In the Marvel Universe, costumed heroes are routinely called upon to stand up to and foil the schemes of vile villains. But is crushing a costumed criminal’s latest plan enough, or are there some villains so evil and so dangerous that the Marvel U would be a better place without them? Wolverine and Archangel have thought long and hard about the answers to those questions and they believe the answer is yes – there are some villains who simply to be put down. The longtime X-Men are well aware that many heroes can’t bring themselves to kill, however, just as they’re aware that those same heroes may not approve of ones who do.
In response to their convictions, the duo have decided to form their own top secret unit to take out the targets they feel need to be eliminated for the good of the world. To that end, they have recruited Deadpool, Fantomex and Psylocke to their cause. In the debut issue of writer Rick Remender and artist Jerome Opena’s new ongoing series “Uncanny X-Force,” in stores now, the new team embarked upon their first mission; to destroy the villainous Apocalypse and his dangerous cult, the Akkaba Society. Throwing a bit of a wrench into their plans, Apocalypse has undergone some dramatic changes since he last crossed paths with Wolverine and Archangel; changes that will make the new X-Force’s mission even more morally complex and murky than first expected. CBR News spoke with Remender about his plans for the series.
Fans of Remender’s work on “Punisher” and his creator owned series “Fear Agent” know that the writer is fond of telling stories that feature protagonists who must make tough decisions, choices which usually lead to brutal missions with dangerous consequences. “You always want to come up with scenarios that force the characters’ decisions to define who they are,” Remender told CBR News. “In ‘Fear Agent,’ we took a good, normal person and put him in a situation where he had to choose between letting Earth be invaded by aliens or killing several trillion of those invaders. The Punisher is a black and white objectivist. If he judges you to be evil, he’s going to kill you. We try and throw characters at him that exist in a grey area in-between, villains who are mirror images of Frank himself, to explore the inherent hypocrisies in his war. The mutants in X-Force are going to have to make a touch choice, soon. Either way it goes, they will experience the consequences to any assassination or assassination attempt.
“That’s something I explored in most of my arcs on ‘Punisher.’ In the first issue, he tries to kill Norman Osborn and is basically haunted by that decision for the rest of the series. You’ve got 21 issues of him dealing with the consequences of trying to kill a guy who was in a prominent position of power. Whether they’re successful or not, ramifications should play a big roll in the story when you have characters who kill. There’s the age old question of, ‘Would you go back and time and kill baby Hitler if you could?’ The interesting part of that question is, what worse thing happens without Hitler? If you kill baby Hitler, what person comes in and does something worse? Or succeeds? Or doesn’t have a meth addiction that slows them down? You may be doing the right thing, but, in fact, history, as awful as it is may be, just might be the way it is for a reason.”
The title of the introductory arc of “Uncanny X-Force” is “The Apocalypse Solution,” and in the story, the cast will find themselves in a variation of the young Hitler dilemma. Unbeknownst to them, Apocalypse’s followers in the Akkaba Society recently performed a ritual that caused their leader to be reborn as young boy. “That classic moral dilemma was part of the initial appeal of having Apocalypse reborn as a kid. When you’ve got a band of characters that are resigned to the mission of assassination what are you going to throw in their way, that makes that more interesting than just cutting up an army of people to get to the main boss,” Remender remarked. “So while cooking this thing up, that sort of became a more interesting angle. It was something that I discussed with my editors Axel Alonso and Jody Leheup and ‘Uncanny X-Men’ writer Matt Fraction. We bounced it around and everybody agreed that it was more exciting in terms of the end result, and it was a bigger reveal.”
The revelation that Apocalypse is now a young boy came at the end of “Uncanny X-Force” #1, setting up what Remender hopes will be his be-all end-all Apocalypse story. “I think we’ve come up with a nice device, considering Apocalypse has appeared in a number of different incarnations over the past several years. There are pieces of his consciousness that supposedly remain in Scott Summers’s head, his body was off with the Celestials and there’s some incarnation of him that had contact with Hope in the future,” Remender stated. “What the Akkaba society has done is sort of the last push. This is it. They sacrifice a human, and everything that was Apocalypse is drawn into one form and started from scratch.”
Readers only got a quick glimpse of the young Apocalypse at the end of “Uncanny X-Force” #1, and from what they could see, he seemed like a boy who was more concerned with his toys than conquering the world. Remender made it clear, however, that members of the Akkaba Society are giving the reborn Apocalypse “lessons” in history and how they believe the world works.
“By the time we see that kid, he’s been programmed. He’s with the Akkaba Society, and they’ve been doing their job, which is to take young Apocalypse and get him up to speed. So that definitely plays a huge part in the story,” Remender revealed. “As it progresses, you’re stuck with a tough dilemma; a much tougher dilemma than if you were up against regular, giant, evil Apocalypse. It’s the old nature versus nurture debate. Can you save this kid? Or is he already too far gone?”
The Akkaba Society’s devotion to Apocalypse and the ideas he believed in as an adult are extremely fanatical, because to them, Apocalypse is more than just a messianic figure – he’s family. “The Akkaba Society is a secret cult that’s been around forever. In one way or another, all of their members are connected to Apocalypse. So they’re born into it or they’re characters like Chamber who are direct descendants of Apocalypse. As far as I’m concerned, with the members of Akkaba, it’s not necessarily a choice they made, it’s something they were born into, which makes me feel more comfortable about the heavily cultish angle of it. And it also plays into the story,” Remender explained. “When somebody was raised from childhood to believe something and indoctrinated with crazy ideas, I think you wind up with something that’s a little more interesting than your average 30 year old going, ‘Sure, I’ll join your cult! Let’s raise that villain from the dead!'”
Thousands of years ago, an ancient Egyptian warlord named Ozymandias was transformed into a being of living stone and Apocalypse made him his personal oracle and scribe, as well as his slave. Their relationship was often contentious, but with Apocalypse reborn as a boy, Ozymandias suddenly finds himself in a very powerful and important position in the Akkaba Society. ”
“Anybody who is the number two servant to somebody the size of Apocalypse will consider a power grab, but I think Ozymandias is past that. The Akkaba and Apocalypse are no longer the force that they were. So I think, right now, he’s looking to rebuild the empire and it’s all on his shoulders,” Remender explained. “He was the one charged with awakening the final Four Horsemen. He’s been the one charged with potentially dealing with Celestials, getting Apocalypse resurrected and basically pulling the trigger on the Akkaba’s final attempt at world domination. So I think Ozymandias is trying to serve Akkaba and serve Apocalypse. There’s no double motive with him this time.”
Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen are powerful super humans that serve his will and operate under the guises of Death, War, Famine and Pestilence. The final Four Horsemen, which Ozymandias has awakened, are proving to be especially dangerous and durable. In “Uncanny X-Force” #1, the team ran afoul of the living stone being known as War, who took control of Wolverine and used his body and abilities to attack Archangel. Fantomex saved them both by using his misdirection powers to make War feel love, which resulted in the Horsemen exploding. Despite that, at the end of the issue it appeared as though War had reconstituted himself as he was seen guarding the young Apocalypse.
“War is made of stone and, like Ozymandias, if you blow him to dust, over time he can recollect himself and put himself back together, which is what’s he done by the end of the issue,” Remender explained. “He’s got other very interesting weaknesses, though, that we saw exploited in the first issue. It’s always the challenge of the writer to take the cast of villains and the cast of heroes and find very specific and interesting ways for their powers to interact in battle as opposed to just a lot of fisticuffs.”
The other final Four Horsemen will also play a role in “The Apocalypse Solution.” “The Four Horsemen that we’ve seen in Apocalypse’s other appearances have always been prominent Marvel Universe and X-Men characters, so you know that there’s usually not going to be any enormous change with them,” Remender remarked. “That hobbles the story a little bit. It’s something that Axel kept pointing out in the initial stages of this arc.”
While some of Apocalypse’s past horsemen escaped his service relatively unscathed, Warren Worthington, the former Horsemen known as Death and currently the X-Force member known as Archangel, was not so lucky. Indeed, Worthington’s Archangel form is a result of the genetic tinkering Apocalypse utilized to transform him into Death.
“The Death persona is a seed. There’s obviously more than one of these seeds that Apocalypse plants in people. Some people manage to shed the seed and it doesn’t take root and grow. In other people, it lies dormant and then it comes back out at an inopportune moment,” Remender explained. “In terms of Warren, he’s always been Apocalypse’s #1 choice for Death. The Death persona that grew into Archangel is a seed that grew in the soil of Warren’s mind. It’s informed by Warren and he’s able to have some control over it, but it’s not entirely a separate entity. It’s not something that a telepath like Psylocke could come in and take out of his head. Instead, it’s something that’s interconnected and interwoven on such a deep level at this point that they’re going to have to learn how to cope with one another.”
Psylocke may not be able to exorcise the Archangel persona entirely, but she can still use her telepathic powers to help Worthington cope with it. In “Uncanny X-Force” #1 readers saw that she had been doing just that. They also discovered these psychic “counseling” sessions have lead Psylocke and Archangel to rekindle their former romantic relationship.
“They were drawn together because Betsy has been helping Warren to try and get a grip on this thing inside of them, but the love they have for each other and the natural connection they share sort has risen in the midst of all of this. So they’re asking each other, ‘Are we in love? Or are we dependent on one another?'” Remender said. “Psylocke/Betsy has to stay close to Warren and help him because the Archangel persona is rattling around inside his head and it’s something that he needs help with. So he has to ask the question, ‘Have I fallen back in love with Betsy? Is this who I’m naturally fated to be with? Or is just it because I need her so much?’ That obviously adds a nice layer of drama. You don’t want things to be too perfect in any relationship or it doesn’t feel real.”
In “Uncanny X-Force” #2, hitting stores November 17, the titular team’s pursuit of Apocalypse takes them from the Earth to the Moon. “The Akkaba Society have a number of bases. When you’re doing something like raising Apocalypse, you want to be able to keep moving should you be located as they were in issue #1. So their next jump is to the moon. After a little sleuthing, the team discover that and have to make a pilgrimage up to the Blue Area, a sort of famous X-Men and Fantastic Four backdrop. There’s a whole alien city in the Blue Area that even has its own atmosphere. The Akkaba have set up shop there,” Remender revealed. “A lot of stories have happened in the Blue Area, like the Dark Phoenix saga and the X-Factor story where Cyclop’s son was sent into the future to become Cable . I like that there’s some history to the setting. So it’s not just, ‘Oh Apocalypse is on the moon again? Want to go there?'”
A good action scene on the moon needs to feel both realistic and fantastic and Remender is confident that his artistic collaborators, artist Jerome Opena and colorist Dean White, can pull it off. “We’re shooting from Jerome’s pencils so that the purity and the intention in the faces and all other things are all represented. Then it’s great to have somebody like Dean come in and take the time to really spot the blacks and pop up the contrast between the planes. I think it’s the best team in comic books right now,” Remender said. “That’s a big statement, but I think Jerome’s on his way to be on par with Romita Jr. and Frank Quitely or any of my other top artists. And Dean White comes in and gives the work this spot on and beautiful rendering. I think as far as art team’s go this is as good as it gets.”
Fans of the Remender/Opena team will recognize the tone of “The Apocalypse Solution” as similar to their previous collaborations on “Fear Agent” and “Punisher.” “Our plan is for this story line is to deliver some beautifully beat out, fluid action sequences and hopefully take some unexpected twists and turns, while keeping character development at the forefront,” Remender related. “That’s something I’m very mindful of. I don’t want to rest on the fact that everybody knows who these folks are. It’s my job in this first arc, and frankly all of the arcs, to continue to develop them and offer readers 3D-optics on who these people are so they can understand who it is that they’re looking at on a human level.
“Also, I’ve always been a big fan of the family aspect of the X-Books. The original X-Men were such a tight knit family because they were hated and feared and the world was against them. They were all hiding out in this mansion, trying to remain hidden while going out and doing good work,” Remender continued. “I feel that X-Force is almost purer in intention to that original mission statement in that they’re also a secret group. There’s also only five of them, and they’re also in a situation where everything they do must absolutely remain a secret. Not another soul can know about it. So the five of them become very tightly knit with these secrets. It creates a family atmosphere between them, which I like quite a bit.”
“The Apocalypse Solution” comes to an end early on in 2011, but it’s just the first arc in a larger story that Remender has planned for “Uncanny X-Force” “The individual arcs can serve as satisfying self-contained stories, but you’ll feel an inter-connectivity between the arcs so that it’s more of a grand scale, and when you read them all together, you get one big story out of it,” the writer said. “As for where we’re going in the New Year, expect the unexpected. It’s going to be a little dabbling into some things that have been seeded in other X-books. Also a bit of dabbling into the Marvel Universe. And then the consequences of the first arc will be felt.”