If you're going to evoke the title of a story as classic and beloved as "The Dark Phoenix Saga," you better have something big up your sleeve. Well, how about a return to the fan-favorite Age of Apocalypse timeline, in an attempt to rid original X-Man Angel of the Death persona implanted in him by Apocalypse himself years ago? It's all part of the upcoming Uncanny X-Force storyline "The Dark Angel Saga."The story, running for eight issues — with Mark Brooks on art for the first three and Jerome Opeña on the latter five — starts with a prelude in Uncanny X-Force #10, and runs through issue #18. It will include, among other developments, Dark Beast leading the team to the bleak Age of Apocalypse alternate timeline (10 years since the last time we saw it, and time hasn't been kind) and exploration on the true nature of Archangel's Death persona. Newsarama spoke with Uncanny X-Force writer Rick Remender on "The Dark Angel Saga" — first announced a week ago with more details revealed at Marvel's Friday "Welcome to the X-Men" panel at C2E2 — the unique history of Warren Worthington III, and why he wanted to revisit the Age of Apocalypse. Newsarama: Rick, as the previously revealed teasers make clear, “The Dark Angel Saga,” at least in part, takes place in the Age of Apocalypse timeline. What is it about that setting that makes it worth revisiting more than 15 years after the original stories?
Rick Remender: As far as backdrops go, it naturally grew out of the story we were telling. With Warren Worthington being slowly taken over by Archangel, and the conflict that’s going on within those characters, there are things in Age of Apocalypse that are necessary to try and remedy some of the problems that the team is dealing with back home. As the problems were being created and [Uncanny X-Force editor] Jody [LeHeup] and I were going back and forth and built that story, it just very naturally came about that the solution would be in the Age of Apocalypse.
Whereas that started out as a quick note, once I got into the Age of Apocalypse, story-wise, I had a bigger story to tell, and I wanted to linger for a little while. It grew into something that was pretty exciting for everybody involved, where what’s going on in the Age of Apocalypse is very different than what we’ve seen there before. Sort of a natural extension of the original series 15 years ago, and a very interesting set piece to tell a story in, because you have a lot of X-Men there — half of them are dead in our world, and these are all very different versions. So you’ve got the emotional core to play as the members of X-Force come face-to-face with old friends and people who have perished, as well as dealing with the fact that these are different versions of their friends and loved ones who have grown up in a very different world.
So for me, more than anything else the character beats played the biggest role in my excitement of it, and played the biggest role in why we developed it into such a big part of the story. The things they do in the Age of Apocalypse will have giant, lasting ramifications on the 616 that I don’t think anybody will see coming. We’re very mindful that when you’re dealing with an alternate reality story it could very easily become a “What If?” and feel like a fun story, but not have any interconnectivity, which is important to the reader. We didn’t develop that in a pander-y way, we didn’t pander in terms of just finding a way to wedge relevance, it all naturally grew out of the story, and in very exciting ways. Once you start building a story, and you have these pieces available, and they naturally come into play, the ideas start flowing, and things get exciting, and you know you’re doing something right.
Nrama Was the original Age of Apocalypse comics something you read as they were coming out, or picked up later?
Remender: I did read it while it was coming out. I think that the imagination that was let free on the Age of Apocalypse — when it worked, it really worked. The things that were developed and created in that world, based on the classic Marvel business, and all the classic Marvel characters, was very exciting. I think that a reimagining of these characters in a world where Xavier was gone, and so Apocalypse saw his opportunity and took over; it’s an exciting concept, that led to a lot of big, fun, imaginative ides with characters that we all know and love.
For me, it was something that I had read, and as I was building this story, when it sort of naturally came to a point where we needed something to deal with the first part of this very large storyline that deals with the character conflict between Warren Worthington, Angel; and the Archangel, the Death persona that has been put inside of him by the original Apocalypse, and what that means, and what the Death persona means, and where it comes from, and how it originated. We never really had any of this revealed, so we’re going to be sort of resolving and defining a lot of the Apocalypse mythology, and that forces us into a situation where we need to go to a world where Apocalypse and his technology were allowed to grow a little more prevalent than they were here.
Nrama: Thematically, is there some symmetry in that the Uncanny X-Force team are darker characters who are willing to kill if that’s what’s needed to be done, but in the Age of Apocalypse, all of the X-Men are of a similar mindset, given the circumstances of the world they live in?
