A review of the new flagship title for Marvel NOW!
A good comic book goes a long way towards cleansing one’s palate of a bad event or poor editorial decisions. Comics like Wonder Woman or Animal Man have made DC’s hastily implemented New 52 bearable. Brandon Graham’s Prophet is a must read, even if the book was created by industry pariah Rob Liefeld. Good comics are good comics, no matter what context they’ve evolved from.
I think it’s important to make this distinction prior to reviewing Uncanny Avengers #1. I’m not going to pretend that I liked this summer’s Avengers vs. X-Men event. The miniseries was underwhelming; it made Civil War look like a treatise of morality and ethics by comparison. At times, it seemed like the series was conceived and organized by overgrown manchildren playing with action figures without any thought of consequence, continuity or characterization.
However, the event happened and it opened the door for a new wave of stories and ideas, a soft relaunch called Marvel NOW! by the marketing powers that be. I love relaunches simply because they offer a possibility for new stories and ideas. There are more than a few intriguing series debuting from Marvel NOW!, including Mark Waid’s Indestructible Hulk, a Keiron Gillen/Jamie McKelvie Young Avengers and a new Jason Aaron Thor series.
Another series I was intrigued by was Rick Remender’s Uncanny Avengers, a “flagship” series designed to bring the Avengers and X-Men franchises together. Remender has put together an impressive resume of superhero comics over the last year. Uncanny X-Force is one of the best X-Men series since Grant Morrison’s run and Venom gained a cult following and acclaim despite its ridiculous concept. Joining Remender is John Cassaday, one of the best comic artists in the industry.
The premise behind Uncanny Avengers is a simple one: Captain America wants to set up an Avengers team geared towards handling mutant issues, an area long neglected by the Avengers. After the fallout of Avengers vs. X-Men, the team seems a bit more necessary, with Cyclops imprisoned for murder and Wolverine managing the X-Men on his lonesome. Remender’s initial lineup includes Captain America, Thor, Wolverine, Havok (looking to separate himself from his murderous extremist kin), Rogue and the Scarlet Witch, who has a fair share of mutant blood on her hands.
The debut issue is a quick read, one that rushes through its story beats with little time for rumination or thought, especially in the second half. A casualty from Avengers vs. X-Men is buried, his murderer confronted, his grave defiled by a group of mysterious villains with nefarious ends, and his body involved in one of the most macabre endings ever seen in a mainstream comic. Instead of downplaying the series’ ties to Avengers vs. X-Men, Remender chooses to celebrate in it, making the megaevent a necessary read to understand exactly what is going on.
It seems like Remender is trying to blend classic superheroics with modern storytelling. Narration captions are present in practically every panel, character designs hearken back to an older era and weird villains dance around the page. However, the writing comes off as forced and rushed. The dialogue is generic and uninspired as are the new villains introduced in the issue. For instance, the goat-headed girl seen on the cover of Uncanny Avengers #2 is named the Goat Head Girl.
Characterization also seems to be a secondary concern in Uncanny Avengers. Scarlet Witch comes off as unrepentant for her past actions against mutants, while Rogue seems to have devolved to her 1980’s emo personality. Even Captain America, who Remender will be covering in the character’s series, seems off somehow. Cap’s dialogue during one battle scene is especially cringe-worthy, with Captain America acting more like a nervous superhero on entering his first battle than the leader of the Avengers who has experienced and stopped countless worldwide disasters.
The saving grace of the issue is Cassaday’s art, which remains as strong as it was during Planetary and Astonishing X-Men. He’s able to cover many of Remender’s faults with a strong showing and turns a disturbing last page into one that’s utterly unforgettable. The comic is almost worth picking up just to look at Cassaday’s work.
In many ways Uncanny Avengers reminds me of Justice League, DC’s counterpart flagship title. Both marked the beginning of their companies’ respective relaunches, both feature some of their companies’ most well-known characters and both have grade-A artistic talent attached. Both also are light on plot and characterization, rely heavily on pushing forward their universes’ respective plotlines and are largely unatisfying to read.
As much as I hate to say it, Uncanny Avengers #1 is not a good comic book. It's a below-average superhero comic falling far short of Remender's past work that will appeal to fans of Avengers vs. X-Men but little else. Read at your own risk.