Friday, June 6, 2014

Review # 116: "New Avengers - Everything Dies" and "Uncanny Avengers - The Red Shadow"

It's interesting that the most highly-recommended Avengers series in the "Marvel NOW!" relaunch don't have the traditional feel of the title they represent. In one case, it feels like it's in name only.

"New Avengers" by Jonathan Hickman focuses on Marvel's Illuminati, a concept created by Brian Michael Bendis that revealed a select group powerful superheroes had been meeting secretly to handle Earth's biggest problems behind the scnes. You've got big brains Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic, mystic master Dr. Strange, monarchs Namor, Black Panther and Black Bolt, Captain America, and representing the mutant race, the biggest hypocrite in the Marvel Universe: Beast.

Hank McCoy's presence here lives up to my current interpretation of the character as a blowhard who sees all manner of fault in Scott Summers without finding any in himself. He disliked Cyclops keeping secrets... so, at the behest of the late Charles Xavier, he joins the biggest one on the planet. He disliked Cyclops putting together a hit squad led by Wolverine... but has no problem joining a black ops "Secret Avengers" teams.

"Everything Dies" begins with the arrival of Black Swan, who is overseeing the pending destruction of Earth as it is moments away from colliding with another Earth from an alternate dimension. Swan is a mysterious if fairly bland character, however she represents a setpiece for what really moves this series: politics.

Seeing the high and mighty bicker among themselves is a blast. Black Panther and Namor butt heads as war between Wakanda and Atlantis looms. You've got Cap and Iron Man getting in heated arguments. Aiding Steve Rogers in his crisis of faith is the great art by Steve Epting, also the penciller on "Captain America: Winter Soldier." All the dialogue is well-emoted, which is excruciatingly important in a series that's mostly talk.

What "New Avengers" lacks in action, though, "Uncanny Avengers" makes up for in spades. Without a doubt, this series has the best art of any "Marvel NOW!" book I've read and that is thanks to the overdue return to Marvel of "Astonishing X-Men" penciller John Cassaday for the opening arc. Seeing Wolverine and Cyclops drawn by him again brings back fond memories of the best X-Men series this century.

"Uncanny Avengers" was meant to be the flagship of "Marvel NOW!" and it's loaded with heavyweights from Cassaday to writer Rick Remender to the characters. You've got Wolverine, Cap and Thor from the A-list, the currently plot-heavy Scarlet Witch, monstrous fan-favourite Rogue and the team leader no one expected... Havok. Forming an Avengers team meant to help mutants, Steve Rogers makes the wild card choice of Scott Summers' brother Alex, only moments after Cyclops had lost control of the planet.

What I love about this series from the get-go is that it feels like a hybrid. You have traditional "Avengers" elements like two of the "Big Three" along with three of the underrated characters that made that team what it is: Witch, Wasp and Wonder Man. But while they're all holed up at Avengers Mansion and putting on a friendly face, everything for the team seems to be collapsing from the get-go.

That's where Remender comes into play, as it's clear thematically that this is a dressed-up continuation of the incredible "Uncanny X-Force." While "X-Force" showed how things could go horribly wrong when you got your hands dirty, "Uncanny Avengers" shows that it can be even worse when you're trying to keep your hands clean. The team has barely formed to try to promote human-mutant unity when a heavyweight villain shows up and starts making innocent people beat each other to death in the streets. I've been reading the grimmest of the grim of the bright, shiny Avengers from Kurt Busiek's run lately, and even this seems gruesome. The trouble, of course, gets sorted out. But in true Rick Remender fashion, something even worse for the team's image happens immediately.

I was very critical of the state of "Avengers," noting that it's getting too big for its own good in "Infinity." But sometimes it just goes to show that if you're putting enough material out there, you will still find work that shines. In "Uncanny Avengers'" case, this dark twist on the team is very bright.

Rating(s): 8/10 ("New Avengers - Everything Dies"), 9/10 ("Uncanny Avengers - The Red Shadow.")

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