Comic book reviews: Uncanny Avengers #1-5

One of the few Marvel Comics titles I am currently following is Uncanny Avengers.  For years now, I have wanted to see a book that established some sort of ties between the Avengers and X-Men teams.  It never made sense to me that Captain America, who fought against the Nazis during World War II and who witnessed first-hand the horrors of the Holocaust, would just stand idly by while mutants were persecuted.  I’d always hoped that at some point Cap would actively recruit mutants to join the Avengers and publicly speak out in support of acceptance for the mutant community.

Uncanny Avengers #1

Uncanny Avengers #1

In the aftermath of the recent Avengers vs. X-Men crossover, we finally see Cap taking steps in this direction.  We are told that, following the events of AvX, fear & hatred towards mutants is at an all-time high.  This spurs Cap to form an “Avengers Unity Division” that demonstrates humans and mutants working side-by-side to protect the Earth.  He approaches long-time X-Factor leader Havok to head up the team.

While Havok and Cap are busy organizing this new Avengers squad, the Red Skull resurfaces.  He steals the body of Professor Xavier, who died during AvX.  The Skull somehow succeeds in implanting Xavier’s brain into his own, gaining the Professor’s formidable telepathic powers.  The Skull then sets out to ignite a race war between humans and mutants.  Following in his mentor Hitler’s footsteps, the Skull identifies a vulnerable minority who can be used as a scapegoat for all of society’s ills, in this case mutants instead of Jews.  The Skull utilizes his stolen telepathy to magnify bigotry against mutants, hoping to rally humanity to his side.

Just as I have wanted to see more of a connection between the Avengers and X-Men, so too have I long hoped that the Red Skull would one day become a major foe of the entire Avengers, not just Captain America.  And given his bigoted nature, I’m surprised that the Skull never really had any major encounters with the X-Men.  So I certainly appreciated the set-up of the first four issues of Uncanny Avengers, pitting an all-star line-up of Avengers and X-Men against the Red Skull and his bizarre lackeys, the so-called “S-Men.”

It is an interesting concept, having the Red Skull gain the awesomely powerful mental abilities of Professor Xavier.  On more than one occasion it has been shown that Xavier had the ability to affect literally millions of other minds.  However, he was a very principled individual, and usually refused to use his abilities for selfish ends.  Even so, on occasion Xavier did use his mental powers in morally questionable acts.  So, the question arises, what would then happen if those same abilities were gained by someone with no moral scruples, a man considered the human embodiment of evil, the Red Skull?  Scary thought, isn’t it?

It's a Red Skull kind of world.

It’s a Red Skull kind of world.

On writing duties for Uncanny Avengers is Rick Remender.  I’ve been a fan of his past independent work, such as Black Heart Billy, Crawl Space: XXXombies, and Sea of Red.  I haven’t really been following much of his material at Marvel.  Uncanny Avengers is certainly an interesting blending of traditional superhero action and Remender’s bizarre sensibilities.  In particular, having the Red Skull graft Xavier’s brain to his own stands out as a very Remender-ish twist. The oddball S-Men also are quite characteristic of his style.

One complaint I did have concerning the first four issues is that they did seem rather padded out.  The opening arc with the Red Skull might perhaps have worked better as a more tightly plotted three part story.

Issue #5 was an improvement as, in the days after the Skull’s attack, the Avengers Unity Division work to properly organize.  There is quite a lot of tension going on between the various members, and Remender does a good job examining these conflicts.

Havok is supposed to be the leader of this team, yet already we have seen his opinions and strategies being questioned by Captain America, the very man who appointed him.  At times Cap has a tendency to take charge uninvited, and it will be interesting to see how the dynamic between him and Havok plays out in future issues.

Okay, so who's in charge here, anyway?

Okay, so who’s in charge here, anyway?

There’s also a great deal of tension between Rogue and the Scarlet Witch.  Rogue blames Wanda for previously having tried to de-power mutant-kind, an act that set in motion a series of events which eventually led indirectly to Xavier’s death.  Rogue sees the Witch as a potential menace waiting to explode.  One of the main reasons why Rogue is sticking around is to keep an eye on the Witch, in case she eventually needs to be taken down.  This is an interesting reversal of status, because years ago Rogue was the outsider and one-time enemy with out-of-control powers who was reluctantly accepted by a suspicious X-Men team who kept a wary eye on her.  One would think Rogue, knowing what it is like to be in that position, would realize the hypocrisy of distrusting Wanda.  But, of course, that’s the thing about people: they are flawed & inconsistent like that.

The art on the first four issues is courtesy of John Cassaday.  He is a very talented artist who does amazing work.  The problem is he is also quite slow.  That resulted in a few delays in these issues coming out.  From what I understand, going forward Cassaday is sticking around as the cover artist, but the interior art will be handled by Daniel Acuna.

I liked the guest art team of Olivier Coipel & Mark Morales on issue #5.  Coipel previously penciled the main Avengers book about a decade ago.  I really enjoyed his work back then on the “Red Zone” arc which featured, yep, the Red Skull.  It’s too bad the Skull wasn’t in this issue, because I’d have liked to have seen Coipel draw him again.  Perhaps in a future issue?  As for Morales, he is an inker who has done consistently good, solid work in the past on such artists as Jim Cheung, Steve McNiven, and Leinil Francis Yu.  He seems to be well paired with Coipel here.  If Acuna needs someone to spot him on a future issue, I hope that editor Tom Brevoort will call in Coipel & Morales again.

The one thing I don’t like about Uncanny Avengers is the price tag.  Yep, four bucks is a bit steep.  Okay, yeah, I don’t mind as much having to fork over $3.99 for something published by Image or IDW or Dark Horse.  Those guys are smaller publishers, so they have to charge more to pay the bills.  But Marvel is owned by Disney, and this is one of their flagship titles.  They really do not need to be asking that extra dollar in order to turn a profit.  That is why I buy so little from Marvel nowadays, that $3.99 price they have on so many of their titles.

Uncanny Avengers is the exception, because I really like Remender’s writing, I definitely enjoy the characters he’s using, and I really want to see where this series goes.  I reached the end of issue #5 and thought to myself “Damn it, what happens next? Oh, hell, I actually have to wait a month to find out? Damn!”  I guess that’s the mark of a good book.

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