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

The Story: The Hood regroups and Loki makes a shocking move to help combat the unleashed Sentry.

What’s Good: It’s been a long time since I actually, genuinely cared about the Hood and what the future holds for him.  That Bendis makes me want to see more of the character is no small feat.

In focusing most of this issue on the Hood, Madame Masque, and their crew, Bendis ends up putting the Hood in a very, very interesting place post-Siege.  It’s the sort of thing that could spawn a new ongoing series, or at least a limited series.  Suddenly unsure of himself and afraid, this Parker Robbins presents an intriguing character whose future adventures are sure to be something to enjoy.

Bendis also bolsters the Masque/Hood relationship further, which only aids this new direction for the character.  She becomes Parker’s crutch and motivating force, while also being a total badass.  It’s strange; by issue’s end, it’s clear that these two are still villains, but I find myself oddly rooting for them.  To further highlight this, Bendis has a rather cool scene that parallels Madame Masque and the Hood’s relationship with that of Hawkeye and Mockingbird.  While on opposite sides of the hero/villain dichotomy, the love shared by both couples is equally genuine.

The other big news, of course, is the big twist involving Loki.  Loki performs a, well, fairly heroic action, as he actually helps the Avengers.  No, not Osborn’s Avengers.  After the role Loki’s been in for the last few years, this was a really cool, out of nowhere moment that made my eyes go wide.  I only wish it was given more space but even as such, this ruled.

Then there’s Norman Osborn’s role in the issue, as Bendis continues to try to paint him as at least a little sympathetic as Siege falls on his head.  Norman’s good qualities are dwelt on, as he is shown to be capable of loyalty and integrity in his relationship with the Hood.  It’s an issue where he doesn’t quite come off as the simple, cackling, totally rotten villain.

The art on this issue is also gorgeous, as Mike McKone does his best Stuart Immonen impersonation.  Indeed, I struggled to tell the two apart here, were it not for McKone’s Mockingbird, a character that Immonen draws to absolute perfection.  This is great stuff all around that is just plain fun to look at, with McKone’s Hood and Masque looking especially strong.

What’s Not So Good: I really liked this issue.  That said, be aware that this issue is pretty much sans Avengers.  You only really get to see them during the big battleshots; the focus here is clearly on the Hood.  In fact, in the one scene where the New Avengers do get screen-time (that scene I mentioned with Hawkeye and Mockingbird), it actually feels a little jarring.  The comic is just so generally Hood heavy, that the sudden shift feels abrupt and out of place in the issue overall.

There’s also a scene where the Hood tries to convince his crew to go into combat with him that feels a little dragged out weirdly Mandrill heavy.  It’s clear that Bendis has some inexplicable love for the character, which just comes across as a little odd, particularly when the baboon is given a major character moment that’ll no doubt come to nothing, largely because it’s,  you know, Mandrill.

Conclusion: It’s hard to imagine New Avengers, especially without New Avengers, any better than this.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans