“Uncanny Avengers” preparing for lots of violence in “Ragnarok Now!”

(CBR) In “Uncanny Avengers,” a team of veteran Avengers and X-Men fight side by side in an effort to prove to the world that mutants and humans can co-exist and work together to make the world a better place. The world this ‘Avengers Unity Squad’ inhabits is a dangerous and difficult one, filled with threats on all sides, not to mention the challenge in finding a way to work with teammates they may dislike and even violently disagree with.

The team’s adventures are high stakes, emotionally charged affairs — precisely the sort of thing artist Steve McNiven excels at. Come November, he begins his run on “Uncanny Avengers” as the current “Ragnarok Now!” mega-arc kicks into high gear.

McNiven’s upcoming run on the book was announced yesterday at the “Marvel’s Infinity Panel” at Comic-Con International in San Diego, and CBR News spoke with him and his collaborator writer Rick Remender about their plans for the series.

CBR News: Steve — you’ve worked on books featuring the Avengers and related characters, and you’ve worked on books featuring X-Men characters like Wolverine. What’s it like to have an assignment where you can draw all these characters together? What drew you to “Uncanny Avengers?”
Steve McNiven: It’s a great cast of characters, isn’t it? I’m getting to draw some of my favorites as well as a few I’ve only touched on which is always a bonus when working at Marvel. Really though, aside from the great lineup, the thing that brought me here was the chance to work with Rick, in my view one of the best writers working in comics right now.

Rick Remender: I think Steve is pretty great at most everything. He’s one of those guys where his faces sell the emotions, so you can cut the dialogue down. He’s one of those guys where the action is just smooth and beautiful, and he can get experimental with layouts, but it’s never at the expense of fluid storytelling. That makes him a rare breed.

He’s also one of those guys that has a sensibility that appeals to everyone. There’s a little Brian Bolland in the finishes and the faces. He can go in there and do some crosshatching every once in a while, or he can leave things clean. He’s versatile. He’s always experimenting. Beyond that, he doesn’t cut corners.

When I was writing this, I didn’t know who I would be getting this far out, but I seeded what was going to happen in Steve’s first issue early on. Steve’s first issue is “Uncanny Avengers” #14, and I planted the seeds for that issue in “Uncanny Avengers” #1. The emotion and the scope of this story was of such a magnitude that you needed somebody who could not only convey emotions on faces, but do the action and the incredibly large set pieces, and know when to pull the camera back and show the scope.

I couldn’t believe that I got this story approved the way it’s written, and I definitely was blown away when I found out Steve was offered the job and accepted. It was a big hit for the series. Plus, as crazy as things are and they’re about to get, we’ll have only reached the middle of the “Ragnarok Now!” story by the time Steve’s run begins. I can’t wait for people to see what we’re doing and to see Steve McNiven drawing this stuff because I think his work will definitely lend the story the scope and scale I’m aiming for.

I know you’re wary of spoilers, but I also know from our past conversations that the difficulty for your cast is set to increase exponentially from arc to arc. So what can you hint, tease, or talk about with regard to the dangers the Unity Squad are facing when Steve’s arc begins? The solicits for the October issue suggest that not all of your cast will be alive when Steve begins his run on the book —

Remender: I’ve been sort of consciously duplicitous in the solicitations. I’ve been shifting things around a bit. I always feel like the solicitation text gives things away and I don’t want readers to go in knowing what’s going to happen, so I always try to give hints of something that might be happening at some point in the story.

Steve’s run begins with issue #14, which for me is the big payment to everything that’s been happening in the Marvel Universe with the X-Men and the Avengers for a long time now. It’s the ultimate price to be paid for quibbling, and having the total inability to overcome disagreements and disputes and unify as heroes. It occurred to me during the planning sessions for “Avengers Vs. X-Men” that our heroes are often disagreeable and less than heroic. That makes them relatable and human, which is also good. They all have different points of view and that leads them into conflict as it does with humans.

There have been some casualties because of that. Plus some things got broken, and some people’s information was collected. There have not been the kinds of consequences I think they deserve for their childish squabbling and inability to rise to the occasion of being heroic.

The one thing I didn’t want to do in “Uncanny Avengers” was solve all of those problems in the first issue and have everyone give each other high fives and hugs and say, “Hey that’s cool. We’re friends now!” I really wanted it to be something where the disharmony was continued and the consequences for that continued disharmony were deep, long lasting, heart wrenching, and horrible. Those experiences are akin to an alcoholic getting to the “bottom of the bottle” as they say; when they hit those skids and their lives become such train wrecks that they have that moment of clarity where they recognize it’s time to get sober.

This is the moment of clarity for the X-Men and the Avengers — and that moment is going to be soaked in blood.

“Uncanny Avengers” is a book featuring some big characters that appear in other books, but it also has some cast members that appear just in this title, like the Wasp, Wonder Man and Sunfire. I imagine the big names will have their moments, but you also want to make sure you give some time to the characters without other books as well?

Remender: Yeah, and of course a lot of what we’re dealing with is the rivalries we’ve been setting up between Wolverine and Captain America and Rogue and Scarlet Witch, as well as trying to elevate characters like Sunfire, Wonder Man and Havok. Everybody will have their moments. The first 22 issues is one big story. It’s similar to what I did on “The Dark Angel Saga” during my “Uncanny X-Force” run in that it’s five to six issue increments that form one big puzzle.

