There are few writers who value the long game as much as Rick Remender. By weaving biblical battles with gut-wrenching characterization that longest of followers, Remender’s work connects with new and seasoned readers alike. That winning formula finally hits the big leagues with Avengers & X-Men: AXIS #1, Remender’s first line-wide event for Marvel Comics. AXIS, which sees the Avengers and X-Men unite in a colossal melee against the Red Skull, is a far more personal event for Remender readers. With story roots that go as deep as Remender’s Uncanny X-Force run, this event is literally years in the making.
We had a an exclusive chat with Remender about the series’ premiere issue, and discussed how long-term events like AXIS gestate through their planned stages. As Remender unveiled the creative process behind his first major event, he also teased some massive developments for Marvel’s biggest heroes.
Fair warning: This interview contains major spoiler for Avengers & X-Men: AXIS #1, so do not read any further until you have read the issue.
Thanks for taking the time to chat , Rick. It’s hard to believe after years of build-up and teases, but we’re finally at AXIS #1. Can you walk us through the story’s development up to this point? How has AXIS evolved as a story over since you first thought of it?
It’s gone through a number of changes. At this point, it’s probably gone through three or four different major changes in terms of how it was put together. The initial idea was born out of my Red Skull plans in Uncanny Avengers, and I knew what villains were going to be a major component of it. I pitched that a few times at a few Marvel retreats, but Original Sin ended up being the main summer event. So I went back to retooling it as an Uncanny Avengers event, which is always what I’ve done at Marvel—written my own events in my own little corner. But we had another retreat as I was rebuilding it, and it pitched that version to the room. Some people really liked it, and there were a number of conversations about potential offshoots. From that point on, it became a fall event, and I built it from there with a few other pieces. Then I rewrote it to incorporate a larger swath of the Marvel Universe, then we rewrote it a couple more times. I worked with a number of writers who wanted to opt-in with it, so that we could take some corners of the Marvel that didn’t always get the main spotlight, and utilize those characters within them. We wanted it to be a unique event that affected a larger swath of the Marvel Universe
So what did your story first look like when it was just contained to Uncanny Avengers?
It held a very similar to structure with the act breaks. Tom Brevoort and I had planned to do a number of the big changes and character moments for a while. And once there was buy-in to make it a bigger story, I contacted a few other writers and talked the potential for their characters and the large changes. One of those was Iron Man, so back when Kieron Gillan was writing the book, he was seeding a few things with the Red Skull that lead into this. I just took the high concept and talked to the writers about how it could potentially affect their corners of the Marvel Universe. From there, we came up with new directions and some new twists and turns. That was the nice thing about the high concept, and why they wanted to turn it into something bigger than just an Uncanny Avengers story. Even though they had just finished Original Sin, I think this high concept lended itself to some really fun and interesting stuff with the other characters. It continued to build from that point. People who wanted to get involved jumped in, and I made sure that I worked closely with them and did some exciting stuff.
Cool. So while the book is labeled as an Avengers and X-Men event, the story seems to start with personal stakes for the X-Men. How will the Avengers become more emotionally and personally invested in the fight against the Red Onslaught--Besides, you know, saving reality itself?
Well, I think that the Avengers were the ones who first dealt with the Red Skull head-on, and were incapable of preventing his escape and rise in Uncanny Avengers. A number of the characters in the Avengers Unity Squad, when they first dealt with the Red Skull and his S-Men, had a number of personal connections to the situation, like the Scarlet Witch. The Red Skull was trying to manipulate her and use her as a weapon, which has happened to her on numerous occasions. This is something of a hot button for her. Then we have Rogue, who sees Charles Xavier as a father figure and deeply cared for him. After that we have Cap and Thor, who after fighting the Red Skull, realize that they haven’t done enough to help the human race. While Red Skull’s motivation is like many villains’—to eradicate the genetic monstrosities that he labels as the mutants—he’s also out to re-educate and mind control all the superhumans for his own purposes, or just get them off the board entirely. So, I think the context is something that I worked really hard on, to ensure that both the Avengers and X-Men had personal reasons to take down this threat. Primarily among them are Iron Man and Scarlett Witch and Havok. That will obviously change coming out of the first act and leading into the second act, where we see more ramifications from a wider audience of characters. The story will definitely hit a lot of personal notes for the Avengers and X-Men. More than anything, it plays as an event that people can jump into if they haven’t been reading these books. Then at the same time, it follows a lot of threads from my run on Uncanny X-Force and Uncanny Avengers, with developments from AvX wrapped into it. One of my primary goals is to always have personal, contextual meaning to a conflict.
Of course. Branching off of the X-Men’s personal contexts, it looks like Cyclops’ crew and the other X-Men are finally putting the past few year’s of hostility behind them. Is this the beginning of a more unified X-team, maybe the most unified since Schism?
I can’t say too much about that, but I can say that the events of AXIS #9 will lead to a new status quo in the X-Universe for a number of characters, as well as the team. It’s one of the few big reveals that haven’t been spoiled at this point, so I’d like to be careful and not divulge it.
Cool. Will the Avengers and Cyclops be able to put the past behind them as well? How closely is Scott Summers willing to work with the Avengers?
Cyclops finds himself drawn into the situation, as Red Skull’s actions are very personal to him. To see this evil taken down, especially this evil that has manipulated Charles Xavier’s gifts, is something that Scott feels personally responsible for on some level. So, he’s going to do whatever he has to do to remove this threat.
Speaking of Red Onslaught—his final design made some pretty sinister evolutions. Those horns and tentacles give him a much more vile feel from what we even saw on covers and previews.
I had written that in the script, to give a physical manifestation of the evil that is the Red Skull. The original Onslaught was Charles Xavier and Magneto, and when the two of them formed, they created Onslaught. But this was the marriage of Red Skull and Charles Xavier, which gave birth to the Red Onslaught. I wanted that seething hatred and pure evil to have a physical representation in the design. So when Adam drafted it, it obviously came out looking tremendous.
Very cool. Moving to a more serious note with the Red Onslaught, we saw Rogue interact with what looked to be Charles Xavier inside the Red Onslaught’s mind. Does that mean, or at least imply, that some small sliver of Charles’ psyche, and therefore presence, is still active and alive?
I don't want to reveal too much about what we do with this or where it’s headed, but yeah, she was talking to shreds of the Charles’ remains.
So has some part of Charles lurked in the Red Skull’s mind since Uncanny Avengers #1?
That’s the notion, yes, without having any controlling influence over him.
Interesting. Moving over to Iron Man, the revelation that Red Onslaught took control of Tony was pretty significant. Even though Red Skull implied that Tony bent to his manipulations rather willingly, how much truth is there to that? Is Red Skull just playing mind games with Tony?
The notion is that the Red Skull had mind-controlled Tony at night, to have him build these things. I think that Kieron managed to plant a number of Red Skull seeds in his run before he left. The Red Skull has controlled Tony at night, digging deep in his mind to find the Civil War files remaining deep in his brain, as well as utilizing his technological prowess to build these Stark Sentinels, these impenetrable monsters. The Red Skull is also going to try to infect Tony’s mind by implying that it didn’t take much nudging, and that Tony was eager to display his brilliance. So yes, there are a lot of mind games going on with the Red Skull there.
Moving forward, will we see how Tony deals with the guilt that is going to stem from this?
For sure. There are huge ramifications for Tony, and Iron Man is a central character to the story.
How has it been writing Iron Man? I think this is the first time you’ve really taken a strong crack at the character.
Yeah. Once I knew that Tony would play a central role, I really fell in love with writing the character. He takes quite the spotlight in issue two, and a number of issues throughout the series. Those issues are some of my favorites. I like writing the snark and the ego, and trying to unearth what’s underneath it all.
The end of the first issue directs readers to tons of other tie-ins and crossover, from AXIS: Revolutions, to Deadpool. How closely are you involved in the story beats that play out into these other titles? Are you aware of the developments happening across all the other tie-ins?
It changes on a case-by-case basis. For the Revolutions miniseries, I did speak to editor Daniel Ketchum for 30 minutes about the various ideas that I had, but didn't have the time to get to. He ran with some of those, and others writers pitched some of the other ideas. That was the extent of my involvement with that. Some of it will be a surprise to even me. As for the tie-ins, I’ve worked as closely as possible with anybody involved. Some didn’t require my involvement, and in other cases there were stories that did. Deadpool and Nova have very large stories, and a lot of connective tissue. So do Loki and Magneto. I think that there are a number of other Avengers titles that do big things. But it was important to me that anything tying in had large ramifications. I wanted interesting things to happen in every book, so that the creators involved were writing things that they were excited about. I didn't want to force them to derail their stories to take part in this. What I’ve read so far has been really fantastic though. They all weave throughout the main AXIS series very nicely.
You mentioned Deadpool and Nova being big players. At what point will the spotlight shift to them?
In AXIS #3, there are some very nice Deadpool moments. There’s a lot of big stuff coming up with Deadpool and Kid Apocalypse that will end some of the story beats that I couldn’t finish in Uncanny X-Force. I think Nova has a big moment in AXIS #2, setting him up for one of the most exciting fights of the series in AXIS #5. Nova is a character that I’m fascinated by. I like the idea of a kid who is actively trying to maintain the stature of an A-list superhero. I think there’s something that’s really fun about that pressure, going all the way back to the original Peter Parker Spider-Man stuff. And in this case, even more power and even more responsibility. So when editor Nick Lowe and writer Gerry Duggan were talking about Nova’s inclusion, I was excited about it. What we’ve set up for Nova is something that will greatly change the status quo of that series as well as give new readers a nice look at who Nova is.
Sounds promising. To wrap up, is there anything else that you wanted to mention about AXIS?
We have managed to hold five or six large reveals back that will really surprise and excite people. The series’ goal is to continuously excite and include natural story developments, but to also veer the wheel left and right to the point where the reader doesn’t know where they’re going. I think that’s mandatory with an event this big. It should leave people on the edge of their seat, and hopefully anticipating the next installment.