Rick Remender began in animation, then switched over to penciling and inking comics before making the switch to the big league comics. He grew up in the 80s punk/skater subculture in Phoenix and as a result has a real love for the underdog and the damaged.
Fixing typecast characters: Remender takes 1-dimensional heroes and villains like Deadpool and Venom, keeps much of what makes them fun, and then turns them into well-rounded characters, making them the moral compass of a book.
Deep themes: Remender’s books are always exciting and even the darkest ones are filled with great humor, but there’s always something much deeper at play that’s driving the characters. This can give his book a surprising resonance.
Ridiculous powers: Remender’s revered for finding wildly creative twists on familiar abilities, often for comic effect. For example: Deadpool’s… “catering service”…
Creator owned: Remender’s done some great work for Marvel, but mostly he seems to enjoy the freedom of creator-owned platforms like Image and Dark Horse.
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In other media:
Rick Remender has worked as an artist on films like The Iron Giant, Anastasia, and Ultraviolet’; a writer on video games like Dead Space and Bulletstorm; and album artist for puk bands like NOFX.
The Last Days of American Crime
I love noir. I love the aesthetic of it and the rhythm of it. I love the way it feels like parts of my home here on Chicago’s south side with its vintage rhythm of quips and jargon and it’s sex and menace and sodium lights.
But noir and crime fiction is hard to pull off. There is something seductive about dangerous characters that makes it difficult to depict the worst in them without making them seem like the best. To really capture the reality of desperation or violence without somehow romanticizing or glorifying it is no small task.
And that’s why we’re starting on this book. The Last Days of American Crime highlight Remender’s phenomenal characterization skills. So many of his heroes are broken, even terrible people who are struggling to hold onto a single thing — a relationship, a hope, a purpose — that’s being pulled away from them. There is so much humanity to this.
These characters fail and disappoint and suffer, and yet you just can’t give up on them.
Greg Tocchini’s artwork gives the book a fantastically kinetic, cinematic feel with a loose, gestural brush work that makes everything feel positively filthy. For his part, Remender blends that genuine human feel with tropes from genre fiction to give this book a hypnotically timeless feel.
Although “timeless” isn’t quite right. The book is a look at an America that’s crumbling under the weight of its own fear. Basically, take Blade Runner, remove the fear over Japanese business practices and the impending computer age, and replace that with terror over dirty bombs and governmental surveillance turned into literal mind control.
Then cast Lee Marvin as the lead.
This is bleak and ugly and it feels like the apocalypse sponsored by Walmart. It’s got reinterpretations of Richard Stark’s Parker and the real world Bonnie & Clyde working so damn hard to be criminals in a world that literally prevents criminal thought. It’s a post-9/11 Phillip K. Dick swearing at people from a faded vinyl bar booth.
The X-Men were Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s reflection on a divided world yearning for peace. This book ain’t that.
Uncanny X-Force took the creative risk (and I assume marketing mandate) of putting Wolverine and Deadpool on the same team. This choice actually delayed my reading of the series as I didn’t like the looks of that obnoxious pairing, having assumed that Remender had either lost his mind or else was being held against his will and made to write this synergistic monster. I was so sure it was one of those.
Eventually, I opened the first volume and found a “team book” that’s really just about a group of people who are alone together. A group who have each known the pain of being brainwashed into becoming assassins are now killing themselves trying to save the world.
A team who grabbed my heartstrings.
And if all that sounds surprising for an X-book, I’ve got something else for you: Psylocke is the best character in the run. Psylocke . Betsy “ethnically ambiguous” Braddock. Best character.
Deadpool is interesting? Sure. Wolverine is on a team and isn’t a chore? Sometimes happens. I don’t want to drown Fantomex in a pool of Angel’s blood? I’m scared, but alright.
Psylocke is good?! How dare you.
This book is so great that I don’t know what to believe in anymore. Watching X-Force struggle with the moral implications of “prevenge” as they murder targets before they become a threat to mutants is both fun and tense. Remender made me love every last one of the characters, while Jerome Opeña’s art on the first arc felt like being welcomed into the world by Moebius himself. All this on X-Force… I just don’t know what to believe in anymore.
Venom: The Complete Collection Vol 1
If Uncanny X-Force had me pleasantly surprised, this book had me more than a little amazed.
On the heels of a short story written by Dan Slott in Amazing Spider-Man, Remender took Eugene “Flash” Thompson — a tertiary character and totally normal guy in the Spider-Man series — and turned him into an emotionally unstable veteran facing a life-long disability.
Then he took Venom, who had floundered as a literally dumb villain who existed purely for cheap shock value — basically the Deadpool of a different era — and brought the alien back around to being a powerful, seductive force.
