(a) John Cassaday
Reading Uncanny Avengers is experiencing a modern classic unfold. Much in the same fashion he rendered Uncanny X-Force one of the best comic book series in modern history, Rick Remender is making sure this new series lives up to it's top shelf name. Uncanny Avengers sits comfortably and impeccably between the Avengers and X-Men franchises, in terms of team makeup as well as narrative breadth. Jonathan Hickman is going universal in the pages of Avengers and New Avengers, ratcheting up the scope of the threats facing each team, threats that have universe-sized ramifications. Brian Michael Bendis is bringing his unique brand of interpersonal relationship drama to the X-Men by penning decompressed, character-driven stories. Remender's book and team fall right in the middle, which is kind of the point.
Uncanny Avengers #3 continues "The Red Shadow", an opening salvo that very much reflects Remender's attempt to balance the sheer size of the Avengers with the intimacy of the X-Men. There are a number of different elements that showcase the melding of franchises. Like Red Skull, who is traditionally an Avengers villain, focusing his evil intentions upon the biggest perceived genetic monstrosity of all: the mutant gene. Taking the Nazi ideology to it's extreme conclusion makes Red Skull one of the more foreboding villains in recent history. Or Red's S-Men, a ramshackle team super humans made special externally, through science, magic, or anything other than being a mutant, really. These S-Men (short for Special Men, one would assume) have undergone alterations to become a facsimile of the very perceived threat they stand against. For them, the ends justify the means when the end is the extinction of all mutants. And their backstories reveal the hatred that fuels their endeavors.
It's not often that reading a comic book feels like reading a novel. Remender's narration throughout Uncanny Avengers #3 transforms "The Red Shadow" from a well-written Avengers story into a broad, expansive narrative that's a fantastic allegory for World War II. While Red Skull's general ideology remains the same -- thus does his position in the symbology -- his hatred has shifted from merely one ethnicity to an entire species of mutated humans. Against Red Skull's metaphorical Axis stand the Allied Forces in the Uncanny Avengers, who seek to throttle Red's hypnotic amplification of people's base fears about mutantkind, pushing them to murder those who are different. Captain America vs. Red Skull: sound familiar?
Keeping the gratuitous violence off-panel was a wise choice, artistically, because it gives John Cassaday room to show more with less and to incorporated Remender's narration to give these sequences the cold, bitter tone the story requires. Cassaday's artwork for the entire issue is fantastic, especially his Red Skull, who looks verily insane from beginning to end.
Rick Remender and John Cassaday are creating something truly inspired with Uncanny Avengers. The narrative's underlying symbolism and lasting consequences give it the demeanor of Marvel's flagship 'Marvel NOW!' title. In many ways, Remender has taken the best parts of the Avengers and X-Men franchises and melded them together for stunning results. Uncanny Avengers #3 is the third chapter of "The Red Shadow", but unlike many middle issues, this one doesn't lull or rest on exposition to carry the story into a big conclusion.