Passion of the Skull
I think the biggest problem of this book is the expectations attached. Reading several early reviews, most people seem to think that this book was meant to just be a group put together by Captain America, led by Havok, and then would just go after the Red Skull. Which is reasonable, considering how it was hyped, but a little farther from the truth. Rick Remender instead is using this first arc to gather the team together through the events surrounding two groups of people: The Avengers in one end and Rogue + the Scarlet Witch on the other, and it's clear they'll eventually join together in the middle. While this will undoubtedly disappoint some people, and admittedly presents some pacing issues, I for one prefer it to the typical "Here's the team, now go fight the Red Skull" approach some team books prefer.
Rick Remender knows more than most that in a genre as "repetitive" as Super-hero comics, characterization is what makes or breaks a book. The problem is that in this title, the team assembled on the avengers side of things doesn't quite get the face time it needs. Thor gets a moment to explain the why of his involvement, but nothing to really make his appearance necessary. Cap and Wolverine argue a bit, and nothing is really wrong there, but poor Havok doesn't get a single line in, despite being the leader, and comes across as overshadowed by his far more popular counterparts.
The trade-off is that it's the avengers portions of the book give us a great look not only into the chaos and stakes of the mutant conflict, but also some really dramatic moments resulting from the Red Skulls plans. Remender knows how to sell the plight of mutants in the Marvel U, so it's no surprise these are some of the strongest moments of the book. Red Skull himself is also made into quite the threat, and his goals, such as what he calls the "school for Gifted Humans" is very interesting. I also like how Remender uses the skulls' bald-headed look, the way he moves and his role as a leader of hate to make him seem like a polar opposite of Charles Xavier, which considering his new found powers is a clever way of building him up.
What really makes this book worth your 4$ is the characterization of Rogue. I for one was not a fan of X-men: Legacy or her relationship with Magneto (which from my interpretation Remender subtly critiques, though I might be wrong), but in this book I can clearly buy why she deserves to be on the time, how skilled she is and what her motivations are. In fact, from these segments alone I would say she deserves the leadership role more than Havok, though I'm sure Remender will fix that soon enough. Scarlet Witch is used more to showcase the Red Skull than anything, but her moments are still quite good.
I like Cassaday's art, and more often than not it works well, but all too often there's an otherwise great page ruined by a single panel where he just hastily drew a character without any of his usual polish. Check the scene where Havok hugs the survivor thanking him, he looks so uncomfortable and lifeless it looks like he's an cardboard cut-out. Honetly, when the pencils are uneven and delays are almost inevitable, it's probably for the best if a change in artist occured sooner rather than later.
This book really suffers from being unable to live up to the hype, more than anything. Is it worth your money? Hell Yes. Rogue alone should comfort your poor wallet. But I think I will be reading this book more for what it could be, and once new members like Wasp, Wonder Man and Sunfire show up after this arc and hopefully fill the void created by how unnecessary Captain America and Thor are to this title (other than sales, of course), I feel it'll step up in quality.