Jamil Scalese: Unity. It’s the word that permeates Uncanny Avengers. Together this team can stop Earth’s greatest threats and apart they will destroy it. For much of this arc the team of classic Avengers and headliner X-Men bickered their way to the most ultimate ruin possible and entertained the hell
In late 2012 Marvel reconfigured a major portion of their publishing product under the banner of Marvel NOW! and put Uncanny Avengers at the center of it. Rick Remender did some brilliant things in the smash hit Uncanny X-Force, and he received the reigns of what Marvel would call it’s “flagship title” at the time.
Big ups to Remender for not letting that dictate his inimitable approach to comic book scripting. Layered, sneakily funny and often times overtly complex the writer packs a lot of material into the standard allotment of twenty pages. That’s why this story deserves two pairs of eyes to dissect it’s finer moments, as well at its dull ones.
Shawn, we both agree, Uncanny Avengers might be Avengers in name, but it’s X-Men at heart. More accurately it’s X-Force’s unlikely successor, a mega evolution of a story that started in a damp cave owned by an angel. Before we dive into this lengthy piece of work I just want to pass the mic and let you tell me your general feeling about this major set of issues. Because, you know, unity.
Shawn Hill: Remender is almost uncannily (hah!) fixated on Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen. He came up with very memorable versions for Uncanny X-Force, and he’s done it again in these arcs, albeit using dead Avengers and foes amongst all the dead X-Men. Of course those Avengers are there along with Kang, to add just the mixed up trappings necessary in this time travel/alternate worlds/story of the cosmic gods mishmash that began with the simple idea of: can’t the X-Men and the Avengers get along?
That’s pretty unexpected terrain to go from the original premise (which dealt in a very heavy-handed Red Skull), but aren’t the Apocalypse Twins just an exaggeration of the main struggle between human and mutant? Played out in Havoc/Cap (and answered in Havoc + Wasp), in Wanda (viewed as the ultimate mutant traitor) and Rogue (one of the beautiful but cursed mutants who has embraced her “disease” long ago). Remender kept his throughline even though his title has veered off the “flagship” plane for some time, eclipsed by other titles more involved in passing Big Events. Remender didn’t need to get involved (except for some singular creative Age of Ultron issues) because this story was already its own epic.
Jamil: For something that supposed to be at the “center” of the MU this reads like an offshoot of Exiles or something. Remender stacks ideas on ideas very well, intertwining different Marvel elements into a mostly cohesive package that rewards on second and third reads.
Not only does this comic jump timelines and possible alternate futures it dabbles in non-linear narratives, for example showing us the timestream hopping machinations of Kang AND Immortus, or providing us a violent flashback of Uriel and Eimin’s tragic childhood, or even jumping to the year 1013 in issue #6 or “six years from now” in #18 to give us a scope of how far this story reaches.
You are right, though. No matter how much the storyline jumbles and rights itself Remender does a fine job of hitting on the themes and tones of the series, that of acceptance and brotherhood amongst all humans, whether they be sapien or superior. Through Wolverine he even manages to continue the major thread of Uncanny X-Force (and his Secret Avengers run), the inherent moral complications of murder, no matter how justified, and how the easy solution of ending a problem by death can bite you on the ass.
Shawn: Which comes up again and again with Wanda (as if Rogue would let her forget it). The former mutants who she depowered, slaughtered in Akkaba by the Twins (whose Rapture will only save active mutants) even though they were faithful to Apocalypse. Thor, who, from a slight from Apocalypse, forges a revenge that relies on Loki rather than Odin (mistake one), and leads to Celestial doom. That the younger Thor persisted even in the face of foretellings and warnings speaks to the hubris that each of the characters must learn to face.
In fact, what could be a more loaded way of bringing home this fact than the newly arisen Four Horsemen zombies sent at our Uncanny Unity? Daken, whom Logan had just killed, though his own son? Banshee, murdered by the third Summers brother in his own mad bid for power. The Grim Reaper, past being human for a very long time, more than willing to keep punishing Wanda and his brother for eternity. And the Sentry, who was just a psychotic mistake made by everyone on Bendis’ Avengers (hey, let’s sign up somebody crazier, but also more powerful, than our old friend Hulk!), back to fight the god who killed him.
Jamil: The Four Horsemen are an X-Men staple, a popular set of villains amongst one of the better and bolder rogues galleries out there. Much like their lord Apocalypse the Horsemen’s legend was expanded by miles in Uncanny X-Force, and Remender continues to pile on detail and ingenuity, like showing us previous incarnations of the Celestial-appointed evolutionary caretakers, and providing us with four Deaths. The selection of the zombies you mentioned above were some inspired individual picks. Daken gets a good amount of page time, and he’s a sneering POS that serves the henchmen role very well. A huge surprise is the retooled Sentry as Bob Reynolds is Void-less after being burnt down to atoms and reborn over and over again following Siege. The other Horsemen serve the Twin’s plans for human extinction, but somehow crazy Sentry has it all twisted that he’s a Horsemen for humanity’s survival. A fascinating turn for a unique character.
