Ahh, the summer comic book annual! The old dance designed to separate kids of the 50s with twice as much of their allowance at once, leading to odd, out-of-continuity tales that often don’t really matter all that much. These days, annuals are somewhat rarer and less goofy, but some creators still remember the fun of the old days… Your Major Spoilers (retro) review of Uncanny Avengers Annual #1 awaits!
Previously in Uncanny Avengers: After the events of Avengers Vs. X-Men, Captain America came to realize that the deep divide between mutants and other superhumans was part of the divide that separated them from the common people, and chose to create an ‘Avengers Unity Squad’, featuring prominent members of the mutant community, including controversial types such as Wolverine, The Scarlet Witch, Sunfire and Havok, the younger brother of the “mutant terrorist” that most believe to blame for AvX. Their missions have had a particularly high body count, if you’re reading the core book, and so I wondered exactly when and where this book falls into their continuity…
HINT: IT DOESN’T
I’m not going to spoiler the ongoing events of Uncanny Avengers for you, but probably everyone has heard about the deaths of Rogue and the Scarlet Witch some months ago. The issues since then have actually gotten even more bizarre and shocking, if you can believe that, which means that for this issue to feature the entire Unity Squad, as shown on the cover, seems difficult.
That’s where Mojo comes in! The primary purveyor of entertainment for the Mojoworld is no longer considered at the top of this game, and the issue opens with the bulbous slime ball in a pitch meeting with the money-men (the leader of whom, for some reason, resembles Ronald Reagan), with his newest killer property: AVENGERS OF THE SUPERNATURAL! The entire meeting is utterly hilarious to me, especially the bit where the head of the “network” threatens to sic ‘The Reviewers’ on Mojo’s work, with a series of shadowy figures who are probably meant to represent specific people. (Fortunately for me, I have no idea who any of them are.) The Uncanny Avengers portion of the story starts off with wonderful character work, as Rogue and The Wasp gossip poolside about the relationship between Wonder Man and the Scarlet Witch, while Thor and Wolverine drink heavily to the disapproval of both Captain America and Sunfire. I’m reminded of the days where the X-Men used to play softball in their downtime, right up to the point where the giant threat busts through the wall in the form of Ghost Rider. Doctor Strange arrives, with the rest of his team consisting of Blade, Man-Thing, Manphibian and Satana (one Morbius short of reuniting the original Legion of Monsters from 1976), leading to the capture of the entire Avengers Unity Squad, who are then transported to the Mojo World!
REMINDS ME OF THE 1980s.
If you read comics from about 1982 to about the dawn of the teeth-gritted Chromium Age, you probably read one or two of the Annuals of the day, stories where Storm became the new thunder-god, or The Avengers forced to battle the Legion of the Unliving, where the creators delivered a one-shot story separate of continuity. I find it interesting that these stories are the ones that have stuck in the popular consciousness, with constant references to Dani Moonstar becoming a Valkyrie or the time that Wolverine regrew himself from a tiny drop of blood. This story channels those strange one-offs of years past by putting the Avengers and their guest-stars in a Mojoworld high-school drama wherein good girl Scarlet Witch longs for bad boy Ghost Rider, with the Avengers as the jocks and the mutants as the outcast kids. (Doctor Strange and the other magic types are nerds playing D&D, which I found pretty amusing.) Johnny Blaze breaks free of Mojo’s control, though, and rampages across the Mojoworld. Weirdly, his costume AND powerset are shown to be those of the Danny Ketch version of Ghost Rider, and things get wacky. Most amazing of all, though, is the end of the story wherein Mojo’s overseers analyze the story that has been told, and worry that it doesn’t make sense, or worse, doesn’t really seem to matter. “Mojo gave us… nothing but a colorful distraction”, laments the overseer, and instructs his lackey to “call in the critics” to decide whether it is a worthy tale or not. Artwise, this is a very attractive issue to read, with the shifts in character and costume never hiding the identity of the characters (although not so difficult in the case of Manphibian), and Paul Renaud’s version of Doctor Strange is one of the best in recent memory, and his Ghost Rider is pretty cool as well.
THE BOTTOM LINE: UNEXPECTEDLY ENTERTAINING.
I was actually tripped to the existence of this story by a fellow comic fan and Spoilerite, who informed me that Marvel had basically called me out to come and have my say on this comic, and I have to say: It surprised me. Did the events of this issue happen? Was it all just a circular tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing but five bucks out-of-pocket? I don’t know. I will say that the ending, while joyful and silly, felt out of character for a number of characters, and the use of a composite Ghost Rider archetype who is as much Ketch as Blaze leads me to believe that, in my personal continuity, this didn’t actually “happen”. As a story that Mojo told, though, it’s goofy and fun, and while it probably won’t be as well-remembered as the X-Babies, I was entertained. Do I think Rick Remender is trolling us all? Yes, especially in his comments about his own writing prowess, but it’s a joke that I felt like I was in on rather than being the butt of, which probably helped. Uncanny Avengers Annual #1 is not for everyone, and I fully expect comment after comment about how much people hated it, but as an out-of-continuity one-shot, it’s not bad at all, with some lovely art and cute character bits earning it an above-average 3 out of 5 stars overall. Plus, The Wasp is in a bikini, and that’s the cutest thing ever…