By Jeffrey O. Gustafson
I guess I’ll start off by admitting I haven’t really been reading writer Rick Remender’s Uncanny Avengers. I read the first arc largely because of John Cassaday’s presence on art, but Remender’s story – involving the Red Skull stealing the recently deceased Charles Xavier’s brain – left me a little cold. Indeed, most of Remender’s writing at Marvel has left me unimpressed if not outright turned off. Many point to his long Frankencastle arc on Punisher as a wonderful exploration of unhinged superguy funnybook creativity, but I found the whole exercise – a story where Frank Castle is killed by Daken (Wolverine’s wayward son, who appears in Uncanny Avengers) and comes back as a stitched-up Frankenstein battling/saving/something-ing various C-list Marvel monsters - patently ridiculous (to be generous). Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Ennis, Aaron and Rucka, but a silly sci-fi monster mag is just not what I want from a Punisher comic. (That said, I’m pretty excited about Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerards’ upcoming run with the character.) The same general feeling applies to his most recent turn with Captain America. Following up Ed Brubaker’s exceptional if too-long run with Cap is an unenviable task, but his Dimension-Z story was just too stupid for me. I can appreciate that Marvel gives their creators so much room to explore, to try weird things, to throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Sometimes you hit a pretty killer if unexpected formula, like Dan Slott’s Superior Spider-Man or Fraction, Aja & crew’s Hawkeye, and sometimes the spaghetti just bounces right off, leaving an unintelligible mess on the walls for someone else to clean up later. And Uncanny Avengers 14 certainly leaves a little bit of a mess that someone will reverse at some point.
It’s unfair to expect creators to bend to my unknowable creative expectations, which is actually a common and slightly inappropriate long-term problem in fandom. Elements of superhero fandom seem to think that they have personal ownership of the characters, that they understand what makes characters work better than the skilled professionals whose job it is to create stories; they take personally the creative changes and outre storytelling risks with which they disagree. I find this attitude frankly repulsive. I’m a big believer in choosing one’s own Continuity – oh, that dirtiest of c-words! – and if I don’t like a story, or how it fits into my own idea of its place in the larger puzzle of the shared universe, I just ignore it. And anyway, I approach stories based more on who’s making it than who’s in it, and I also try a lot of new stuff if I don’t know the creators in question. A creator’s track record makes a difference, and I just don’t like Remender’s track record.
So: Uncanny Avengers. Launched in the wake of the AvX silliness of last summer is Marvel’s go at integrating the X-Men and Avengers franchises. The X-Men, while solidly enmeshed in the larger Marvel Universe, has largely existed in its own corner with its own separate weight of continuity. Uncanny Avengers features a team of various X-Men and Avengers as a public face of human-mutant relations within the Marvel Universe, and also deals with the legacies of both organizations. Remender’s first story is an example of that, featuring Captain America’s nemesis dicking around with X-affairs. His follow-up stories, to the best of my tangential knowledge, features Apacolypse, then timey wimey Kang, with various rotating (and quite good) art teams. As we dive into the story at hand in issue 14, all of these elements seem to be coming together, and it’s somewhat entertaining.
Maybe my experience has benefited by not having to go through the intervening 8-ish issues since I jumped off, cutting to the chase, and it’s one hell of a chase. The issue opens with the somewhat clunky sequence of Kang going through all the previously established alternate-future Marvel Universes and picking up various superheroes for some task or another. There’s Iron Man 2020, Earth-X Spider-Girl, 2099 Doom, and a few others. These opening pages are not addressed again as there are other pressing concerns the height of which conflict we’re thrown into full-on. Something about the Apocalypse twins forcing Wanda Maximoff, The Scarlet Witch, to “rapture” the entire mutant race to their own homeworld, and Wanda’s own efforts to subvert those plans. (Or something. I’m going off the recap page, here, and thank goodness for Marvel’s useful recap pages.) But while Wanda’s spinning her own wheels-within-wheels with the help of C-lister Wonder Man, Rogue and C-lister Sunfire have their own scheme to stop the Scarlett Witch.
And part of Rogue and Sunfire’s plan is revenge. If Uncanny Avengers is dealing with the dueling legacies of the Avengers and the X-Men, the one point where they inextricably came together was House of M. Wanda Maximoff was responsible for the depowering of nearly the entirety of Mutant-kind, and there are many that understandably hold a pretty big grudge. (Mind you, Magneto the Terrorist is free to run around willy nilly instead of rotting in a cell or just plain cold-dead, but chalk my frustration with that up to my general problem with rogue’s galleries – there’s a relevant connection, but that’s a whole other conversation entirely.) Rogue – and I’m going to ignore Sunfire here, though Remender does a decent job of upping her profile in this story – is seeking to stop Wanda from whatever it is she’s doing and to make her pay for M-day in one swell foop, sugah. Remender tries to tie the events of M-day and Wanda’s culpability in that into the fresh wound of Xavier’s death, but I don’t quite buy it. Nevertheless, it gives Rogue a chance to pull out some nifty, visceral tricks in her quest to make Wanda pay. Cue some cool superhero fighting, et cetera and whatnot. Oh, and death. Folks die. Well, superhero-die, which as we all know is meaningless and temporary.
It certainly helps that Steve McNiven (with John Dell and Laura Martin) is on the art. McNiven is a consistently entertaining practitioner of high-quality superhero art, and his stuff expectedly shines here. The combination of McNiven and the epic trans-time scale of the story gives the book an Event feel. I’m defining Event by scale of storytelling, not necessarily in the terms of over-hyped mini-series with countless pointless tie-ins. By my definition, the current “All Out War” story in Walking Dead applies, and so does the story presented here in Uncanny Avengers 14. Big Things Happen Here That Will Change The Marvel Universe Forever!TM including deaths and status quo changes that are bound to be reversed by another writer eventually, but nonetheless will have some lasting impact. I think. It’s still all middle right now. It’s a little refreshing to see such high-impact story in a single unheralded title, but it still has that Eventy tinge of Yet Another Superhero Death. I’m still not a fan of the Apocalypse/Skull/Kang stuff (which is largely minimized here anyway), but what is presented here is straightforward and entertaining enough. That is, if you are a dedicated Marvel fan. Even a Marvel Zombie may find it a stretch to really enjoy this whole thing and it will be completely incomprehensible to the uninitiated.
McNiven’s art carries the story but even McNiven may not be able to save the whole thing when all is said and done. I’m not terribly inclined to keep reading after this nor to catch up on the stuff leading up, and it doesn’t change my view on the quality of Remender’s stuff. Nor am I inclined to really recommend it over, say, any random creator-owned book. But as a standard-fare Marvel superhero book, it’s quite pretty, and if you have an affinity for the characters starring here it will either make you very happy or very, very mad.
And if it upsets you, just ignore it and pick up a better comic.
Jeffrey O. Gustafson is a Brooklyn-based comics blogger and the creator and writer of The Comic Pusher blog at ComicPusher.com