Discussing the big changes ahead for Uncanny X-Force and Venom
By Chris Arrant
For writer Rick Remender, there’s more to the Marvel Universe than the bright heroics of Spider-Man and the Avengers. Writing both UNCANNY X-FORCE and VENOM, the California-based writer shows that heroes can have dark edges, and that those edges can cut—and sometimes kill.
In UNCANNY X-FORCE, the team’s one-time compatriot Archangel threatens to bring about a new Age of Apocalypse. As Wolverine and company attempt to stop him, Psylocke feels the pull of competing loyalties. In December’s UNCANNY X-FORCE #18, the finale of the “Dark Angel Saga” brings all that to a head.
With VENOM, one-time jock Flash Thompson has gone from a paraplegic war vet to a next-generation soldier as he’s melded with the Venom symbiote to carry out the U.S. government’s most discreet and deadly missions. Agent Venom played a large role in the recent Spider-Island event, and this week’s VENOM #9 promises to deliver the character into a new era.
Marvel.com spoke with Rick Remender about the future of both books and the nature of being Marvel’s resident secret agent writer.
Marvel.com: In UNCANNY X-FORCE you’re barreling your way to the finale of the “Dark Angel Saga,” something you’ve been building towards since the series began. What can people look forward to in issue #18?
Rick Remender: As people who followed [my independent comic] Fear Agent know, I like long-form stories and seeding things so that it pays off later in big ways. There have been a number of those things seeded throughout the 18 issues leading up to UNCANNY X-FORCE #18, such as Archangel becoming the new Apocalypse. There’s more waiting to come to the surface for this next issue.
Marvel.com: This arc has brought the Age of Apocalypse back into the mix of the Marvel Universe. What’s it like being able to revisit this classic event from the 90’s and make it work organically today?
Rick Remender: I’m a tremendous fan of alternate reality characters, and love the potential emanating from variations on familiar characters being raised in other worlds. It goes back to the “nature vs. nurture” debate and the question of if we’re cooked by our environment or if people are set in stone by birth. Alternate versions of characters help explore that. It’s exciting to take characters from post-apocalyptic worlds like Age of Apocalypse and see how different they are based on the hardships they’ve lived through.
In terms of the larger story, it was a natural extension of what was planned. Dark Beast was a natural go-to guy when it comes to exploring Apocalypse’s powers, and with his origins in the Age of Apocalypse universe we tied it back through to our team being stranded there.
It’s my responsibility to take these alternate versions of fan-favorite characters and make them three-dimensional and developed. For instance, this Nightcrawler isn’t just a wacky version of Kurt brought in for no reason. He’s a very different character than the Kurt Wagner we’ve come to know, and he happens to fit in well with the tone of the X-Force team as we’ll see in the near future.
As for the rest of them, we’ve extrapolated where they’d be and set about making that world relevant and interesting in a modern context. Both the fans and Marvel itself responded well to what’s been introduced, and they’re launching the new series AGE OF APOCALYPSE out of that, which you’ll see more of in December’s UNCANNY X-FORCE #19.1. It’s a nice validation to see that springing out of our book and it’s invigorating that the fans liked it so much.
Marvel.com: After the “Dark Angel Saga” ends, the series dovetails into the line-wide Regenesis event and the Age of Apocalypse Nightcrawler joins the team. What can you tell us going forward?
Rick Remender: There are some new directives for the team, but it’s all still building off what’s gone down in the first year of the series. The second year builds into a very similar kind of thing; a mega-arc, beginning with issue #19 which is an epilogue to the “Dark Angel Saga” drawn by Robbi Rodriguez. This issue shows what happens to Nightcrawler and the Age of Apocalypse characters as well as sets up a new status quo—or a side-job at least—for X-Force. This ties in with WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #4, and Jason Aaron and I have worked extremely hard to make our two books fit as neatly as possible. Both our books live in the same corner of the Marvel Universe and Logan leads both squads, so there’s a lot of connective tissue between the school and this covert ops squad.
After that and the Point One issue, the next four issues illustrated by Greg Tocchini takes us to Otherworld as Betsy’s family is concerned with her work in X-Force. We’ve also got Fantomex put on trial for what he’s done over the course of the book. I love the idea that dominoes from the first arc are still falling and things the team has done are still catching up to them.
Marvel.com: Hearing you mention Otherworld brings back memories to the classic EXCALIBUR days with Betsy’s brother Captain Britain. We saw Brian briefly in the last issue of UNCANNY X-FORCE, so does that mean he’s playing a bigger role going forward?
