Sunday, February 16, 2014

Review: Uncanny Avengers Vol. 2: The Apocalypse Twins

Despite being the second collection of the Rick Remender-written title starring a half-Avengers, half-X-Men "Unity" faction of Avengers, and despite starring the same characters with no additions or subtractions, and despite its reference to the events in the previous volume and the continuing tensions between the characters from that volume, in several respects this read like an entirely different book.

Much of that is visual, given that the "regular" artist for the series, John Cassaday, only lasted four issues, and the artist who drew the remaining, non-Cassaday chapter of Vol. 1 (Olivier Coipel) isn't around either. Art duties have been assumed, at least for six of the seven issues collected here, by Daniel Acuna.

And much more of that seeming like a different book is due to the fact that this volume—much more so than the previous one, which was devoted to premise establishing, character introduction and dealing with the aftermath of a single previous Marvel comic, Avengers Vs. X-Men—is permeated by the at times confusing and slightly unpleasant feeling that can occasionally characterize Big Two super-comics: The sense that one has walked in during the middle of a movie, or, more accurately, started watching a soap opera already a decade or so in progress.

The sub-title characters are descendants of the apparently deceased X-Men villain Apocalypse, and there is apparently a whole culture built up around Apocalyse, including an extended family with feuds over the rights of ascendency, a cult, a connection to the Celestials...probably all stuff devoted Marvel readers are already pretty familiar with. Additionally, characters discuss minor plot points in an off-handed fashion, like Rogue and Sunfire's history with each other and with Apocalypse, while fairly major plot points are culled from many other Marvel stories, some of which I've read (this deals with the fallout from the first story arc of the Remender-written Uncanny X-Force, for example, the death of The Sentry from Siege, and so on) and some of which I haven't (Wasp and Captain America both being lost in time and space for a while, whatever Wonder Man's been up to, like, is whole life, something from another Remender-written Uncanny X-Force story arc in which Wolverine maybe killed Archangel or something, and something from somewhere about Wolverine killing Daken by drowning him in a mud puddle, I guess...?). And there are multiple versions of Kang involved, and thus time-travel and...Oh man. I could follow the plot okay, but I felt pretty left out of the specifics, the texture and the emotional beats of the story, and generally had no idea what was going on regarding the various motivations for the characters' actions, or the finer points of their conflicts and histories.

As near as I can figure out, at some point, Kang kidnapped the titular twins and trained them in time travel or something, leading them to a critical point in history in which seven time lines diverge. They rebel against Kang, and are setting about some incredibly complicated plan involving a mutant rapture that will take all of the mutants from earth to a new planet, Planet X, forever enforcing a sort of segregation between mutants and humans (Or temporarily, I guess; since humans should continue to mutate, right? Again I find myself at the point where I'm not entirely clear as to what distinguishes a mutant from a human being; if the formers are evolutionary jumps of the latter, or if they are a distinct sub-species or a distinct species).

The Avengers Unity Division wants to stop this mad plan, but, to do so, they must first stop fighting themselves, and Remender has them breaking into pretty clear Avengers vs. X-Men factions, with Havoc siding with Cap and The Avengers (in an attempt to keep them team meant to realize Xavier's dream together) and Thor siding with the X-Men, who seem eager to kill the hell out of the Apocalypse Twins, which is something he can get behind, being a warrior and all.

I was lost enough on the core points regarding what the fuck a mutant actually is that the conflict didn't really make a whole lot of sense to me, as in the argument between Rogue and Scarlet Witch regarding Alex's dumb speech in the first volume, nor did the circumstances of the schism really register with me (Cap seems pissed at Wolverine for leading the squad that killed the child version of Apocalypse in X-Force, but I'm pretty sure Fantomex pulled the trigger, and, anyway, isn't that kid alive and well in Wolverine and The X-Men, or is that yet another of Apocalypse kids?).

