Yesterday, CBR presented the first part of writer Rick Remender’s full retrospective on his fan-favorite and critically acclaimed “Uncanny X-Force” series, which recently ended at issue #35. The first installment of the retrospective covered the development of the team for “The Apocalypse Solution,” the first arc of the series, and how concepts from “The Dark Angel Saga” spread to other corners of the X-titles.
In the second installment of Remender’s look back on 36 issues of black-ops mutant adventures, the writer further discusses his decision to shift the “Descendants” story arc from “Uncanny X-Force” to “Secret Avengers,” the 10-issue “Final Execution” arc which wrapped up the series and how he continues to chase the concepts from “Uncanny X-Force” in his current Marvel NOW! launch title, “Uncanny Avengers.”
Following the “Dark Angel Saga,” which marked the end of Remender’s first year on “Uncanny X-Force,” came an equally big and momentous 2012. But as big as it was, his initial plans for his second year were even bigger, including “The Descendants” storyline that he ended up exploring in “Secret Avengers.”
“I’m proud of what we’ve done on ‘Secret Avengers,’ but I think the Descendants story would have been better in ‘Uncanny X-Force’ because the context was established in that book and that’s where Father and the Descendants storyline started,” Remender said. “Jody LeHeup, my editor and partner in crime on this book, was let go in a round of layoffs the company did, and everything was scattered to the wind at that point. Nick Lowe, who took the book over, and I had to really build it back up and figure out the pieces because the way that the order went was very different in my first pass.
“A lot of stories were recalibrated, and you can see some of the fluidity stumbling from issues #20-25. While I’m still very, very proud of those issues, they don’t beat out as well as they should have because they weren’t originally in that order. It was originally the Omega Clan. Then it was ‘The Descendants.’ Then ‘The Descendants’ led into the ‘Final Execution’ stuff, with a few bridge ideas in there.”
For Remender the “Final Execution” arc, which ran from issues #25-34, was a way to conclude what he saw as Wolverine’s overall character arc in the book; coming to the conclusion that the idea of preemptive murder is as repugnant as the crimes committed by the people X-Force was targeting. Unfortunately for Wolverine, that conclusion came about as a consequence of having to murder his own son, the psychopathic and murderous mutant known as Daken.
“In the ‘Dark Angel Saga,’ Wolverine was getting physically fucked up and dealing with plenty of nightmare scenarios, but in the end, his heart and soul are pretty much still in place,” Remender said. “I started writing notes on what Wolverine’s final conflict was. I had actually written down on a sticky pad, ‘Wolverine kills Daken,’ much earlier. Then I pitched it at a retreat after Nick and I had talked it out and everybody seemed to really respond to it. At that point, I started thinking about how Jason Aaron did something very similar in ‘Wolverine’ where Logan was tricked into killing all of his bastards that he didn’t know about.
“It seemed like the escalation of that would be the killing of the one that he did know; the one that he had to actually take out with the knowledge that, ‘This is your son, and you couldn’t rehabilitate him, and if you let him live, he’s not going to stop until he kills your students, because he sees them as your surrogates for children. So he’s jealous and he’s going to kill them.’ That just did it for me. Can you imagine a worse situation? Daken being there was tremendous, and in the end, Sabretooth manipulated Daken into doing it. That was the extra layer to the whole thing that I really loved. Ultimately, this was Sabretooth getting a pretty big win by pulling the trigger on another revenge scheme to drive the blade into Logan’s heart.”
While death, misery and despair were all big parts of the ordeal the team went through in “Final Execution,” some brighter moments came about as a result of it. In issue #35, Remender was able to explore some of those moments. In one scene, Deadpool visited Evan, with whom he had bonded while they were imprisoned in the dungeons of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. It was a poignant and heartfelt moment where Evan paid Deadpool the ultimate compliment by calling the infamous Merc with a Mouth his hero.
“The idea there was that those two were very similar in that they were tainted, but there was a raw, childlike innocence to each of them. I see Deadpool as an emotional creature, with empathy. He’s a broken person who’s taken to a life of being a mercenary and, as crazy as he is, what Evan represented to him was hope that he could be better and he could get better. It came down to the nurture/nature debate of the whole thing,” Remender explained. “If Evan could come out of what the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants put him through in ‘Final Execution’ and still be a good person, that’s proof to Deadpool that he could as well.
