The heroes of the Marvel Universe will do whatever they can to save the world from the schemes of their nefarious opponents, but there is one line most of them will not cross: murder. However, one team believes the only way to deal with incredible evil is to end their lives. Wolverine, Fantomex, Psylocke, Deadpool and Age of Apocalypse Nightcrawler make up the starting roster of writer Rick Remender’s “Uncanny X-Force.” For thirty issues, the members of X-Force have cut a bloody swath through some of the Marvel Universe’s vilest villains and paid the price for their actions.
In the current “Final Execution” arc, the team has suffered through some of the worst consequences yet. After the onslaught of an all-new incarnation of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants against the black-ops team was over, Fantomex was dead, a powerful student named Evan was abducted from the Jean Grey School and X-Force’s headquarters was blown to pieces.
In the aftermath of their headquarter’s destruction, X-Force was thrust into an alternate dystopian future world where their bloody methodology for dealing with crime had become the law of the land. It was a trip that shocked and horrified most of the team, leaving them wondering about the proper way to deal with the Brotherhood. In “Uncanny X-Force” #31, on sale September 12, the team will strike back against the Brotherhood as writer Rick Remender and artist Phil Noto kick off the second half of “Final Execution” and begin the countdown to series finale, December’s issue #35. CBR spoke with Remender and Noto about their final plans for the fan-favorite series.
CBR News: Rick, “Final Execution” runs through “Uncanny X-Force” #31-35, and then your run on the book is over. Why are you leaving and what made “Final Execution” a good note to end on?
Rick Remender: There were a lot of different factors involved. It was a very tough decision to make and it came down to a conversation I had about it with Kieron Gillen about how long I would stay past this. He said, “Know when to get off the stage.” That’s something that we maybe overlook.
I’m now doing “Uncanny Avengers” and “Captain America” and I realized that in order for me to do those and not want to blow my brains out, I might have to walk away from “Venom,” “Secret Avengers” and “Uncanny X-Force.” That was a bummer because I put so much into building them and getting the trains out of the station. I love all the characters, but that’s just the reality. With “X-Force,” I feel like this final story, which I’m very excited and have been building towards for a while now, pretty much wraps up everything we’ve been doing. It says everything I wanted to say about a kill squad while also really digging into the X-Universe that I loved so much as a kid growing up. So it really did come down to the fact that it was time to get off the stage.
Hopefully, I’ll be able to stick a nice landing with “Final Execution” and people will really enjoy it, so the series will never have that part where it tapered and stopped being as good. That’s the upshot. You do your best work — and we all have — and then you wrap things up and walk away from it.
It’s obviously going to look very nice. We’ve got Phil Noto and Frank Martin on art. It was a little heartbreaking to see our colorist Dean White leave the series given that he’s done every issue, except for three I believe that Matt Wilson did over Esad Ribic. Our new colorist though, Frank Martin, is amazing. He really gets modeling and understands palette theory and separating planes. He has some interesting palettes too.
Obviously Phil Noto coloring himself is an amazing thing. Then when you saw Dean coloring Phil it was different, but equally as amazing. So when we knew Dean was going to leave it was sort of sad, but then Frank comes in and there’s not a drop. It’s really wonderful stuff. So we’ve got a brilliant art team and we’ve got the final culmination of everything I’ve building towards, which obviously ends with a lot of puppies and sunshine and hugs. Everybody is so happy at the end of my stories. They’re going to have a terrific carnival, and some one will say, “That worked out perfectly for everybody!”
Phil Noto: [Laughs]
Phil, you just started working on this book with “Uncanny X-Force” #24 and you did some of the earlier issues in the “Final Execution” arc that kicked off with issue #25. How does it feel to be working on this title and collaborating with Rick on his final “Uncanny X-Force” story?
Noto: This is the most fun I’ve had working on a Marvel book. I’ve always loved all the X-Men characters and the last few projects I’ve done for Marvel have taken me deeper and deeper in the X-Universe. I started on the Iceman origin one-shot. I then did “Wolverine & Jubilee” and a run on “X-23.”
Plus, Rick and I have known each other for a while and we’ve wanted to work together for the longest time. When this opportunity came up to work on “X-Force,” it was perfect.
I’ve been having a great time and it’s been great to work on something that’s been so well received and people are totally on board with. I’ve worked on smaller books or one-shots where people decide to do things like wait for the trade, so it’s great to come on to something that was already running full steam ahead and be able to collaborate with Rick on that.