Also somewhat confounding was the fact that the team seemed to be facing an extinction level event, and yet the rest of the Avengers—those in Avengers and Avengers Assemble, for example—don't answer the all-hands-on-deck distress signal. It's just these half-dozen goofballs, because they happen to be the ones in this title (On the very last pages, though, Remender just check in with the various Avengers and X-Men squads, as they all listen to the Twins' call for a mass mutant exodus from the planet).

All in all though, it's a bigger, richer narrative than the one seen in the first volume, albeit one I found overly-complicated. Part of that's on me, sure, as I'm not well-versed enough in Marvel minutae to "get" much of this, but then, I think it points to a certain degree of failure on the part of the creators and the publisher as well, given that this is a book that is, by the point collected here, less than a year old, and part of a line-wide effort to attract new readers to the Marvel Universe.

Regarding attracting new readers, I thought it was pretty weird that this book collects Uncanny Avengers #8AU, a designation meant to indicate that it ties into Age of Ultron. That issue is drawn by Adam Kubert, and barely mentions Ultron, but instead chronicles Kang's time with the Twins. It's presented out-of-order here too, not appearing on either side of Uncanny Avengers #8, but between issues #6 and #7.

I was quite surprised how much I ended up liking the art, as Acuna is an artist I had started to actively avoid after the few, pretty poor examples of his artwork I've seen in the past. The Acuna who shows up here, however, is head and shoulders above the one I had seen working on DC books in the past, though, the artwork having a much more drawn look to it, and the character acting leaps and bound above what it once was.

I particularly liked his rendering of Alex "Havoc" Summers, which features a leaner, more elongated figure with a slightly angular face; it's a build not unlike that of his brother Scott Summers, and one that distinguishes him from the other big muscular short-haired blond guy on the team, Steve "Captain America" Rogers.

One aspect of his work here I didn't care for? Wolverine's bushy sideburns are still visible when he's wearing his cowl, which makes me think either his sideburns are too big or his mask is too small.
There are some pretty cool designs in this book, although I'm not entirely sure who came up with what—in addition to Acuna and Kubert, Cassaday is still around enough to provide the cover art, and it's possible he did design work on the series before the reality of a monthly (or, knowing Marvel, more-than-monthly) series caught up with him. The Twins are pretty cool-looking, resembling god-like, mythological figures more than Apocalypse himself ever did, and the Four Hourseman that show up during Kubert's section, during medieval times, when Thor carried an axe rather than a hammer, are pretty awesome.

Check them out:
They only last about two pages, but I was pretty sad to see them go, based on how weird and cool-looking they are.

Four new Horsemen appear near the climax, a Horseman unity division including black and blue versions of recently deceased mutants (Banshee and Daken) and recently deceased humans (The Grim Reaper and The Sentry). They also called themselves The Four Horsemen of Death, rather than Apocalypse. They're obviously not as cool-looking as the medieval four above, and they lack horses, robot or otherwise, which makes them pretty poor horsemen in my book. If you're going to be a horseman of any kind, I think it absolutely necessary that you at least have a horse.

And now I leave you with an image of The Sentry peeling apart his face to shoot energy beams at Thor:


garik16 said...

If I Recall Correctly, Fantomex DID kill the baby Apocalypse, however he also cultured some cells and grew a clone of the kid.

He kept that kid in a VR where he was pretty much Clark Kent and raised by the Kents ala Superman, until Fantomex released him when they had to fight a gone-mad Angel who'd basically become the new apocalypse.


JohnF said...

The new Havok costume is SO terrible. John Cassaday is very good, but costume design ain't his thing.

esteban138 said...

Since you've been catching up on the recent X-books lately, did you ever get to reading Brian Wood's first X-Men arc before the Marvel Now launch? It was my favorite X-title in several years (largely for the gorgeous David Lopez art), but... There's a lot in it that feels really creepy in hindsight and I'm a little uncomfortable with the concept of revisiting it. I'd really like your perspective on it, though, because you always approaching these things honestly.

Caleb said...

I read X-Men #1, the Wood/Coipel, all-lady X-Men thing...but do you mean his X-Men arc from before that...? In that case no, and I feel pretty weird about Wood right now, so I don't think I'd be too eager to seek that one out.