By Brian Michael Bendis (Writer), Chris Bachalo (Pencils & Colors), Tim Townsend w/ Jaime Mendoza & Al Vey (Inks), and Antonio Fabela (Colors)

The Story: Ever wonder what happened to Noh-Varr since leaving the Dark Avengers? Now you get to find out. In the Dark Avengers Annual, Noh-Varr, a bit lost in the world since his break from the Dark Avengers, tries to contact his people and figure out humanity while avoiding Osborn’s crew.

What’s Good: The first thing I thought of when I flipped through the Dark Avengers Annual was the Wolverine installment of the Dark Reign: The List one-shot series that just wrapped up. While that’s an easy thing to do considering that both focus more on Noh-Varr than the title characters/character, the Annual is actually quite a bit different from Wolverine’s The List one-shot. The arrogant Noh-Varr written by Jason Aaron is a very different character than the one experiencing something of an existential crisis written by Brian Michael Bendis. And while Bendis’ take on the character is a bit jarring coming so soon after Aaron decided to toss Noh-Varr into a story that sort of played out like an action-comedy, the Dark Avengers Annual works far better than you might expect simply because of the way Bendis writes Noh-Varr. I don’t want to spoil anything, but by the time the Annual is over it is very clear that Noh-Varr is going to be moving up the Marvel ladder, and soon.

The best thing about Bendis’ script is that he manages to avoid making Noh-Varr seem like some brooding, angsty existentialist despite the thoughts and concepts the Kree hero is wrestling with. There’s a hopelessness that Noh-Varr feels, yet Bendis gives the script balance by highlighting both curiosity and confusion in a way that, thankfully keeps the former Dark Avenger a charming and sympathetic character throughout the Annual. n particular, Noh-Varr’s exchanges with a girl he meets, while a bit cliché and heavy handed, do a nice job of highlighting the direction the character is heading. In addition, Bendis wisely keeps the focus on the character development as The Sentry and Noh-Varr square off. It would have been easy to toss in generic fight scene banter, but Bendis’ decision to let Noh-Varr and The Sentry play off each other does a lot of good for both characters.

The artwork in the Dark Avengers Annual is easily the highlight of the book. While the character work and dialogue by Bendis is strong, the art team makes even the most mundane moments look lively and interesting. Now I’ll be the first to admit that Chris Bachalo is a strange artist for the type of character developing story that Bendis tells, but Bachalo’s work is so much fun to look at that it’s hard to care (keep an eye out for a funny Sinister Spider-Man Easter egg!). The panels manage to be both cinematic and quirky, the action is kinetic and dynamic, and the visual storytelling is smooth and fluid. Special mention must also be made of Antonio Fabela’s intentionally bland, understated color choices, highlighted here and there by the use of a vibrant reds. Fabela’s work compliments both Bachalo’s pencils and the tone of Bendis’ story extremely well.

What’s Not So Good: I really don’t have any major complaints about the Dark Avengers Annual. I suppose I could mention that a few panels seem a bit cluttered and that Bendis’ story doesn’t really break any new ground (you’ve seen the story arc play out in numerous times in numerous forms), but then I would just be nitpicking. Sure the two things mentioned are noticeable, but they hardly have an impact on what is a very strong book.

Conclusion: Do yourself a favor and pick up the Dark Avengers Annual. The artwork is great, the story does good things for an interesting character, and it ends in a way that will leave you looking forward to Noh-Varr’s next appearance.

Grade: A-

-Kyle Posluszny