Remender: Not consciously right out of the gates. I did think that it was interesting that this particular team would come in contact with the remaining X-Men in Age of Apocalypse. We’re visiting the Age of Apocalypse 10 years after the last time we’ve seen it, so a lot have changed, and there are very few X-Men left. The state of their world is very bleak. I don’t want to give too much away, but given that we’ll have interconnectivity here, and that Dark Beast is going to be involved, these remaining X-Men will probably not see X-Force as buddies. That comes a lot from the fact that it is X-Force and not the X-Men; they’re all wearing gray and black suits with red eyes. If a bunch of people who you knew as dead showed up wearing those outfits, led by Dark Beast, you would potentially think that you were dealing with somebody who was an enemy.
There were many, many reasons that it worked very well in terms of having X-Force go on this mission. The reason they have to be the ones to do it, and not ask anyone else for help, and allow the mission to remain covert, will be revealed in the course of the story.
Nrama: And though the Age of Apocalypse as we first saw it was pretty bleak, it sounds like things have only gotten worse in the interim 10 years.
Remender: It has gotten much, much worse. I think people will be surprised to find out why, and who’s responsible.
Nrama: Let’s talk a little about the character of Angel — not a lot was being done with the character until his Archangel side returned in the previous incarnation of X-Force. Do you think that aspect of his character is a vital element to keep him, at the risk of sounding glib, interesting?
Remender: I like the idea that whatever it was that Apocalypse put inside Warren, whatever the Death persona is, whatever Archangel is — does keep returning, and that it’s a part of him, and that he can’t shake it. That was a challenge, to define what that was, to no longer just allow it to be a thing that’s happening. But also to pose the question to all of the X-Men around him: You had a guy created by Apocalypse in your midst for years. This creature, this Archangel creature, is an Apocalypse hencheman, and he’s been bonding to the psyche of your friend Warren, and you guys have all just been hanging out with him — he knows all your secrets, he knows everything. The idea that might bite you in the ass is a pretty good one to explore, I figure.
Nrama: And it seemed that when the Archangel premise was originally introduced in the ‘80s, it was not only a way to add a different side to his personality — literally — but also in the context of a superhero comic, it give him an expanded power set, because otherwise he’s just a guy with wings who can fly, when so many comic book characters can fly and do other stuff, too.
Remender: Sure. Kirby gave him a bazooka.
Nrama: , So it seems like an interesting situation for a writer, where obviously the characters in the comics would want to get rid of the Archangel persona, but it adds a lot of depth to the character, and also makes him much more functional in the context of a comic like Uncanny X-Force.
Remender: Well, sure, and I think the more I explored it, I really found that I fell in love with Warren as a character. Here’s a guy who came from a very wealthy family, and had all the affluence you could want, and yet he still chose to spend his life mired in the mud of fighting for humanity, and fighting for mutantkind, and fighting for the betterment of other people. That’s to be commended. He’s a much richer character given just what he’s gone through, based on the fact that he didn’t have to go through any of it. It’s much harder to come down from a castle and fight for the common man. I found that there was a mobility in that. He was such glue for the X-Men for so long, and for so many years, and yet had never really been appreciated, because he was just “the dude with wings.”
Jody was the one who had the initial idea that sort of gave birth to a lot of this, and then we spent weeks and weeks on the phone with some of my ideas that I wanted to get to, where we would dig into Archangel and Warren, and really explore him in a way that had never been done before. To that end, we discovered that it was very odd — and this is something going back to the very first issue that we seeded — that Warren and Archangel are two separate personas, and that Archangel is inside Warren’s head, and was put there by Apocalypse, but to what end? We’ve never seen it. Was it just to be the guy who helped him take over the world? Well, initially, that seemed like what it was for, but the Death persona has been put in all kinds of other mutants. As I researched this, and went back on my nerd history, and remembered all these things, we needed to define what the Death persona was, we needed to define why it took such root in Warren, and kept growing and growing, and what the next logical evolutionary step of that is, in a world where Apocalypse has recently been assassinated.
Nrama: And since the story does seem to revolve around Angel — his name’s in the story arc title, after all — can we assume that Psylocke thusly is pretty center to the story?
Remender: Sure. Everybody is. That’s the reason we want to keep the cast at five. It’s a manageable cast, and I can really tell deep stories that involve every character. There’s never one story where you realize that dude was in the background running with them the whole time. So yeah, Betsy has a big role to play in this, as does Fantomex, and Wolverine, and Deadpool.
Betsy’s obviously connected to it in a deeper way; Warren being the man of her life, and the guy she’s in love with. We’ll see how that all plays out. We’ll see how some of Betsy’s past comes to haunt them, and plays a role in her and Warren sort of losing control. She’s been working so hard to help Warren maintain control over this evil persona that Apocalypse put in his head — the way things spin out of control leave Betsy in a pretty rough situation.
Nrama: You’ve talked before about not assuming any prior knowledge on the part of the reader, but it does sound like this story especially is very connected to past stories. Is that a challenge? A concept like Dark Beast seems difficult to explain to someone not already familiar with the character.
Remender: What I do is try and imagine that nobody has ever read any of these characters before, and it’s my job to re-establish them. With that thinking, it’s sort of a matter of saying, Dark Beast, whatever’s happened with him before, whatever we’ve seen with him before, it’s unimportant. You don’t have to know it. When you see him, you will learn, “Oh, there’s a version of Beast that comes from an alternate universe, and he is evil.” From that, I just build the character, and I build the story in a way, that if you have no prior knowledge of him, you can still understand it and go along with it. If you know his rich history, it’s not gonna hurt, but I’m definitely making sure not to be dependent on those things.
If you don’t have any idea what Age of Apocalypse is, I’m going to just simply define it. You don’t have to know what it is. You know what it is? It’s a universe where Xavier was killed by his schizophrenic son, time traveling around, monkeying with business, and Apocalypse took over. Beyond that, if you know the story that’s happened, great. If you don’t, I’m telling a new story there. I really go far out of my way to take something that would seem convoluted and continuity-drenched — which it is — but to use that as if it’s just the back story. All the continuity and the history stuff, when I write something for Marvel, I always imagine that it’s there, but almost part of your worksheet for a creator-owned book. Now in a creator-owned book, I’ll write worksheets out of the world’s history, and the characters’ history, and their family history, and everything. Now, I don’t show that in the book, but I write it so I know it. And then I’ll hint at it, or hit it, in the story when I need to, but I’ll always define it, and obviously know that nobody has read it, because it’s not been seen.
In the case of continuity, I imagine it the same way. I imagine no one’s read the Age of Apocalypse, so when we go there, we get eyeballs on the place as if it’s the first time we’ve been there. And it’s been 10 years, so it is a very different place. What do you need to know to come to an apocalyptic world where Apocalypse took over and see Jean Grey leading a band of X-Men who are the last of their kind trying to rise up against the forces that have taken over their world? You’re in, at that point. Then it’s just a matter of seeing Wolverine come face-to-face with Jean Grey for the first time in a decade, and dealing with the fact that this isn’t his Jean, but he still loves Jean, and he still has feelings for the love of his life who’s here in front of him, this woman who died in his arms. And Nightcrawler’s there, and it’s a different Kurt; it’s a swashbuckling Kurt, who doesn’t mind taking lives. It’s all of these emotional beats that are so much fun to play with, and so much fun to explore. I’ve spent days and days on the phone with Jody, just conceiving of how these things play out naturally, and what really would happen in that situation. The things that we’ve come up with feel great. This story has a lot of emotions, as well as a big, apocalyptic, amazing set piece, with all kinds of cool versions of Marvel Universe characters.
Nrama: And it seems reasonable to assume that a good chunk of people who will be reading the story will already be familiar with the past stories being referenced.
Remender: Honestly, the people who know every single thing going into it, it’s kind of not as good for them. They’re thinking, “In issue #7 of that last one, didn’t Rogue like coconut better than green tea?” There’s going to be people who sit there and pore over the painful minutia of every bit of continuity — which we do our very best to maintain, but I’m not going to do that at the expense of story.
The stuff will always be redefined, and the things you need to know will be played off of. There will be plenty of Easter eggs for the loyal fans who have paid the ticket for all of these years. It’s a juggling act, and there’s plenty of things that we could have done that interconnected and interspliced a little bit — “how does this person’s past deal with that person’s past? — we just picked the three or four biggest ones that had the most potential for drama, and then we built on those the rest of the story. There’s stuff that doesn’t get addressed, obviously, and plenty that does.
It’s a big, big, big story. Nothing will be the same afterwards — and I’m guilty of saying that sh*t myself, but hoo-wee, this one’s gonna shake some business up. #18 ends this, and then by #19 — all-new, all-different X-Force.