By Kevin Mahadeo
With the shocking conclusion to his first UNCANNY X-FORCE arc and the recent reveal of Flash Thompson as the man underneath the symbiote in VENOM, the phrase "expect the unexpected" certainly seems to go hand in hand with the work of writer Rick Remender.
At the end of Second Coming, Cyclops disbanded his covert operations team X-Force, citing that the X-Men no longer needed them. However, the squad's leader Wolverine disagreed. The feral mutant now leads his own secret task force that also includes Deadpool, Psylocke, Archangel and Fantomex in UNCANNY X-FORCE. In the title's opening arc, the team went after a newly reborn Apocalypse resurrected in the body of a young boy. While his cohorts argued over how to handle the situation, Fantomex made the tough decision himself and killed the child.
March sees not only the release of UNCANNY X-FORCE #5.1—a jumping on Point One issue—but also the start of VENOM by Remender and artist Tony Moore. The new ongoing series features longtime Spider-Man cast member Flash Thompson bonded with the symbiote and working for the U.S. military. The premiere pits the soldier-turned-hero against a revamped Jack O'Lantern in war torn Eastern European nation.
Remender spoke with us about his two titles, delving into constructing the jaw-dropping end to the first arc of UNCANNY X-FORCE and explaining what about VENOM fuels his creative juices.
|UNCANNY X-FORCE #5 cover by Esad Ribic|
Marvel.com: Before we go into the upcoming arc of UNCANNY X-FORCE, I wanted to hit on the ending of your first. That came as quite the twist. Did you know exactly how this was going to end going in?
Rick Remender: Yeah. Before we started the first issue, we made sure the entire arc was rewritten to the point that everyone knew it frontwards and back. This one was also one we broke out at the X-Retreat and discussed, so we had a little of feedback from the room as well. This thing was tightly locked down. We wanted to make sure that given the weight of what we were doing the arc was planned out to the end from the very beginning.
Marvel.com: What went into creating that ending and having it be completely silent once Fantomex makes the kill shot?
Rick Remender: I had two great editors on the book for the first arc, Axel Alonso and Jody LeHeup. These guys have great instincts, as they should given that they control a lot of big things. I wrote it, and initially I had a line after Fantomex shot the kid, which was "This is what we came to do." Jody or Axel or both of them said to cut it. It's silent. It's totally silent. I was nervous about that at first, but you've got an artist in Jerome Opena who sells cinematic storytelling and emotion so well that you can cut most of your dialogue. If [the] dialogue ended up on the cutting floor of this issue in particular, I think you'd be astonished. I would say that no less than 40 percent of the dialogue and the captions were cut because the artwork did such a good job of conveying the emotion and the story on its own. Every word in the issue is absolutely necessary and I think people respond to that. It takes a few extra days and a little more work, but the end product we want [is for] X-FORCE to be special. It's dealing with big, iconic and cool characters in the Marvel Universe that I can play with and do cool things with. So, it's kind of great on all fronts. And if we can keep up the level of craftsmanship and the amount of time we're pouring into the book, I think that what we'll get is something pretty special out of it.
|UNCANNY X-FORCE #7 cover by Esad Ribic|
Marvel.com: You mentioned cool characters and doing cool things with them. What do you have planned for the team as far as that goes, especially Deadpool, a pretty big fan favorite across the board?
Rick Remender: In the upcoming arc "The Deathlok Nation," in the third issue there's a big scene where I focus on something I've been building up to. I tear away a few layers of [Deadpool's] character to what's underneath it and who's inside. I've got the first 17 issues pretty mapped out and I've even written the beginning of issue #13 and #15 because I've got different artists working on these things. I know this first year of storylines pretty forward and back, and I know what I'm building to, which is pretty helpful. So, the role that Deadpool is playing, it's mapped out in his character arc and that comes to something of a head in issue #7. All the characters have their arc. They're all going to change and adapt and they're all going to have their interpersonal relationships fleshed out.
Marvel.com: Looking at the upcoming Point One issue, what can you say about what's going on in there and how it ties into the greater scheme of things in the book moving forward?
Rick Remender: It's an important issue for setting things up that are going to play a bigger role coming down the line. But it's also a self-contained story that reintroduces Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers. They've set up camp in their original base in Australia, where the X-Men made their home for a few years. They've got Gateway back and it's sort of resetting a lot of cool villains like Reese and the original Reavers. And Lady Deathstrike has been rebuilt and put back together in her Barry Windsor Smith outfit. It's returning to the roots on those characters as well telling an iconic and self-contained X-Force story that tells you who the characters are, what their mission is, what their personal interactions are. It serves a lot of purposes.
|UNCANNY X-FORCE #5.1 cover by Simone Bianchi
This was a lot of work. [Laughs] Self-contained stories are always a lot of work to make sure you've got a beginning, middle and end that's satisfying. We knew that this was going to be setting something up for Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers for later. We knew that we wanted to have it accessible, which means you have to approach the characters as if it's the first time anyone has ever read them. It means you have to be natural and avoid exposition, while being unnatural and cramming in exposition. You have to find clever ways to get information across to where it feels like people aren't being fed information. I think that's the point of it. If you haven't been reading the series, you can buy it and get a taste for the tone and the characters and missions they take on. And if have been reading it, you get the return of Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers and the beginning of some things to come.
Marvel.com: You know there's that line from "The Great Muppet Caper" where there's a lot of exposition spouted and they point it out by saying, "It's exposition, we can't move on with the movie without it." Deadpool might be able to do something similar to that.
Rick Remender: Sure, sure. The self awareness thing. I try to be careful with Deadpool to not break the fourth wall. I know they did that a lot in the 90’s with the character and they do that a lot with his dueling narration. It can be really overpowering if he's amid a team of other Marvel characters. While he might be a crazy person who thinks he is in a comic book, I can't have that be something he's doing during this or I think it would really remove you from being in an X-Men comic in the Marvel Universe. But it is funny. The exposition thing wouldn't do that, but I was sort of [going on a tangent] on the basic idea of fourth wall breaking.
|VENOM #1 cover by Joe Quesada|
Marvel.com: Shifting over, there's big news for VENOM in that Flash Thompson is the new symbiote bearer, with the details of how will be revealed in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #654.1. Did they approach you with the Flash as Venom idea?
Rick Remender: Yeah. It was something that originated with [editor] Steve Wacker and [AMAZING SPIDER-MAN writer] Dan Slott. When Steve came to me to write it, he told me who Venom was going to be and that was sort of the big part of the sale for me. Here's Flash Thompson, a well-known character who has been through some struggles as of late. He's a marine who gave his legs in service of his country to save another soldier, so he's turned rather heroic. But he's also a conflicted character. In his past, he's had a drunken, abusive cop father and he himself has had dependency issues. You've got a very conflicted and interesting character and he already has rich history in the Marvel Universe and is deeply embedded in the life of Peter Parker and the cast of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. And you've got somebody where you can give him the symbiote and he goes from being disabled to swinging through the city and lifting tanks; that juxtaposition is very interesting. The fact that he's got a temperament issue plays well because if you lose your temper while wearing the symbiote, it takes you over. It feeds off that rage and anger, so he has to overcome his personal demon that is his temper in order to control the suit while he's wearing it. He's got to deal with the fact that for somebody who has dependency issues, the suit itself can become very addicting. The fact that his mission is finite and he can only wear the suit for 20 missions and then the government takes it away from him—there [are] so many aspects of the set up of Flash as Venom that are incredibly fascinating. That was the sale.
|VENOM #1 variant cover by Paulo Siqueira
Ultimately, if you don't have a big hook with a lot of very, very interesting concepts in terms of character building and how that character is unique to the power that you're giving them, then you don't have much. But I think we've discovered, in working with Dan Slott and Steve on the rules of how this is going to work and the time limits, it turned into this big, perfect soup. I thought, "VENOM can work. This can be a big, awesome Marvel comic book now." So Flash was the component that really sold me on it and when we figured out the limitations on it and how it works with Flash, it all just became so perfect. There was clearly going to be a hit book there.
Marvel.com: To close out, I wanted to talk about what exactly we're going to see in that first issue. What kind of mission is he going to be on and what can you say about the villain of the title?
Rick Remender: Our big crime boss hasn't been revealed yet and it won't be revealed till the third or fourth issue, but it's a classic Marvel villain who has been re-imagined. And his number one henchman is the Jack O'Lantern, who has been re-imagined as well. In the first issue, we're in an Eastern European war torn country. The thing about this book is that it's international in scope. The villain is not focused on one city. He's doesn't want to be the Kingpin of New York. He wants to be the Kingpin of the world. So, as an international arms dealer, he's discovered a giant vein of a substance known as Antarctic Vibranium that exists in the Savage Land. It's incredibly rare, so it makes this stuff the most valuable stuff in the Marvel Universe. And Antarctic Vibranium is a metal that melts through other metal. So, it's incredibly dangerous. There's never been enough of it to make a big deal out of, but he's discovered a giant vein of it and has discovered a means to weaponize it and turn it into readily available bullets. He's got a giant storehouse of these bullets that will literally melt through any other metal.
|VENOM #2 cover by Tony Moore
You get new plastic AK-47s and fire these bullets and nothing will stop [them]. If you're Iron Man, you're dead. So, the stakes are very high. Venom working for the U.S. Armed Forces is the first guy they go to, to stop this. It's not something a bunch of super heroes can deal with. Once these bullets spread across the globe, you have destabilization on a grand scale. You have chaos. The first mission is that they've distributed these bullets to a small band of racists doing genetic cleansing in an Eastern European nation. They're wholesale slaughtering everyone in the city. Venom, given his armor is organic and not metal, is the guy who can go up against these metal melting bullets. They drop him in, but he soon discovers Jack O'Lantern is there filming the results of these bullets for their infomercials. You get a really great battle between the new Venom and the new Jack O'Lantern in this war torn Eastern European nation that I think is going to turn some heads and be pretty terrific.