Review: Uncanny Avengers #1

I desperately want to like Uncanny Avengers #1, although mostly for sentimental reasons: I've been reading comics with the word Uncanny in the title since I was a seventh grader, when I started buying them off of a spinner rack near the counter of a Waldenbooks at the mall. Although I look back on those years, Chuck Austen was writing the book, with more than a little disdain, I liked it then because Nightcrawler was leading the team, and I just kind of stuck with it, only stopping for about a year in my senior year of high school and then again in college, for about six months and in protest, during THE SECOND COMING X-crossover.

So, yeah, I'm attached to the adjective, and I want to uncritically love this new use of it as much as I loved the last one. It should have been so easy to do, too, since it has, in Rick Remender, a competent writer and because it is being drawn by John Cassaday, one of the industry's brightest talents, finally returned from an exile in the Desert of the Cover Artists. Alas, it was not to be-- Uncanny Avengers is vulgar and incomprehensible.

It doesn't help, of course, that Marvel's bloated Avengers v. X-Men event, out of which this new series springs, ended as messily as it did, basically returning the Marvel Universe to a status quo ended when Brian Bendis undid all of Grant Morrison's New X-Men work in the pages of House of M (a story that Marvel's characters are, sort of inexplicably, now referencing every few pages).* Mutants, all of the sudden, are back, and they're popping up all over the place, in Beijing, in Cyclops's cellblock, everywhere. The premise of this book is simple: those mutants need help, and Captain America is determined to be there for them. His first order of business is to find them a leader (doesn't anybody at Marvel realize how condescending that is?), and the list of those who are unqualified is quite long. Scott is, obviously, out. Wolverine's past is checkered. Xavier is dead. Magneto used to be a terrorist. Who knows where Hope is. Onto this scene, from the pages of X-Factor, waltzes Alex Summers, first to admonish his brother, at this point a matter of course for a Marvel good guy, and then into the company of Steve Rogers and the mighty Thor who tell him, without prompting, that he is the leader that his people need. Cue the requisite hemming and hawing and then...

Cut to a fight scene, in which Captain America, Thor and Havok are on hand, out of nowhere and from across town, to fight a lobotomized Avalanche. This is how this book moves, with little regard for plausibility and continuity; from there, we're shuffled along to a moralizing internal monologue from the Scarlet Witch, kneeling at at the grave of Professor X. Rogue doesn't take kindly to this, and they prepare to fight when, out of nowhere, there's another completely illegible, although much more mysterious, fight scene. All of this is, of course, followed by a big, wacky reveal at the end. At this juncture, I think it's important that you  keep in mind that I'm talking about a story in which a man who dresses up in a flag and throws a round shield at things is teaming up with a Norse god and a man whose "x-gene" gives him the ability to blast things with powers he gets from exposure to sunlight to fight someone who, in the first page of the comic, has his frontal lobe removed and replaced with a computer and can cause earthquakes-- and it's the mode and mechanics of the storytelling that I'm finding implausible.

This is particularly hard to take, since the book has a lot of other things going for it. Remender, for his part, just stuffs it with interesting ideas, from the suggestion, at the beginning, that Havok might be the one to step up as a leader for mutantkind to the reveal, at the end, of a returned Red Skull, who needs Professor X's brain for some nefarious scheme for the destruction of that same people. Look, this could have been very good stuff, like a Matt Fraction story with a legacy villain and an occult twist. Rather than aping the slowburning plotter of Invincible Iron Man, though, Remender has picked up on the hyperactive tendencies of certain parts of The Mighty Thor, introducing too many big ideas to bring any of them to a satisfying resolution, at least on the level of this individual issue.

Remender's inability to pick one subject and stick with it is particularly galling because it wastes John Cassaday's considerable talents. Cassaday, who hasn't published any narrative work since the release of Planetary #27 in 2009, really does deserve better than this because, while Uncanny Avengers isn't the best thing he's ever drawn, it is an excellent reminder of why he's one of the few artists I follow faithfully, wherever he may go. His style, because it seamlessly transitions from photorealistic to cartoony and back, often in the same panel, feels natural, almost real. More than any other artist, I'm struck by how easy Cassaday makes it for a reader to suspend disbelief. This only works, however, if the narrative that he is drawing is, itself, natural, that is, if it flows comprehensibly. Uncanny Avengers does not.

Some of this, certainly, could be forgiven; Cassaday's art is good, and it's nice to see a writer as excited about his own ideas as Remender. Unfortunately, the book's dialogue is too often either reheated sermonizing from the end of AvX or stilted and manufactured, much like the conflict between Rogue and the Scarlet Witch, and that's just too much to take. If Marvel wants this to be a successful series, and since it's the flagship in a new era for the company, I'm going to assume they want it to sell well, they would do well to do some actual, honest-to-goodness editing here, if only to pin the writer down. There's too much good stuff here to let it get away like this again.

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*I think there's probably something to be said for the fact that Marvel is starting its NOW! era with a recursive move-- the company's stories are stagnant even when it makes an explicit attempt at moving them forward. At least the idea is a good one, one that should never have been abrogated in the first place.

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