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

The Story: Victoria Hand tries to negotiate with Molecule Man.

What’s Good: Much of what made last month’s issue good is furthered this month.  Molecule Man in particular continues to be written well by Bendis.  He’s a bizarre concoction of social ineptitude that ends up sounding oddly child-like.  At times, he sounds innocent in his inability to converse, and at other times, he’s violently petulant.

Once again though, the real star is Victoria Hand. Bendis has made the most of what may appear to be a “filler arc” by using it to make a fully developed character out of her.  Bendis thrusts her into the middle of the action this month and we see her slowly settling into a leadership role and using her natural intelligence to get by.  Nonetheless, Bendis makes it clear that this is new territory for the character; she stutters during her negotiations with Reese, despite her tactics being sound.  The real moment this month for Hand, though, comes with her finally standing up to Osborn and asserting herself.  She makes demands of Osborn and becomes the first character to actually force Osborn to face up to his limitations and his history.  The fact that Bendis has given the up till now characterless Hand the personality to make this  believable in just a couple of issues is testament to his success with the character this month.

Meanwhile, it’s great to see the Sentry cut loose and cease being the Marvel Universe’s whipping boy.  It’s scary stuff.  Better still, the Osborn/Sentry dynamic remains one of the strongest elements of Dark Avengers and that trend continues this month, with an added grain of menace, as this looks to be shaping up to be another thing Osborn may be in over his head with.

What’s Not So Good: For all Bendis does this month with Victoria Hand, he and Deodato just can’t help but have her stripped to her underwear.  I’ve complained several times before about Deodato’s need for scantily clad women, and this is probably his and Bendis’ worst offence.  There’s no real rationale mentioned for Molecule Man’s stripping of Hand.  No one mentions Hand’s undressed state, nor explains the reason for it.  That leads me to believe that this only occurred for reasons of fan titillation, and that’s just shameful, particularly given the character’s new direction.

Also, while it was great to see the Sentry get a power upgrade, the nature of that power upgrade is both uninspired and a heads-scratcher.  It’s just not original, nor is it cool.  The Sentry basically learns that he essentially has the same powers as another mega-powerful villain, and that’s that.  There’s nothing more to it.  It’s clear that Bendis needed to find a way for Sentry to fight Molecule Man, and he went the absolute easiest way possible.

And speaking of that Sentry/Molecule Man fight, it’s a bit of a mess.  As Molecule Man’s powers rage uncontrollably, there’s a two or three panels where I just don’t understand who’s doing what.

Lastly, the cliffhanger isn’t much of a cliffhanger thanks to its being fairly incomprehensible.  I honestly have no idea what the hell happened, let alone why.  All I know is that Bendis basically yelled “SIEGE” on the last page.  I’m probably missing something, but I’ll wager that I’m far from the only one.

Conclusion: It’s Dark Avengers, it’s fun, and barring a wardrobe malfunction, Victoria Hand is a great character, but this issue has its weaknesses.

Grade: C+

-Alex Evans