A brain surgery is one way to start a reboot. At least, that’s how Rick Remender and John Cassaday open Uncanny Avengers, the image of Scott Summers as Phoenix shown in the eye of a patient–who turns out to be Avalanche–while the surgeon, Red Skull, explains the recent crossover and his reaction to it. Then, he installs a device into Avalanche’s frontal lobe. It sets an ominous, uneasy mood at odds with the promotion of the title as “the big team up and adventure book” where the Avengers and the X-Men cooperate with, rather than combat, each other.
Then again, the X-Men have plenty to be at unease about: their philosophical leader, Charles Xavier, is dead, killed by Cyclops, their actual leader. Wolverine gives the eulogy, declaring that they had “failed” the Professor–an accurate and honest summary of everything that has spun out of House of M’s “No more mutants” ending, from Messiah Complex to Uncanny X-Force toAVX; Cyclops’ brother Havok pays a visit to the now-detained Cyclops (sporting a freaky helmet and goggles designed to hold back his power) to exchange barbs; Rogue and Scarlet Witch also argue about the latter’s involvement in the X-Men’s problems over the last few years. Red Skull’s plan is, of course, only going to make things worse. for them.
It’s all very dour. Technically impressive, thanks to Cassaday’s pencils and Laura Martin’s colors, particularly the lovely autumn hues of the funeral, but it is dour nonetheless. The second and third page utilize a slanted panel of Wolverine standing before Xavier’s portrait, a stylistic mirror to his spread from Astonishing X-Men #1: that image was little more than a highly-skilled reveal of the team in their new costumes, meant to restore superhero grandeur to the X-Men (Cyclops says, “We have to astonish them.”); here, there is no team, just a portrait oppressively dwarfing the lone mutant in the room. Before Wolverine even speaks, it communicates his inability to measure up to the ideals he fought for. Even the sole light in this issue’s darkness, Captain America offering to form a joint Avengers/X-Men team with Havok, is punctuated by an attack by Avalanche that kills many innocents (“We’re already too late!”).
Remender, Cassaday, and Martin are aiming for existential crisis, as in the writer’s Uncanny X-Force, with all this mulling, doubt, and misery. There’s the same deconstructionism to the dialogue–the scene between Havok and Cyclops probably the most pointed, though often clunky (I can’t imagine anyone saying this exact sentence: “Watching the Phoenix erode Jean Grey wasn’t enough of an indicator for you, brother?”)–which has Uncanny Avengers often deriding the very crossovers that spawned it. Despite this self-deprecation, Remender avoids using (usually reliable) humor for most of the comic. Sadly, I can’t say “all” of the comic, because there is one panel that tries too hard to be amusing: Captain America and Thor inviting Havok to coffee, during which Thor adds that he could get a latte, then declaring it to be his preference (all while Cassaday depicts him with a super-serious glower). I’m not sure if it’s Remender’s intention to make the God of Thunder act autistic, but it doesn’t work.
For a title that’s tasked with setting the stage for Marvel Now (or the so-called “ReEvolution”), these elements are strange. Remender and Cassaday’s fascination with the grotesque and tearing apart their own plot contrivance makes itself known, but remains obedient to the corporate mandate. Where the writer was far more comfortable in the musty, shadowy margins of comics (Fear Agent, Venom, X-Force, and Punisher: Frankencastle), here he is awkward and fumbling, saved by the occasional deft line and Cassaday’s skill. Perhaps it’s too early to tell how the series itself will shake out, but already Uncanny Avengers seems lobotomized.