‘Uncanny Avengers’ Doesn’t Waste Any Time Getting To The Good Stuff [Spoiler Free Review]
This week, Rick Remender and John Cassaday are taking the chocolate and peanut butter of the Marvel Universe and mashing it up into one with Uncanny Avengers, a comic that unites the company’s two most famous franchises in the wake of their latest crossover event. From a publishing standpoint, it makes perfect sense, taking two popular but disparate teams and combining them into one in hopes of drawing a bigger audience, but since it was announced, the question has been whether it would work out as a story.
Well, not to spoil anything, but if the first issue is any indication, this book is going to be pretty awesome.I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been pretty skeptical. I’ve never been much of an Avengers fan, but the stories that I do like — the Busiek/Perez run in particular — tend to revolve around the Avengers dealing with exactly what they say they do in that little caption at the start of each issue: threats no single superhero could withstand. Big, cosmic stuff, unstoppable teams of villains out for revenge, that kind of thing. The X-Men, meanwhile, are a team I do love, largely because they stay so focused on a particular set of problems. I like seeing them occasionally head out to space or stop an apocalypse (or, you know, Apocalypse), but they always work best for me when they’re dealing with that ongoing civil rights metaphor at the heart of their story.
As much as it seems natural that they’d team up every now and then to fight for a more generic version of Justice and Goodness, and as much as characters like Beast and Wolverine have shown that it can be done pretty easily in small doses, and as much as the ability to effortlessly switch around heroes and villains to make a more interesting story has always been a strength of the Marvel Universe, uniting them on a grand scale didn’t strike me as something that would work. There’s a lot of potential there to water down the core messages of both teams, rather than using them to build something bigger.
Then I got that first issue and saw that Remender knew exactly what he was doing. He not only figured out how to pull it off, but did it in such a way that I was left wondering why this story hadn’t happened sooner. As hard as it is to do when you’re spinning out of a big ol’ crossover, everything makes sense.
Structurally, the first half of the book involves a lot of setup. That’s a necessary evil for a comic like this, where all the world-changing events of a twelve-part story need to be laid out in about ten pages for the benefit of new readers lured in by the promise of Thor hanging out with Havok. It goes almost exactly as you’d expect: Everyone’s sad about Professor X being dead except Cyclops, who’s being kind of a massive dick about it, various people on various teams are soap operatically upset with each other, and Captain America is nice.
It’s very well-done, but it’s also fairly standard stuff for a comic like this, even if Page 1 features a mutant terrorist’s skull being opened up. Then, about halfway through, that edge that makes Remender’s work on titles like Uncanny X-Force and Secret Avengers so enjoyable starts to creep in, building to a climax that reminds you that Rick Remender is not a dude who has time for comics that don’t go big. That’s exactly what he does, bringing in a huge, unexpected twist in one of those moments that’s so good that I couldn’t stop laughing about it even when I finished the issue.
It’s fun, and when that over-the-top high concept — which, again, makes perfect sense in the context of the two teams coming together — is combined with his knack for sharp, witty character work, the end result is a great read. I don’t want to say that it’s the first time in years that I’ve been excited about an Avengers title since the announcement of Jonathan Hickman on the core books settled that one a while back, but it’s definitely the first one I’ve picked up and loved.
On the art side, Marvel has made it pretty difficult to judge a new book by its pencils with their policy of rotating artists to meet a frequently double-shipping schedule. Even though it’s made for some solid books that I don’t mind getting as often as possible (Daredevil), it’s also produced some pretty rough-looking new titles. That said, it almost goes without saying that John Cassaday’s pretty great here. His work on Astonishing X-Men was always impressive, and seeing him return to those characters here — plus Cap, Thor and the rest of the Avengers side of things — is great stuff.
The thing about Cassaday’s art is that it’s expressive and solid without relying on photorealism. Everything’s detailed and consistent, but in a way that still works once the superheroic action starts up and the inherent weirdness of the Marvel Universe kicks in. It’s the same kind of underlying solidity that you get from Art Adams, even though you’d never mistake one’s work for the other. It just looks right.
A constant string of Ends-Of-Eras and Bold-New-Directions can get pretty tiresome after a while, but underneath all that hype, the important thing is great creators making great comics. As long as that’s in place, things tend to work out, and with this issue, that greatness is there.