***This article contains spoilers for the entirety of Rick Remender's recently wrapped run on Uncanny X-Force.***When Marvel's Uncanny X-Force started in October 2010, series writer Rick Remender was fresh off Franken-Castle, a unique but polarizing take on the Punisher that saw the antihero effectively reborn as Frankenstein's monster. As Remender tells it, he was fairly sure X-Force and Venom, announced a couple months later, would be his last couple of projects at Marvel before moving on to a day job in video games.
Instead, Uncanny X-Force — illustrated throughout its run by artists including Jerome Opeña, Esad Ribic, Mike McKone and Phil Noto — became a major critical and commercial hit for Marvel, and led Remender to his two very high-profile current gigs: Marvel NOW! flagship book Uncanny Avengers and the recently relaunched Captain America. And the legacy of Uncanny X-Force continues on in the new volume of the series, debuting later this month from writer Sam Humphries and artist Ron Garney; and in the pages of Uncanny Avengers, where Remender will pick up plot elements from X-Force story arcs like "The Dark Angel Saga."With its 35-issue run — plus two "Point One" installments — concluded as of last month, Uncanny X-Force was also an eventful series within the fictional confines of the Marvel Universe, as it wiped the slate completely clean for original X-Men member Angel, killed off characters including Daken and Jamie Braddock, introduced Wolverine and the X-Men cast member Evan, left the world with three Fantomexes and depicted a live shark teleported inside of Age of Apocalypse Blob's stomach.
Newsarama talked with Remender about his time on Uncanny X-Force, what it meant to his career, endings things on a quasi-happy note and the importance of the book's artistic collaborators.Newsarama: Rick, after all you put the characters through for 35 issues, it was nice to see that your run on Uncanny X-Force closing with somewhat of a happy ending.
Rick Remender: It's happy-ish. [Laughs]. Burying a son, mourning a brother, resurrected a dead lover. Classic happy ending!Nrama: Now that your run is complete, let's talk about series in general — it definitely appears to be something that meant a great deal to you. In terms of completed projects, though I imagine it might not totally compare to creator-owned work like Fear Agent, but how important was this experience to you? It put you in a very different position career-wise, for sure.
Remender: Yeah. I had already begun making plans to segue out of mainstream comic books a little bit before I was tapped for the project. I was starting to make my way back to video games — I was working on Bulletstorm for Epic, I was planting flags on a few other gigs and moving my way back to that. I was just going to do creator-owned books at night, and do my adult job in video games during the day. Then this, and Venom both sort of blew up — and I had absolutely no reason to expect that they would.
Tony [Moore] and Jerome [Opeña] and I, on numerous other projects that produced work that I was incredibly proud of, had been overlooked by the mainstream kids, and it just seemed to me that my sensibilities and the things that I like were not in tune with the average mainstream comic book fan. Venom and X-Force were, in my mind, probably the last couple of things I was going to do at Marvel — because I'm such an optimist.But the books did tremendously. They blew up. You don't take Venom and X-Force, two years ago where they were at, and expect that that's going to lead you to Captain America and a new flagship Avengers book. That's not normally the path. [Laughs.] The books' success, and how they took off, and the fans that went to such incredible lengths to beat the drums for it, it's the reason that I'm still doing mainstream comics. If that's a good or bad thing is up to you. [Laughs.]
Nrama: So those two books kind of changed the course of your career.
Remender: My mainstream comics career. I don't equate that with everything; kicking ass in creator-owned and video games and every other thing. This is just its own little bubble. In terms of being in the mainstream comics bubble, I absolutely think that people's reaction to the books is the reason I’m still here doing it.
Nrama: Sure, but mainstream comics have been your main focus for the past couple of years.
