Last week's Uncanny X-Force #18 brought an end to "The Dark Angel Saga" — nominally, an eight-part story with a prelude in issue #10, but, as series writer Rick Remender tells it, what the book has been building to since issue #1.
Fittingly for a story that big — which featured art from Jerome Opeña, Mark Brooks and Esad Ribic — a lot of stuff happened. With characters traveling between the traditional Marvel Universe and the "Age of Apocalypse" reality, the end result was the black-ops team managing to thwart Archangel's attempt to remake all life on Earth — with the price of seemingly losing the Warren Worthington III that readers have known since 1963's X-Men #1.
Newsarama spoke with Remender for further insight into the major moments of "The Dark Angel Saga," and discuss what's coming in the very near future of Uncanny X-Force, which ships issue #19 this week. (Preview here.)Newsarama: Rick, I just re-read all eight parts of "The Dark Angel Saga" and the prelude to prepare for this interview and one thing that really struck me is how dense it is — the amount of characters in play, traveling between two different dimensions, and all of the ties to past Marvel continuity. When the trend in mainstream superhero comics is often to be as streamlined as possible, in a lot of ways this seemed to be in the complete other direction — which is not to say it was in any way inaccessible, but was it all intentionally geared more towards long-time readers?
Rick Remender: For me, the responsibility is to use things that long-time readers recognize in a way that new readers can understand. I made sure to introduce and develop these things in the story as if they were they new elements. While the Age of Apocalypse can be familiar to people who have read the original series, and read the series that happened 5-6 years ago, or any of the Exiles stuff where they touched on it — if you read that stuff, I make winks and nods, and I build off the continuity in a way that's respectful of it. But at the same time, I also explain it as it could be a brand new thing that you don't have to know anything about. They say, "It's a dimension where Apocalypse took over, and we're going to go there. You don't really have to have read anything to get it.Now, if you have read it, and you understand the relationships of those characters, and what their interpersonal dynamics are, then you get a little more payment in terms of, "Oh, that's right, because this one time Nightcrawler did this, and that's why he's doing that." But if you don't know the background, and you don't know the Easter egg beats, you still get the same information, story-wise. In terms of that stuff, I've tried to be very mindful, and introduce everything as if it was a new element. The story was intended to be read from issue #1 to issue #18 — well, really #19 — it really is one big story. And #5.1 is included in that, but #5.1 actually plays a much larger role in year two. I think the responsibility for any of this stuff is to service both types of readers, and hopefully we've managed to do that.
Nrama: Speaking a little bit more of "The Dark Angel Saga" in the broader sense, it also maintained a balance between the bigger stuff — fight scenes, cosmic entities, hyper-compressed evolution — and character moments which are seen throughout, not only in the main dynamic of Warren and Betsy, but also a lot of important screen time for Wolverine, Fantomex, Deadpool and Deathlok. Is it difficult to achieve that balance in a story like this, or does it just sort of come with the territory?
Remender: That's planning. At the beginning of this story, as we were beating it up, I made a map of what each character does and where they get their moments. Before I put together the very first outline, and before [former Marvel editor] Jody [LeHeup] and I really got into breaking it apart, we had discussed the basic story arc a few times, and then I sat down and figured out, "Where does each character shine?" You've got a cast of six characters including Deathlok that you've put on the board, and that's not including Dark Beast or any of the villains who you also want to give an arc to, and have some sort of satisfying conclusion with.
For Wolverine, it was really the Age of Apocalypse. He's got a daughter with Mariko, a woman he loved for a long time and almost married. And here's Jean Grey, alive. And here's Nightcrawler, alive. And here's Sabretooth, his archnemesis, a good guy, alive. To me, that's a Wolverine story. For those three issues, we really do zero in on Wolverine and his mindset, and how he's dealing with that, and the rest of the characters take something of a back seat to it.
Once we get back and find Archangel has torn up Cavern-X to find The World and is after the Life Seed that Dark Beast tricks them into going to get, it then sort of shifts over to being a little more Betsy-centric. Then, after she allows herself to be taken prisoner, we focus on Fantomex, Deathlok and Deadpool, and we give those three guys a couple of issues to really shine, and really get to know their plight, while in the background you've got Betsy and Warren bubbling, and Wolverine has been melted at that point.With Deadpool, he basically made it clear that he would have fought to the death to save Fantomex, the guy who had been sort of sh*tting all over him for a long time. I felt like that was enough of an arc for him. I felt like that was a heroic, selfless thing. He basically dove after a giant Iceman, and all he had left was a sword — and he did, he got Fantomex free. That felt like a big thing for that character to come around to do. To overcome his distaste for Fantomex, who had been sort of terrible to him, and done some terrible stuff, and not only to overcome that, but to put himself in danger to protect his teammate who he had become friends with.
And then as for Wolverine, he fights until his very end, but I just hate when Wolverine is so goddamn powerful. He's not. He's just not. Wolverine up against a cosmic deity like an Apocalypse? It's not going that far, in my mind. I don’t care how it’s been portrayed in the past. Not to be a total D&D geek, but if I had to get out my manual and start rolling die, I'd say that Archangel ascended to the role of Apocalypse takes down Wolverine, so it was important to me that he did.
Nrama: Moving to the more specific points, let's get right to the ending of Uncanny X-Force #18. While I think a lot of folks were expecting a more conventional "death" at the end of the story, there's still definitely a loss — can you clarify the status of Warren at this point? Mindwiped?
Remender: He's dead. Warren is dead. I know where he's ending up, I know what we're doing with him for the next year. Our intention right now is that Warren died. His soul died, his mind died, he died. But that Life Seed stuck in his gut regenerated something. It took the husk that was there, of Archangel, and it regenerated something else. It took that dead body and made this new body. What is the body, and who's the person inside? It's not Warren Worthington. It's not as simple as amnesia. That's a different person.
There's going to be cynics. For us, it was important not to just do, "And he died." We wanted to do something that was more of a knife in the gut, where he dies, and Betsy gets to live with him in this telepathic trance, where they get their lives together how it should have been. You think you've got some kind of closure, then you get the up moment of Warren returns — everybody is happy and excited — and he pushes Betsy aside and says, "Who are you?" Warren did die, but here's this person who looks just like him. It's even worse than him dying, in my opinion.
Nrama: I discussed recently the nature of comic book deaths as it related to the Fear Itself aftermath issues with Matt Fraction and Tom Brevoort, who essentially said that they wanted to do something different, since readers so easily see through them at this point. Did a similar kind of feeling motivate you?
Remender: This was a lot of back and forth with Jody and [Marvel senior editor] Nick [Lowe] in the X-Office. We did play with just, "He's dead-dead, and his body is disintegrated," but it just felt flat.The way we landed, Betsy feels him released, he's dead, but the Life Seed does something, gives us more to play with later. Then we came up with an idea that I can't really reveal yet, and that'll be sort of the ongoing mystery with Warren.
Nrama: So Uncanny X-Force will continue to follow Warren's story?
Remender: For a little while. Just keep reading.
Nrama: With something as significant as one of the original X-Men essentially ceasing to exist as he has been, are we going to see reactions to this from beyond X-Force and into the rest of the X-Men?
Remender: You will see some reactions coming up, in the next month. But they’re so splintered — it's not the family it once was. We'll just leave it at that.
Nrama: Getting back to that sequence of what could have been between Warren and Betsy — early in the story, we saw Fantomex comment that Warren and Betsy weren't really in love, and that their relationship was more about dependency. So was that montage about sort of dismissing that point, and legitimizing their love as something real?