GIving Flash the symbiote was a stroke of genius. It introduces a spectacular conflict and elevated this book far beyond the “Punisher/Venom hybrid” it was marketed as into the very best Spider-Man title going at the time.
Again, you read the right. This isn’t just the best Venom book in decades, it’s the best Spider-Man book as well. That’s because it picks up the classic Lee/Ditko formula of “outcast who feels powerless in a normal life has a second existence as a superhero of unparalleled power” and runs with it in a way that’s all but impossible on the traditional title.
As Venom, Flash can do almost anything and go anywhere and save the world. As Eugene Thompson, though, he’s confined to a wheelchair and can’t even save his romantic relationship.
Remender turns Venom into an escape for Flash. An addiction, really. And while not every arc in his run is perfect, every single one is something to behold.
Black Science Vol 1: How to Fall Forever
Black Science won me over from the jump. The aesthetic of the book is classic sci-fi, with Matteo Scalera’s illustrations and Dean White’s paintings each capturing some truly insane mix of influences. You can feel everything from classic Heavy Metal to Robert McCall’s 2001 space wheel tableau.
Looking at any page of this book feels like someone smashed a prog rock album directly into your brain.
Once the shock of that wears off, the story kicks in. You start to learn about scientist Grant McKay and his team who have punched a hole through reality itself, thereby entering a completely different dimension. Naturally, the experiment is mostly a disaster, leaving not only Grant and his team stranded in a strange and dangerous new universe of unsettling creatures, but Grant has somehow, accidentally, brought his two kids with him.
This sets up a panicked adventure as Grant tries to get back to the right timeline while keeping his kids safe from these beings from alternate realities, including Native American techno-shaman, legionnaires from a Rome that conquered space travel, and some alien frogs that are uncomfortably sexy.
Seriously, those frogs were a dirty trick, Remender. I now have two things to never forgive you for.
But the worst trick was the writing itself. Remember takes a story that’s full to bursting with funny, goofy, space race era “Big Science” nonsense and he puts in sucker punches of some of the most wrenching dialog and narration. This is how he opened issue 1 of this series about fun dimensional hopping.
It wasn’t until I’d met everyone else’s measure of success that I realized I’d failed myself. More importantly, I’d failed you, Sara. Every choice we make, each a single quantum event, branching out, creating an infinite chain of possible dimensions. Countless worlds where I didn’t fuck it all up. Where I didn’t abandon you. Where I helped raise our children. Where I didn’t obsess over forbidden science.
I’d give anything to be in one of those dimensions instead of here in this mess I made. Every decision a misstep, the perfect sequence of wrong choices.
…Needless to say, I was absolutely hooked.
Fear Agent: Final Edition vol 1
Like the sound of Black Science but you don’t want to have to drink after reading something? Well pick up Fear Agent and let Heath Huston do the drinking for you!
Don’t believe me? Ask Wikipedia:
The series stars the rugged alcoholic Texas spaceman Heathrow Huston, the supposed last Fear Agent, in a series of fast-paced adventures.
Tony Moore and Jerome Opena do killer work on this book that has all the action, twice the self-destruction, and so much ridiculous goodness. Grab it and laugh until/because it hurts.
Deadly Class Vol 1: Reagan Youth
The 80s were carved out of bad music, loud clothes, horrible politics, and paranoia about the homeless (and more of that Japanese panic I’d mentioned in Blade Runner). It was like the whole world learned about what money couldn’t buy — things like culture, personality, respectable leaders, or human decency — and got into a coke-fueled agro panic about it for 40 years.
That was the 80s. I know. I was there.
But that decade also gave us great things like New Order, punk vests, William Gibson, and of course, Anime.
Deadly Class follows Marcus Lopez, a young, indigent Angelino who’s traded sleeping on the street for staying in a secret assassination training camp for the children of the world’s worst criminals. Think of it as a finishing school for the unreformable.
Deadly Class is a love letter to the best of this age and an earnest confession of the worst. There’s naturalism in the art from Lee Loughridge and Wes Craig Wes Craig with undercurrents of the grittiest artists of the Reagan years had to offer like — Frank Miller and Patrick Nagel. The structure, panels, and pacing on the other hand feel gloriously, wildly out of control, brimming with youthful energy and unpredictability. This is really where it feels like manga, as characters move like they’re straight out of Purple Eyes in the Dark or Fist of the North Star.
The story captures the confusion and desperation and plain terror of the age (teens and decade) as well as all the influences that push from the beneath the surface, shaping a world the characters cannot hope to control and yet are told they must.
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