After saving New York from the new mind-controlling Red Skull, what’s next for the Avengers “Unity” squad? The answer involves the buildup for an epic storyline that draws a lot from writer Rick Remender’s excellent “The Dark Angel Saga” as well as one that makes the theme of racial tolerance a central part of its narrative. So the scale and the stakes are far bigger here with the infighting amongst the team being almost as big of a threat as the title characters themselves. There’s certainly a lot to like here, even if it means grinding our heroes down for seven whole issues.
We start off with two separate prologues. In the first, Apocalypse pays a visit to Young Thor in the early 11th Century with the intent of cutting down a future threat. This is due to the interference of Rama Tut, the earliest incarnation of the time-traveling Avengers villain Kang, who also informs his partner that there’s another man in England by the name of Folkbern Logan whose descendant will also cause him harm as well. (The man’s last name should give you an idea about who that descendant is.) Meanwhile, in the title’s “Age of Ultron” tie-in, we meet up with the children of Archangel that Kang stole from their mother at the end of the previous volume. Training them in the art of conquering, the time-traveller sets the two upon Colonel America as he pays a visit to the leaders of the Morlocks, Havok and Rogue, as his latest test.
As far as setup goes, both stories are interesting even if they don’t segue naturally into the main arc. Seeing Young Thor take on Apocalypse is certainly entertaining between their brawling and as Remender shows us how the character’s youthful arrogance both serves him in the moment and then fails him many centuries later. Folkbern’s presence is more of an amusing easter egg as it allows the writer to make jokes about women with behinds like a kettledrum and to put an “Olde English” spin on his descendant’s most famous line. The “Age of Ultron” tie-in is useful in showing us what it was like for the Apocalypse Twins, Uriel and Eimin, to grow up under Kang’s tutelage. It’s clear that the villain is doing it for his own ends, but the twins are no dupes as its clear that they resent him and are forming their own plans. Though it’s always a neat trick when a series uses a crossover to advance its main story, I really can’t say the scenes that didn’t involve the twins did much for me. Maybe that’ll change once I get around to reading the crossover.
Now we’re onto the main story, and things get off to a bad start for the good guys on scales both large and small. We see the Apocalypse Twins asserting their status as his heirs against those who would usurp it as well as a celestial who manages to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Meanwhile on Earth, the Unity squad is dealing with the fallout from Rogue snapping the Grim Reaper’s neck at their press conference. The event divides the team with its members either backing up the character or saying she should be kicked out. Before things can degenerate further, the Uriel and Eimin attack S.W.O.R.D.’s Peak Station and send it crashing to Earth, leaving only minutes for an extinction level event to be averted. That it is averted shouldn’t surprise anyone; but, afterwards the hunt is on for the Apocalypse Twins and to find out what their ultimate endgame is. Spoiler Warning: It involves SEGREGATION!
From here, the story becomes a series of chase sequences and encounters as the Unity squad finds themselves consistently one step behind their antagonists every step of the way. Making matters worse is that Uriel and Eimin, being Archangel’s children, are privy to information that serves to further divide the team. That’s probably my biggest problem with this volume, as we’re in the buildup stage of the storyline with the villains ascendent and effectively dominating the good guys for now. Remender does do a good job of selling the Apocalypse Twins as not being particularly villainous in and of themselves, just possessed of a certain amount of ruthlessness in their upbringing that leads to the death of thousands of people along the way.
What he doesn’t do is find a better way to sell the “breakup” of the team under the manipulation of the Twins’ dispersal of certain information. It’s an obvious trope in superhero comics that has been done many times before. Even Havok realizes what’s going on, but is powerless to stop the lumbering advance of this particular plot point. I get what Remender is going for here, as the team needs to fracture amidst their personal issues before they can put them aside and come together to stop the bad guys at the end of the arc. The problem is that we’ve seen this before and no matter how slick the execution is, it can’t quite overcome my irritation at seeing it done again.
Make no mistake: The execution of this is very slick. As was the case in the previous volume, Remender does an excellent job with balancing this very large cast and making sure everyone gets a moment to shine. Some are certainly more dramatic than others, as is the case with Thor and Sunfire teaming up to destroy the debris of Peak Station and investigate the ship responsible. Others are more low-key and go for the gut where drama is concerned. Such is the case when Captain America confronts Wolverine over the death of the child Apocalypse. He even manages to make Wonder Man interesting with his newfound embrace of pacifism, best displayed against some unfortunate Hydra soldiers in the Sudan. There’s even a well-done three-page sequence in whatever the Avengers’ equivalent of the Danger Room is where Wonder Man, Sunfire, Rogue and the Scarlet Witch hash out their thoughts on Havok’s infamous speech from the first volume. It’s really just Remender going over what he was trying to say in more detail, but it’s refreshing to see the writer tackle the criticisms leveled at him in the comic itself while also using it to further define the character dynamics of the team. Not everyone comes off great, as the Wasp seems to be hanging around mainly to be snarky towards the teams X-Men members, and to create hipster mutant/Avenger fashion. I was unimpressed by this.
One problem I did have with the previous volume was that we didn’t get a lot of development for the villains. The Red Skull’s S-Men came off as one-note ciphers defined by their powers. That’s not the case here, and not just because of the development afforded to the title characters. Being heirs of Apocalypse, it’s only fitting that they have their own Horsemen, and the characters they’ve chosen for these roles are a very interesting bunch. If you’re not aware of who they are, then I won’t spoil the surprise. However, they all have some specific connection to certain members of this team, and that only increases the drama in a good way. That’s particularly the case for the one with a specific connection to Wolverine, as it represents one of his biggest failures being thrown right back in his face. I also liked how the Horseman who faces off against Thor appears to have his own agenda beyond what the Twins have in mind. Given that he’s gone even farther off the deep end than he ever had in real life, that should be something to see if it’s followed up on in the pages of this series.
His “Peek-A-Boo” face is also something that will likely lodge itself in your subconscious long after you’ve finished the book. That’s just one memorable moment from artist Daniel Acuna in a volume that demands an awful lot from him. Apocalypse fighting Young Thor. The Horsemen laying siege to feudal London. The Peak crashing to Earth. Hidden underground cities of the Akkaba. A miniaturized universe with many strange lifeforms. The breadth and variety of what Remender asks for here would likely crush a lesser artist, but Acuna makes it all work and delivers some very appealing visuals here. I would say “stunning,” but it would appear that the monthly schedule took its toll and the art does appear rushed in a few scenes. Adam Kubert illustrates the “Age of Ultron” tie-in, and he turns in a solid but bland job here. I actually had to double-check the credits page to make sure it was him here.
One other thing about “The Apocalypse Twins” is that it also draws rather heavily on Remender’s other Marvel work. His “Uncanny X-Force” run is the main source here, but the “Castaway in Dimension Z” storyline in “Captain America” is also touched upon here as well. While you could probably read this volume without any knowledge of those titles, they’re both excellent so you’d really only be depriving yourself of some quality comics. Though this series isn’t at the level of his definitive “X-Force” run, Remender clearly shows his ambition to try and top it with something that’s even bigger in scope. While the character dynamics may not be as solid as they were in that title, his work here with Acuna still gives us some very exciting superhero action. Even with its flaws, I’m still anxious to see where the story is going from here.