We will definitely be giving Wonder Man, Wasp and all these characters big character arcs and big moments, but in order to do it proportionately, everybody gets an arc because of the size of the cast. I think our first two arcs have really been about everybody. You really couldn’t say that any one character has taken any of our first 10 issues.

Those issues have been setting it all up; all of their interpersonal dynamics, desires, motives and internal conflicts. Steve comes on in issue #14 for the big resolution to a number of those internal and external conflicts. As I was putting together the story that runs through Steve’s issues, I really didn’t expect it to be approved. Not only did it get approved, but Marvel got behind it in such a big way that Steve’s arc and the arc after that continue to build into something that gets bigger and bigger until eventually it’s a wave that crashes over the Marvel Universe.

The metaphor here is our real world inability to work together and how it will certainly lead to our demise if we can’t right that ship and find unity. It shows the consequences of what happens when the heroes of the Marvel Universe aren’t able to do that.

So all of the characters have arcs. I’ve gone to great lengths to make sure of that, and that’s why I needed more issues to do it this time. With “Uncanny X-Force” we had five characters so I could give them all their arcs and everybody got a nice big chunk. By the time we hit issue #19, everybody had a nice story. We’ve got more characters in “Uncanny Avengers” so giving everybody on the team an important story means this arc will run a bit longer.

Steve, as an artist what’s your sense of these characters? What kind of dynamics, and qualities do you really want to capture with your depiction of the team?

McNiven: Well, I could really go into all of it, but there would be way too many spoilers, and although I live thousands of miles from Rick, I think it would be safer for me to just say that the script has so much amazing character dynamics going on that it will really test my character acting muscles! I’ve gotta say that it’s taking me some time to get a good hold of Kang and his weird helmet, but I think I have it. Rogue and Scarlet Witch are great fun, and I’m loving Sunfire, what a great costume there!

By the time you come aboard the “Ragnarok Now!” story, things will have become quite crazy in terms of action and emotions. What’s it like drawing a story like that?

McNiven: The first issue script is literally one of the most exciting I have worked on, ever, and that includes “Old Man Logan.” There are some really brutal scenes here, and things just get more intense as the plot moves forward. It’s a real thrill and I am so thankful to Rick for having me come in at this pivotal time in the series.

When I officially became part of the team, Rick and I talked for literally hours where he filled me in on all the machinations of the series and it blew my mind. This guy is firing on all cylinders and I’m just along for the ride. And the scripts! I’ve never seen anything like them. He packs them full of reference and visual inspiration. I think the first one printed out at well over 45 pages. So cool.

What can you tell us about the overall look to your “Uncanny Avengers” work? How will it compare to the look of your recent work on say “Guardians of the Galaxy?”

McNiven: I hope it stands up to “Guardians,” which I am very proud of. My job is to not f#%$@ up the great writing here and tell the story as well as I am able to.

It sounds like you’ve got a pretty exciting story planned for Steve, Rick. Can you offer up any final teases about that story?

Remender: There’s a pretty big body count coming. It was something that I grappled with. I think that when issue #14 hits, there’s going to be a lot of speculation and potential upset. If you stick with the story, though, you’ll see what we’re trying to say and see what we’re building to. Issue #14 is, without a doubt, the bloodiest, most gut-wrenching comic book I have written. I felt it had to be in order to really sell the gravity of the failure of these two corners of the Marvel Universe to work for Charles Xavier’s dream of unity, and peaceful cooperation. I really think those consequences needed to be dire, and given that the Apocalypse Twins, Red Skull and Kang have been up to their machinations and at the same time we’ve got our team splintering and breaking apart.

That’s in due part to some traditional Avengers rules that they’ve overlooked for Logan in the past and could no longer overlook upon discovering what he had done in his time with X-Force. Beyond the upset that comes from that, you’ve got Steve Rogers in a situation where he returned home from Dimension Z just before issue #9. That will all be explained in issue #10 as well as “Captain America” #10. Steve, believing that Logan had put his black ops days behind him, discovers that Logan was still running a black ops team and that team killed Kid Apocalypse. Given what he went through in “Captain America,” where we saw him lose his adopted son Ian, he made some emotional decisions and decided to break the team apart.

This was all part of the design of the Apocalypse Twins. Eimin, the sister, can see briefly into the future, so before they turned on their tachyon dam and did all their temporal machinations, she took a look at the future and saw what was coming. The Avengers Unity Squad is up against some terrible odds, and in issues #10 and #11 we really get into the dirt with the Apocalypse Twins’ Four Horsemen of Death, who all have ugly vendettas and personal reasons to be up against the team. It just builds and builds until Steve’s first issue — then every issue of Steve’s run is payout. All of our big arcs get resolved between issues #14-17. Then issue #17 ends with the biggest thing I’ve ever written. Having Steve around to draw that will be a treat.

McNiven: Hang on — it’s gonna be a hell of a wild ride!

Remender: Marvel has gone to great lengths to experiment with “Uncanny Avengers.” There are a lot of people who want series where the majority of the stories are self-contained; where they can buy that book, and only that book, and get a full story. What we’re attempting with “Uncanny Avengers” is basically a 22-issue event that leads to something bigger.

The artists they’ve given us for this series have all been event level artists. Plus, Marvel is keeping the series monthly to ensure that we have A-List amazing artists and we can take our time and tell the story. Where it goes to will have huge ramifications, be explosive and fun. We’re going to build to that in a way that I don’t think we’ve been able to before. It’s been a slow burn, but when we get to the payout, I think it will be well worth it.