“Uncanny Avengers #1”

And thus a love affair is born. Rick Remender and John Cassaday’s “Uncanny Avengers #1″ kick-starts the beginning of the Marvel NOW! era, and they make good on Marvel’s claim to shake up the status quo.

This first installment picks up shortly after the conclusion of “AVX #12,” showcasing the funeral of Prof. Charles Xavier. Wolverine gives a heartfelt eulogy that hits all the right emotional notes. These prove to be the most touching pages in the book and also the most depressing, as Wolverine makes it clear that he, along with everyone else, had failed Prof. Xavier. Charles died without ever seeing his dream of peaceful coexistence become a reality. Prof. X’s funeral doesn’t seem to be explored as deeply as one might expect, but any deeper and the rest of the book wouldn’t have had its time to shine. For that reason, I don’t count its abruptness as a deterrent. I only hope his funeral gets explored further in books like AVX: Consequences and subsequent X titles. Wolverine himself still has a way to go before he can prove his worth on this team, and that won’t happen by simply killing a lot of bad guys. If the name of the game is peaceful coexistence, can a well-known assassin hope to meet those standards?

While Havok also seemed like a far-fetched addition to an Avengers team of this scale, Remender does plenty to justify his involvement. The conversation Havok and Captain America have where Cap tries to persuade him into being the face of mutant-kind goes miles towards helping to convince the reader as well. The fact that Havok is reluctant to be that figurehead speaks volumes about his potential leadership, and while I was also reluctant of his inclusion beforehand, now I couldn’t picture Uncanny Avengers without him. When the book picks up pace and depicts a brainwashed Avalanche terrorizing the city outside Avengers Mansion, seeing Havok take charge relieved me of any reservations that he wasn’t the right man for the job, and a Havok/Cap “fast-ball special” serves as one of the greatest fan pleasing moments of the book.

Perhaps the most proper fitting inclusion on the team is the Scarlet Witch. An internal monologue at Prof. Xavier’s shrine shows just how great a depth Wanda’s remorse goes, and her want to atone for her past mistakes is sure to be one of the more interesting running themes throughout the series. After she was shown to basically “wish away” the all-powerful Phoenix Force in “AVX #12” I can’t help but wonder how she’ll handle much easier, smaller-scale problems like, say, a bank robbery or even a low-level mutant threat, and this is a question I hope gets answered sooner rather than later.

Unwilling to let Wanda mourn the Professor is Rogue, who feels Wanda’s crimes are far too detrimental to human-mutant relations to ever be absolved. Rogue may seem slightly out of character from X-Men Legacy where she’s typically more lighthearted and understanding, but with everything she knew crashing around her feet who could blame her? When Rogue takes off her glove and wraps her fingers around Wanda’s throat, I got chills, and the way these two will act around each other is going to be a lot of fun to watch. This new “bad-ass” mindset is a welcome one and I’m anxious to see what she’ll be like as the new Wolverine of the team, especially since it’s a team that Wolverine is presently on.

Doing much less to justify his spot on the team is Thor. Aside from being a go-to heavy hitting A-lister, Thor’s stake in all this is never really clarified. He makes a pretty lame joke about coffee but otherwise is devoid of any dialogue. We know he’s a good guy, and we know he’s there to do the right thing, but in a book about human and mutant relations there needs to be at least some mention of the fact that he’s neither human nor mutant. Again, not yet a huge deterrent since the book is only one issue deep.

John Cassaday on art is, well, come on… IT’S JOHN CASSADAY! And he’s ON ART! Cassaday has a way of making the ordinarily simple seem extraordinarily grandiose. Where other artists rely heavily on the script to depict what a character’s thinking, with Cassaday you needn’t look further than their face. The scene with Alex and Scott between a wall of ruby quartz is so perfect, Scott so bone-chillingly menacing and Alex’s face shaded in a manner that depicts a lack of sympathy or understanding. The mood is downright tangible. Seeing Cassaday draw Wolverine again feels so damn good, too. Anyone who read Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men knows there was a lot to love about it, and in a way Uncanny Avengers almost feels like a spiritual successor to that book. But like any good reviewer I can think of a few grievances. In the scene where Cap and Thor show up talking about coffee, the vertical red and white stripes on Cap’s costume look like they were sewn by the jittery hands of someone who had just drank roughly twenty cups. Also, the costume designs can use some tweaking. Seeing Cap use a chin strap on his helmet will take some getting used to, and it seems like an odd addition since he hasn’t needed it for the last several decades. There’s a small movie out there you might of heard of that you can thank for that one. Rogue’s outfit looks kind of like a green version of Kenny’s jacket from South Park and it needs to change. (A throwback to ’90s leather jacket, perhaps? A man can dream.) Havok and Thor’s helmets are both eyesores and could also use some rethinking. But at the end of the day I take one look at the scene where Avalanche puts his helmet on, and it almost makes up for it all. I can’t wait to see what he draws next, and it’s a privilege to have him on a monthly series again.

One issue in, this book is already everything I love about comic books. A clear mission statement, a beautifully drawn world, and an exhilarating cast of characters. Now that the team dynamic is set in motion, Remender and Cassaday have a highway on which to hit the gas. If the last page is any indication, Uncanny Avengers won’t be slowing down anytime soon.