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

The Story: The Avengers try to remove the device attached to Luke Cage’s heart as Norman Osborn closes in.

What’s Good: The impending arrival of Osborn and the time limit that implies puts a heavy strain of tension on the entirety of this month’s issue, and Bendis does well in capturing the sense of desperation.  Everything feels properly “edge of your seat.”  More importantly, the pay-off of this cat and mouse game comes to a satisfying and humorous conclusion that will definitely make you smile, as the Avengers get one over the Iron Patriot.  The fact that they manage to seemingly pull off the impossible also continues the new trend of making the team look good after so many months underfoot.

The Hood’s presence was also solid this month.  With his new power boost, Parker reasserts himself in a big way, killing a character in a manner so simple and matter of fact that it’s hard not to be stunned.  But really, the best part of Bendis’ use of the character this month is that he actually makes Osborn sweat.  It was rather enjoyable seeing Osborn so genuinely frightened, even cowed, by the Hood.  With stones in hand, Parker of all people is becoming yet another factor that Osborn may have bitten off more than he can chew with.

Another character that Bendis writes well is Hank Pym, who makes a guest appearance this month.  Pym’s arrogance is always fun, and Bendis captures the character fully.

Beyond that, Immonen puts out really impressive work.  The issue looks about as fun as a comic can, all of the characters look vibrant, and Immonen deftly handles the massive cast.  I particularly enjoyed his depictions of the Hood, who is both scary (as befits his rejuvenated direction) and human.

What’s Not-so-Good: The Avengers really are a background presence this month.  Most get very few lines, while Daredevil, Iron Fist, Pym, Strange, and Voodoo seem to be bigger presences than any member of the team save possibly Cage or Jessica.  I guess that’s ultimately the problem when you’ve got so many guest stars in 22 pages; the main characters sort of fall to the wayside.  It’s not just in the dialogue that the team is scarce, it’s also in the actions.  Daredevil reports on the device’s status.  Pym and Strange examine Cage’s heart.  Really, all the significant action this month is by either the guest characters or the villains.

The biggest problem with this issue though is in the panel structure.  It just felt a little too dense, at times as though too many panels were crammed onto a single page.  Even when the number is the standard five, it still feels strangely crowded due to Immonen’s layout choices.

Worse still, some of the panel-to-panel transitions are really wild.  At times, the storytelling feels too fast for its own good between panels, and not at all organic.  A conversation near the end of the issue where Jessica’s mother shows up is an excellent example.  Jessica talks to Luke, then we get a full character shot of Jessica’s mother, who suddenly appears holding Luke child, and we abruptly go from that to a close-up silhouette of Luke holding his baby, and that’s not even half the page.  There just isn’t enough linkage between the panels, and this happens throughout the comic, often compounded by the bad layout choices.

Conclusion: Overall, a fun outing with the Avengers.

Grade: B –

-Alex Evans