By: Rick Remender (Writer), Daniel Acuña (Artist/Cover Artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer)
Somebody told me that you had an ally that looked like an enemy that I had last story arc.
We all know about “flow,” that psychological state where everything else slips away and all you are aware of is the object of your focus. The best movies, shows, video games, etc., all have this state as their ever-elusive goal, and one of the best things I can say about Uncanny Avengers is that it consistently brings the flow. Whether it’s the villain Eimin guiding the discussion of the alternate X-Council, Havok and Kang coming to terms with their objectives as “heroes,” and how it all blends together in an extended fight sequence, I find myself gripped by the worlds and characters being explored here, and surprised when the final panel appears. In this case, it’s Thor about to throw down against the Big Bad, a cliffhanger to keep me baited until the next issue.
This flow is partly achieved by the ethical dilemma and high stakes that have been established for the characters and their world. On one hand, there is absurdly high stakes that risks the lives of millions and the very nature of time/space itself. On the other hand, you have the very personal stakes of a man, a woman, and the potential loss of their love and their child. Both extremes are completely melodramatic and over-the-top. I’m usually one to rail against “threat escalation” as it’s become a tired trope, but in this case it works. There’s something about a 4-color cape-and-tights world that embraces the absurdity of extreme situations, and it makes me curious to see how it plays out.
In the same way, the comic offers layers of ethical dilemma here. Havok and his team have to contend with accepting villains as allies, consider the costs of keeping a false world, and the limits of personal responsibility in regards to a community, the price of leadership, and more. They can all be summarized with the biggest one of all, the cornerstone of any superhero story, really: will you make things right, even if it might cost you everything? There are some pretty big, postmodern implications to this, of course: “who’s to say what’s right?” That last part, unfortunately, is a bit more implicitly handled, as Havok has no time to pursue that one too far.
The flow is also helped by some nice, moody Acuña art, which creates a definite atmosphere for the book, a consistent and pervading gloomy tone. Everything is cool and muted, even the palace of the X-Council and Eimin’s throne room, although this does border on overuse. Also unfortunate, the poses are a bit stock, which is to be expected when there’s a lot of pages of people standing around talking, but more dramatic gestures are used during the fight scene, thankfully.
Another impressive feature of the art is the sheer variety of costume styles/character designs on display, especially in Kang’s “Chronos Corps,” and yet they seeming mesh well together. Remender and Acuña are able to show a lot of fun characters without overdoing it; in fact, it’s almost to a fault that there are so many little touches to look for, like Magneto’s scarred face, “Captain Braddock,” Storm’s nifty new design. But these characters aren’t really explored, just name-dropped. There’s so much to offer, but they overcrowd each other. There’s only so much spotlight to go around, so you can get a great panel of Blob sitting on Doom 2099, but no follow-up to what surely would be a great Doom comeback.
This leads into one of my quibbles with the story arc; it’s really kind of The Havok Show. This is unfortunate not only because of the lack of spotlight to distribute, as I’ve said, but Havok here reprises his role as Reluctant Hero, an all-too familiar role for him and an archetype that I personally don’t prefer. It’s also unclear why/how the Big Plan requires “all surviving members of the Unity Squad [to be] gathered,” except that it does. I get the metaphor, really, but some in-story justification would be appreciated. I assume that’s a detail that will play out as the story reaches the climax, but it’s a bit hand-wavy at this point.
The Bottom Line:
Uncanny Avengers continues to provide a story that feels both modern and old-school at the same time. It’s a visual treat that offers some philosophical musings and sustained emotional resonance. And while the grand scope of setting and character remains both a strength and a weakness, “always leave them wanting more” is a sign that there’s some great world-building going on here.
The Grade: A-
— Come on. Blob butt-stomped Doom. That’s gotta count for something.
— It’s another kind of praise for the book: It makes me wish I was in my younger days with my regular TSR Marvel Super Heroes game, because I would love to stat up and play around in Eimin’s Planet-X setting.