Uncanny Avengers #1
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: John Cassaday
Colors: Laura Martin
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover artists: Cassaday/Adi Granov/Daniel Acuna/Skottie Young/Sara Pichelli/Olivier Coipel/Neal Adams/Mark Brooks/J. Scott Campbell/Ryan Stegman/Mark Texeria
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US
One could really see this as Avengers Vs. X-Men #13, only retitled to remove the “versus” part. I wasn’t interested in the AvX event, but the promise of a new start for both the Avengers and X-Men franchises, along with art by John Cassaday, was enough to draw me in. It’s also nice to see the new flagship Avengers book in the hands of someone other than Brian Michael Bendis, who had a solid run but has probably been attached to it for too long. Remender’s story boasts some of the more over-the-top, intense elements for which he’s known, but I don’t know they really fit into what is, at its heart, a traditional super-hero team book. Cassaday’s art really only seemed to pop in the nastier, harsher moments of the story, and since I didn’t care for those moments, the art never really grabbed me. Uncanny Avengers seems to fit in nicely with Marvel’s publishing approach in the 21st century, but it remains a short-sighted one that focuses on immediate payoffs rather than long-term sustainability and growth.
With Prof. Charles Xavier dead and his star pupil Cyclops locked up for killing him and a multitude of other crimes, the dream of human/mutant harmony has never been at a lower point, and Captain America wants to do something to keep the peace and strive toward the late Professor X’s laudable goal. At his disposal is a powerful tool: the reputation of the Avengers, and he figures the best way to show the world not all mutants are threats is to put an X-Men in charge of a new team of Avengers. He’s opted for Alex Summers, AKA Havok, Cyclops’ brother. Meanwhile, a malevolent force aims to use the fallout of the Cyclops’ recent Phoenix incident to further his own evil agenda.
Some have alleged the Marvel Now! campaign the publisher has embarked upon is really its own spin on DC’s successful relaunch with its New 52 initiative. While I have no doubt Marvel Now! is an answer to the New 52, it’s not at all the same thing. For the most part (save for the Batman and Green Lantern families of titles), DC’s relaunch last year was done in part to make its properties more accessible, rebooting almost everything and attempting to condense its history to a five-year timeline. Uncanny Avengers reboots nothing and is steeped in past continuity. While I didn’t read Avengers Vs. X-Men, I knew enough of the broad strokes and had sampled other past stories to follow along, but if the promotional campaign is successful in attracting new or lapsed readers, they might be a bit confused by what they find here. House of M and its fallout play prominently in the story as well, and we’re a few years removed from that crossover event.
The lobotomy scene early in the book and desecration that serves as the closing splash page are easily the most eye-catching visuals in the book. Unfortunately, those elements are by far the most gratuitous aspects of the story, and it seems to me they aren’t really necessary. They’re there just for shock value, something to set this apart from a typical super-hero yarn. They’re chilling and effective with respect to that goal, but they’re also off-putting. The conflict between Rogue and the Scarlet Witch seemed oddly flat, almost as though it was unfolding on a blank tableau. And the action that followed, driven by a quintet of weird, new villains, was difficult to discern and follow. The scene featuring Havok’s confrontation with his imprisoned brother seemed awfully rough as well, though it appears to be the result of the coloring effects used to convey Cyclops’ cell. I did enjoy the malevolence the artist brings to Avalanche’s face and the bombastic inhumanity and nihilism splayed on the big villain’s face on the last page. The tweak to Cap’s costume is clearly intended to bring him more in line with his big-screen incarnation, and it’s not obtrusive or distracting.
So, Cap’s idea to rehabilitate mutantkind is to an X-Man to join the Avengers and put him in charge of a team. Writer Rick Remender acknowledges another X-Man — the most famous — is already a member, but he can’t be the face of the Mutant Avengers because of his checkered past. Fine, I can swallow that pill. What makes little sense is Cap’s choice: a mutant with a history of having trouble controlling his destructive power, the boyfriend of Magneto’s daughter, the brother of the man perceived as the greatest mutant threat on the planet and someone with the codename “Havok.” Doesn’t inspire confidence, does it? Furthermore, Rogue’s hostility toward the Scarlet Witch doesn’t make sense in the larger context of the X-Men’s history. Rogue has been colleagues, friends and even consorts with mutants guilty of genocide in the past who’d turned over a new leaf. Rogue used to sleep with Magneto, didn’t she? How is Wanda worse than Magneto? I don’t think Cap — and by extension, Remender — is the master of public relations.
Despite my misgivings about various aspects of this first issue, there are some interesting ideas here. Cap’s point that the Avengers should’ve been standing side by side with the X-Men over the years as they strove to foster peace and tolerance between two races makes a lot of sense in the larger context of the shared Marvel Universe. Uncanny Avengers takes Marvel’s metaphor for racial divides and social evolution beyond the confines of the X-Men’s corner of continuity. Sure, the notion has involved Marvel’s non-mutant characters in the past, but in more of a cursory, temporary manner. Furthermore, while I think the notion of transforming Cyclops into a twisted villain wasn’t necessarily the best thing for the X-Men franchise, it does demonstrate the willingness to shake up the status quo on Marvel’s part.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with this comic book is the marketing campaign. The effort to establish this as an important moment in Marvel history sets the bar awfully high for Remender’s plot, and it just doesn’t meet the goal. The big reveal on the final page of the villain and his motives establish this as little more than a standard super-hero story. Perhaps it’s intended to be epic in scale, but just about every appearance of this particular antagonist has been intended as such for the past couple of decades (or more). Stripped of the heavy continuity and gore, what we’re left with is basically an ordinary super-hero story. It’s diverting, but not really worth the hype, and barely worth the $4 cover price. 5/10
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