***Warning! This article contains major spoilers for Uncanny X-Force #19.1, released last week.***
Uncanny X-Force debuted in October 2010, with writer Rick Remender and artist Jerome Opeña taking a similar concept as the previous X-Force series — a mutant hit squad kept secret from the rest of the X-Men — but with added members like Deadpool, Psylocke and Fantomex, plus heavy ties to long-time X-villain Apocalypse.
The series went on to be one of Marvel's biggest critical and commercial successes, and the recent eight-part "Dark Angel Saga" saw a return to the "Age of Apocalypse" timeline, made famous in the mid-'90s when the entire X-franchise switched to that alternate reality for four months. Except the Age of Apocalypse seen in Uncanny X-Force was a dramatically different place, where things managed to somehow get even worse for just about everyone involved.
The continued success of Uncanny X-Force is leading to a spinoff book debuting in March, Age of Apocalypse, from writer David Lapham and artist Roberto De La Torre. The book picks up on story threads established during "The Dark Angel Saga," and opens directly after Uncanny X-Force #19.1, which debuted in shops earlier this month. Newsarama talked to both Remender and Lapham about the two books, and how they relate to each other.
Age of Apocalypse
#1 cover.Newsarama: Rick, David, the two of you have been working together to prep the transition from Uncanny X-Force #19.1 to Age of Apocalypse. This is your first collaboration together, correct?
Rick Remender: Yeah. I would say anything that was really good was probably David, and the rest was probably me.
David Lapham: I'll take credit for that! [Laughs.] Yeah, it’s the first time we’ve done anything together.
Remender: In the '90s, I'd given up on comics, and I think Stray Bullets was one of the titles that pulled me back in and reminded me what was possible. It was a big influence on my writing. There are some issues of Stray Bullets that still stick with me, in terms of the way he structures stories. I'm really excited to have an opportunity to work with him.
The project was something that originated, in its infancy, with editor Jody LeHeup. As I was building the Age of Apocalypse stuff up, we cooked up this idea to have Wolverine play the version of Apocalypse; that Weapon X in that world is the one who ascended. The story reason was that it would give you a visual indicator of what was going on with Warren Worthington back home. As we built it — we only had three issues there, I really could have used eight, because once we got into it, I was having such a blast with it — one idea I had was, let's do this where the mutants have taken over. There's just pockets of humans left, very few. Jody had a light bulb over his head — why don't we make a band of humans the X-Men, and reverse the dynamic of the current X-books, where there are only a few hundred mutants in a world full of humans. And boy, that is a brilliant high concept in terms of a mainstream X-comic book. We talked it out, and then he and David did the rest of the legwork. We talked out the very basic story beats — David cooked up all the characters. And then he came back to me, we cooked up the story together for the Point One issue, and David kind of coached me on Prophet, and Trask, and some of the other characters he cooked up here, and it was really a lot of fun.
Lapham: And then Rick gave us some of the X-Men characters that end up with our group. At first, I just wanted the characters that Roberto [De La Torre, the book’s artist] and I created — "go away, the rest of the Marvel Universe!" But Rick’s instincts were spot on and those characters are proving vital to the development of the story and the dynamic of the team.
I knew that Jody was the kind of editor that was savvy to not just mainstream but also the independent stuff. I thought he'd be a guy that would get me. He sent me his pitch on what became AoA. In his pitch, he described a team where they're all humans, but they're all like Batman. Imagine a team like that. Where each member is smart and efficient and clever and strategic and proficient in nearly every way physically and mentally. Each one is the ultimate human. Imagine what they could do even with the whole world against them. That was a no-brainer. I was in.
Remender: For an X-nerd standpoint, the extra cherry on top of that sundae was the idea that each one of these humans would be humans who have hunted and caused mutants pain in our world. It's the cleanest, smartest, absolute no-brainer of an X-Men book to come out in forever, and I think people are going to go nuts for it.
Nrama: Right. And obviously we're used to seeing characters who are heroes in the Marvel Universe proper that are evil in the Age of Apocalypse — Dark Beast and now Wolverine being two of the most prominent examples — so this is essentially the reverse of that. But though these characters, like Stryker and Graydon Creed, are the protagonists, would you classify them as conventional "heroes"?
Lapham: I grew up reading X-Men with Byrne and Claremont, and Claremont and Cockrum and Paul Smith and everybody's favorite character was Wolverine. At that time, you felt it was really iffy if that guy was a good guy or a bad guy. It was just when the concept of the anti-hero went from the rarity to almost the norm. Those days a guy like Punisher was a bad guy — clearly the bad guy.
The characters in AoA, they all have their issues, but I didn't want it to be a set up where they're evil, like they are in the regular Marvel Universe — "They're really Nazis, but the only difference is that they're the underdogs, so we have to root for them." It's not that. They all come with elements of their Marvel Universe counterparts, but they came of age under totally different environments and different circumstances. They developed into different people. For instance, you’ll see in #19.1, William Stryker maintains a lot of the characteristics that made him this charismatic preacher of hate in the regular Marvel U, but his circumstances here made him give up on the pulpit and put his faith in man and in individuals. So he’s still a leader of men and still a schemer of big things, but in an entirely different way.
Nrama: So going forward, will there continue to be some amount of interconnectivity between Age of Apocalypse and Uncanny X-Force?
Lapham: We're just getting started. I've been working on the first two, three, four issues. We definitely want to establish Age of Apocalypse as its own thing first, and then hopefully it goes on for a very long time, and then I would imagine that absolutely opportunities for interconnectivity would arise.
For starters, though, we have these elements from "our" world crossing over into the Age of Apocalypse, and then we pick up with our humans who are the underdogs; they're the humans who are trying to change this whole world where they're outnumbered a thousand to one against people who possess incredible mutant powers, and they don’t. We don't want readers to just be wondering, "When are the powerful people from the regular Marvel Universe just going to pop over every other issue to solve their problems?" At least at first, they've got to stand on their own two feet and kick some ass.
Remender: It's important for David's series. That's the thing that people responded to in X-Force in general, that it's a self-contained story. You don't have to go read 15 other books to understand it. The first 18 issues — even up through #19.1, really — it's all one story. There are things in issues #10, #11 and #12 that seed #19.1, then bleed off over into David's story. It's such a clean high concept, and it's such an exciting world, that for there to be any interconnectivity immediately might be a mistake — but there is interconnectivity in that the Age of Apocalypse Nightcrawler is a member of X-Force now.As we saw in #19, the AoA Kurt has stuck around to hunt down and kill all of the various Age of Apocalypse villains who are still roaming around the 616. There is that interconnectivity, but things are so bad for the mutants, as we saw in #19.1 — if you read the issue, you know that all of the X-Men are dead except for Jean and Sabretooth. In an upcoming issue of X-Force, Kurt's going to try and call back home, and he's not going to get an answer. All connection at this point is gone, except for Dark Beast, who is the one guy in my mind who can still kind of jump back and forth.
Lapham: I've planned the first year just trying to deal with, how do these five heroes think that they have any concept of saving humanity in this kind of world?
Remender: I don't think we've ever seen a story told in a world dominated by mutants, where the humans are the mutants in terms of the dynamic. It's one of those no-brainers. It's like [Steve] Niles with 30 Days of Night — everybody at once hit their own forehead. It's just one of those perfect high concepts floating around out there.
Nrama: David, you've done a good deal of Marvel work at this point, but you're definitely still best known for work outside of mainstream comics. As you noted earlier, you grew up an X-Men reader — is it exciting for you to be taking on an ongoing series that draws at least partly on X-Men history?
Lapham: Yeah, definitely. It's enormously fun. It's really kind of perfect for me coming into the mainstream, because it's not smashed right in the middle of the continuity and having to coordinate with 10 other books. I've done some Batman, and one shots and minis with guys like Daredevil, Punisher, Wolverine… things like that, but to get in there and tackle the mainstream is an area I haven't done fully. It's very exciting. Plus, it's an excuse to start reading all the old comics again.
Nrama: To wrap up, is there anything either of you think readers still need to know about Age of Apocalypse?
Remender: This book is entirely unique. It plays off of what everybody loved about the Age of Apocalypse in the first place, without being slavish to it. It's a clean slate. It's a great entry point for a brand new series with one of the best high concepts in mainstream books. I'm just excited to see it come together as well as it has.
Lapham: I kind of wish that we were coming out with our first one right on the heels of this, like, next week. We've got a couple more months. [Age of Apocalypse #1] picks up on literally the next page from #19.1.
Remender: Hopefully we've succeeded with a cliffhanger enough that people are going to be chomping at the bit to see what happens next — I say that as part of a team on this, not patting myself on the back. I do think we've accomplished something fun and exciting here, and totally unique. There is going to be a couple of months of delay, but hopefully we've picked up enough velocity in the Point One issue, and it's got enough of a big, fun cliffhanger that people will be eager for the first issue. And I think they will — I really do think this is going to be Marvel's next hit.
Lapham: Yeah. The cliffhanger in 19.1 is unbelievable. Rick takes a dire, near impossible situation for the humans and makes it a complete jaw dropper. Look out for when they start putting out some art samples for it, because [De La Torre] is totally killing it. His character designs make these guys look like they’ve been fighting these wars forever. And the pages are just amazing stuff. Knock you on your ass stuff. The only other thing I want people to know, especially for people who are big fans of the original AoA, is that we're doing something that's a different direction from that, but the starting point is from that world and we’ve evolved our story from that.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!