Part of being heroic means being humble and not expecting anything in return for a noble act, but when you save the world on a regular basis a little bit of respect and gratitude would be nice. The heroes of Marvel Comics’ Avengers team get that respect on a regular basis because the citizens of the Marvel U adore them. The members of another equally heroic team, the X-Men, get no such respect though thanks to their status as super powered mutants, feared and hated by the public at large. In fact, many Marvel U denizens see the X-Men as no different than the villains they battle.
This Fall, members from the Avengers and X-Men will join forces to change the way the public looks at mutants by protecting the world as one united super team. Writer Rick Remender and artist John Cassaday chronicle the adventures of this new team in October when they launch the new Marvel NOW! initiative with the ongoing series “Uncanny Avengers.” CBR News spoke with Remender about his plans for the series, which include pitting the team against the Marvel U’s most fearsome force of hatred, the Red Skull.
The cast of “Uncanny Avengers” will come together because of the climax of September’s “Avengers Vs. X-Men” #12, but the actual origins of the team and Remender’s involvement with them go back months earlier to a time when the writer was talking with his friend and colleague Jason Aaron about the end of “The Dark Angel Saga” storyline in his “Uncanny X-Force” series. “We were trying to figure out how ‘X-Force’ and Jason’s ‘Wolverine & the X-Men’ title would interconnect. We were talking about how two characters from my book would move over to Jason’s when the idea of a super hero supergroup composed of members of the X-Men and the Avengers came to me,” Remender told CBR News. “I knew what was happening at the end of ‘AvX’ and the next day I pitched the idea to editor Nick Lowe at the X-Office retreat. Then the next day at the main retreat it bubbled up on its own and I think a couple other people had similar ideas. It seemed to be something in the zeitgeist that everybody got really excited about.”
The idea of a joint X-Men and Avengers team came up again at the next retreat and the idea for Remender’s initial story for the team came at that same retreat when writer Jeph Loeb suggested pitting the group against the Red Skull. “The Skull was an interesting way to balance things out,” Remender explained. “We’re going to see a lot of X-Villains in this series and we’re going to see a lot of Avengers villains. We’re going to see them come together. We’ll see their secret histories together and Red Skull was a great place to start with that given his connection to Captain America and other connections that will be revealed throughout the series.”
The Skull also made sense to Remender because of the purpose of the “Uncanny Avengers” team. Who better to oppose a team trying to promote tolerance than Nazi Germany’s premier symbol of fear and hatred?
“When Jeph suggested Red Skull my knee jerk reaction was no. Then I thought about it and it actually gives him a more relevant position than he’s had. It’s not just about toying with Captain America or trying to take over the world. Those things may definitely be motives, but what we’ve got in ‘Uncanny Avengers’ is a Red Skull who was one of Arnim Zola’s consciousness recordings,” Remender remarked. “So while the original Red Skull is dead, this Skull was literally saved and recorded in 1942 and stored in a bunker that was programmed to wake him up in 70 years, which would supposedly be after everybody forgot what they had done. The Red Skull made the recording believing that he might die towards the end of the war. It was his back up plan.”
The Skull that wakes up in “Uncanny Avengers” remembers World War II as if it were yesterday so his enmity with Captain America and the nation the Sentinel of Liberty represents is still fresh and fierce. “This Red Skull comes out of his bunker and he sees a world bubbling with hatred. He sees people screaming over gay marriage, Americans who want large fences to keep out foreigners, a mistrust of Muslims, and all these things that to him feel like Germany in the early 1930s. This is something he can exploit. So his plan is to utilize that and who best to use first than the mutants as a rallying cry to draw people to his cause?” Remender explained. “At the end of issue #1 there’s a very big reveal about the Red Skull’s new power level and what he’s up to. We reimagine the character in way that makes him a very powerful and pertinent threat in the Marvel Universe to mutants and Avengers.”
The Red Skull is a cunning and dangerous foe, and even with a new power level he’s smart enough to know that you don’t take on a team made up of veteran X-Men and Avengers by yourself. The Nazi super villain will be assisted by an army of like minded and very powerful allies when he makes his move.
