For the past three months following the initial announcement of Marvel's sweeping revamp, Marvel NOW! has only existed in theory among fans — a consistent stream of announcements, interviews, teaser images and advance covers, but no actual, y'know, comic books. Things get started for real this week with the arrival of Uncanny Avengers #1, the first Marvel NOW! release out the gate. From writer Rick Remender and artist John Cassaday, the series picks up right where Avengers vs. X-Men left off last week, with Captain America gathering a new team of Thor, Scarlet Witch, Havok, Wolverine and Rogue to proactively help the mutant cause. Newsarama talked in-depth with Remender about Uncanny Avengers, including the expectations that come with being the flagship book of a revamp, placing Alex Summers in charge of his own Avengers team and the source of Scarlet Witch's latest angst. Newsarama: Rick, in your time at Marvel you've been incredibly successful with writing books that are essentially a little more off to the side — Uncanny X-Force, Venom, Secret Avengers. But Uncanny Avengers is a flagship book, and the first out of the gate in a massive line-wide Marvel revamp. Issue #1 might be the most-read comic of your career — it certainly looks like it got the highest number of pre-orders. How much does all that affect your process? Does it change your approach at all?
Rick Remender: It doesn't. I literally try and give every single comic with my name on it everything I've got every time, because I assume that a lot of people are going to read that book for the first time, and that's their first experience with me. Whether I succeed or not is subjective, I suppose.
In approaching Uncanny Avengers, it was the same as any other book. It was a matter of, "Do I have a story? Where is the heart? Where are the power chord, 'Shazam' moments that are going to get everybody excited? And do those power chord moments come naturally?" A lot of the time I'll come up with ideas that are big and very exciting, but realize that where they take the characters or where they take the book, is not necessarily good for the long term, and I'll have to kibosh it.
The heart is something that I usually have a pretty easy time with. Once I know the characters, how they feel about each other and how they interact, writing where they go next and the soap opera is the fun part.So, if I've given it the love, then how many people are going to read it — if it's 5,000 or if it's 400,000, — becomes nebulous. It's just a number, it doesn't mean anything more to me. It really doesn't affect anything, I guess. I'm excited about the prospect of having a lot of people read it, but in the end it didn't change the process, it doesn't change the love I put into it. I don't know what to expect out of the end result. I know by the time we hit the end of issue #6, I'll have blown up seven bombs in your face. I've got seven really juicy bombs, and when you see what's going on with Red Skull, when you see what's going on with Kang, when you see what's going on with Apocalypse and then you also start to really feel for our team, I feel like I've succeeded in making the most exciting widescreen, big-action comic book that I can, while still maintaining my sense of humor, and the heart that I think is what people respond to in my work.
Nrama: Yeah, Uncanny Avengers definitely doesn't appear to be a watered-down version of Rick Remender — there's a grisly lobotomy scene in the early John Cassaday pages that have been released.
Remender: I feel like this is a good representation of what I normally do, good or bad. I normally do is a superhero comic that is 30 percent superhero jive, 30 percent sci-fi and 30 percent horror, with 10 percent soap opera on top.
I like that, because I think when you're reading a horror book, you know it's going to be a horror book. You know that dude is going to probably cut that lady up. You know that violent, terrible thing is coming. But I like it in a superhero book because you don't expect that. I like horror comics. I like, all of a sudden, you turn the page and it's an issue of Creepy. It's really much more exciting that way. And the same with the science-fiction elements that I'm introducing, and always introduced in my stuff going back to Fear Agent in 2004. You're reading a superhero book, and all of a sudden there's this heavy science-fiction stuff that gets dumped in, and it hits you off-guard. You're not expecting it, but you like it. Hopefully.
Nrama: At this point, it looks like there are several similarities between Uncanny Avengers and Uncanny X-Force, other than the first word in the title, at least in structure — sounds like you've also got a long, over-reaching arc planned, and are focusing on a relatively small cast, at least at first.
