Uncanny Avengers #3 (Marvel)
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: John Cassaday
Color Artist: Laura Martin
How often can you use the word “terrifying” to describe a mainstream superhero comic from one of the big two? I’m as big a fan of the genre as you’re ever going to find, and I’ll be happy to discuss with you, at length, preferably over an adult beverage or two, how superheroes embody everything good and aspirational about the human race. I’m all about the idea that the continued manifestation of the superheroic ideal is a reflection of our own unconscious societal desire to actually do right by each other. So, for me to get so worked up over a comic that revels in EVIL the way that Uncanny Avengers #3 does is pretty impressive.
Let’s face it, most of the time even good superhero comics don’t necessarily inspire much of a reaction from month to month. Stories are spread out over so many issues that it’s often difficult to pinpoint just where in any given storyline you’re gonna get any kind of emotional resonance. Even then, comics in general are so saturated with superheroes that the “sameness” of the genre can be a little bit numbing sometimes. Uncanny Avengers #3 is the comic book equivalent of somebody grabbing your shoulders, giving you a good shake, and reminding you to pay attention. It should make you a little angry. It should frighten you a little. Maybe it should, by virtue of showing off such unapologetic evil, remind you to do some small act of charity or call a family member or adopt a puppy or something.
All my lofty nonsense outlined above about superheroic ideals? None of that applies to Uncanny Avengers #3. This is a comic book about evil. We can knock superhero comics all we want about presenting us with a black and white world, but there’s something almost comforting in recognizing a representation of evil in its purest form, which is exactly what the Red Skull is. Let’s not forget, as well, that the Red Skull is one of comics’ original supervillains. Who outdates him? Dr. Sivana? Ming the Merciless? An esteemed company of evil, to be sure, but neither approaches the nihilistic glee and genocidal aspirations of Johann Schmidt. Doctor Doom is often heralded as the quintessential Marvel villain, and there’s a case to be made for that. But nobody gives me the shivers like the Skull. He’s too close to the real thing.
When you really get down to it, Uncanny Avengers has been the Red Skull’s book. His unhinged presence, single-minded determination, and drastically increased power levels make him the star of the show. Virtually every character that appears in this issue is forced to react to what the Skull is doing, whether they want to or not. Free will has never been much of a concern for fascists, has it? Even readers will find themselves under the Skull’s spell, reacting to his presence which looms over virtually every panel. I can’t remember the last time any character, let alone a villain, commanded an entire issue the way he does here.
For those who don’t know, the basic premise of Uncanny Avengers is that Captain America has decided that a team consisting of both humans and mutants, sporting the “Avengers” brand name would do a world of good for public opinion about mutants. The other side of that coin is that the Red Skull has decided to do what Nazis do best, which is target a convenient minority for persecution and elimination, so he’s set his sights on the mutant community. Oh yeah, and he’s now got Charles Xavier’s brain granting him tremendous psionic power. That’s right: a guy who’s about as evil as Hitler now has the world’s most powerful telepathic brain boosting his power.
John Cassaday’s art is, as it tends to be, lovely to look at and easy to follow. It’s the little things Cassaday does that are so remarkable. I’m drawn to a panel where the Skull is giving an impassioned speech in the midst of a raging battle, while Honest John casually pours him a glass of schnapps. Cassaday makes it all seem so real, and the horrors that you see (and those that occur just off-panel) are even worse because of it. The madness in the Skull’s eyes has never been more palpable or terrifying.
Here’s the thing about Uncanny Avengers: for any fan of the wider Marvel Universe, it all makes such perfect sense. Of course a mixed Avengers squad of humans and mutants would be a tremendous PR move! Of course the Red Skull, warped, bigoted, monster that he is, would target mutants! And of course, if there were going to be one Avenger that a Nazi would want to manipulate in order to have his firepower on his side it would be…nah. I’m not gonna spoil the last page.
What Rick Remender and John Cassaday have done is remarkable. They’ve crafted a monthly, standalone comic that has all of the weight and power that you wish most big crossover events would have. What’s more, they’ve assembled a formidable squad of heroes who, somehow, manage to feel secondary to the Red Skull and his minions. The consequences of a Red Skull victory, or even a stalemate, are unthinkable.
I was initially skeptical about this title, as I avoided AvX or any of the related crossovers. I can now safely say that Uncanny Avengers is not only sufficiently friendly for folks who avoided last year’s mega-crossover, but it’s essential reading for any fan of the Marvel Universe. I can’t think of a single title which utilizes quite so much of the Marvel Universe this effectively, but still manages to stay safely within the confines of its own twenty or so pages each month. Uncanny Avengers #3 is, without question, the best comic I read this week.