Rick Remender: Definitely. I’m working hard to re-establish Captain Britain with UNCANNY X-FORCE and SECRET AVENGERS. I like Brian because he’s a conflicted character; a man of science who had to accept magic. He has a suit of armor powered by magic, tied to his confidence level. I love him as a character and for his history, and we’re going to put him back in the spotlight as the Lord of Otherworld and show his connection to Betsy and what’s going on in her life. Brian and Betsy’s brother Jamie plays a role as well.
Marvel.com: Speaking of strained family ties, the X-Force team has that given that they’ve been keeping their actions a secret from their fellow X-Men as well as the world at large. So far the secret’s only leaked out to Magneto, but how long can it last?
Rick Remender: I think it’s one of those things they constantly have to cover up. It’s like telling a lie; they try to hide it but it slowly grows and as someone calls you on it they have to elaborate on that lie and it becomes a web. Because of what they’re doing in UNCANNY X-FORCE, the team has become sort of isolated from the rest of the X-Men. They can say they saved the day sort-of-ish, but they didn’t really save the day. Things are continuing to spiral and get worse, and at this point it’s like a vase that has been shattered but glued back together; the water keeps leaking out from those cracks no matter how quickly they patch it.
Magneto is aware of X-Force, but not necessarily aware of the whole scope of the team’s actions. In UNCANNY X-FORCE #19, a couple other X-Men and an Avenger both discover X-Force’s actions and it will definitely have ramifications going forward.
Marvel.com: In addition to that, you also have the politics relating to the schism inside the X-Men. How does the split in the mutant race play out on the X-Force team?
Rick Remender: There’s a reason Psylocke doesn’t want to be at the school but remains on the X-Force team. This second year on UNCANNY X-FORCE is a big development year for her as a character. That will be easily apparent to readers after #18 and #19. Moving forward into the next year, we have some fairly unexpected things planned for her. With that being said, the schism between Scott and Logan will definitely change the landscape of things but since the X-Force squad works in the shadows on their own and Wolverine is running the show, there’s not a lot of interconnectivity with Scott and his team.
Marvel.com: From a secret squad of mutants to a one-man hit squad, your other big title, VENOM, nears its one year anniversary. How’s it been developing Flash Thompson into a leading man and making it work with a blood-thirsty Venom symbiote on his back?
Rick Remender: It’s been terrific. I think I’ve found my niche, as I enjoy talking B- or C-List characters and reimagining them into something special. Obviously the initial idea of the series came from Dan Slott and Steve Wacker, and as I dug into it I discovered so many levels of awesome inside the concept. There are so many different things to exploit with Flash from his alcoholism, his egotism, being raised by an alcoholic and abusive father, and this new addiction that returned his legs to him. I love the book, I love Flash, and I didn’t know in the beginning I would enjoy it so much.
Flash isn’t stoic or hyper intelligent. He’s a man of average intelligence, but has so much heart, loyalty and patriotism that make him the kind of person that doesn’t quit. In terms of the Spider-Man side of the Marvel Universe, he’s a classic character, and almost more Peter Parker than Peter is anymore. In the original AMAZING SPIDER-MAN books, Peter’s life was always depressing as hell. And while Peter’s life is still tumultuous, I wanted to really lean into that with Flash so it felt like a classic Spider-Man story except with Flash at the center of it. Flash has his own issues of power and responsibility explored from a different angle, one a good bit heavier and darker than what Peter’s dealt with.
I hope people with a pre-conceived notion of what a VENOM comic is will set that aside and give our book a good look. With books like this starting at the very beginning is best, but we’re doing our best to make VENOM #10 as ‘new reader friendly’ as possible.
Marvel.com: VENOM #9 shows Flash in the aftermath of Spider-Island. We saw Flash, Captain America and Spider-Man defeat The Queen over in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, but when we last saw things, Flash’s father passed away and his long-time flame Betty Brant remains trapped in the hospital with the infested coming her. What’s the score with VENOM #9?
Rick Remender: This picks up moments after they defeat The Queen, and Flash goes to see what happened to Betty and to return the Venom suit because he’s worn it too long. On the way, though, he discovers an opportunistic super villain named Hijacker who has used the chaos in the city during Spider-Island to use his impenetrable tank to break into bank vaults and steal as much money as he can. During the course of that, Venom drops in to stop him.
I don’t want to give away what happens next, but it’s a pretty heavy moment. It would be a mistake to miss #9 and what’s happening with the book in this issue. I wanted to make sure that if we’re doing a wrap-up issue it wouldn’t just be looking back on the city all cleaned up; my goal is to make this the most important chapter of Spider-Island for Flash. With events like this, the biggest moments are those that happen when you least expect it. In an instant, it goes from Venom stopping a bank robber to something else considerably. What happens here will haunt and affect the character for a long time to come.
Marvel.com: In #8 we saw the unusual team-up of Venom and Steve Rogers, and it brought up a lot of underlying potency given their shared military background and sacrifices. Any chance we’ll see more of Captain America in the book?
Rick Remender: Sure. In issue #9, Captain America will be a big part of the new status quo of the book and their relationship plays into that. Given how Cap is just learning that the government has been using the Venom symbiote for missions, he’s not quite comfortable with it even though Flash helped out a lot during Spider-Island. A lot of people have seen that Flash will be joining SECRET AVENGERS soon, and this story leads into that. Getting Venom inducted into the team isn’t easy, and the arc that takes him there is definitely one of the biggest and most exciting power chord moments of the series. It also leads into cosmic-sized threats for Venom. I love the idea that Venom is this super-powerful force, but can still be threatened when cosmic-level powers come into play.
Marvel.com: And in a way, Venom could be called cosmic since it’s an alien symbiote as seen in SECRET WARS.
Rick Remender: Right. The big Venom event I’m working on for next summer ties into all of that.
Marvel.com: After the big status quo change in VENOM #9, the next issues carry out that new mission while also trying to keep a big secret: his identity.
Rick Remender: That’s right. Flash isn’t used to being a super hero, and after he lost the symbiote temporarily in a fight with Kraven he was photographed by the main villain of our series, The Crime Master. Crime Master is teaming up with Jack O’ Lantern, and those are two people Venom’s done a lot to upset in the past. In VENOM #10, we see what they’ve been up to and how they plan on utilizing the fact they know Flash Thompson is Venom.
The situation Flash is in here brings up an interesting question of how someone could blackmail a super hero. There’s always a scenario where a super hero can’t fight his way out of, and if Crime Master is a criminal genius then he has to think more than just of pure revenge and of the most strategic and damaging way to use this secret.
Marvel.com: One thing that isn’t a secret is your new artist on the book: Lan Medina. Lan’s no stranger to gun-toting soldiers from his work on DEATHLOK and FOOLKILLER, but what specifically from his repertoire do you look to take advantage of with him on the book?
Rick Remender: As you said, Lan is obviously great with soldiers and weaponry, but he’s also great with monsters. Not all guys can draw monsters, and being able to draw the Venom monster when he hulks out and do it right is a skill. He’s already finished a couple issues of VENOM, and I’m excited with what he’s turned in. There’s some VENOM scenes coming up that people are going to go crazy for. Lan does a good job with Agent Venom, but his monster Venom moments will have people going [crazy].
Marvel.com: Before I let you go, I wanted to ask you about your de facto position as Marvel’s go-to guy when it comes to secret agent books. With UNCANNY X-FORCE, VENOM and the upcoming SECRET AVENGERS, you’re doing covert ops in the X-Men, Spider-Man and Avengers corners of the Marvel Universe. What’s that like?
Rick Remender: We’re coming up with threats as big as any other book, but given their nature these are underground and not publicly visible threats. These characters need to deal with a giant invading army before they attack New York City, and that makes it more exciting for me. It adds more tension to the book and heavier stakes, depending on the villain. The approach I take on all of these series is that I’m writing a Spider-Man, X-Men or Avengers [title] but with higher stakes and the threat of a higher body count. And people do die.
I don’t think a character’s death is the be-all-end-all power chord to hit for an emotional reaction from a reader, but when you read a story where you know that the characters are under no real threat of death then it removes a certain amount of tension from the work. In books like this, death is possible and they should have kills. The key is to write them in a way that the kills are surprising and it brings ramifications to the characters surrounding it. In my upcoming SECRET AVENGERS run, one of those characters is going to die. In VENOM, someone is going to die. The same in UNCANNY X-FORCE.
While at first I was hesitant to continue to take on these covert teams books, as long as I get to write high-concept sci-fi fun like I do, there’s no downside. Having a mandate to kill people definitely makes it a little more interesting. While there are some deaths coming up, we’re also bringing back a few characters. In SECRET AVENGERS we’re re-imagining the villain the Super-Adaptoid, and in UNCANNY X-FORCE we’re re-imagining Otherworld. It’s important to do more than kill things off, but build things as well.