“I don’t want to give too much away about them right now, but the Skull has formed his own X-Men squad,” Remender said. “So he’s basically become an evil Charles Xavier. He’s reestablished himself in one of his old bases and has got pretty big plans. He’s going to need an army to accomplish them. So he’s got a cast of villains that he calls the S-Men. They are his X-Men and they’re all augmented humans who have a reason to hate mutants.”
Fighting the Red Skull and his army of super powered followers is bad enough, but making things more difficult for the “Uncanny Avengers” is the fact that they’ll have to battle the Skull in a very public fashion with the eyes of the world analyzing their every move. Remender’s other team books, “Uncanny X-Force” and “Secret Avengers,” deal with teams who operate in a clandestine manner so the writer is enjoying the chance to pen the adventures of a team that operates out in the open.
“They’re going to have people brought in to deal with PR, and it will be something that none of them are entirely comfortable with, especially Havok, who is thrust into a leadership position,” Remender remarked. “I like him in the leadership position. He’s almost a fish out of water who will make mistakes and have to learn by leading this new type of team the Marvel Universe has never seen before.
“Havok is an experienced leader. He fought a war in space and ran the government’s X-Factor team. That doesn’t mean, though, that’s he going to be comfortable giving orders to people like Captain America and Wolverine, and he’s going to make some mistakes that will have huge ramifications. Those will be part of Alex’s arc in all of this ” Remender continued. “His leadership skills aren’t the only reason why he’s put in charge. He’s very educated and he’s got a shiny image. He’s never done anything terrible. He’s got no legacy of awfulness. He’s clean from a PR stand point.”
The other X-Men joining the “Uncanny Avengers,” Rogue and Wolverine, have backgrounds that are tainted by violence and criminal activity. “I think Wolverine understands that a team of this nature doesn’t benefit from having him in the front of it. In fact he thinks that he and Rogue are a detriment, but that’s part of why they need to be on the team; to change people’s perceptions of them and handle things in a different way,” Remender said. “A lot of what Wolverine is dealing with comes out of the ‘Final Execution’ arc of ‘Uncanny X-Force.’ That changes him in a way that then feeds into the ‘Uncanny Avengers’ stuff quite a bit. It changes a lot of his methodology and how he’s trying to be perceived and how he lives his life.”
Rogue has changed her life for the better over the past several years, but that doesn’t change the fact that she used to be a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and on one of her earliest outings with the team she attacked the Avengers and severely wounded one of their most popular members, Ms. Marvel. Understandably, some of the Avengers will have reservations about having her in the ranks of the “Uncanny Avengers.” The X-Men will have similar reservations about a former Avenger who’s been invited to join the team, Scarlet Witch, who is notorious in the mutant community for using her reality altering abilities to rob many mutants of their powers and turn the mutant race into an endangered species at the end of the “House of M” event.
“I plan on focusing on all six of my initial cast members, but the dynamic between Rogue and the Scarlet Witch and how they view each other will be a big part of this series. I chose them because their histories create this wonderful drama within the team. We’ll be dealing with how they see each other and how someone like Thor sees Rogue,” Remender explained. “He remembers the Brotherhood’s attack on the Avengers and her stealing his powers. So he’s not a fan of Rogue, but then given what the Scarlet Witch did Rogue would be able to present him with, ‘What she did was okay, because she was an Avenger? She’s the one you’re more familiar with so even though her atrocities and her crimes, mind controlled or not, were much larger than my own she gets a pass?’ There’s a ton of conflict within that unit when you see how they’re thrown together and how it all forms. It’s perfect for giving us enough internal turmoil and drama to keep that pot boiling while they go on their adventures, which is always really important to me. It makes it feel as much a character driven story as it is a plot driven action-adventure story.”
Thor, Rogue, the Scarlet Witch, Wolverine, Havok, and Captain America are just the initial six members of the “Uncanny Avengers.” As the series moves forward the ranks of the team will expand.
