by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Stuart Immonen (pencils), Wade von Grawbadger (inks), Laura Martin (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: The Avengers fight against the hordes of demons invading Earth while Iron Fist finds himself trapped in another realm.

What’s Good: Of the new Avengers books, this continues to be the best of the lot.  The characters have the strongest chemistry and there’s an upbeat camaraderie present that, to me, is generally a key component of any successful superhero team book.

While there’s a lot, a lot, of fighting in this issue, it’s not totally mindless.  The dynamic between the Thing and Spider-Man continues to be a highlight for me.  Their conversation mid-battle this month is both humorous and surprisingly meta-textual and self-aware.  The innate understanding that Spidey has for both the Thing, and what it means to be a comic book character, is fantastic; I also enjoyed how Bendis managed to use this as a means to express what I assume to be one of his own beliefs: in a book like New Avengers, sometimes giving the people what they want is more important than trying to be innovative for the sake of innovation.

Readers of my Avengers-related reviews will also know about my well-documented love for Victoria Hand.  Given that, the fact that she makes an appearance this month is already a plus.  My fanboyism aside, however, she really is put to good use.  Her gradual redemption, her awkwardness about performing a heroic deed, and her general frustration over her situation is all great to read and continue to make her as likable as possible.  Bendis’ use of Hand also remains perhaps the most solid representation of the Heroic Age, and how it marches forward from Dark Reign.

I’m also pleasantly surprised by what a central role Iron Fist takes.  The fact that Bendis has focused on him, isolated him, and made his particular powers and status crucial to this conflict with other-dimensional demons is very much welcome.  It’s also made me realize how Iron Fist-deficient I’ve been.

Immonen’s art is also all sorts of fun.  Bright and vibrant, his environments gleam with life and his characters are impossible to dislike.  Also, his action sequences, however big, continue to be impressive.  I especially enjoyed his depiction of Iron Fist’s scenes in the other realm, which carried a more shaded, painted feel.

What’s Not So Good: Until the big reveal on this issue’s last page, the demons the Avengers spend most of this issue fighting just aren’t very interesting.  They’re just glowy, only vaguely defined creatures and worse still, they come by the horde.  What this means is that this issue falls into “numberless, faceless goons” territory.  All the demons look more or less the same, none of them actually say anything, and not once did I believe that the Avengers were actually seriously endangered by them.  In other words, it’s the classic bad action movie situation that I recall Austin Powers mocking so well.  Faced with a personality-devoid and barely defined mob of baddies, it’s hard to feel any real threat.  Instead, there’s just a slight whiff of blandness.

Couple this with the fact that most of this issue is a just a running battle with these faceless goons, and as fun as this issue was, there’s really only so high I can grade it.  Indeed, until the last few pages, it doesn’t feel like there’s much of significance going on, just a lot of punching and some admittedly fun dialogue.

Conclusion: The New Avengers doing what they do best.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans