Pile It On: Uncanny Avengers #1

Copyright 2012, Marvel Entertainment.  Art by John Cassaday and Laura Martin.

SPOILER WARNING: I’m gonna talk about what happened in this issue, as well as the ending of Avengers Vs. X-Men, because I read them both.  If you haven’t, proceed with caution.  (Also, get with it already: what have you been doing with yourself?  Slacker.)

Okay, confession time: so I rolled my eyes when I first heard this title being announced a few months ago.  Great, just what we need — not only another ongoing Avengers monthly, but one that is simultaneously another X-Men book, as well.  Given the Avengers frenzy over the past year, this smacked of a callous “hey, how can we basically print money?”

And I immediately refused to buy it.  Even if it does involve two creators whose work I am greatly impressed with, writer Rick Remender and artist John Cassady.  And the first story arc about the return of the original, WW II-era Red Skull, who has his Nazi-honed genocidal sensibilities set directly on homo superior . . .

Yeah . . . so, what can I say?  Resistance is futile — although I still think the title ‘Uncanny Avengers’ is a bit on the lame side.  The comic, or at least this debut issue, is most certainly not.

Coming directly out of AvX, Rick Rememnder wastes no time in setting up the status quo for this new series, building on a particularly obvious point: while Captain America and the rest of the non-mutant Marvel heroes were all too happy to have Wolverine, Beast, et al. watching their backs when the chips were down, the favor was never really returned to the mutants when they needed someone to stand with them against the racial prejudice they’ve perennially suffered from.  Cap, being Cap, is going to do his best to fix that by organizing a co-ed squad of Avengers and X-Men and pre-emptively try to heal the wounds that AvX left between the two most powerful factions in the Marvel Universe.

There’s no small irony in Captain America wanting to tag Havok, Cyclops’ brother, as the leader of this new mash-up — thanks to Scott and his misguided embracing of the Phoenix, humanity as a whole has a very tangible reason to fear mutantkind, and while Alex Summers is reluctant to embrace the role, it’s a perfect choice — he not only gets to help redeem homo superior, but the Summers name, as well.

This issue also features a very understated and poignant eulogy for the fallen Charles Xavier — a plot twist I, frankly, didn’t see coming.  I had expected that coming out of AvX, the absent, retired Professor X would realize he needs to step back into a leadership role, and going forward, the X-Men would return to its Claremont-era roots.

Instead, we’ve got an entirely new direction, as all the various soldiers and heroes who have embraced the X as their symbol now have to come to terms with what that really means, and in some cases, just how badly they may have disgraced Charles by, as Logan put it, failing him by being determined to do things their way, and not as Xavier himself would have wanted it.  There’s no arguing that Professor X may not stay dead indefinitely (although you can make a strong case that the fact Jean Grey has yet to return, despite repeated demand from the fanbase, means this particular door to the afterlife with an X marked on it may not be a revolving one), but there’s much interesting material to be mined from this event, far more than simple shock value of killing off an iconic character.  The X-Men in all their various permutations really haven’t had a strong, resonant emotional core for a while, and Charles’ sacrifice may provide just that.

I also love the continuing downfall of Cyclops, who is showing zero remorse for what he’s done, both in scenes from other post-AvX comics, and in particular here.  Not that I hate Scott and wish him ill — quite the opposite, actually — but it’s great to see these long-lived characters grow and evolve.  It’s quick and easy to say Cyclops is becoming a post-modern Magneto — something that was addressed a few times during AvX — but while Magneto has been motivated more by vengeance for the atrocities inflicted upon him, Scott’s transformation is, in its way, more tragic: he simply embraced the dark side we all struggle with, and was willing to cross irreversible lines to achieve what he believed was the right thing.  It’s easy to see, given the post-AvX landscape, where downtrodden mutants may turn to him as a savior-figure, and given Scott’s unparalleled leadership ability, he’ll be able to forge these angry misfits into a very effective force that will be far more menacing than any incarnation of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants ever was.

On top of that, we have legacy aspect that is starting right here, in this issue — Logan is fully stepping into the role of headmaster, with an entire cadre of younger, inexperienced mutants looking to him for guidance at a watershed moment, and at the other end of the chessboard stands Scott — the parallels between Wolverine and Cyclops and Professor Xavier and Magneto, once friends and allies who became bitter enemies over their philosophical differences, is crystal clear.  The old generation finally steps aside for the one following it, but this will be an entirely new conflict.

If that alone wasn’t worth your $3.99, there’s the return of the Red Skull.  While not directly unveiled in this issue, from what I understand, this Skull is actually Cap’s original arch-nemesis, placed in suspended animation, and the one that’s been menacing everyone for the past few decades was a clone — yeah, it should elicit a jaded fanboy groan, but I think it works, and it gives this new hybrid team the perfect foil, right off the bat: the Skull has determined that the mutants gotta go, and he’ll bring no-holds-barred horrific Nazi super-science to bear to make that happen.  (Wait until you see the final page of the issue, that’s all I’m sayin’.)

So, awesomeness right across the board — Remender’s skill at writing a large, diverse cast in Secret Avengers and Uncanny X-Force lets him hit the ground running HARD here, and he’s got a fantastic set of collaborators in John Cassady, handling both pencils and inks, and colorist Laura Martin, who did outstanding work setting the visual tone for a variety of different scenes, each with their own emotional texture, and got it spot-on each time.  As much as I rue seeing Ed Brubaker leave writing chores on Captain America, I can’t wait to see Rick’s interpretation now, especially after this issue.

I am a little leery as to how long this particular concept of an ongoing team-up between the Avengers and X-Men can remain fresh without seeming forced, but with enemies like the reintroduced Red Skull and Cyclops waiting in the wings, as well as Rick’s talents as a great comic writer who really embraces the superhero genre, I think we’ll be in for a good ride here before any sort of creative rot sets in.  One of Marvel editorial’s stated goals for a while was to bridge the gap between the mutant stepchild X-books and the rest of the Marvel Universe, and judging from this debut issue, Uncanny Avengers might just be the lynchpin that makes that happen.

–mal

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