Remender: Yeah, and I think there might have been some validity to what Fantomex said, but that's the nuance of any complex relationship. There are going to be some things like that you could focus on. And I really didn't want to answer the question until the very end, where it was clear that, yeah, these people loved each other, and they were in some very strange situations and circumstances. The relationship might have had some uncommon challenges, but they did love each other, and that was what I really wanted to hit on at the end.
Nrama: One more specific thing I wanted to bring up — the decision to put AoA Wolverine in the Apocalypse role in his timeline. Certainly, that was a different side to Wolverine than readers are used to — what motivated that decision?
Remender: When we were building the story we went through a couple few options as to who would be Apocalypse in the AoA world. It served a number of purposes — one, we wanted to establish what it was that was happening to Warren. You were watching what happened in the Age of Apocalypse world, you saw what would happen in our world, so it was a nice look of what we were trying to fight to stop. And, to establish that whoever serves as Death will eventually take the role of Apocalypse. Just set that mythology up visually for us.
As for the choice of Wolverine, it really came down to dramatic punch, in the fact that I wanted to have some emotional beats in there with Jean and our Wolverine, and the best way to get that was to also have her separated from her Logan, and that way, when our Logan shows up, they're both sort of, "Oh my god." A kick to the gut.
We built that up, and then David Lapham will be picking that up. I touch on that one more time — I do an Age of Apocalypse story in #19.1, and then that rolls over into the new Age of Apocalypse ongoing by Lapham and De La Torre. And it is amazing. It's really, really good stuff. It's a post-apocalyptic world where mutants have taken over the planet, led by Wolverine, and you're following a squad of the last humans as they're trying to stay alive and turn things around. That was Jody's idea, to make humanity the focus of the new Age of Apocalypse stuff, and I fell in love with it, and so did David, so we all worked really close to build something up there.
Nrama: So, coming up in the title — looks like we've got a story with Captain Britain in Otherworld? And that AoA Nightcrawler is sticking around?
Remender: Yeah. We deal with why and how and all of that fun stuff in issue #19, which comes out in a week. And then we deal with the repercussions. We saw a scene in issue #5, I think, where Betsy had a hologram Danger Room session where her brother absolved her of her sins and told her he loves her. Now we get to see what her brother's really going to do when he finds out. There's what Betsy wishes he would be, and there's what Brian actually is, and I'm a big fan of the character.
During the course of "The Dark Angel Saga," Betsy could no longer tamp down her psychic link with Brian, so their connection was re-connected, and Brian ended up seeing what Betsy had been doing, and what she is doing. So Brian and Jamie, her brothers, they act, and that's what our inciting incident is. But they've also got a history with Fantomex that we will be revealing. And you'll also get to see the Skinless Man, who is one of Fantomex's archnemeses, who we've never met before, and there's a statue of him in The World. He is a product of the Weapon Plus program.
And we get to meet Betsy's family. For new fans, you get to see another side of Betsy and who she is and where she comes from, and for old fans, you get to see Meggan, and Captain Britain, and Widget, and Nightcrawler, Otherworld, and a big black metal Dungeons & Dragons fantasy take place over in the dimension between all dimensions.
Nrama: And with Captain Britain also a part of Secret Avengers, might there be some interaction between the two books?
Remender: That would be fun, yeah. Maybe I'll do that. I do go back and forth on it. Those two trains could definitely collide, but I don't want to promise anything until I know for sure that story-wise it's going to matter, and it's going to have some lasting consequences, and feel important.
Nrama: Deathlok had a lot of fun moments during "The Dark Angel Saga." Will he be sticking around in the book?
Remender: He'll come back, but it's not going to be for a while. He's got this tachyon transmitter, so he can talk to versions of himself from the future, so he's always gaining different intelligence from different versions of the future, and calculating probabilities. So he's off doing various things trying to maintain a soft and comfortable existence for mankind, and every so often that pulls him towards X-Force, and to become involved in their shenanigans. He's not gone for good, but he's gone for a little while.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!