As anyone who followed Rick Remender's time on the previous incarnation of Uncanny X-Force knows, he's a long-term planner.
The writer's has described the first chunk of current stint on Uncanny Avengers as effectively one big 25-issue story, and Marvel revealed Saturday at Comic-Con International in San Diego that for the next chapter starting with November's issue #14 — the true dawn of "Ragnarok Now!," the writer says — Remender will be joined by artist Steve McNiven, the high-profile illustrator of Civil War, "Old Man Logan" and, most recently, the relaunched Guardians of the Galaxy.
With the Avengers Unity squad looking very much divided, Remender told us about the upcoming major consequences facing the team, why McNiven was the ideal choice to illustrate this story, and how the cumulative looming threat of the Apocalype Twins and their Four Hoursemen of Death, Kang the Conqueror and a Onslaught-ized Red Skull will get much worse before it gets better. (If it ever gets better, that is.)
Newsarama: Rick, Steve McNiven is coming on board Uncanny Avengers in November, and he's not an artist you see on the stands every month, and usually when you do, it's to launch a book, rather than joining a year after it's started. So it definitely seems like a meaningful thing, and a big boost to a series that's already had an impressive artistic legacy. How do you see McNiven as especially a good fit for the "Ragnarok Now!" story?
Rick Remender: We're hitting a point in the story where, frankly, when I pitched this stuff, I entirely expected that I would just have a bunch of people telling me, "You can't do this." But instead Marvel were very supportive, and they've gotten behind it in a big way, and I think McNiven's inclusion on the team speaks to that.
This story is built upon the notion that if there isn't unity, there is only doom awaiting us as a people, and using the Avengers and the X-Men as sort of a metaphor for that, and their inability to get along, and find a common ground, and find a consensus with one another, and work together. That disharmony only continues.
In the same way in "The Dark Angel Saga" I seeded that Warren Worthington was maybe losing control to Archangel in the first issue, I seeded some things in the first issue of Uncanny Avengers that are now paying out here. I always like to seed things like that. So what's coming up is heart-wrenching and bloody and terrible and epic, and it takes the sort of stakes and the kind of thing I was doing in "The Dark Angel Saga" to an entirely different level. It's no longer hidden underground some place. This is happening in a big way, worldwide.
The events that we're leading up to are so visual, that they demanded someone of McNiven's caliber. I was really excited that Marvel thought so as well, and approached him and put him on the project, and he was willing to do it. He was actually very excited when he heard about it. His enthusiasm is very comforting. It's always nice when the artist is emailing you frothing at the mouth with excitement, as opposed to silence, which happens on occasion. [Laughs.]
Steve is very excited, and the things that we're building up to are now finally starting to pay out. And it's only the beginning. I think we're calling the [Daniel] Acuña stuff "The Apocalypse Twins," and this will be the actual "Ragnarok Now!". This will be sort of the climax of everything that we've done so far, and it's definitely the bloodiest story that I've ever written. Trying to really punish the characters for their inability to work together. This is more fallout from [Avengers vs. X-Men], and more fallout from how the Avengers and the X-Men have cohabitated in general in the Marvel Universe.
Nrama: And speaking of "bloodiest," it's been revealed in upcoming solicitations that there's at least one casualty if not casualties coming — are we talking pretty major characters?
Remender: Pretty much. Again, when I took the first crack at the outline, one thing that you always want is, "What do you want to say?" It's just that same metaphor: If we can't work together and find unity, the consequences are going to be severe. I think that's true in many cases in the real world, across many different divides. If we can't figure out how to cohabitate and work together as one people, in terms of all the challenges we face as a species, then there's only doom awaiting us. I thought the Avengers and the X-Men worked really nice as a metaphor for that, given their conflicts.
Of course, you can't have consequences in these kinds of stakes unless you have casualties. That is exactly what we are getting to the point of now. The mistakes that our heroes have made, their inability to be heroic in some cases, or rise above their circumstances. Ultimately, their inability to believe in the fiber and quality of character of their fellow Avengers, and their inability to trust, leads to a lot of the casualties. In issue #14, instead of waiting and having the casualties be Act Three, the casualties in "Ragnarok Now!" are Act One. And the consequences of those casualties are the inciting incident for the "Ragnarok Now!" chapter of the story. When I pitched it, there was a lot of "What?" question marks on the faces of everyone. But the more we talked it out and went through it, everybody realized it's a very strong story, and once we get to the end game with it, the loss of life is necessary to really put a spotlight on the stakes and what the consequences are for these characters' inability to work together.
Nrama: It's interesting, because there's been debate lately about how actual repercussions aren't often explored in a realistic way in genre fiction , and this story — like a lot of what you were doing in Uncanny X-Force — appear to be directly concerned with dealing with consequences in a more three-dimensional way.
Remender: I really do like it when the heroes' flaws lead to dire consequences. Mistakes you see them make, mistakes of character, mistakes of pride, just bad decisions, emotional decisions, thing we all do, and we all live with — follow those trails. Though I wasn't involved in Avengers vs. X-Men, when that was being cooked up and I was in the room listening, I couldn't help but think, "At what point are our heroes going to stop having civil wars, and bond as brothers, and get together and do what's right?" That was really the crux of Uncanny Avengers. The first 25 issues is one giant story dealing with that aspect of these characters in the Marvel Universe.
"Ragnarok" is the consequences. It's not the last of the consequences. We still have to deal with Kang and Red Skull. [Laughs.] It's going to be ugly, but the character arcs, and the journey that we take them on by the time we get to issue #25, and [when] people see the scope, and where this all leads to, and the ramifications on the Marvel Universe — I feel very excited about it. It's all born from character, and the continuity of where they're at, and a big idea that came out of that — something that we haven't seen explored, necessarily.
Nrama: So just to linearize things — you've said it's a 25 issue story, so by the time McNiven comes on in November, are we basically in the midst of the second act?
Remender: I don't even know if you can break it down into three acts. I'm always mindful to make sure that I've got my inciting incident for each arc, and that there's a change of direction in the middle of Act Two. I always make sure there are at least two or three character arcs [where] the ball is moved down the field in a way.
But it's such a big story, and one thing leading to another — the Red Skull of it leading to the Apocalypse Twins and the Kang of it, leading back to the Kang of it, leading back to the Red Skull of it, leading to the Onslaught of it — is structurally very different. When I look at what I'm doing here, it's very similar to "The Dark Angel Saga," but it's about 10 issues longer.
One of the mandates was that Uncanny Avengers be an event. When they called it a flagship book, we discussed how to live up to that. It's never really quite been done like this before. You're going to see basically one long event roll out with one A-list artist after another, until it literally blows over into — I can't say what, but something really fun.
Nrama: A big advantage of that must be the ability to make this a self-contained book, which can certainly be rare in a shared universe, especially in a long-term story like this.
Remender: It is. And I think that it's a lot of faith that Marvel have put in me to do it this way, and with the talent that's come on board. I'm very excited that we've been able to be so self-contained, and to tell a story that when it's said and done, you can sit down and read it from beginning to end, forever. It'll always stand on its own. By the time its scope widens, the purity of intention will hopefully pay out in a way that's very satisfying and unique.
Nrama: With nine regulars, the cast is already pretty big, but with both Avengers and X-Men to draw from, will it be getting bigger as the scope widens, or will you continue to focus on the current main cast?
Remender: Things are going to change up around issue #21, #22 a bit, but we're not going to be bringing in any new cast members before that. We will be losing some. [Laughs.]