“We pick up a couple new members in issue #5 and then along in the second arc we pick up another one. I wanted to be able to focus on the first six before I started adding in new components,” Remender said. “Then once we get those new components, who are all selected for very natural reasons, the challenge will be to do kind of what I’m doing in the current ‘Secret Avengers’ arc. Because when you’re dealing with a squad of characters you always deal with four or five while you’re keeping the other characters boiling and their stories happening. That way you don’t have nine characters running around all at once trying to accomplish a goal. It’s hard for any character to shine when you have that many characters running around.”
The “Uncanny Avengers” may not always have an even number of members, but the team’s goal will always be to have an equal number of representatives from both the X-Men and the Avengers. “When it’s not even they’re always going to be on the lookout to make it even,” Remender said. “The idea is if the whole team is doing a press conference or descending to stop the Masters of Evil that you see the X-Men and the Avengers working together as one unit for similar goals.”
The “Uncanny Avengers” will indeed have to work together as one unit if they’re to survive the challenges that Remender has in store for them. The writer has become famous for creating story lines that snowball into each other and then pay off in colossal arcs further down the line like “The Dark Angel Saga,” and “Uncanny Avengers” will also feature Remender’s signature high velocity story structure.
“The challenge is to tell stories that have a beginning, middle, or end and can still be read on their own and be satisfying, but also move forward the bubbling plot underneath and have them fit together like Voltron to form one big mega arc. That’s always what I try to accomplish with these things,” the writer stated. “So I lay the ground work in the first and second arcs which obviously lead to big pay outs in the third and fourth arcs. This stuff all connects and the trouble that they’re dealing with grows and grows.”
John Cassaday has experience depicting the troublesome scenarios that the X-Men and Avengers such as Captain America often find themselves in. Remender was delighted to collaborate with the artist on the initial arc of “Uncanny Avengers.”
“John’s pages have been classic examples of his work. He’s a great storyteller and he’s also a tremendous illustrator. Plus, you’ve seen him do legendary stuff with Captain America and the X-Men. So he’s had really important runs with both of these characters and it feels right and natural that John be the guy to do this book given his connection to both sides,” Remender said. “Plus he’s John Cassaday! He’s amazing! So this stuff has got tremendously exciting illustrations, but never at the expense of storytelling. From what I’ve seen of his pages so far I think people are going to go nuts. We’ve got great actions scenes and John really sells emotions with the character’s facial expressions. That’s super important.”
Remender and Cassaday’s initial “Uncanny Avengers” story will be the first tale in what the writer hopes is a lengthy run. The chance to combine elements and adversaries from two of the Marvel Universe’s premier super teams means Remender has a wealth of ideas for the series and he hopes to eventually get to them all.
“I don’t want to give away too much of it. I will say that another A-List X-Men villain comes in during the second arc. Then you’ll see an A-List Avengers villain come in during the third and fourth. It builds into something pretty big that I’m having a lot of fun with,” Remender teased. “Structurally this book’s responsibility is to be where the A meets the X and to have characters from both sides of the villain pool mix as well as the hero pool. So you’ll start seeing a lot of interconnectivity between the X-Men and the Avengers villains as well as the X-Men and the Avengers heroes.
“I’ve got more ideas than I know what to do with at this point. I never want to assume that something is just going to be around, but this is kind of the first job where I can feel like I’m probably going to get to all of my stories. So I’m working on my outline. I’ve got a rough one that takes me up to issue #25 now with all these very basic ideas. I’ve got a file, though, of other concepts that could take me all the way to issue #100,” Remender continued with a laugh. “This stuff just writes itself. When you start thinking about how these things connect, how the history of the X-Characters and Avengers characters may have intersected at one point, and all the other different points where the A meets the X it leads to a lot of very exciting and brand new things. This has been a lot of fun. It’s not felt like work. There’s no straining for things.”
“Uncanny Avengers” by Rick Remender and John Cassaday debuts in October as part of Marvel NOW!