Last issue set the stage, this issue lets the play begin. Remender and Acuña are back in the present and, in the wake of the Red Skull’s attack, the Avengers (Uncanny flavor) are more fractured than ever. Rogue is being asked to sit out the next few missions based on how she handled a bad situation with Grim Reaper, Scarlet Witch is trying to prove her stability while also dealing with the strange feelings of Wonder Man, and Havok is still trying to take charge and spin positive PR. All this while SWORD monitors a massive cosmic catastrophe involving the children and Horsemen of Apocalypse as well as a massive Celestial that signals the arrival of a pair of villains all too familiar to Wolverine and Thor (though for completely different reasons).
This issue does an absolutely amazing job of juggling small character moments (in particular Wasp’s assertion that fashion and pop culture will help mutants gain greater acceptance, as well as a not too shocking move of a more personal variety) with massive, cosmic bombast. I mentioned in that last review that Acuña’s muddy, painterly visuals were perfectly suited for a story set in a rainy, European past, but here he proves that he’s just as good with the modern setting as well, particularly the villain designs. His characters also all look very distinct, and that’s important in a team book that features two tall male leads with short, blonde hair.
Remender is back in fighting form with three solid issues (the most recent two being absolutely excellent) and I’ve even warmed up to his strange, omnipotent “narrator” voice, a trope that’s been mostly retired from modern comics except when being used as parody. I really can’t overstate how much of a balancing act between character and action he strikes, and much like Acuña’s visuals, each character has a great, unique voice and motivation, making the team’s internal conflict seem organic rather than something that’s needed to give the plot suspense.
I won’t spoil what the massive cataclysm I reference above is, but it really feels like it should’ve received a bit more fanfare in this issue or more build-up in previous issues. Something that’s long been thought literally impossible in the Marvel Universe happens almost completely effortlessly and instantly, and while the previous issue set up that SOMEthing huge was going to happen, that alone doesn’t QUITE do the job of fully justifying what happens here. Remender still has future issues to lend the event more weight, which I have confidence he will, but it still felt a little too glossy in this single issue.
While I’ve warmed up to the narrator, a few panels feel like they could’ve spoken for themselves, particularly on the strength of Acuña's art, rather than having a voice telling you every detail of what PRECISELY is going on. It weakens the pace and slows the action, and it’s during some of the most intense, action-packed parts near the end of the issue that pacing is at its most important.
The points above do little to muddy what is a fantastic issue. I think my problem with the first four or five parts of Remender’s run was that there was a severe dearth of character moments and team interactions, which are still so critical even in massive, galactic-level throwdowns. Otherwise we, the readers, aren’t simply won’t be invested, no matter how cool everything looks. That won’t be a problem if these two issues are any indication. Remender tells the story and builds characters with such an economy and effeciency that even a few pages per character is enough to give us a window into their thoughts.