“That was the reason why Fantomex created Evan by cloning the Apocalypse child and raising him in a virtual environment. He was looking for those same sets of answers. ‘If I raise this kid to be a ‘super’ boy, would that countermand the evil and bad intention cooked into his genes?’ So in one sense, my entire ‘Uncanny X-Force’ run was an examination of the idea of nature versus nurture.”
Wade and Evan weren’t the only ones who found happy endings over the course of the series. After Psylocke made the decision not to kill the villainous Shadow King in “Final Execution,” fate rewarded her by reuniting her with her lover Fantomex, who had been murdered early on in the storyline. That reunion came in “Uncanny X-Force” #35, where Fantomex’s three brains were transplanted into three different clone bodies; the murderous Jean Philippe, the roguish Fantomex and the nurturing female clone known as Cluster.
“It felt good to give Betsy and Fantomex that ending, but it was also hard to drop the mic and walk away from them because I love both of those characters,” Remender said. “Betsy made the decision to not kill the Shadow King, and I think that’s the end of her arc. She had plenty of reasons to want to kill the Shadow King, but she didn’t. She found a way to capture him and deal with him. She really came full circle and in my mind, she’s done with murder. That’s the end of that arc for her. She’s learned that lesson.”
But while Remender’s plans for Psylocke and Fantomex have come to a conclusion with his final issue of “Uncanny X-Force,” his plans for Wolverine are just beginning. The character is part of the writer’s “Uncanny Avengers,” and Remender plans to use that series to follow up on some of the emotional aftermath and consequences of “Final Execution.”
“With Logan, you’ve got a guy who killed his own son and who’s lost his mentor, Charles Xavier [Who recently perished in “Avengers Vs. X-Men]; a guy who’s philosophy could have and should have saved him. Instead, Wolverine was off murdering people with his black ops squad, which goes against the core of Xavier’s philosophy,” Remender said. “He failed Chuck. He went and did it his own way, and if you read the eulogy in ‘Uncanny Avengers’ #1, you hear Logan suffering from X-Force. In no uncertain terms, that’s what he’s dealing with.
“Both Scott and Logan failed Xavier. Scott went off and did his own crazy thing, and Logan is still the Avenger and the shining guy — but nobody knows what he did in X-Force. Nobody knows that what he has been doing is just as awful. ‘Uncanny Avengers is an opportunity for that character arc to continue, as he deals with what he’s gone through and his discovery that preemptive measures and assassinations are a rotten methodology that will corrupt you and everyone around you, and lead to nothing but more suffering.
“That definitely plays a role in the ‘Apocalypse Twins’ stuff that’s coming up in ‘Uncanny Avengers,'” Remender continued. “I think people who read ‘X-Force’ will get a much deeper read on ‘Uncanny Avengers,’ given how much I’m carrying that over. I’m still making sure that it’s new reader-friendly, but X-Force fans are going to enjoy ‘Uncanny Avengers’ on a much deeper level, I think, based on their understanding of what happened.”
Remender originally envisioned the upcoming “Apocalypse Twins” arc of “Uncanny Avengers” as his swan song on “Uncanny X-Force,” but decided to set the story aside when he was offered the chance to work on “Captain America” and “Uncanny Avengers.” Ultimately, he is happy to have done that because it allowed him to wrap up “Uncanny X-Force” in a satisfying way and the scope and scale of the “Apocalypse Twins” story is proving to be a better fit for “Uncanny Avengers.”
“When I plotted the ‘Apocalypse Twins’ for my final story, it never quite worked as an X-Force story because it’s so big. It’s no longer underground in the shadows. It’s shit showing up in the sky and everything going badly. When I took on ‘Uncanny Avengers,’ that was a really natural place to move that story to,” Remender explained. “The story I had planned works really well as part of ‘Uncanny Avengers,’ and what’s great about it is I had some holes in the ‘Apocalypse Twins’ storyline that I didn’t quite know how to deal with. Moving it over to ‘Uncanny Avengers’ and mixing it in with Kang and Rama Tut and the Thor mythology solved everything. Literally every plot hole I had could be filled with Kang or Thor or some Avengers story that perfectly bridged everything and merged it into a big Avengers- and X-Men-level event.