Remender: I'd say it's a mix between Uncanny X-Force and Secret Avengers in that the cast grows. Secret Avengers taught me how to handle a larger cast, and I think I've got a system now for how to do it, and do it in a way where every character still has an arc and you still care. When Black Widow explodes onto the scene in the recent Secret Avengers stuff, you haven't seen much of her for a while. Hopefully, when it happens, you're glad for it and it's exciting. I think the trick is to not have a big group of characters together all the time. "Hey, it's nine people in a room!" I think the important thing is to try and focus on small groups, and to use them to tell the story. With Uncanny Avengers, I've got the first 20 issues pretty well beaten down. And not just high concept — I know for a good couple years what Uncanny Avengers is going to do to the Marvel Universe. And it is big. And it is exciting. And I can't wait for people to see it.
I know on Fear Agent and Strange Girl, having a long game planned from the beginning helped motivate me to see them to their conclusions. Strange Girl went 20 issues and Fear Agent went 32. I know the thing that helped me fight that out, and fight to keep those books coming out, was, "I gotta get to that ending, because I think that ending is good." Readers can also tell when you're seeding things. As long as you're not just meandering; as long as you're telling it in chapters that have beginnings, middles and ends; as long as the characters are progressing, then I think it works. It's something that I've definitely learned doing my own books, and it's something that I've really honed in on and fine-tuned with X-Force and Secret Avengers — and this is a nice mix of all of that stuff.
Nrama: Speaking of the Uncanny Avengers cast, Havok is clearly central to the book, and in fact the leader of the team. He seems like a character you'd gravitate towards — was he one you've been hoping to have a shot at for a while?
Remender: Yeah. He was originally going to be in X-Force. It didn't make a lot of sense, so we ended up sh*tcanning it.
I love Havok. I started reading Uncanny [X-Men] when it was at like, #160 or #165, the Paul Smith stuff. I read Uncanny for forever, and Havok to me was always the younger brother who was a little more rebellious, a little more rock and roll. Simonson and Kent Williams did that Meltdown series — he's James Dean. And he's the underdog. Scott's the big, shiny quarterback, and Alex is the guy, in my opinion, in the corner of the room, cleaning his fingernails with a switchblade. He's a little dangerous. But at the same time, he's a hero. He's a super-good guy. He's educated, he has sacrificed himself on many an occasion to help the greater good, and he's somebody who's shown that he can work with the government, in terms of Val Cooper and his history with X-Factor. If you're a continuity nerd, it's there. I thought about it. We made sure that it locks in. From a character angle, given what we know about Scott, given what we know about how the Marvel Universe is moving forward, it works on that front as well.
He's the face of an Avengers unit based out of the mansion — classic Avengers — with a bunch of other Avengers who are going to be joining, and X-Men, and he's got to lead that sh*t. He’s got to step up.
Nrama: So will readers actually see Havok bossing around Captain America and Wolverine?
Remender: It's so much of the story. Captain America understands that he's running an Avengers unit out of the tower. There's a need for a number of Avengers units. The Marvel Universe is a crazy, chaotic place. He understands that there's an importance, and there's something powerful, about people seeing Alex Summers giving Captain America, Thor and Wolverine marching orders in the field. He knows that Alex has the wherewithal and the history to do it, he's got the goods. But when sh*t comes down — and I am bringing some sh*t down — when the heavy hammer falls, and everything's at stake, can Cap stand back and still let Havok lead? Can Wolverine stand back and still let Havok call the shots, if they don't agree with those shots? If the world's about to be destroyed, and sh*t's going haywire, can they still maintain? Alex is going to say, "Am I a figurehead, or am I the leader? Because now the chips are down — am I running the show? Because if I'm not running it now, I'm never running it again." There's so much drama from that; I really have enjoyed writing it.
Nrama: Another character in an interesting position that you're working with is Scarlet Witch , who after being defined by "Avengers Disassembled" and House of M for nearly a decade, she's back in an active role. What's it been like to be the first writer to use a "functioning" Scarlet Witch, long-term, for the first time in years?
Remender: The first thing I did was call Kurt Busiek and talk to him about the character, because nobody had the same grasp of Scarlet Witch. I think Kurt had a tremendous understanding of who she is, and most importantly, how her powers work. I spent a lot of time chatting it up, and getting into his head about how he saw the character, and mixing it with my own notes. It was really helpful. I think he's got an incredibly grounded approach.
Given her history with the mutants and the Avengers, she finds herself in a strange situation. A lot of mutants are not fans of Scarlet Witch, and what she's done. The Avengers aren't either — she killed a number of Avengers who, through their adventuring, were brought back, but that doesn't change the fact that they watched Scarlet Witch go completely crazy and become the catalyst for a lot of terror. So they're all very hesitant, and they're all very nervous around her, except for Steve. Steve more than anyone believes in her core, as well as a couple of other Avengers who are going to be joining the team around issue #5.
Wanda's in an uncomfortable situation where she's back, she's no longer under the influence of anything, she's in her right mind, and she knows what happened. She lost her mind after the loss of her children, and she was infused with this incredible power Doom had given her, and she lost it. She was everything Xavier feared most — a mutant with too much power who had lost her mind. She now wants, more than anything, to live up to his ideals, now that he's gone. To do what she never did before, to stand up and be the face of it. But of course, she can't, and she's resentful that Havok gets to stand up and be the Avenger who's going to lead the mutant rights team when she's been the Avenger mutant forever. She's like, wave two Avengers. It bothers her greatly that she's stuck in that situation, and she's not able to stand up and be the public face of this thing.
She's dealing with that, she's dealing with mistrust from Wolverine and especially Rogue. Havok's got a cocked eyebrow at her; he wants to see what happens. Cap and Thor are big Scarlet Witch cheerleaders at this point. They believe she can come back around. It's more grist, lots of drama, and plenty of stuff that I'm not going to resolve any time soon.
Nrama: Villain-wise, it was revealed about a month ago that beyond Red Skull, you're also bringing in Kang the Conqueror and Apocalypse, the latter being particularly of note to Uncanny X-Force readers since that whole run has involved the character so heavily. How much will what you've been doing there connect to Uncanny Avengers?
Remender: There's two big stories left that I have with Apocalypse. I had four. This is the third one. I didn't want to just pick it up and move it over, but I did pick up the foundation. Basically, I took my third year of X-Force and what I had planned, and I cut away all the details and the characters, and just looked at what the villains had planned, and how it ended.
At that point, I took that very basic foundation, and I took my Kang story, and I merged them. I spent about two weeks rewriting both of them, and taking out key stuff, and putting more stuff back in, until I had a plot that went Red Skull, Apocalypse, Kang, but you saw bits and pieces of all three of it in all three arcs, and in the fourth and fifth arcs, it goes f*cking haywire. [Laughs.]
While it does pick up from X-Force — and you should read that book! — it'll be explained and handled as if it's new. I think it'll be a rich experience if you've been an X-Force reader, and at this point, those are like my peoples, so I want to make sure that they know that while I'm leaving X-Force, they can follow me over to this book and they're going to see a lot of the things that Wolverine experiences at the end of "Final Execution," as well as what the team goes through, as well as my plans for Apocalypse, carried over into Uncanny Avengers — but also completely intermingled with Kang and Red Skull to become something that we've never seen before.
Nrama: It's sort of an inevitable comic book-y question, but with a lot of other Avengers book in Marvel NOW!, especially the twice-monthly Avengers written by Jonathan Hickman, is Uncanny Avengers involved in any planned interaction at this stage?
Remender: We know each other's plans, but the stories don't really intersect at this point. We discussed at the last retreat finding some places to intersect a few things, and hopefully we'll circle back around to do that, because that's something that Kieron Gillen and Jason Aaron and I have done in the X-office, and people have enjoyed it a lot. It's something that's definitely been discussed.
Knowing [Hickman's] plans, and knowing my plans, they're very different. It's nice to see a natural intersection every once in a while, but you don't want to see too much of that or have it affect or derail the story. I think as great as AvX was, as amazing as it did, I'm glad X-Force didn't go into AvX. I'm glad X-Force is its own story, and that one day when it's in a giant omnibus, someone who heard about it can buy that, and sit down and ingest two and a half years of work, and a self contained story. Knowing how my first five stories play out, it doesn't have a lot of room for, "Hey, what's happening over at Avengers Tower?" That's its own adventure, don't worry about it. Those guys are doing their own thing right now. We're at the mansion and we're doing our own thing, and we've got a lot on our plate.
Nrama: And it seems like you've got quite a few characters that will only be appearing in Uncanny Avengers.
Remender: Yeah, and when you see the final cast — obviously Thor, Cap and Wolverine are the shared members, and they're stretched thin and busy as hell, but I think the rest of the characters are unique to Uncanny Avengers.More from Newsarama:
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