Since its inception, the Avengers Unity Squad has ostensibly stood for peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants, making them natural enemies for the Red Skull. Though he may not be fully branded as a Nazi anymore, Skull is still depicted as an unabashed racist with a particular hatred for mutants and Inhumans – and with the powers of Charles Xavier now imbued in his own brain, Herr Shmidt is at his most dangerous. In the Uncanny Avengers: Unity Vol. 4: Red Skull trade, collecting issues 18-23, we see the rubicund rogue launch his most intimate attack on the squad by attacking them from within.
This arc makes up the bulk of the trade and is certainly where it is most entertaining. Gerry Duggan is at his best when he’s depicting conflict. He juggles a lot of separate stories and manages to stay true to his characters. It’s clear he understands the minds of Rogue and Deadpool as it pertains to their feelings on the Skull and their team. Rogue is particularly well written when addressing her feelings of failure as it pertains to Charles Xavier. It’s actually kind of astounding, because Duggan absolutely nails about 90% of what makes Rogue Rogue…and then kind of throws it all away with her relationship with Deadpool. To be frank, I am really against the implied (and explicit) romantic interest between the two characters – it just doesn’t seem like something she would do. Oh Duggan writes it in a way that sounds like Rogue, but it feels like an unearned relationship between the two. It doesn’t help that Deadpool is suddenly very earnest and caring in his intentions toward her. His quippy and self-deprecating personality is on point throughout the rest of the book, but this all just felt wrong.
Of the three artists that worked on this arc, I’d have to say the strongest section is issue 19 from Pepe Larraz and Rodrigo Zayas. It is a bit of a middle chapter and very Deadpool focused, but it’s such a fun ride. The action sequences of the mind-controlled Unity Squad tracking and attacking the Merc with the Mouth are fantastic, the vignettes of Skull as he’s trying to break down his captives are perfectly pitched and paced, and his battle with Cable is particularly standout for the arc. An interesting artistic technique in a lot of the book is the color schemes, which tend to be brighter and more colorful during the Skull’s mental manipulations, while the rest of the book is dark and muddy. It’s even subtly brighter in the aforementioned Cable/Skull conflict, which is a nice touch given the way that fight plays out. The rest of the book is also well rendered, but the highs of issue 19 are where the book really hits his stride.
If there’s a complaint to be had with the book overall (outside of the Rogue/Deadpool bits I’ve already whined about), it’s the addition of issue 23 in this trade. Now I get that issue 22 ends on a cliffhanger (2 of them I guess) that 23 addresses, but the storyline about Wonder Man’s return to a corporeal form just feels unnecessary and tacked on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to see how they return Cable to a functioning character rather than having him just reappear as whole again as they have done with the character in the past (multiple times actually). Similarly, it’s good to get the denouement of Rogue’s arc, as she deals with her feelings about Xavier’s loss. The rest of the issue though…it’s just fluff. I think we could do with more time spent on either of these stories and it would help the ending to feel more deserved and appropriate for inclusion. Of course, Rogue’s confidence issues would continue into the next arc of the book, but that’s neither here nor there.
Overall, this is a strong trade. There are some quibbles on character points, but the strong artwork, compelling story and consistency of character makes it a great read that will make a stellar addition to your bookshelf.