I’ll admit I’m a little underwhelmed by Twins. They felt so unbeatable from the jump because of their frustrating time-travel powers that never seemed to quit. Their overdeveloped origin needed more time to breathe: Born of Archangel via the Horsemen Pestilence, fathered by Kang, raised in the mutant camps of Ahab in a future where the 1940’s Red Skull, using the brain of Charles Xavier, has convinced humans to massacre mutants en masse. That’s a lot of backstory we rarely see. The Age of Ultron tie-in Uncanny Avengers #8AU might appear axillary but it’s a needed digression to justify these characters.
Uriel and Eimin tie together the book’s showpiece feature: it’s complex villain story. The Twins chase revenge and plan to sabotage Kang’s entire kingdom in the far future by wiping out Earth in the present, but they also flee to Planet X in fear from the Red Skull. He never shows his crimson face in this set of issues (save from a flashforward involving Ahab) but his presence is felt throughout.
Skull is in the writer’s back pocket for the incoming crossover AXIS, and thus it’s Kang the Conquerer that commandeers the bright spotlight. He was on the bench most of the Bendis era and the impact of his return is fresh and sinfully fun. Remender writes a brilliant egomaniac. Dude’s favorite word is “my”.
Shawn: What’s interesting about the Apocalypse Twins is how many wrong notes they strike for the mutant members of the team. Being reminded of Warren is painful enough, but being reminded of his Horsemen persona and razor wings? It makes the X-Men have to fight children they should have taken in and sheltered, had they known about them, and it’s another variation on the Apocalypse child from Uncanny X-Force that was supposedly killed but secretly nurtured.
Jamil: It’s certainly an interesting remix of two villain mythologies in regards to the Twins. When I first heard that the book would involve three headliner villains I was interested to see how they’d funnel them into one storyline. It’s done not so much by featuring three or more individuals but rather by expounding on their respective mythologies and gimmicks. It’s not En Sabah Nur the team fears, it’s his cosmic task of wiping away the under-evolved. Red Skull doesn’t even feature in this storyline but his pure evil spurns the antagonists’ plot. Even Kang, who is certainly a singular menace, uses his time travel in passive and manipulative ways, becoming more of a force of nature than a traditional villain.
Speaking of forces the Celestials are also main cog to the whole plot, even a MacGuffin in the final stages. Who knew Exitar’s blood was so valuable?
Shawn: I keep coming back to that #8AU issue. What could have been a throwaway was a pretty solid bit of storytelling, giving us character insights delivered in no other ways. Even in the alternate AU-verse, where the mutants were even more decimated than usual and in hiding with the Morlocks, we got to see Uriel and Eimin as children, and saw firsthand how their deadly wings, laced with knives or poison, brought back memories of Angel’s own time amongst the Morlocks. We also saw the most humanity yet from Uriel, as he tried to save Rogue after injuring her (even though he had already killed Alex). We’ve never seen a similar moment of compassion from Eimin that I recall.
Jamil: Indeed, and later Eimin fails to tell her brother that his sacrifice is needed to achieve the dreams and paradise of mutant rapture. There’s even a spot toward the beginning when Uriel questions the ferocity of their plan. The Twins’ story is really cramped but there are some nuances to separate the characters. Eimin is assuredly more ruthless, a trait possibly spurred on by the injury to her eyes that was committed by Uriel, ordered by Ahab and passively allowed by Kang.
#8AU is plotted by Remender, but we must give a nod to Gerry Duggan (Deadpool; Nova) for doing a good job of stepping in and working with unfamiliar characters while keeping the flow of the main title. By bringing the Twins to the devastated and slanted Pym-less verse in the second half of Age of Ultron it even works to explain exactly why Kang doesn’t participate in broad changes to the timeline to achieve his ends. Artist Adam Kubert also does a lot of work to satisfy a demanding script (you have to love Kang’s hall of trophies!) Make no mistake it’s a truly an essential read for anyone that skipped it or is looking to collect this series.
Shawn: I give Kubert massive credit for really bringing the (teenage) twins alive; you could just about hear their leathery batwings flapping about the Morlock tunnels. That is not to slight Cassaday, McNiven, Larocca or Acuna, we have really gotten amazing art on this series all along. Larocca sold the emotion between the tragic Simon/Wanda final pairing in the Twins’ microverse hideout, and McNiven captured the drama of the final faceoff between Wanda and Rogue (not to mention Grim Reaper and everyone, and Daken and Wolverine). Daniel Acuña showed early on what he could do with this cast, with exceptionally solid takes on Sunfire (ever the anime hero spurned by his own homeland) and Wanda (who looked like if Rita Hayworth had made a Betty Page film, a total pinup femme fatale).
Jamil: I’m glad you brought up art because we haven’t really mentioned it, and that’s not for its lack of greatness, it’s just there are sooo many good visuals and I don’t think it’s right to just offhandedly mention the art without delving into what makes it work.
John Cassaday proved to be a little slow for Marvel’s liking, and frankly, while his quality is high I never felt like his style really meshed well with Remender’s intricate, moody writing style. Enter Daniel Acuña, part-veteran, part-rising star, who helmed 11 of the 18 issues in this arc. It’s obvious even from his first issue (#6) that this guy is ultra talented and works extremely well in the “epic” tone of the script. The division of art duties is often a logistical must but Acuña reminds us how great comic art can be when one person can do pencils, inks and colors (and hit deadlines).