And Dean White just made everything sing. I’m not used to having people color my stuff. I usually do it myself. My schedule was tight, though, and Dean really laid out the look of the book for various artists. I was more than happy to see what he could do over my line work and it was great. It was a little nerve wracking when it became apparent that he wasn’t able to finish out the story line, but Frank stepped in and he’s been great. It’s amazing that I’ve been lucky enough to work with two fantastic colorists in a row. I totally trust them.
It’s been great. It’s bittersweet to see this story line end, but Rick and I have been talking about a bunch of story points and how it’s going to wrap up and I think people are going to be in for a real treat. It ends in a spectacular fashion.
Rick has been working on this book from the beginning, so he knows the characters very well. Phil, since you’re still a little new to “Uncanny X-Force” what’s your sense of the cast? Which characters do you find most interesting as an artist?
Noto: Wolverine is always fun. He’s a very easy character for me to draw because I drew a lot of him in the “Wolverine/Jubilee” book so I’m used to him. Psylocke has also been a lot of fun. I’ve always been a big Psylocke fan, and I never really had a chance to draw her up until “X-Force.” She’s great because she’s a powerful female and all the ninja stuff going on with her.
I think probably the trickiest character is Deadpool. I was going over Jerome Opena’s original designs and they were so good and so detailed. Between Deadpool and Fantomex, trying to keep all the different straps and stripes consistent has been a challenge, but out of the whole team there’s never been anybody, where it’s like “I can’t believe I had to draw this person again.” They’re all fun in their own way.
One character who plays a critical role in this story is not a team member at all: Evan, the clone of Apocalypse also known as Genesis. Evan’s history in the book can be traced back to the first arc where Fantomex murdered Apocalypse who had been reborn as a young boy. Fantomex cloned Apocalypse and attempted to turn the clone into a hero by raising him in an ideal virtual reality environment. Rick, was Evan always meant to be part of the larger story in “Uncanny X-Force?”
Remender: Yes, the only reason he moved out of the book for a little while was because I had a conversation with Jason Aaron at one of the Marvel retreats where it sort of occurred to me that when you have a 12-13 year old version of Apocalypse and one of your team members runs a school for gifted youngsters you can’t hold onto that piece [Laughs].
When Jason and I were talking, it became very apparent that it doesn’t make any sense for Evan to hang out in Cavern X and say, “You guys are going off to murder somebody? Can I watch TV?” and then have the rest of the cast say, “Sure, kid.” So it was just a logical decision that he would go to the school and move over to Jason’s book for a little while. That didn’t mean I had to set aside my plans for Evan. Jason and I have always been in close contact about how the character was going to be developed and handled, and this story is a big part of it. I’d say this is act two for Evan more than act three. Things are going to go crazy here in a big, big way, but wherever he ends up after this, Evan’s story is not done.
So because it made sense, Jason took ahold of the character and ran with him and did a terrific job over in “Wolverine & the X-Men.” Then, when I got back to the point in my story where I wanted to develop that second act of the character, it circled back around to me and the Brotherhood kidnapped him.
Phil, what’s your sense of Evan? What’s it like drawing him?
Noto: Drawing Evan? Or Genesis? Or Kid Apocalypse?
Remender: Those are all the same person, Phil
Noto: [Laughs] I don’t know. I don’t read the book
Remender: YOU SON OF A —
Noto: [Laughs] I’m just kidding. Actually, it’s really funny because Apocalypse has always been my favorite X-Villain since I got back into comics back in the ’90s. When “Uncanny X-Force” started, I picked it up because Rick was writing it and Jerome Opena’s art was amazing. Then when I saw that Apocalypse was going to be the villain, I was so happy because he has such a cool story, but I was so envious. They got to bring back Apocalypse in some form — a character I’ve been dying to work on!
I loved the idea of Evan, especially when he started appearing in other books. Then I really kind of lucked out and I ended up working on this series at the same time he’s really getting a big story of his own. That’s been a lot of fun, especially designing his new Apocalypse armor. It’s a more Evan version of the original.
Remender: I planned out the armor that Phil designed and Evan wears. The armors aren’t like, “Hey here’s some armor.” These are Celestial-made armors that enhance and give whoever is Apocalypse a lot of power. You’ll be seeing that armor in some flashbacks maybe during Egyptian times. That armor is going to play a historical role as well. The Brotherhood unearthed it and brought it in to give to Evan. It was a young Apocalypse’s armor.
So, the armor is almost Apocalypse’s symbol of the authority bestowed upon him by the Celestials?
