by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), John Romita Jr. (pencils), Klaus Janson & Tom Palmer (inks), Dean White (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: The Avengers try to reach an agreement with Ultron to stop Kang’s breaking the timestream.

What’s Good: This issue really goes out of its way to establish the Avengers as the central title for the Marvel Universe through its both hinting at, and setting up, major stories to come.  Bendis is able to do this thanks to the story’s conveniently being located in the future.  There’s a really nice reference to the outcome of the “Trial of Captain America” storyline over in Captain America, while the final events of the issue seem to hint at a major Ultron-related storyline that might possibly lead to an event spreading to other titles.  All told, it’s stuff like this that makes the Avengers feel really important as a title.

Bendis does a good job with the wacky time traveling dynamics.  For the first time, I feel as though things not only made perfect sense, but also were actually rather clever.  Bendis puts everything where they ought to be and, unlike previous issues, the timestream stuff is never dubious.  In fact, it actually allows for Bendis to write a really, really nice ending, allowing for this story-arc to end exactly as it began, as the murder of Immortus is explained and cast in a wholly different light given what we now know.  It’s really quite good, so much so that I was taken by surprise by how eloquent and well constructed it was.

The Avengers’ attempting to stop the war from ever happening is also well done; their dialogue with Ultron is tense but logical.  Bendis writes a really good back and forth, doing solid work in making Ultron’s reasoning and thought processes appear calculating and ruthless.  Honestly, Bendis just writes a good Ultron.

Romita’s artwork continues to sharpen and improve.  This may be his most polished issue yet, as it really cuts back on the “scratchiness” that at times gets out of control in Romita’s work and ends up making things look sloppy.  The detail work is solid and characters look Romita-trademarked cartoony, but never deformed.  The action and pyrotechnics are enjoyable and Romita also joins a very, very nice Ultron.

What’s Not So Good: In concerning himself with dropping hints about the future, Bendis may have left himself less than the optimum number of pages with which to conclude his actual story.  The confrontation with Ultron and the resolution of the crisis/repair of the timestream all feels just a little too easy.  While the conversation is great, it all just boils down to the Avengers and Ultron having a little chat.  While it unfolds in logical fashion, it still seems a bit anticlimactic.  It’s almost as though there should’ve been more of a caveat or catch or, honestly, more of a struggle in getting Ultron to go along with things.

Or maybe that in itself is the problem: the fact that it all just boiled down to getting Ultron to agree to something, no action or trickery required.  For such a convoluted story to have such a simple solution is a bit underwhelming.

As a side-note, part of me also wonders if the team is getting too large, with Noh-Var joining up and Red Hulk joining next month.  Do Wolverine and Spider-Man still need to be on both teams?

Conclusion: As an all-around experience, this was probably the most solid issue yet of the main Avengers title.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans