Usually, when a more minor, lower circulation comic becomes part of a major summer crossover event, it is a book to avoid. Almost invariably books like that are where publishers stick filler while hoping that the crossover’s logo on the cover increases circulation enough to justify the printing costs and stave off cancellation for a couple of months. Everyone knows that an event’s important stuff occurs in the primary title and the related major titles, while the second tier books are where you get “major” revelations running the gamut from, “Some minor character is terrified of the ramifications of this major event!” to “Wow! It turns out I, the reader, don’t give a fuck about any of this shit!”
So imagine my surprise when Secret Avengers # 26, which is precisely the kind of book where you’d stick Captain Cannonfodder and his fear of Phoenix but need to (fatally) redeem some misdeed made in a 1974 issue of The Brave and The Give Us Your Quarter Kid, wound up not only being the scene of one of the more major (yet least hoopla’ed) comic book resurrections of the past several years, but of a reasonable examination of why a Captain Cannonfodder-level character is as minor a player as he is. All with some damned interesting and unconventional art to boot.
First off, despite what I just said, make no mistake: this is, in fact, the first totally unnecessary side story in the Avengers Vs. X-Men event. There is, after all, a reason the crossover is called Avengers Vs. X-Men, and if you are a superhero and you find yourself on an Avengers team, in outer space to stop the Phoenix Force, with no X-Men anywhere in sight? Welcome to the B-plot, pal. Look to your left, and look to your right. One of you is going to die. The other is probably Squirrel Girl.
And there is a certain amount of standard, second stringer handwringing going on here; you see it in books like this all the time: everyone who’s ever been on a team gets called in to fight the Big Bad, and there’s always one character who’s never been able to carry his own title, even when it was written by Alan Moore, who gets all anxiety-ridden in the face of the Huge Stakes of the story, and normally fucks up somehow and winds up dead. Think Goliath in Civil War, or Superboy in Infinite Crisis, or Estelle Getty in The Golden Girls.
This time around, it’s Captain Britain, only instead of being anxiety-ridden, his problem is that he’s overconfident and doesn’t think things through. It’s a cool little twist on the standard second-string slaughter (Oh, Captain Britain’s not dead yet. But the event’s only a month old), and writer Rick Remender gives us an interesting story-based reason as to why someone as powerful as Captain Britain is almost never a part of the front line action in the 616… compared to the reality-based reason, which is that he sucks and is boring.
But the douchebaggery of Captain Britain is not the bombshell of this issue. No, that is related to Captain Marvel, who is now alive. Which should be expected, considering that back in 1982 he died the most comic-booky of deaths: a slow, painful, bedridden decline due to terminal cancer. Sure, the character’s popped up on a temporary basis once or twice, but up until now, Marvel Comics has generally seen fit to leave intact one of the most harrowing deaths in modern comics history. But hey; we’re bringing Rorschach back, so why not Captain Marvel? Oh right, exactly the same reason: there’s money in it for somebody.
Anyhoo, as the Phoenix Force approachs Mar-Vell’s home planet, what appears to be a suicide cult decides to embrace the coming doom by bringing a dead guy back to life in order to facilitate the suicide. Get it? Yeah, me neither, but I just work here. This is apparently the crossover event that will be driven by sudden and nonsensical religious fervor.
But while the logic behind it is a little shady, the fact is that this is the kind of crossover issue where normally we see Two-Gun Kid battling Batroc The Leaper. While the execution isn’t totally solid, the fact major Marvel Universe rebirths are happening here means that Remender is going all-in on his part of the event. And while it’s too early to see whether he’s got the hole cards to draw a flush, it is exciting.
I was impressed with Renato Guedes’s art in this issue. It is extremely fine-lined; it makes Rob Liefeld look like an epileptic with a box of crayons. The overall look is reminiscent of old Metal Hurlant, and of Peter Chung on Aeon Flux, with many, many fine detail lines. Some might think it busy – it probably is – but as a fan of art like this, it worked for me. He also has an interesting way of adding some of these detail lines – it looks like he inks with his thumbprint in a lot of places. Which I liked here, but that in the long run might turn me away as I stop seeing the novelty and start wondering if I have enough biometric data to get a car loan in Guedes’s name.
Every crossover has a series of plots that are ancillary to the story and not required reading, and this is probably no exception – we all know that the Secret Avengers aren’t gonna stop the Phoenix Force, because if they did the Avengers and X-Men back on Earth would drop tools, and this would be the first two-month crossover since 1987. But unlike most books of this ilk, big stuff is happening here, both character and plot wise. Is it essential? Probably not… but it is refreshing, and adds a ton of interest and excitement to what normally reads as filler.
Remender is swinging for the fences here, and while his swing is already showing some problems (“Raise the dead guy so that he can make sure we are all killed again! You know, by the force we couldn’t stop if we wanted to!”), it’s fun to watch a guy writing in this situation at least act like he wants a home run.