Remender: I’ve worked all this out. We’re going to be seeing a lot of the mythology of Apocalypse carry on into “Uncanny Avengers” moving forward. It’s not quite a blood line. Apocalypse was the first mutant and thus was chosen by the Celestials to protect and care for the other mutants and to make sure that the humans didn’t wipe them out before they had an opportunity to flourish. That was his cosmically granted charge.
Before him, there were Neanderthal versions of these evolutionary caretakers. I don’t have a word for them. Jerome Opena and I designed a Celestial symbol for them because that seemed cooler. I call them evolutionary caretakers. Every species has one and every new emerging species has one. Basically, the Celestials come down and go, “Hey you. Here’s this armor and some super powers. Make sure nothing bad happens.”
The Celestials don’t know about Evan, though. Normally the Akkaba Society does a whole ceremony where they call the Celestials to come give you your power and your armor. In this case, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants have unearthed an old armor that Apocalypse wore, which will grant Evan the same powers since he’s a clone of Apocalypse. That’s what we’re seeing here.
I’m doing some stuff over in “Uncanny Avengers” that shows what was going on with Apocalypse, Thor and Rama Tut way back during the Age of the Pharaohs. We see this armor again there. It’s all a rich tapestry.
Let’s move from Evan to your main cast of characters. When we last left them, they were on their way back from a nightmarish dystopian future world created in part because of their murderous actions in the present. How will their experiences in that world affect the team and their dynamic upon their return?
Remender: Jumping into the future and other dimensions is always fun and it gives the artist an opportunity to stretch their legs, but more importantly, I try to use these things as visual devices to try and show what the consequences will be should my characters fail.
When we took our journey to the Age of Apocalypse in “The Dark Angel Saga,” we saw just how bad things would be if the team doesn’t come back and stop Warren. It really adds some weight to the fight they have. And in the terms of that dystopian future we just visited, you’re seeing something that tells them, “Hey if you continue this path of carnage, murder and preemptive assassination you might save the world a couple of times, but eventually your methodology will be seen as a success and grow in prominence to eventually take over the world. Is that the world you want to live in? Or is preemptive assassination only okay on a small level?”
This was an opportunity to force them to confront that head on. It was what they were doing, but just on a bigger scale. Is it evil now? It sure looks evil, but is it evil when they do it? It kind of is.
So the long and the short is that it’s a wonderful device that allows me to show the consequence should our characters fail. It’s nice to be able to work with a great artist and cook up an insane future. So there are a number of reasons why that stuff will always show up in my comics. I got a couple of e-mails asking, “How many times are these guys going to go to other dimensions or hop into the future?” I wanted to reply, “If I was still writing this book, another dozen.” [Laughs] I’ll never ever stop doing interdimensional time travel stories. I’ve been doing them since “Fear Agent.” It’s just something I dig.
How will coming back from a nightmarish future reality created by their murderous actions affect the team’s plans for the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants? Will they be united on a course of action?
Remender: They definitely have a dilemma. It’s like, “Okay we’re back. I guess we’re going to go stop the Brotherhood and their plans for Evan? What if Evan is Apocalypse and we can’t stop him? What if this is actually the thing we killed the other kid for, but he’s actually doing it?”
Then beyond that, there’s the question of what to do about the Brotherhood’s leader, Daken? Wolverine doesn’t even entertain the idea of taking Daken off the map even though he’s partly responsible for all of this. So the others are wondering, “Why does Daken get a pass? Because he’s your kid and you feel guilty over not having been there to raise him?” Then it just becomes a soap opera with blades. It’s “Downton Abbey” with claws and swords
Now that X-Force is back in the present, it’s time to get some payback on the Brotherhood, but the team has to agree just how they’re going to do that.
Remender: Yes. There might be two major deaths by the end of this story. I’ve been playing some games with “X-Force” expectations on that front. So issues #34-35 are the wazz-bazz-shazoom-ala-ka-dam big explosive finale to this where we see every single plot thread wrapped up.
Phil’s stuff has just been stunning. Like he mentioned, we’ve been friends forever and it was such a treat to have him slowly become the regular “X-Force” artist. No one does better a job with acting and conveying emotions through facial expressions than Phil.
Noto: Working with Rick is nice. When we’re working on issues we’ll talk about the layouts and inked pages and stuff, and it’s great because Rick himself is an artist.
Remender: You’re throwing that word around a little loosely [Laughs].
Noto: He has a great artistic sensibility, especially with the layouts. We’ll go back and forth through e-mails sometimes and work on a certain page or panel. Then if he has something particular in mind it’s really easy for him to sketch it out. So I can see it. It makes it a lot of fun because I’m on the same page with a writer/artist.
I’ve been lucky. All the writers and editors I’ve worked with have all been very helpful and very easy to work with, but it’s just been a real treat to collaborate with a writer like Rick, who is almost a second artist on the book.
Remender: I am nature’s greatest miracle
Phil, how would you describe the overall look of issues #31-35? Will these issues look different than your early chapters of “Final Execution?”
Noto: They’re going to look slightly different just with Frank coloring it instead of Dean, but it’s really a perfect point to switch over just because of the environment we’re working on and the story line has changed from the stuff I had been working on previously. So it should be pretty seamless in terms of the greater look of the whole series. It will be different, but only in the way you would change a color palette in a certain scene in one issue.
Remender: Everybody went really crazy for Phil’s art in the three issues he did, and I think issue #31 is the payoff from an already spectacular standard he set with his earlier work. He’s now comfortable with the characters and is really starting to up his game. #31 is one of the best looking issues of the run.
Noto: Yeah I’m definitely more comfortable with drawing everybody and I think the fans are more used to seeing my take on the characters too. Whenever a new artist steps in there’s always a big referendum on whether or not people will like the look of the characters and all that stuff. I think the response has been pretty good so far. So it was nice to be able to cut loose and have fun with it and not worry about things like, “What style should I draw this in to make all the mainstream Marvel fans happy?” I think I’ve come to a great point and I think Frank is just going to further that look with his colors.
Rick, your “Uncanny Avengers” series kicks off in October and features Wolverine. In the past, you mentioned “Final Execution” sets the stage for Wolverine’s involvement in “Uncanny Avengers,” and the final issue of that arc doesn’t hit stores until December. So in terms of chronology it’s “Final Execution” and then “Uncanny Avengers?”
Remender: “Final Execution” does take place before “Uncanny Avengers.” I’ve loosely sort of have it placed happening after the end of “AvX,” and before “Uncanny Avengers.”
If you look at what happens in any “X-Force” arc. It really comes down to the fact that they unfold in about a day. When I added it all up “The Dark Angel Saga,” from the point where they left the AoA, got back and dealt with everything, only about 24 hours had passed in that entire story. So these tales might end up being eight or nine issues, but when you look at how much time passes in the story, it’s not much.
The only real thing I really have to make sure this is interconnected with is “Wolverine & the X-Men.” The stuff coming out of “Wolverine & the X-Men” at the same time usually takes place prior to “X-Force.” Then there’s “Final Execution” and “Uncanny Avengers” takes place after “Final Execution.”
Our final issue of “X-Force” won’t be out until December at this point, so we have about two and a half months between the time “Uncanny Avengers” launches and “Uncanny X-Force” ends. I don’t want to tip my hat or give away the ending, but you’ll see Wolverine is a changed person who is slightly more reflective and troubled by something mysterious. When you do see what it is a month later it will be nice, and the first “Uncanny Avengers” arc is so fast, big and explosive there isn’t a time for, “What have you been up to, Wolverine?” The Red Skull plot and the way that story moves forward all happens in a period of 24 hours.
So that all works out. There’s “A Beautiful Mind”-style craziness to it all where I try to sit down and figure out a chronology for my stories.
Are you guys working on your final issues of “Uncanny X-Force” with the knowledge that someone will pick up the X-Force concept and characters when you’re done?
Remender: This does move forward. There are huge things coming in the world of X-Force that I can’t go into, but I am not writing them [Laughs]. Some incredibly talented, really smart guys are coming in to pick up this corner of the Marvel Universe.
I will say the reaction people have had to “Uncanny X-Force” has been amazing and the reason I’m able to continue to make these comic books is because people have enjoyed this series and have been so vocal about it. The plans the new teams have moving forward are so exciting, I’m really heartbroken that I won’t be involved in what’s happening. What we’ve done here is breaking off into a lot of huge stuff. So if you’re a fan of X-Force, you’re about to have a lot of cool choices.
Any final thoughts you’d like to leave fans of “Uncanny X-Force” with as they prepare for the final fives issues of “Final Execution?”
Noto: I hope everybody likes the resolution of the story line and I’m very excited to draw the rest of it. I really couldn’t be happier with this book right now. It’s a comic fan/artist’s dream come true.
Remender: Obviously the job has been one of the most important projects for me. It means a lot to me to have a friend who’s as talented as Phil and a colorist as talented as Frank Martin to tell my last tale with these characters. As bittersweet as it is to walk away from this thing, Kieron Gillen is right. You have to know when to get off the stage.
“Uncanny X-Force” #31 hits stores September 12. “Uncanny X-Force” #35, Rick Remender’s final issue of the series, releases in December.