classic tie-in stories," said Brevoort.
"They're not mandatory reading," said Remender. "You'll really want to read them. I worked closely with all the writers to make sure that what they wanted to do was reflected in the event and vice-versa." Genesis and Quentin Quire also play big roles and "Wolverine and the X-Men" was specifically referenced by Remender.
Although Remender has written his villains as somewhat sympathetic in the past, the Red Skull is just completely pure evil and has nothing sympathetic about him. "It was the first time I'd ever let myself write a character and let their motives -- there's no reliability. He is evil. I've never written just evil -- and it was a ton of fun. The important thing with him is not making himself relatable. There is no love in the Red Skull. There is no side to him where you grey him out a little bit. The biggest challenge was coming up with his motive. What does someone with this power level and this alignment -- what does he want, what does he want to do? It comes down to what he's always wanted ... he wants to dominate."
Some of the heroes and villains will complement and contrast each other in ways they haven't in the past. "There's a lot of -- more than animosity, there were some friendships built. You'll get to see a lot of strange interactions between Carnage and Deadpool and Sabretooth and Enchantress and the Absorbing Man. ... There will be things that we haven't seen before," said Remender. "A lot of the fun for me was to take characters -- what people call the B-tier and focus on them and build them. With this event, I had the chance to do it with some of the B-tier and some of the villains, but some of the really heavy hitters."
The event gives characters a chance to reveal different sides of themselves. In fact, other aspects based in older lore came up including interactions between Dr. Doom and Scarlet Witch. "It creates strange new partnerships like between Iron Man and Deadpool."
Genosha is symbolic for the Red Skull, taking what was once a mutant nation and turning them into concentration camps. "It's part of why he chose this. Also, it's rubble. It's an entire nation that's completely demolished. It's big enough real estate that he can do what he wanted," said Remender. "I definitely think there's something devilishy symbolic about him deciding to do it in Genosha."
"Let's face it, Genosha is a craphole," said Brevoort, noting that it goes back to when it was introduced as the nation of Mutant Apartheid. "Nobody ever goes to Genosha on vacation. Their tourist trade is crap. There's nothing left standing," he said, laughing. "In many ways, it's the Red Skull's hometown. It's the land that most reflects in its history what his psyche is like. Nobody loves Genosha."
"That's actually on the tourism pamphlet," said Remender.
Brevoort also addressed the switch between the Green Goblin and Hobgoblin, saying that the Spider-Office's plans for the Green Goblin necessitated the change to the Hobgoblin. "Spider-Man's big role in this doesn't take off until the second act," said Remender. "When we finally get Spider-Man involved, he's going to have a large responsibility and a big role to play. As we were putting together his cast -- you'll see why in the second arc -- you can't talk about any of it without giving anything away. Yes, Hobgoblin plays just as well. We've got Jack O'Lantern ... as well as Hobgoblin and Carnage, and the dynamics we've cooked up for them and how it plays into Spider-Man's life -- I can't really say anything about it."
In terms of the shadowed figure in the "AXIS" #1 cover, readers won't have to wait until the book is on the shelf to find out who it is. "We're doing our best to save the integrity of [it] as well as the wonderful stuff Jason Aaron is doing in 'Original Sin,'" said Remender, noting that he and Aaron have been on the phone discussing how the fallout of "Original Sin" will affect "AXIS."
Terry Dodson, Jim Cheung, Adam Kubert and Leinil Yu will all be handling art duties, and Brevoort could only say that "Adam is doing the first two," and then Yu, then Dodson, and "then eventually we'll get to Jim."
Brevoort also addressed the fact that "AXIS" will follow another big event -- "Original Sin" -- by only a few months. "Really, that's just kind of the way it worked out. 'Original Sin' was designed and built as our summer event, so that was situated where it was. 'AXIS' is situated where it is because that's where we get to the point it's been building to all along," Brevoort said. "We're doing another big story there. It's not the same kind of story -- I think what made people more comfortable about doing this is 'Original Sin' is structured very differently in how the tie-ins almost function as independent books. The reading experiences are going to be quite different. 'Original Sin' is also a very emotional story, it's about the inner turmoil of the characters and the way they feel about things. 'AXIS' is a very extroverted series about blowing things up and punching people -- also with character, also with heart. The fact that there's some contrast between them made people more comfortable that we'd be doing these in relatively short order."
Characters that Remender has had a lot of fun writing -- almost for the first time -- are Nova, Magneto and Hulk. "It's got a lot of my bucket list stuff that I wanted to work on. One of those things in the opening is also the Vision. Tom and I have done a lot of talking about him as a character we both really dig," Remender said. "When you see the covers rolling in and you see the cast, it's a dream line-up on both sides."
Coordination was a big part of bringing the event together -- especially considering the story has been in the works for "at least two years." "Everybody who's involved knows it -- I spend a lot of time on the phone," said Remender. "A lot of what happens is talking about [our individual] goals. ... It enables me to volley back the ideas until what we get is much better than what we would have gotten on our own. The responsibility is to reach out ... that really is the fun of it. It can be a pain in the ass occasionally, but I think many of the things I've written at Marvel that have been incredibly enjoyed were not the first idea. ... What Magneto does in 'Magneto' as well as in the event, actually connect and one enriches the other."
"It's not easy," said Brevoort. "The more characters and the more stuff you have, the less easy it becomes. There's a lot of negotiation. It's also the difference between having a rock-solid tie-in and characters in the Marvel Universe. ... We're reasonably good at it, we don't obsess over it. As long as we are genuinely reflecting what's going on with those characters to some degree, we tell a good story and a good story beats everything."
When planning the story, Remender and Brevoort said that the first act came first, but the end of the first act "takes such a sharp turn into such a dangerous Marvel Universe that nobody will be expecting it." "As we discussed this retreat by retreat, the next two acts came together in my mind," said Remender.
"At different points over the course of this two years, 'AXIS' has had at least two other titles that we were using to refer to it," said Brevoort. "It's changed twice, but it started essentially with the first act."
"It plays off of the 'Uncanny Avengers' stuff -- especially Havok and the Scarlet Witch. They have huge story beats that have them coming out the other end changed. It's still the 'Uncanny Avengers' through line, but it's also a Marvel event, so I'm making sure everything I've seeded with those characters is in the first issue." There are payouts for many different kinds of readers, including fans dating all the way back to Remender's "Uncanny X-Force" run. "In terms of the focal characters, there are actually quite a few and those shift as the foundation and the structure of the story demands. You get a lot of Havok, a lot of Iron Man, a lot of Hulk. The Inhumans are also involved. And Spider-Man. That's part of the AXIS of it all, but it's not why it's called 'AXIS.'"
Wrapping up, Remender said villains would take on heroes they don't normally fight -- but not in the same way readers might expect. Brevoort said the "Acts of Vengeance" comparison came up with fans previously, but not to expect the similarities to extend past the villains being in the event.
"AXIS" #1 hits in October, and goes through December.