by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Mike McKone (art), Dave McCaig (colors), and Albert Deschesne (letters)

The Story: The motivations of Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Ronin, and Mockingbird are explored in the days leading up to Siege.

What’s Good: This is probably the best issue of New Avengers to come around in some time, and it’s largely because it avoids many of the pitfalls that other comics in its position often fall prey to.  Simply put, everything in this comic that happens feels like it means something.

Take the dialogue for instance.  This issue is surprisingly heavy on character moments and conversation.  Before you run for the hills, it’s definitely pleasant to see that none of this dialogue is the sort of circular, pointless chatter that Bendis is often accused of.  All of it feels emotionally significant and necessary, giving life to the characters while also having them discuss subjects that need addressing.  It’s all pitch-perfect, with every character both feeling very human and true to their voices and personalities.

After this book, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve gotten to know Clint, Bobbi, Luke, and Jessica a little better and even if this isn’t the case, you’ll probably like them all as people just a bit more.  Heading into a cataclysmic series of events like Siege, that’s exactly the sort of thing Bendis should accomplish, as it makes the fight more than just a bunch of random faces scrapping on the page.  It’s also pretty cool that both conversation scenes also give little glimpses of what’s to come for the characters post-Siege.

And sure enough, it works.  After these dialogue portions, the action suddenly becomes meaningful despite the plethora of characters involved.  Luke’s grumbling and Mockingbird’s loving, mischievous glance at Ronin make the fight mean so much more.  In big events like these, it’s often easy to lose track of the participants as individuals, but thanks to the time he invests this month, Bendis bucks the trend.  The battle isn’t just about plot progression in the Marvel Universe, it’s about the people involved and the individual struggles of each of them within the massive, swirling melee.

I also have to mention that McKone draws a wonderful Mockingbird.  I’ve always liked the characters current design, but Bobbi really looks dynamic and lovable under McKone’s hand.

What’s Not So Good: Great Mockingbird depictions aside, McKone’s work does have a few hiccups this month.  The Luke Cage/Jessica Jones dialogue scene in particular was fairly weak.  Though not much was going on, McKone’s take on Jessica was surprisingly weak.  There’s very little detail or time spent on her face and it’s pretty glaring.  She, and hence the scene, looks rushed, or at least glossed over, which is strange given how little is actually going on in the scene.  Weirdly, Cage’s face is also dramatically different from how it looks in the rest of the book, as though McKone found a particular photo reference just for this one scene and decided to run with it.

Also, with characters running wild, some of the action in the books early scenes is just a little too unruly and can become a little difficult to discern.  McKone’s attempting some more creative and abstract panel structures certainly doesn’t help.  I’m all for creative panel lay-outs, but chaotic battles involving dozens of characters may not be the best time.  Between the lack of clarity and the lay-outs, it can be a bit rough following the flow of action in the book’s first few pages.

Conclusion: A really great book that feels worthwhile and significant as a tie-in.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans