Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Comic Book review: Uncanny Avengers, Volume One: The Red Shadow

As part of the Marvel NOW! movement, Uncanny Avengers sees a new Avengers team, dubbed the Avengers Unity Squad, emerge from the recent death of Charles Xavier, a crippling loss to both the superhuman and mutant communities alike. The first issue opens with Wolverine delivering a speech at Xavier’s memorial service, reminiscing on how Xavier saw so much potential in him and every other student that came through his school’s doors, and that despite their efforts, Wolverine does not feel that believers in Charles Xavier’s ideals have managed to properly make it a reality. It’s Wolverine at perhaps his most likeable – a straight-shooter who doesn’t soften his blows, but at the same time does not go out of his way to pick fights with others if they simply disagree with him, and refrains from his once-feral tendencies.

The story then cuts to Havok, who is visiting his brother Cyclops in a S.H.I.E.L.D. maximum security cell, as Cyclops was apparently the one directly responsible for Xavier’s death. While this first volume of Uncanny Avengers does well to set the stage for future conflicts, this scene presents one oversight where new readers are not given enough context to understand the full series of events that led to Cyclops killing Xavier, only that Cyclops doesn’t seem to be all too upset by his actions, while Havok believes the human-mutant relationship is at risk for being further strained. It is not long after that Havok is visited by Captain America and Thor, with the red, white, and blue icon asking Havok if he would like to join the Avengers as the leader of a new team.

The pacing that this first trade paperback of Uncanny Avengers adopts is notably slower than other first entries in the Marvel NOW! lineup. By the time the fifth and final issue in this collection comes to a conclusion, the team has still not fully formed, as certain members are reluctant to get along with one another – more specifically, Rogue and Scarlet Witch, with the former holding a grudge over the later for the ‘No More Mutants’ event. Scarlet Witch, meanwhile, maintains that there are greater things at play than Rogue can perceive, and is even painted as more of an antagonist early on, before she is faced with a greater threat facing the Avengers and the community of Marvel heroes at large. Even Captain America has to be reminded of the fact that Havok is the man in charge on a couple of occasions.

Red Skull is this volume’s primary villain, and his Nazi roots resurface in spades as he attempts to influence the masses of New York into spilling one another’s blood in order to wipe out the 'mutant menace'. With Charles Xavier dead, Red Skull has extracted the psychic brain of the famous X-Men leader, and fused it to his own, granting him incredible powers of persuasion and deception over the Avengers Unity Team. He is able to penetrate Captain America’s mind briefly, leading to an argument in the heat of battle between the star-spangled Avenger and Havok. Perhaps even more threatening are the similarly persuasive abilities of one of Red Skull's henchmen, Honest John, who influences Thor to do battle with his former friends and allies.

The other minor villains that Red Skull employs are considerably less memorable, and appear in a limited number of panels. Almost half of this first volume is devoted to the Avengers’ battle with Red Skull, and the press conference that follows, wherein Havok feels that transparency will be their best option if they hope to convince the public that Charles Xavier’s vision lives on, and that they can put their faith in a mutant-superhuman team like the Avengers Unity Squad. Red Skull is cunning and devious a villain as ever, while the dialogue between all of the major characters in Uncanny Avengers properly reflects the team's growing pains. That said, it would have been nice for this story to cover a little more ground, because even though it has the makings of a strong origin for this new Avengers team, it feels like merely the first half of said origin story. All of which is made doubly odd, considering how much later portions of the story tease events to come, specifically from the events of Marvel’s AXIS crossover event.

My rating: 7.25

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