Uncanny Avengers #2, by Daniel Acuna and Rick Remender. I read the first five issues of the second volume of Uncanny Avengers on Marvel Unlimited in a single sitting. I lost interest in the plot and the dialogue pretty quickly (other than a few great scenes between the Vision and the Scarlet Witch).
Remender’s version of the High Evolutionary character is slightly different than the one I’m familiar with from the Bronze (and Modern) Age. The High Evolutionary was typically presented as an unbalanced scientist obsessed with mastering evolution, a slightly less sinister modern version of Wells’ classic Dr. Moreau. He tampered with the genetic structure of animals (creating both an evil evolved red wolf with psychic powers and a benevolent evolved cow who was the foster mother to Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver), evolved himself into a god-like figure, and created a version of the Earth where time passes at an accelerated rate. Creators used him as an antagonist, a deux ex machina and a story catalyst over the decades, but Remender and Acuna were the first (that I’ve read) to explicitly address some of the darker implications of the character. Although some treated the character as a symbol for our fears of science untethered from all ethical constraints, almost all portrayed HE in a sympathetic or ambivalent light. Acuna and Remender highlight the social attitudes that might accompany an obsession with accelerating human evolution, particularly from a character who was originally a British scientist from the early 20th century. He may have been depicted as a proto-transhumanist in the past, but it’s not that hard to imagine him as a twisted eugenicist.
This excerpt is from my favorite scene in the arc, when Acuna gives the reader glimpses of ordinary folk in the humanoid animal society. The body language and expressions of the characters is recognizable and emotionally resonant. I’m drawn to the way Acuna uses hands to convey casual intimacy – the deer holding their child, the tightly clasped hands of a zebra and a leopard, the older rhino who places their hands (protectively, almost pa/maternally) on the shoulders of a younger rhino. His images help the reader develop empathy for the New Men and other human/animal hybrids that are usually in the background of these stories.
Remender’s dialogue strikes a chillingly complementary note. The High Evolutionary’s words are heartless and clinical, but when the reader sees the audience, they feel particularly cruel, hinting at a deeply familiar bigotry.
I’m not alway a fan of applying retcons and other character tweaks to earlier stories, but it’s surprisingly easy to imagine that Remender and Acuna’s version of the High Evolutionary is the same (or at the very least, the true) version of the character who appeared intermittently in comics over the last few decades. Everything reads differently if one spends a little bit of time thinking about the sentient beings who were impacted by the High Evolutionary’s actions. You might find that what was traditionally depicted as a slightly unhealthy interest in human advancement might just be an obsession with perfection, and the Evolutionary’s reckless indifference to human life could easily be viewed as an unwillingness to acknowledge the personhood of sentient beings who look different.
It’s not necessary to view the character from this perspective – the next time we see High Evolutionary, he might be a positive symbol of human curiosity – but it’s interesting to think about the possibilities of a Marvel villain who hides their evil behind a veil of rationality.