With an emphasis on characters and character dynamics, Uncanny Avengers # 8 offers another solid chapter in the ongoing Avengers Standoff saga. While the events of this book do propel the overall Pleasant Hill narrative forward, the real attraction here is the competent character development and the deft character interaction. Topped off with a dash of humor, Uncanny Avengers delivers again. Spoilers begin after the jump.

Uncanny Avengers # 8 opens with Rogue in a similar situation as the protagonist in Welcome to Pleasant Hill: sidled with a new identity and set of memories, “Claire” just can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t right. Unlike Baron Zemo, who had to wait for the Tinkerer to invent a device to free him from his mental prison, we learn that Rogue has prepared for just such a situation: the phone calls she keeps receiving from a creepy unknown source are actually a mental device Rogue installed within mind using the late Professor Xavier’s assistance.

The flashback explaining this clever solution to the brainwashed Avenger’s mental imprisonment features not only Xavier, but also Nightcrawler and Wolverine – three X-Men who have died. It’s nice to see Rogue interact with these mutants even if only in passing, as it reminds the reader of our hero’s diverse backgrounds. Plus, Xavier’s “mind worm” is an unexpected method of releasing the heroes from Pleasant Hill, but one that makes immediate sense given Rogue’s history as a student of Professor X’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

From here, Rogue devotes the rest of the issue to releasing the rest of the Avengers from Pleasant Hill. In the case of Johnny Storm, this means a humorous reference to Rogue setting him on fire off-panel. However, the remaining four heroes she frees require more complicated maneuvers.

First up is Ms. Marvel, whose disorientation causes her to attack Rogue with an expanded fist. The fight is elevated by the fact that it allows the two heroes to show off their respective personalities and abilities: Kamala not only fights using her extra-large fist, she also accuses Rogue of hurting Carol, Kamala’s idol. By having the heroes engage in a fight that specifically caters to their abilities, rather than simply a generic fistfight, the action becomes more interesting that it might be otherwise.

Next, in one of the more understated revivals, the Unity Squad locates Deadpool, who has been transformed into a hunky fire fighter. As he remembers his actual identity (and returns to his normal form in an especially well-drawn sequence), Wade further curses Connecticut. Underneath this comedic response, however, Deadpool is subtly devastated by the loss of his attractive countenance, lamenting the “spiritual death” of his firefighter alter ego. First, there’s Deadpool’s self-image issues – he doesn’t like the way he looks, and temporarily gaining a sexy visage only exacerbates that pain. Second, in Welcome to Pleasant Hill, Kobik told other “Jim” that she imparts a new identity that helps a person achieve their potential. “That’s what this place is for,” she tells him, “Everybody finds out what’s so great about them.” Given this, placing Deadpool in the role of firefighter – one of the few “hero” roles available to prisoners interred at Pleasant Hill – was Kobik’s recognition of Deadpool’s potential (and longing) to be a hero.

This leads to one of the best exchanges in the issue, as the crew heads over to the garage to wake Stark. He makes a jab at Wade, saying brainwashing was the only explanation for Rogers asking Deadpool to join the Unity Squad. Wade isn’t having it, and his response is one that could only originate with a writer that understands the character as well as Duggan does: “[Making me an Avenger] was never about me,” Deadpool tells Stark, “Rogers told me I was around to remind all of you all that not everyone is a god.” With just a few speech bubbles, Deadpool gets a chance to stretch his substantial depth of character – and then he struts away whilst making a Big Lebowski reference. Great stuff.

This leads to one final awakening: The Vision, who has been transformed into a pianist. Doctor Voodoo can’t track him because he has no soul, but Rogue mentions that she recognized him when she heard him playing “a friend’s favorite song” (which friend – Wanda?). One they reach him, Vision mentions that his perfect piano playing may have “lacked soul,” and shortly thereafter identifies the planet they are on as Earth (thanks to the location of the sun and the strength of the gravity). All of this simply serves to underscore several unique and integral aspects of the Vision’s character: his lack of soul (and what that might mean for his humanity), and his computerized observation skills.

All of this demonstrates the greatest strength of the Uncanny Avengers: a full and deep understanding of its large roster of characters, and clever utilization of those characters (both individually and combined with one another) in order to create an engaging and distinctive story. Even when the plot is relatively straightforward – as is the case here, where we essentially witness an abbreviated version of the storyline for Welcome to Pleasant Hill – the effectual deployment of characters and character dynamics will breathe life into the narrative. Top all this off with a nice gravy of laugh-out-loud funny lines, and you have another strong tie-in to the Pleasant Hill narrative.

Uncanny Avengers # 8 Creators: Gerry Duggan, Ryan Stegman

Next time: The Avengers Standoff continues as A.I.M. faces off against the ridiculously awesome American Kaiju in New Avengers # 9!

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