SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for “Uncanny X-Force” #18, in stores now.
In his 1886 book “Beyond Good and Evil,” Friedrich Nietzsche famously warned, “He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster.” In the Marvel Universe, that quote takes on a whole new meaning since many super villains have access to technology that can radically alter a hero’s physiology and soul.
After losing his wings in a super villain attack, original X-Men member Angel (Warren Worthington) was given razor sharp wings by the villainous Apocalypse. Not content with simply altering the mutant on a physical level, Apocalypse also imprinted a violent, angry persona deep within Warren Worthington. Over the years, that persona grew stronger, cementing its control over Worthington. Going by the name Archangel, he and his team members in the latest incarnation of X-Force attacked and seemingly murdered Apocalypse, who had been reborn as a young boy.
In the current arc of “Uncanny X-Force,” Worthington’s dark persona has taken him over completely, transforming the hero into Apocalypse’s heir. The arc, titled “The Dark Angel Saga,” came to a close in “Uncanny X-Force” #18 by writer Rick Remender and artist Jerome Opeña. In our latest COMMENTARY TRACK, Remender joins CBR for insight into some of the pivotal scenes of the issue, which will have a dramatic impact on the long form story the writer is telling in “Uncanny X-Force.”
CBR News: Rick, you open things in a big way, here! On this page. it looks like a machine in the form of the Deathlok Prime cyborg learns how to love.
Rick Remender: That’s the thing about the dichotomy between the AI and the human part of Deathlok. The human half is a mindless psychopath, and his identity has not yet been revealed. Deathlok Prime is a dude who is an awful, vicious psychopath, but the AI became self-aware and started processing the concept of love.
It’s this good-hearted, heroic AI I’ve been building on from the stuff that Jason Aaron set up in “Wolverine: Weapon X” where Deathlok Prime first appeared. He’s now turned into sort of a hippie. He’s all about love and caring. I thought that was a fun direction to take the Deathlok cyborg.
We know that your upcoming run on “Secret Avengers” involves the evolution of robots and other artificial life forms, so it seems this scene might have some significance to both your work in that book and upcoming issues of “Uncanny X-Force.”
[Laughs] Wow! Connecting the dots all ready. Yes, you will see Deathloks in “Secret Avengers” and you’ll see Deathlok Prime in “Wolverine & the X-Men,” so the Deathlok cyborgs are far from done. The more I dig into the Deathloks, the Weapon Plus Program and all of these really cool robot species in the Marvel Universe, the more potential I see for cool stories.
This is something that was actually percolating back when I was working on the FrankenCastle stuff in “Punisher.” I was thinking about making an army of robots before I was thinking monsters, all these other cool robots that have never been given as much spotlight as the shiny super heroes. That’s when I started cooking up the automaton revolution and all the upcoming Descendants stuff.
The first part of that was seeded in “Uncanny X-Force” #5.1. Lady Deathstrike throws out some clues in that issue. Then — I don’t want to give anything away about the story itself, but there’s an image in issue #6 of a shiny Apocalypse in white armor that offers up some clues as to what we did in this issue.
We’ve had up to issue #19 broken down and plotted for about a year and a half, now. It was something Jody and I wanted to make sure was plotted out well in advance, so you could reread it and catch lots of clues and fun stuff. If you go back and look at “Uncanny X-Force” #5.1 and #6, you’ll find a bunch of clues as to what’s coming up in both “Secret Avengers” and “X-Force.”
In this scene, Fantomex tries to get Archangel riled up with jealousy, teasing Warren about how his girlfriend Psylocke chose Fantomex over him. In light of this and his elaborate plan to take down Archangel, which also we see in this issue, we have to wonder: How does Fantomex feel about Psylocke? Does he truly have feelings for her, or has he made romantic advances toward her because he thought she might be of strategic importance? Or was it a little bit of both?
That’s a really good question. The character has three brains. We haven’t addressed what those three brains do, but in issue #16, we did reveal that they have different opinions and they each run the show on separate occasions.
Maybe all of his three brains have different objectives and, who knows, one of them he might not even be aware of. What he’s done with Betsy and Kid Apocalypse and all these different pieces definitely does leave us with some questions at the end of the story that we’ll dig into in the second year of the book.
At the top of this page, it looks like the battle to save Warren Worthington’s soul is coming to a conclusion, though the war against Apocalypse’s followers, the Akkaba Society, will rage on.
Yeah, I wanted this threat to build to a point where there was no clean resolution at the end. I wanted it to feel like this was a threat that was well beyond our characters. You have to feel that the heroes are out of their elements and in over their heads in order to really build tension.
It was important to me that these villains be built up in a way that they’re such a threat that our characters barely manage to make their way through them. You want to see the heroes succeed, but in some cases, they didn’t make their way through all the villains. In some cases, they just got really lucky. So, you end up with a lot of pieces that are still on the board moving forward as well as what Dark Beast revealed is inside Pestilence.
Also, that is a living, breathing Sinister Iceman in the upper left corner on page 5, panel 2.
On the bottom of the page, we see that Fantomex has survived being stabbed in the head by Archangel. Can you comment at all on what this means for him in terms of health or his mental “misdirection” powers?
He lost a brain — that much is clear. It was stabbed. That’s something that will be followed up on later, but if I address it now, I risk tipping my hand and spoiling some stuff.
In “Uncanny X-Force” #4 Fantomex shot and killed the newly youthful Apocalypse and then takes a sample of his blood. Later, we learn Fantomex used that blood sample to grow a clone of kid Apocalypse, which he’s keeping in a tank in the Weapon Plus Facility known as The World. Here, we find out that Fantomex has been using the tank to provide the clone of Kid Apocalypse a heroic upbringing. When did you get the idea to transform Kid Apocalypse into the hero Genesis.
That was literally from the very beginning. As we started to put together that very first arc, the question became, “How can we make this 10 times more interesting and get a year’s worth of stories out of it?” We didn’t want the series to be four to five issues of fighting different opponents. It was paramount to me that it be this boiling, churning cauldron of falling consequences for their action.
As I started writing that first arc, I laid down some of the Archangel problems. You can see Betsy in Warren’s head, trying to fight back Archangel right there in the very beginning of issue #1. After he read that scene, editor Jody LeHeup pushed to really move Archangel forward as the main villain. So we got to work. We knew where the story ended fairly early, but Jody and I spent hours on the phone beating the rest into shape.
And as for Fantomex, people will get some clues about what he’s up to when they read issues #19-20.
This scene was also making sure Fantomex wasn’t unredeemable based on what he did at the end of the first arc. I wanted him to be a heroic and intelligent character like he’s been written to be. So he needed to have more going on and a guy with three brains needed to have other motives. Those other motives might seed into year two with the Descendants stuff taking place in “X-Force” and “Secret Avengers.” Fantomex is definitely going to play a role in both of those books.
It seems that constructing and implementing a plan like this is an argument that Fantomex should be leading X-Force. Does he want to lead the team?
I honestly don’t see that character wanting any sort of leadership. A leader has a lot of eyes on him, and Fantomex if anything is mysterious. We won’t really discover his true motives and what he’s up to until, I believe, issue #28. What he’s in the midst of doing and his motives for doing it involve not wanting to be in the spotlight.
I did want to show that if he was thrown into a situation where it was sink or swim, he would figure out a way to swim. I think the circumstances dictated that he take on a leadership role for a while, there, and he did a good job, but I don’t think he wanted it.
In this scene, we get a glimpse of Genesis’ virtual life, where it looks like he’s been growing up on a farm in Kansas. Is this a wink and nod to a certain “Super” hero from the Distinguished Competition?
[Laughs] No, not at all. I just think it’s a fun little Kansas farm. I don’t even know which character you’re referring to. [Laughs]
Okay, maybe it’s a wink and nod, but the idea is just that he was raised on a farm in Kansas by a couple of loving, caring parents to be a moral and ethical person, and to be a hero. It’s helping Fantomex deal with the nature versus nurture debate. We see a lot of Fantomex’s thought process, or at least what he wants people to see of it, in issue #19.
Here, Archangel and Genesis are battling. Since this is his first real fight ,we have to wonder, how powerful is Genesis?
He’s powerful, but I think in the end he’s not as powerful as Archangel. He’s basically a young Apocalypse. So he’s still a bad ass.
In this scene, Archangel and Genesis go crashing into a massive hall full of stone statues of some interesting looking characters, like Doctor Mind Bubble and the Skinless Man. Are the statues in this hall of new characters that we haven’t met yet?
They are. The Skinless Man will appear in the upcoming Otherworld arc of “Uncanny X-Force.” He is a product of the Weapon Plus program. And Doctor Mind Bubble is somebody I have big plans for. All I can say about him right now is that the Weapon Plus Program created him in the ’60s.
I’m planned so far out ahead at this point, I knew those characters were going to appear, so I thought this would be a hell of a place to seed them. Again, I’m just a nerd for that stuff. I love knowing that the writer has a far reaching plan.
Here, we get the end of an emotionally powerful telepathic illusion. What was it like writing this scene? You seem to have a real emotional attachment to the characters of Warren and Betsy and their romantic relationship.
Absolutely. I think if you don’t try and tap into what these characters really want you can’t write them effectively. To me, these are two characters who have very chaotic lives. They’re never going to get a normal life. They’re never going to move to a cabin, have a couple of kids and teach them how to paint and make pancakes on Sunday. They’re never going to get that.
Of course, we all want what we can’t have. So that was something that I wanted to make sure, if it hasn’t been said out loud, that this is what these people want in their heart of hearts; to have some semblance of a normal life back. There, at the end, Betsy gives that to Warren before he goes.
It seems an illusion that intricate would require a lot of raw telepathic power to create. What does this scene say about Psylocke ‘s telepathic abilities?
The Jean Grey of the “Age of Apocalypse” reality opened Betsy’s mind up. She unlocked a lot of stuff. In this issue, you saw the giant, Phoenix-like butterfly effect Betsy generated when she was fighting Archangel. She knocked him down with that. No one had accomplished that to this point — she hadn’t been able to get into his mind before that either. He had just been this thing that was way, way beyond her. Whatever Jean Grey did when she was inside Betsy’s head unlocked some potential.
We’re going to be seeing a lot of that. She is an Omega level. One thing we wanted to accomplish with this story was that Betsy comes out a full fledged Omega level mutant, on par with Xavier or Jean. In my mind, that’s what was accomplished when Jean unlocked the powers in her head.
A couple pages earlier Betsy, apparently kills Warren by stabbing him with the Life Seed, but here we have a guy who looks very much like Warren did in his non-Archangel form, only he doesn’t know who Psylocke is. What can you tell us about this scene? Is this Warren we’re seeing, or somebody completely different?
Warren died. We knew we wanted this storyline to end with a character death, but let’s face it, character deaths are just becoming flat. No matter how well they’re written or what kind of emotional punch they have, we’ve just seen too many characters die. I wanted Warren to die, and Jody LeHeup, my old editor and a huge part of this year’s success, also wanted Warren to die, but we didn’t want it to be just another death. It was workshopped with the X-teams and everyone fell in love with this version of Warren’s death.
I really fell in love with the idea that Betsy says good bye to Warren and watches him die. She feels his mind dissipate from his body. She’s then pulled away from his dead body with the Life Seed stuck in it. And at the very end, after you get over that emotional beat and you see her talking with Jean, here comes Warren stumbling out into the snow! Only, it’s bittersweet as he has no memory, no trace of the man he was. He’s an all-new being.
Our big question now is, what is he? What is this thing that looks like Warren and has these feathery, angelic wings? It’s definitely not Warren. There isn’t a trace of him or Archangel left. A Celestial Life Seed is something Celestials plant on a dead planet to give new life to the entire planet. Now, we’ve just shoved one into Warren Worthington and it erased whatever was there, but it built something new. He’s essentially a blank slate. I think that really twists the knife in Betsy’s stomach more than anything else I could cook up.
This scene brings “The Dark Angel Saga” to a close, but does it also wrap up your initial longform story for the book? Are you now going to move onto a different longform epic?
It sets some new things in motion, but it’s not really the end of our long orm story. The Otherworld arc is just a continuation of this arc. One idea gives birth to another idea, and I just end up writing one big story.
That’s what I say to people about my creator-owned book, “Fear Agent.” They’re like, “I bought issue #28 and I didn’t know what was going on.” I reply, “That’s like watching ‘The Wire:’ season four, episode 2.” I think you need to start at the first issue and move forward, because I don’t always write in a way where you can cleanly hop in later. I know no editor wants to hear me say that! [Laughs] Just go back to the first issue and move forward.
You can jump right in and enjoy the Otherworld arc, but it’s playing off of all that’s come before. “The Dark Angel Saga” raises a lot of questions, and many of them don’t have answers by the end of the arc. So this arc isn’t the end of our longform story; it’s the end of Warren’s chapter in it.
Now, we’re dealing with Betsy’s fall out from all of this. I don’t think anybody is going to anticipate Betsy’s arc for next year, so the Otherworld arc is really about Betsy’s reaction to what happened, Fantomex and the consequences for what he’s been up to, as well as the rest of the Braddock clan being hip to the fact that this guy is someone to be wary of.
The other big question is, where do you go from here? How much story time has passed when “Uncanny X-Force” #19 begins? And is this the issue where you explore some of the fallout from “Schism?”
I think, chronologically, we’re saying that “Schism” happened before “The Dark Angel Saga” began, so this is something that Wolverine has been dealing with that is removed from the schism with Scott, which is fine. I don’t think that one thing necessarily has to affect the other, but you’re not going to find out what happens to every single character in “The Dark Angel” saga unless you buy “X-Force” #19 and “Wolverine & the X-Men” #4.
Those two books feed one into the other. To really get to the end of “The Dark Angel Saga” and see where it all goes, you’re going to want to buy “Wolverine & the X-Men” #4 as well as “X-Force” #19. I want retailers to know that as well, because I don’t know if it was solicited. In case you’re reading “X-Force” and not reading “Wolverine & the X-Men,” it’s a wonderful series. I highly recommend it, and this story moves over there now.
How does it feel now that everything but the epilogue of “The Dark Angel Saga” is complete and available to readers?
I hope the way we approached this story was emotionally satisfying and warranted being sealed in a black plastic bag. We wanted to do something that was unique but still felt monumental and epic. I hope it pays off. I hope people are emotionally satisfied by the end of the journey with Warren. It’s a hell of a responsibility to take a character like that off the board, and we didn’t take it lightly. If you love the first year of “Uncanny X-Force,” please make sure to also thank editor Jody LeHeup at his Twitter handle — @JodyLeHeup.