Remender: It has. But at the same time I’ve served as writer on video games like Dead Space and Bulletstorm, and I've always had a creator-owned book in the works. I wrapped Last Days of American Crime a year and a half ago, and since then I've been picking away at Devolution with the brilliant Paul Renaud, as well as Low, my book with Greg Tocchini. As well as four other projects that I'm slowly putting together. The creator-owned stuff for me is always slow burn. All of the creator-owned books that I did between 2005 and 2008, those were all things that I cooked up in 2003, 2004. Even Devolution is something I cooked up in 2006. These things take a while to gestate and build, and to be put together.
But yeah, the mainstream stuff has been paying the bills and keeping the kids in clothes. The great thing is, it enables me to move around. We were in Portland, and it wasn't working out for us. Making a living in freelance, one of the huge perks is that if I don't like where I live, I can pack up and go, and my job comes with me. Very grateful for that.
Nrama: It was announced at New York Comic Con that Devolution will be published by Dynamite, but does Low have a home yet?
Remender: We haven't announced anything. I've thrown up some teasers, but we haven't talked about the publisher, or anything else yet.
Nrama: An interesting outcome of your X-Force run is that not only did Age of Apocalypse spin off from it, but now the brand is something of a mini-franchise, with both Cable and X-Force and the new Uncanny X-Force debuting as part of Marvel NOW!. Even though the Cable book isn't too directly following anything you were doing, what kind of feeling is it to see a palpable, distinct legacy of what you did, continuing on in various forms?
Remender: I think they could have done this anyway. A Cable/X-Force book was something that a lot of fans would want, even if you had done it at the same time that I had launched Uncanny X-Force in the first place. It's nice, but I always try and temper that with, "People really love these characters, and there's a lot behind these characters." As Axel says, “It’s easier to win a race in a Ferrari,” and these are some of the most popular comic characters in the world. But of course I’m very proud of what we did and the response is gratifying.
Nrama: And it definitely sounds like Sam Humphries has plans to run with some of the elements you're leaving behind.
Remender: This and Venom are the first mainstream books I’ve done where other writers pick up on what I’ve done without tossing out or ignoring my work. Neither story I started is ending; Cullen [Bunn] and Sam are building on what I did. Which is very nice. The endings wrap up a lot of the things I was doing. If you read it all as one story, I think that it's satisfying as a conclusion. But at the same time, everything that I had planned doing with the book, were I to continue writing it, was still set up. That Cluster and Jean-Philippe were resurrected along with Fantomex — that was going to be my big thing that I had a lot of plans with. The joy is now to set that up, and then to hand it off to Sam, and say, "Enjoy!" and see what kind of nuttiness he cooks up.
Nrama: When there's a story like this that's not an "ending" for the characters, since they're continuing on in multiple places, I think sometimes from an outsider perspective people wonder, "Is this exactly the ending the writer wanted, or is it more putting the pieces into the place that they 'need' to be?'" But it seems like this was very much your vision.Remender: This is where the book would have ended up if I were still writing it. #35 is #35. This would have been the same issue, even if I were doing the next issue. This is exactly where it would have gone.
It's nice. There's no feeling of, "This isn't what I wanted to do," or, "I wasn't given time." Marvel were tremendous in that they gave me as much time as I needed on X-Force and Secret Avengers to put them to bed and complete the stories that I was in the middle of telling.
Nrama: To be completely nonobjective for a second, when reading #35 I said to a colleague, "that was one of the best Deadpool scenes ever."
Remender: That's nice to hear. I enjoyed writing the character quite a bit, and that seemed to me to be the perfect bow on the present.
Nrama: One character that wasn't in issue #35 was Angel. Though he's been a part of the Wolverine and the X-Men cast for a while now, obviously he was a major part in the first few Uncanny X-Force arcs. Was checking in on him something you considered at all?
Remender: It wasn't. His story in this book is over, and he died. The Life Seed was stabbed into Archangel, and it regrew a version of him clean of the Death Seed, and clean of the influence of Apocalypse. What you've got is this sort of blank slate out there, living a whole new life.
Yes, he was an important part of the book for sure, and a character who I love. Handing him over to Jason [Aaron] when I did made logical sense, but it was a very difficult decision for me, because it was a character I had put so much of the story into. Once Jason took him, he became Jason's character, and Jason's done a great job of establishing him and building him up, I don't think X-Force needs to go back and once again say, "Oh, Warren. You're not the person we knew, and you died." And he's like, "Yeah, I'm still this." And they're like, "Cool. Well, we felt bad about this. A lot. So have fun!" And he'd be like, "OK."There's no scene there. It didn't feel like that was important. And given that the real estate is what it is, and I only had so much room, I thought the scene between Betsy and Brian was much more important, given that she had to put her brother down, and that relationship was so strained. That seemed much more important to her character than to once again revisit Warren.
I also didn't circle around to Nightcrawler, and he was a big part of the second year. It's all been planned out for a year and a half now. It's nice to get to the final conclusion of it, and have it all laid out in front of you. I don't know what the X-office will do, but the nice pieces that I left there were Mystique and Nightcrawler off running around together, and the three new Fantomex characters.
Nrama: Including the evil Fantomex, who disappeared right away.
Remender: I know that Sam has big plans for that character. I don't know what, and I'm very excited to see what he does.
Nrama: Phil Noto provided a real sense of consistency down the stretch that the book didn't necessarily have earlier on, and it's interesting, because given his past work, he may not immediately seem like an artist that would be a natural fit for the book, and then you see it, and it of course makes sense. What kind of role did he play in the last section of the series, from your perspective?
Remender: A really important role. Phil and I are buddies. We've been friends for years, which always makes a collaboration a much easier prospect, and much more pleasant from get-go. We had a natural working relationship, because we're friends.
I would talk to Phil quite a bit about the story, and we'd brainstorm and cook it up. When I have an artist who I'm friends with and somebody I can talk to, and somebody I can collaborate with, I think the stories are always much stronger for it. I think a lot of the great things that happened in the last year came out of talks with Phil. I think the shark thing was something that Phil had cooked up while we were brainstorming, or I started it, and he finished it — one way or another, it was a collaborative effort coming up with a lot of the way the beats would play out in that story.Beyond that, Phil's storytelling is clean and crisp and wonderful, so I think it all lent itself well to a nice collaboration that gave the book the ending that it deserved.
Nrama: It's always interesting to hear the wide range between collaborators in comics — there are folks who have been friends for years, and people who have worked together for an extended period and have even talked on the phone.
Remender: Yeah. All of the relationships are different, and everybody's comfort level is different, and what they want out of the relationship is different. Every relationship I have, they're all their own thing. I'll try and extend my hand to everybody I work with and say, "Hey, do you want to get on the phone and talk this through, so if you have any visual cues you can add them, or if you want to get an idea of where I'm headed with this and get excited about it?"
Some people want to spend hours on the phone and go over this stuff. Like Dean White, for example. The color was such a big part of X-Force, such a big part of the storytelling, that Dean and I would talk on the phone about how to approach setting tone and the story in general. It's something that color guide artists do in animation, where they take rough versions of the layouts and they color guide things — and they pick the tone, and they pick the palette, and they match the colors to the backgrounds and things. Dean's got a lot of experience in animation, as do I, which was really wonderful — to be able to work with somebody who understands the value of that method. There are so many things that are done in animation that comic books could benefit from.
So Dean and I became close friends during the process, and we would talk all the time. We would talk story, and we would talk art direction. That collaboration, I think, really helped carry X-Force through as the art teams changed over and over again.Keep reading Newsarama for more with Remender on his current work, including Captain America and Uncanny Avengers. More from Newsarama:
- Does 'XX' Mark the Spot for These Marvel X-WOMEN?
- Best Shots MEGA-Review: Remender's UNCANNY X-FORCE
- Death, Resurrection, Mohawks: Who's Who in UNCANNY X-FORCE