by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Mike Deodato & Greg Horn (art), Rain Beredo (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: As the Avengers find themselves subjected to the whims of Molecule Man, Victoria Hand scrambles.

What’s Good: As Hand takes center-stage this month, we finally get a three-dimensional character out of her.  It’s very interesting to see how her motivations largely stem out of an uncompromising sense of integrity mixed with a desire to do as much as good as possible.  Hopefully this is a seed that will come back to bite Norman.  Either way, it’s always great to get to know a character as an individual, let alone one who’d been little more than scenery up until this point.  Having Hand become more developed will undoubtedly add more to the series.

Meanwhile, in the present, Hand is thrust into a central leadership position, and we see just how awkward, uncomfortable, and perhaps even unprepared and flustered she is in such a role.  Victoria Hand finally feels and looks human and almost likable.

Molecule Man is the other central figure this month and he’s definitely creepy, particularly thanks to Bendis’ godlike portrayal of his ill-defined Silver Age power set.  I also really liked how Bendis wrote his voice.  While not openly bonkers, there’s just something off about his dialogue.  Bendis is clearly trying to convey the character’s complete social ineptitude, isolation, and consequent difficulty conversing with others.  It’s very subtle, but that makes it all the more skillfully executed.

Greg Horn also does a fantastic job illustrating the “dream sequences” this month, with his hazy, softer, painted feel contrasting beautifully and suddenly with the usual heavy, dark, muscled fare that Deodato brings.

What’s Not So Good: Nothing really wowed me about this issue.  I think that that’s largely due to the book spending an incredible amount of time with Molecule Man as the main character weaving the text together.  Probably not a good call when we’re unattached to the character.  Also, while his voice is good, his “I want to be left alone” rhetoric does repeat.  This would normally be just fine, but when he’s holding together the entire issue, it gets a little dry.

Also, outside of Hand’s scenes, the structure of this month’s issue is so apparent that it creaks.  Every member of the team gets one scene where they feel the power of Molecule Man.  It’s a really uninventive way of getting a new villain’s power across and it also makes the latter half of the issue feel more like a series of skits or vignettes than a single coherent book.  As each Avenger is visited, I can almost feel Bendis ticking off boxes.  Of course, page-count concerns also reduce the length of each scene, sometimes to a single page, so it’s not like any of them particularly resonate either.

Furthermore, was it really necessary to see Sentry get pulverized again?  It’s getting ridiculous how the most uber-powerful character in the Avengers-line has been turned into a complete bitch throughout Dark Reign thanks to the writer’s inability to figure out what to do with him.  It’s not like anyone would take anything resembling a death for the character seriously at this point anyway.

As a final note, I mentioned this last month, but Deodato really does love to draw scantily clad women.  For the second month in a row, the needless skimpiness annoys.  As does seeing page after page of naked bodybuilder Norman Osborn.

Conclusion: It’s cool getting to know Victoria, but outside of some neat work by Horn, the rest of the book is a bit of a wash.

Grade: C+

Alex Evans