Sunday, 29 December 2013

Uncanny Avengers, Volume 1: The Red Shadow Review (Rick Remender, John Cassady)

After the events of Avengers Vs X-Men, Captain America came up with an idea to improve their public image by creating a team made up of both Avengers AND X-Men - enter the Uncanny Avengers with their leader, Havok aka Alex Summers, the brother of one of the most notorious characters in the Marvel U, Scott Summers aka Cyclops aka the guy who killed Xavier. Speaking of Xavier, the Red Skull has somehow gotten ahold of his corpse, taken his brain out, and gained his psychic powers! Red Skull assembles his own team called the S-Men and tries to take over the world with his new superpowers.

There were a few things about the book that annoyed the crap out of me but the one thing that consistently bothered me was the Xavier’s brain thing. Red Skull literally cuts open Xavier’s head and scoops out the brain - and then suddenly he has Xavier’s powers! There’s a scene missing here. Did he eat the brain and thus gain the powers? Did he cram the brain into his own head somehow? How does someone gain a psychic’s powers from said psychic’s brain?! I realise this is a Marvel comic so plausible explanations are the last thing I should be expecting, but just a line to elaborate on this very important plot detail would’ve been appreciated - even if Red Skull simply said “I ate his brain and got his powers”! It’d be cray-cray but it’s something. As it is, it just feels lazy to not mention it and leap ahead.

The other thing that really annoyed me was Rick Remender’s writing which is unusually clunky and overly descriptive. I get that maybe he’s doing a tribute to Chris Claremont (I’m assuming he’s a fan, I don’t actually know), but this overwriting style is strongly reminiscent of Claremont’s X-Men comics, where the action taking place within a panel is described either by the characters in their dialogue, or in the narrative box in the panel, or both (which is why I hate most of Claremont’s stuff). It makes reading the comic that much drearier and more tedious. It doesn’t even feel like a style that belongs in comics, it’s much more suited to prose fiction or radio plays.

Then there’s the team itself which is an uninspired lineup at best. Havok, Scarlet Witch, Rogue, Wolverine, Cap, Thor - it’s so arbitrary and, after reading it, I don’t really get why these characters were selected, besides their obvious popularity (discounting the obvious ones who haven’t had their own movies yet). There’s just no chemistry among them at all.

The team’s very existence is a big problem for me too. One of the most irritating tropes in superhero comics is when a team gets bogged down in what the public think of them - this angle became a big part of the New 52 JLA and JL and played a big part in why those titles stank to high heaven, and it made my heart sink when I realised this was the angle Uncanny Avengers was taking as well. Because you know what that means? Board meetings. Superheroes sitting around tables, talking about how to make the public like them. It’s like reading actual Marvel/DC marketing meetings! It makes for horrible comics every time.

The artwork is the only thing I really liked about this book with John Cassady’s art looking terrific. Every page he draws is awesome but that scene where Rogue escapes from Red Skull’s S-Men is really something. It’s imaginatively laid out and uses Rogue’s mutant powers to full effect, and also strikes this great balance between eye-catching, exciting and thoughtful all at once. I also liked the Days of Future Past cover reference with Havok and Scarlet Witch.

Oliver Coipel’s artwork is also fantastic (he draws the final issue) though I disliked the way the pages were laid out initially, with the panels with dialogue boxes running down one side and a straight column of text running parallel alongside it - do we read them left to right and down like normal or read the panels first then the text? It’s confusing, though maybe more damning is how little I cared about what was happening in either, because this book’s story is utterly boring. Red Skull tries to talk over the world again, superheroes fight him on the streets of New York, and he escapes like a cartoon character through a hole in the floor! Then the book ends on the whole PR nonsense. This is also the book where the controversial Havok scene where he says he doesn’t want to be labelled a mutant - or the “m” word as he calls it. Remender’s response to critics of this scene was stupid, but reading it in the context of this book really isn’t bad and I feel it was overblown by some comics commentators at the time.

Anyway. Uncanny Avengers just isn’t for me. I think it’s too flawed in too many ways, in concept and execution, though both mainly stem from the writer, Remender, who doesn’t help by writing in a way that is outdated and bound to be tiresome to modern comics readers. But mostly, it’s a boring comic. It doesn’t feel fresh or exciting and reads like any other generic superhero team-up comic - there’s nothing uncanny here, just frustration.

Uncanny Avengers - Volume 1: The Red Shadow

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