by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Stuart Immonen (pencils), Wade von Grawbadger (inks), Dave McCaig (colors), and Albert Deschesne (letters)

The Story: It’s New Avengers vs. Dark Avengers as Luke Cage goes under the knife.

What’s Good: Well, there’s a bunch of action in the comic, and that’s never a bad thing.  However, what’s best about that action is that for once, it’s not the New Avengers desperately trying to survive.   It’s great to see the team actually get the upper hand and kick some ass for once.  As a New Avengers reader, it’s almost a cathartic experience seeing them fight the Dark Avengers on equal terms.

Best of all though is that the comic has more or less moved past groaning and stumbling Avengers and the awfully ambiguous “power drainer” plot device.  As a result, the comic feels like it’s back in working order.  Everything feels fairly sensible and logical again, and the comic has gone back to clicking along at a brisk pace.

While the comic is mostly about the action, we do get some solid character moments.  The chase sequence between Ms. Marvel and Iron Patriot is a lot of fun and very beautifully illustrated by Immonen.  Danvers comes across great, but through her, Bendis also legitimizes the New Avengers in Dark Reign: they’re an actual team, whereas the Dark Avengers lack that cooperative, organized dynamic.  Indeed, the good guys still have something over the bad guys.  Meanwhile, Night Nurse and Jessica also receive solid treatment, with Jessica’s scenes in particular carrying the necessary emotional weight, while also addressing a logical difficulty regarding her current status.

On art, Immonen’s art certainly is a lot of fun in a “comfort food” sort of way.  It’s accessible and very “Saturday-morning,” but his heavier inks also get across the Dark Reign vibe.

What’s Not So Good: Despite my enjoyment of Immonen’s art, I still am not sold on his being the artist on New Avengers.  His work just doesn’t have that blockbuster, modern Marvel feel, and thus in some ways, it almost reduces the book’s importance.  The fact that the Night Nurse looks a bit more like a “Lady of the Night” doesn’t help either.

Probably the biggest problem with this comic is how little characterization there is of the actual team.  Other than those admittedly cool moments with Ms. Marvel and Jessica, it almost feels like the New Avengers are still too large a team, even with Cage unconscious and Wolverine gone.  Outside of being present in group shots, every character is reduced to getting one punch in during the battle and perhaps one line of action-banter.  Spider-Woman doesn’t even get the latter.  In other words, other than Ms. Marvel, has a significant presence or any room to shine.

If it were an issue of page count, it’d be forgivable, but keep in mind that the Night Nurse gets two pages of characterization and dialogue.  Why such a tertiary character that we may never see again should get such preferential treatment to the actual team members who share the comic’s name-sake, I have no idea.  Pile in a bunch of Hood and Osborn, and most of the characters we should be hearing from lose their voices.

Conclusion: A fun action comic that turns the tables on what we normally get from New Avengers.

Grade: B –

-Alex Evans