Mistaken Identity: Uncanny Avengers #1 Reviewon October 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm
It is never a promising sign when the very first page of a new comic book is so confusing and misleading, it forces you to flip back from the middle of the book to the beginning to understand what the hell is going on.
Welcome to Uncanny Avengers #1, a decent book with some good dialogue that, unfortunately, opens with the storytelling equivalent of a dude putting down his beer, picking up an M-80, shouting “check this out!” and blowing off all his fingers.
Here’s what I’m talking about:
What’s going on on this page? We’ve got a guy, one week after the conclusion to Avengers Vs. X-Men where Cyclops went apeshit and almost destroyed the world, on a surgical table with his eyes pinned open, getting what appears to be a fairly radical lobotomy. The guy on the table, who has brown hair, has the Phoenix Force reflected in his eyes. In fact, the image of the poor sonofabitch’s eyes are the primary focus of pretty much every panel on that page.
So that’s Cyclops, right? He got captured at the end of Avengers Vs. X-Men, and now he’s being rendered powerless in some super Guantanamo or something. Because the next time we see Cyke, he’s wearing headgear that would easily hide that lobotomy scar. So yeah, Cyclops. It’s obvious. Everyone thinks it’s Cyclops.
Yeah, no. It’s Avalanche. We see him with a big ol’ Hannibal Lecter scar about halfway through the book. And maybe I’m in the minority, but in my first readthrough, I thought, “Oh God, whoever got to Cyclops got to Avalanche, too! Right? Wait a second…” And I found myself flipping back and forth, checking eye and hair color, questioning my interpretation of what I was seeing. And before, you ask, no: sobering up didn’t help. It took me several readings in varying states of chemical enhancement to assure myself that it wasn’t Cyclops on that operating table, given the reflection of Phoenix in his eyes.
Why did they do this? Writer Rick Remender and artist John Cassaday are A-List talent, for Christ’s sake. Which means to me that, while I should never discount the possibility that I am a dope with shitty reading comprehension, they must have made the conscious choice to mislead me on purpose. And I know what you’re saying: “But Rob, obviously it wasn’t Cyclops, because his eyes were open without shooting optic blasts!” Really? Okay… except I don’t have any superpowers beyond my liquor tolerance, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be at my Marion Ravenwood defeating best if my fucking brain was exposed and being chopped at.
I know I’m a few hundred words into this review and I haven’t addressed anything beyond my own personal confusion over the first page, but this shit matters. It’s one thing to cleverly add mystery to a story, but to mislead a reader to the point where he or she is muttering, “Who’s that guy? Is he the same guy as before?” like my dad at a brewpub screening of Inception just isn’t cool. And it’s a Goddamned shame, because it colored my opinion of the entire book, which otherwise was a pretty decent opening chapter for a new team comic.
In the aftermath of Avengers Vs. X-Men, Captain America and Thor have decided to help rehabilitate the image of mutants by putting together an A-List team of Avengers and X-Men. They approach Havok, Cyclops’s brother, to lead the team, just in time for Avalanche to obey his new lobotomy programming (Wait, is that the same guy…) and tear up midtown Manhattan, screaming mutant slogans and killing indiscriminately before apparently taking his own life. In the meantime, Scarlet Witch pays her respects at Professor X’s tomb, only to be interrupted by Rogue, who is spoiling for a fight but somehow unable to use her powers to take Scarlet Witch’s or to tone down that horrible southern accent, when they are attacked by a team working for the mastermind behind it all, when we learn his identity and see his ultimate weapon (ew.).
There is a lot to like in this book. Wolverine’s eulogy for Xavier summed up, in just a couple of pages, how the actions of mutants since pretty much the House of M event could be cast as a terrible mistake, and justifies the new editorial direction of integrating the X-Men into more mainstream 616 books… and the language of that eulogy felt like authentic Logan. The antagonist’s plot to cast mutants as terrorists, given their burgeoning numbers and the events of Avengers Vs. X-Men, felt smart and almost like a gimme once I read it. I even liked how we found out that Thor likes lattes. And the reveal of the antagonist’s ultimate weapon at the end made sense, and it made me want to check back in at least once to see where that goes…
But, as previously stated, my entire enjoyment of the book was dampened by that damn first page. Once I felt like I had been tricked, I started trying to look behind the curtain for other things that didn’t make sense, and that’s not a good attitude with which to read a comic book. Because you start to see things you normally might not, like how Havok went to Avengers Mansion in a suit, having come straight from visiting his brother in prison… but once Avalanche attacked, he was suddenly in his costume. Why? Shut up, that’s why! And with regards to a plot point regarding Xavier’s brain, well, I found myself Googling to see if embalmers even leave the damn brain in your head when they plant you (They do, but I learned about a little thing called “purge” that I don’t recommend you investigate if you don’t want to update your will with instructions that you be disintegrated with explosives and thermite three minutes after they call your time… or maybe two minutes before). Again, not the kind of attitude you want to have while reading a comic book, but one that was inescapable to me once I felt I’d been, well, lied to at least once.
John Cassaday’s art is, unarguably, a selling point for this book. While I didn’t like how the first page was handled from a story standpoint, you can’t really complain that Cassaday didn’t capture the grotesquery of up-close brain surgery. His figures and facial expression are distinctive – I’ve always liked how he draws Captain America’s armor as linked plate mail rather than spandex or chain – and his action is well-choreographed. I would say that his storytelling is clear (and it generally is) except for that damn first page…
There is a reasonable amount to like in Uncanny Avengers #1. The conflict they face looks to be interesting, Remender sets up conflict between the team members that should keep things interesting even while they’re not in battle, and the book looks great. And if you’re reading this, but haven’t yet read the issue, you’ll probably like it better than I did.
Because you already know it isn’t Cyclops on the table on the first page. Seriously: that pissed me off.