I first read some of Acuña’s work in an issue of Bendis’ Avengers and I remember being so impressed with his Kevin Nowlan-esque painted style that fit together perfectly on the page. A critique of his work on that book was that his style looked kind of stiff, not an uncommon flaw of the general aesthetic, and he struggled with action scenes.
Nope. Nope. This guy brings the heat in the action sequences, a tool his collaborator isn’t afraid to use. In fact, some of Daniel Acuña’s strongest stuff involves Thor swinging his hammer or Havok frantically battling an undead Banshee or Magneto’s X-Brother-Force-Hood. There’s a scene of Cap running from an enemy in #8 that is so perfectly paced and framed that it could serve as a guide to great sequential storytelling.
Shawn: I agree, Acuña was given the job of bringing the Horsemen to life, and then setting each of them against opponents logical for emotionally painful and personal reasons. The kind of plot-structure that once would have driven an Annual event, now spread out over several issues but no less painful because these revenants (revived from mummies by the space-seeds just to get that creepy Apokolips/Ancient Egypt vibe right) were indeed alive again to some extent, but unable to break free of their Horsemen programming.
But we knew from that first issue with Thor and Wolverine’s ancestor that Acuña could do epic if he wanted, pitting Thor against Apocalypse in ways both unexpected and majestic.
Jamil: Yeah, #6 is a strong candidate for my favorite issue in the run. Even though it features a bunch of characters not crucial to the central plot (i.e. Folkborn Logan, the Horsemen of 1013, Apocalypse, Rama-Tut, Odin) it represents how wild this comic can get while still pushing the story forward rapidly.
Shawn: In Acuña’s first non-flashback issue (#9), Rogue and Wanda have a battle of words, not fists or powers, one that gets so intense and ideological that Cap has to break it up. In #21, a changed and reborn Rogue reaches out to hug her nemesis, with Wanda frozen stiffly in confusion. In between, of course, she killed her with claws, but their opposition was a major story component all along, and represented diametrically opposed issues pertinent to any minority: in a nutshell, should we assimilate or to segregate? For a real world example, the gay community has clearly chosen the assimilationist approach regarding the battle for marriage equality; there was a time when marriage was far from the community’s goal list, or when alternative lifestyles were proposed, but separate but equal was deemed not really equal at all.
Wanda, having literally left the Evil Mutants at Cap’s behest long ago, thinks of herself as a good guy, not a mutant underdog. Rogue, unable to touch or experience basic human interaction due to her power, has always been an outsider among outsiders (and has been drawn to charismatic, unscrupulous leaders like Mystique and Magneto). Is Alex a hero or a fool for feeling like a human, more than part of a separate species? Is it always racist to emphasize our differences rather than our similarities?
These are big questions that no comic is going to answer, but that Remender is asking them shows his deep understanding of the metaphors that have driven Marvel stories using these characters for years.
Jamil: Absolutely spot on, and in terms of using the core tenants of the mutant metaphor Remender did more in these twenty issues than a whole host of writers have done in decades. Havok’s speech in Uncanny Avengers #5 created a bunch hoopla last year as fans questioned the suggestion that one should divorce themselves from their inherent, genetic qualities. I kind of hated that sentiment was attributed directly to the writer, it was clearly a character’s viewpoint…but then again Alex Summers is kind of the poster boy of the title, a pet project, similar to how Remender essentially made Fantomex the unlikely main character in Uncanny X-Force.
I like the idea that the brother of Cyclops, the guy who strives to protect anyone with the X-gene, prefers to judge individuals on what they do with that power rather than where they got it from. He stands with the ultimate symbol of that, the Avengers. He’s saying judge me for me. Havok and the Scorcher can both melt your face off but there’s only one of them you’d want in your corner.
Shawn: Assimilation or accommodation? Can you join the mainstream without losing precious facets of identity? Can the mainstream evolve enough to not just tolerate diversity but celebrate and nurture it? These are questions we’re asking today in this country, and questions this book seems perfectly seated to explore, in spandex.
Jamil: Racism and prejudice are racism and prejudice, but it’s also true the dialogue changes over time, and you’re right, the “mutant as human” argument that Alex makes isn’t the end of the conversation. The part I like most is that while I agree in principal I also understand that the mutant metaphor can be seen through many different prisms. As Colonel America says in #8AU: “Xavier’s teachings can be interpreted in any number of ways”.
Of course, as you mentioned, the second half of the debate takes place a few issues later when Wanda and Rogue vehemently argue the meaning behind Havok’s message and offer their own views. This is literally Remender responding to the controversy of #5, and he completely volleys the backlash right back in the haters’ faces. Its a make or break moment for the series, a creator acknowledging perception, respecting fan’s opinions and at the same time saying: Imma do it my way, take it or leave it.
Join us for Part Two where we dive into the rest of the roster, ponder the (over?) use of narration, talk about that kooky Annual and of course share our thoughts on how this whole thing wraps up!