Rick Remender kicks off the second arc of Uncanny Avengers with this issue, and fans of his previous work on Uncanny X-Force should start feeling a little more at home than they did during the initial storyline. One of the few unresolved plot threads from X-Force is addressed in the opening pages of issue 5, and Remender has really started attempting to inject Uncanny Avengers with the strong group dynamic that was so effective in the previous series.
Remender is managing to strike a balance between the two franchises, both narratively and thematically. Since its first issue, the purpose of Uncanny Avengers has been to develop an Avengers “Unity Division” in the face of growing anti-mutant sentiment, with the team consisting of both X-Men and Avengers (and a couple characters who have been prominently featured in both books over the years). This intersection of two corners of the Marvel Universe is not limited to mere team composition, as the villains in the book are, perhaps expectedly, related in some way to both franchises as well. This started with Red Skull pilfering the brain of Charles Xavier (and appearing as Onslaught in the “flash forward” epilogue of the first arc), and continues in this issue, establishing a (so obvious I can’t believe no one’s ever done it before) connection between time-traveling arch-villain Kang the Conqueror and the immortal harbinger of mutant supremacy, Apocalypse.
The opening sequence of this issue features the return of the Horsemen of Remender’s Uncanny X-Force run and the birth of Pestilence’s child(ren), which is a tantalizing connection to that series. Ultimately, however, that’s all this interlude does—tantalize readers with the promise of further exploration into these plot threads. The Kang plot is left vague (deliberately so, one would imagine) but is still the most intriguing part of the issue.
Much more of this issue’s focus is placed on the introduction of three new team members: the Wasp, Wonder Man, and Sunfire. Remender handily develops each character’s profile and voice in the space of a few panels, but Wonder Man’s inclusion on this very public team (in a public relations role, no less) seems illogical no matter which way you spin it. This was a guy who, mere months ago, was publicly denouncing the Avengers while amassing a team of Revengers to take them on. While the character was later repentant and seeking redemption, placing him immediately in a role so public is a bit of a head-scratcher. The fact that even Wonder Man himself questions the decision’s logic does nothing to dissuade this train of thought.
Despite this quibble, Remender still clearly has a great deal of respect for the histories of both franchises. Comics (X-Men comics in particular) have a long-standing and dubious reputation as being weighted down to the point of inaccessibility by the baggage of past minutiae and storylines that continue for years without resolution. Many writers have struggled with making references to stories of the past without alienating new readers, but Remender weaves in nods to this history without bogging the narrative down or making the story impenetrable. It’s a perfect combination for readers old and new.
Another of this particular issue’s strengths is the artwork of Olivier Coipel. John Cassaday is a tough act to follow, but Coipel throws down the gauntlet in this issue, surpassing Cassaday’s work on the previous arc several times. From the eerie opening sequence to the sharply-paced fight with Grim Reaper at the issue’s conclusion, Coipel’s art is thoroughly engaging.
The biggest dilemma facing this series was always going to be taking X-Men characters, who by definition are “feared and hated” within the greater Marvel Universe, and integrating them into a team as beloved and trusted as the Avengers. It seemed almost inevitable that some intrinsic part of the X-Men concept would be lost in the process. Fortunately, Remender is able to show that Havok and Rogue are having a difficult time fitting in with the team, and while the idea of a Unity Division looks good on paper, it’s a bit harder to actually pull off than anyone (even Captain America) is willing to admit. The degree of dysfunction that underscores this title speaks to the X-Men’s sense of being frowned upon, even by their own teammates, in subtle ways.
Many readers went into this series expecting Remender to pull another Uncanny X-Force out of his hat and came away from the initial arc with varying degrees of disappointment. While this title still has a lot of work to do to achieve the level of narrative satisfaction its precursor delivered, this issue definitely moves things in the right direction.