Rick Remender is known for some unrelentlingly bleak storytelling about catastrophic disastsers on an epic scale. His Descendants story in Secret Avengers or "The Dark Angel Saga" in Uncanny X-Force are proof of that. Thus, it stands to reason that when he combines those two worlds into Uncanny Avengers, things are going to get scary. There is little that can be more frightening than the most competent Nazi of all time achieving ultimate power over the minds of anyone and everyone he wishes to control.
In Uncanny Avengers #4, The Red Skull has stolen the telepathic power of the late Charles Xavier, and he's using it to force hordes of Manhattanites to slaughter mutants with their bare hands out in the open streets. He's also using it to force Thor, God of Thunder, to beat the holy hell out of his superhero friends. The Skull has a minion among his S-Men who can also negate mutant powers, and Thor has already shattered a healing-factorless Wolverine with his mighty hammer, and he's turned his sights on Scarlet Witch and Havok. Meanwhile, Captain America struggles in vain to fight his old enemy, now wielding a terrifying level of mental might that threatens to turn even a will as strong as Steve Rogers' away from what's right.
The stakes are huge here. No one can even approach the Red Skull without his detection. Cap tries, and in retaliation, he is forced onto his knees to watch as his archvillain shows him mental images of the future he will bring to America, all the while reciting a diatribe against the corrupted mess that this country has become – and what's disturbing is that he's making some salient points about what's wrong with our nation. Of course, his proposed solutions are evil incarnate, but his dissertation on the deterioration of the American ideal has an unsettling semblance of truth. From his summation of Cap's dream that "one day, you will wrest control from the bankers who own you and return this nation to its former glory. Clean streets. Honest neighbors. Attractive wives. Green lawns." to the Skull-described reality of "an incurably sick culture that breeds only parasites, greedy polluters and psychotic madmen" and "an uneducated population fixated on competition, material wealth and voyeurism," the Red Skull digs into Captain America's deep-rooted insecurities about our societal ills to try to demoralize him. And what's so disturbing is that we see it working.
Of course, that's what the foulest villains do – distort an element of veracity to serve their own ends and bend others to their will, and he crosses the line when nsulting 'ignorant rednecks.' It just so happens that Rogue is on this team as well, and in a great moment, she manages to shut down the Skull's powers long enough to start driving him back out of New York. The team does force a retreat – as Cap is seemingly ready to adopt a wartime mentality and actually straight-up kill the Nazi bastard – but it's only a matter of time until the Skull strikes again.
That's just what Remender deals out – a matter of time. He jumps us ahead three months, and we're seeing the echoes of Days of Future Past, with Havok, Scarlet Witch and Sunfire on the run.
Now, I want to stress that these last couple of pages were a big 'holy shit' moment for me, and thus, I must discuss them. SO I warn you now: HERE THERE BE SPOYLERS.
So go away now or be all right with knowing how this ends.
Gone? Staying? Okay.
Not only does this bleak future give us a dead Immortus, of all all-powerful cosmic masters of time and space, warning of the Red Skull's power with a scrawl on a sewer wall, but then the final page gives us a truly startling image. You thought Red Skull-Xavier was bad enough – what about Red Skull-Onslaught?
Yeah. Holy crap.
How about Red Skull-Onslaught standing next to the reanimated brainless corpse of Charles Xavier, to boot? Extra creepy.
So, as I've been ruminating on this, I'm not entirely sure that Onslaught as a character has ever really been done particularly well. That huge crossover in the '90s was a neat idea, and that big Magneto-Hulk look of his was pretty striking, but it's saddled with being the excuse for "Heroes Reborn," which allowed Rob Liefeld to inflict this on us.
Then there was all that Onslaught Reborn stuff – also from Liefeld – that nobody really read. So taking a decent concept like Onslaught and putting it in the hands of Epic Disaster Man Rick Remender? This is going to be good – especially since this means Magneto has to be involved somehow, and we know the seriously bad blood that exists between Erik Lensherr and Johann Schmidt. Wait, Magneto's name is now Max Eisenhardt or something, isn't it? Meh. LENSHERR.
I do enjoy John Cassaday's artwork as well, as it hearkens back to that Astonishing X-Men run he did with Joss Whedon, and that alone gives his stuff a significant weight by association. His Red Skull looks very nasty, and his beat-up and broken faces look even nastier. When Remender is describing Havok's concussion, he actually looks concussed, which doesn't seem to happen that much when writers drop in descriptions of pain and injury to try and make it seem like the odds are stacked higher against the hero. Cassady visually brings the pain.
Overall, I'm really digging Uncanny Avengers. Sure, it's taking its sweet-ass time in coming out, but when it does, it's good, meaty story-stuffs full of drama and surprises and stellar use of these characters and their histories.
Plus, Skullslaught. Slaughterskull. Onskull. Hmm. I'm sure Remender will coin a better name for that hybrid. Or maybe Onslaught needs no adjusting in nomenclature. However, I'm stoked to see how he's adjusted with writing. Hopefully, there won't be an amorphous cloud of mental mist that all non-mutants have to jump into to become Liefeldian.