***This article contains spoilers for Uncanny Avengers #4, released this week.***If you were reading superhero comic books in the mid-'90s the word "Onslaught" either evokes pleasant pangs of fond nostalgia, or yet another reminder of rampant industry excesses during that decade.
Running through summer 1996, the Marvel event introduced the titular new character of Onslaught, essentially the manifestation of Professor Xavier's dark side brought about when he mindwiped Magneto during "Fatal Attractions" years earlier. Onslaught's rampage spilled over into just about every Marvel book at the time, and directly led to the year-long "Heroes Reborn" initiative, where Jim Lee's Wildstorm Productions took over Fantastic Four and Iron Man, and Rob Liefeld's Extreme Studios handled Captain America and Avengers (which both moved to Wildstorm after six issues).
Though the character has seen subsequent revivals in the miniseries Onslaught Reborn and Onslaught Unleashed, he hasn't really been seen in Marvel's core books since his initial appearances.
That changed with this week's Uncanny Avengers #4 by Rick Remender and John Cassaday, when an epilogue set "three months later" revealed that Red Skull — who previously powered himself up with the late Professor X's brain— has evolved into the latest version of Onslaught, which is decidedly bad news for the Havok-led team and the rest of Marvel's heroes.
We talked with Remender and series editor Tom Brevoort to get the story behind Onslaught's reappearance, the latest example of the writer's established knack for approaching '90s concepts in unexpected ways (see: Uncanny X-Force, Venom).Newsarama: Rick, though obviously it's something of a natural move given the character's connection to Xavier, what inspired you to use Onslaught in your big, overarching Uncanny Avengers story?
Rick Remender: As we were building the story we were looking for the escalation for the fourth arc, the story that takes place in the second year, and I wanted something recognizable that naturally fit with our plans. It was sitting right in front of me but I never saw it; editor Tom Brevoort pointed out to me that Onslaught was the perfect fit.
From there about another hundred ideas bubbled up and it fit perfectly with the other plans that we had. It's going to be an entirely different thing than what we saw in the '90s, an entirely different character with an entirely different set of motives. I don't want to give much else away — I think people know how the original Onslaught came into being, and that it has a direct connection to Charles Xavier.
Nrama: What kind of potential do you see in the concept?
Remender: At first I laughed. I was a hardcore indie kid in the '90s and this stuff wasn't really on my radar. But then it hit me like a ton of bricks and the ideas started to pile up. It's one of those things that you stumble upon that perfectly solves problems you have in a story.Uncanny Avengers
#5 cover.In the case of the story I was working on, I needed the escalation villain and it needed to lead to some fairly big ideas and I just couldn't figure out who it would be. So after weeks of racking our brains when Tom stumbled upon the idea of Onslaught there was a big shazam moment, because it fits so perfectly with the story, as well as the heart of the story that we're building.
Nrama: Tom, a lot of people were surprised to see Red Skull's evident evolution into Onslaught. Obviously there's a strong connection between Xavier and Onslaught, but on the other hand, it's a concept that hasn't really been seen in years outside of specifically branded revivals like Onslaught Reborn and Onslaught Unleashed, and it's also a character that is seen as part of the '90s comic culture that is often (fair or not) written off by fans, or one that only existed as a mechanism to make "Heroes Reborn" happen. So within Marvel, was there any apprehension with using Onslaught in Uncanny Avengers? Or has Rick Remender proven so deft at this point at taking things thought of as stereotypically "'90s" and bringing them into the present day, that it wasn't an issue?
Tom Brevoort: Well, there wasn't a whole lot of discussion about it apart from Rick and myself, and checking with the X-Office to make sure we wouldn't be stumbling over somebody else's planning. I look at all of this stuff, from every era, as potential raw materials for new stories — what one reader loathed, another reader loved. There really isn't any universally hated character.Uncanny Avengers
#6 cover.So yes, Rick's done some excellent work in recent years in rehabilitating the images of a couple of properties from the '90s, and that gives you confidence in what he'll be able to do with something like Onslaught. But really, he was a perfect outgrowth of the story we were telling. As soon as we decided to cut Xavier's head open in issue #1, the groundwork was laid for the return of Xavier's dark side as well.
Nrama: As someone who was working at Marvel at the time of the original Onslaught story, Tom, how do you view the event in hindsight, and what it meant for Marvel at the time?
Brevoort: I don't think there's any way to be objective, in that, for those of us on staff working on Onslaught, for all that everybody involved did good work on it, the intention of that story was to fragment the Marvel Universe and give a bunch of the most crucial characters over to other people to handle. And that was a bitter pill to have to swallow.
Nrama: Rick, given that you've gotten a bit of a reputation in recent years in taking what some fans might see as cheesy '90s concepts and bringing them into the present day and making them serious and viable, do you view this latest development as part of that pattern?
Remender: I like taking dusty old things from the '90s and polishing them up. I like taking things for the '70s and '80s and doing it as well. I have an obsession with Brother Voodoo and Rocket Racer.Digging up the '90s was never my goal. I was done reading superhero comics around that time for the most part, but so many big iconic things were created then, and almost totally left behind. It's a lot of fun to dig in that decade's toy chest, pull out the toys, and paint them back up and rebuild them for a modern audience. The idea of Onslaught is still a lot of fun, and had lasting repercussions on the Marvel Universe. We're going to try to one-up that.
Nrama: Also, the epilogue of #4 takes place "three months from now" and the next arc is "Ragnarok Now" — so will it be at least a few more issues before Onslaught is seen again?
Brevoort: Hey, this is Uncanny Avengers — we count ourselves lucky if we're able to get more than one issue out in three months! But yet, there'll be some time before we get back to Onslaught — though it might be sooner than you might think!More from Newsarama:
- 10 Signs the '90s Are Back in Comics
- Spoiler Sport: CAPTAIN AMERICA #3's Disturbing Last Page
- Remender on UNCANNY AVENGERS and CAPTAIN AMERICA's Future