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

The Story: The Avengers learn who is behind the mystic attacks and devise a plan to challenge him/it.

What’s Good: By this point, it should go without saying that I’m loving this as a Marvel mystic storyline.  It makes New Avengers feel distinct, it helps bring in some real power players from an arena that is largely ignored.

Focusing on the mystic corner of the Marvel Universe has also brought the best out of Stuart Immonen and Laura Martin, who are able to make the kind of bright, vibrant, Saturday-morning artwork on steroids that they clearly excel at.  New Avengers, even moreso now with all the mystic lights, spells, and blasts, is just downright fun to look at.

This issue’s plot had enough twists and turns to keep me interested.  There’s a constant sense of things getting increasingly large, both the story and the villain.  Things keep getting exponentially bigger and by the end of this issue, from a mystic perspective, the conflict is positively massive in scale despite its really only involving one team of Avengers.  Certainly, putting an identity on the bad guy (and it’s a huge one) helps a great deal with this.  Not only is the revelation both interesting and surprising in its gravity, but it also helps to make the story feel more important, something that has been lacking lately what with all the faceless, formless goons the Avengers have been fighting lately.

It’s interesting, it’s fun, and the more intimate, friendly team dynamic continues to make this Avengers book a fairly good one.  I also like that Hawkeye has decided to leave the team as well, since the “shared” members between Bendis-Avengers teams has been an issue for me, as it blurs the titles a bit uncomfortably, while defying logic.

What’s Not So Good: You’ve pretty much got to go into this forgetting last month’s cliffhanger, or at least putting it on the back-burner.  You’d figure that this month’s issue would start explosively, segueing directly from last month’s ending, but it doesn’t.  Instead, a good chunk of the issue goes by as if that Iron Fist/Strange confrontation never happened.  The whole thing is downplayed so much that it hardly feels addressed.

By the time the issue with Strange is discussed, we’re halfway through the book and what seemed so important last month ends up being a total non-issue.  I couldn’t help but feel that this undermined this storyarc’s potential somewhat and I also felt a little betrayed, or at least baited.  Those tantalizing hints that Dr. Strange had been up to no good?  It amounts to nothing.  Worse still, Strange’s argument basically amounts to just telling the Avengers to trust him, and the conflict is thus considered dealt with and the book moves on.

I also got this lingering feeling throughout the issue that Bendis hasn’t spent enough time really detailing the Marvel mystic universe to make this story have the impact that it should.  While the story is unmistakably big, the revelation of who the bad guy is should’ve felt more jaw-dropping than it was.  Perhaps, though, that’s more the fault of Marvel’s under-using the mystic universe.

Conclusion: Overall, if you enjoy Bendis’ Avengers, this is the kind of solid experience you’ve been picking up for years.  If you don’t like Bendis’ Avengers, this won’t change your mind.

Grade: B –

-Alex Evans