For Remender, the secret to building an event or really any story is to find a tale that inspires both him and the artists he’s working with, which he feels is one of the reasons why his “Uncanny X-Force” run resonated with fans.
“I’m a firm believer of the power of interpersonal relationships in collaboration. The first arc of ‘X-Force’ had Esad Ribic on covers. He’s a buddy of mine, and from early on he was committed to being the cover artist of the book. Often the idea is to just throw somebody on for the opening and then shuffle them off to another opening. That’s shortsighted. I hate it and I think fans hate it,” Remender remarked. “We had Esad committed to staying on covers and doing the second arc. My buddy Jerome [Opeña] is a mad man, and he and I spent a lot of time talking about this and getting really riled up and inspired for it. We had a lot of lead time to build into it, and by the time we started this, Jerome and I had done like four or five graphic novels of material together on other books.
“The problem with keeping Jerome on any kind of a schedule was inking. He inked himself on ‘Fear Agent’ for a long time, and the pacing was difficult. On a few issues, I had Kieron Dwyer come in and do the breakdowns and pencils, then Jerome did the finishes. When we got to Marvel and were doing ‘Punisher,’ it became clear that nobody else can ink Jerome. There’s too much nuance in everything he does,” Remender said. “I pitched Axel [Alonso] on the idea of just shooting Jerome’s pencils, but then, of course, the difficulty is, you need somebody who understands how to adjust levels. You need somebody at the scanning end of things who knows how to scan pencils, and then you need somebody who can adjust them and get the levels cleaned up just right. That colorist also needs to understand that when you’re dealing with penciled art, you color it very differently than inked art.”
Colorist Dean White understood those intricacies and would go on to establish a great collaboration not just with Opeña, but with almost every artist who worked on “Uncanny X-Force.” “Dean came in and was not only doing an undercoating of color, which is the traditional way, but because he’s a tremendous illustrator in his own right, he was doing an overlayer where he was painting on top of the line art with white. That added a tremendous level of detail and it merged color and line art in a way that we haven’t really seen, and especially haven’t seen with people scanning pencils,” Remender said. “Dean and Jerome just all of a sudden merged into a super-bomb, and the merger was absolutely perfect. With the exception of our second arc, which was colored by Matt Wilson, Dean colored almost everything, until the last arc when Frank Martin came on.
“That added a visual consistency to the series even though we were jumping from artist to artist. So when we went from Jerome, to Billy Tan, to Mark Brooks, back to Jerome, to Robby Rodriguez, to Greg Tocchini, to Phil Noto, to Mike McKone, then back to Phil Noto and then to Julian Totino Tedesco, Dean White was there the whole time, tying it all together with a visual consistency I don’t think you’ve seen in modern comics,” Remender continued. “I think what we discovered on ‘Uncanny X-Force’ was, if you have a colorist of the caliber of Dean White, who’s also invested in the book, that can provide a consistency, even when you’re forced to double-ship and work with a number of different artists.”
Remender is immensely grateful for all the hard work the artists provided “Uncanny X-Force,” and he’s also eternally appreciative of the fans who were vocal about how much they loved what was being done in the series. “I want to thank everybody for the vocal outpouring of support. I’m in an incredibly fortunate situation. I think the fans’ reaction to ‘Uncanny X-Force’ is the reason I’m doing ‘Captain America’ and ‘Uncanny Avengers’ right now,” the writer remarked. “I’ll be totally honest — I thought ‘Uncanny X-Force’ and ‘Venom’ would be the last things I did in mainstream comics. I was already putting together my plans to move back into the independent arena when I got those books.
“I would have been fine with that, but at the same time, I’m so gratified and appreciative of all the readers who not only enjoyed ‘Uncanny X-Force’ and ‘Venom, but went way out of their way to make a real stink and be very vocal about what they loved about it, and why people should buy it,” Remender continued. “Ultimately, it allowed me to play with characters like Captain America, Thor, Scarlet Witch and more X-men, and I’m having a ton of fun with it. So, thanks to everybody who supported the book!”