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

The Story: There’s somebody trying to collect infinity gems, and that can’t be good…

What’s Good: After all the time-traveling hijinks, the is actually a really comforting issue of the Avengers if only because it feels like the series is getting back to basics and, in doing so, it also continues to solidify its identity and tone.  Bendis has things much more under control and the result is an issue that is something of a relieving read.  This is a well-structured comic that hits the right notes.

As the first issue of a new arc, this book is all set-up and as such, functions as a perfect prelude.  There’s a mysterious new bad guy (maybe) who we know nothing about.  Despite this, his quest for the infinity gems and his use of their powers is enough to make him a foreboding figure and a real threat.  I like that Bendis didn’t reveal any of his cards this month, as it made me all the more intrigued to find out what happens next and to learn just who the hell this guy is.  I’m already far more interested in this plotline than I was the previous.  It’s all shrouded in secrecy, but the infinity gems alone are such a collective bogeyman that the issue is all the better for it.  The whole “pissed off Wonder Man” thread is also re-introduced, and it has me as interested as ever, as Simon continues to remind me of a grumpy forum-dweller.

Bendis also spends a bit of time with the team itself, hanging out at the Avengers tower and interacting.  I’m rarely a fan of the big team-books.  I’m not a fan of the JSA, JLA, or X-Men.  But I’ll pick up the Avengers and the Fantastic Four through thick and thin, and that’s because of their familial aspects.  The Avengers have always been a kooky, often dysfunctional family, and Bendis starts re-establishing some of that this month with a minimum of Bendis-speak.  It’s only a couple of pages, but I could do with a bit of that every month, as it’s just so crucial to who the Avengers are.

This was also a really solid performance from Romita, one that’s a lost less scratchy and rough around the edges.  It feels quite polished by his standards, and that’s quite a good thing.

What’s Not So Good: Yeah, I suppose this issue is guilty of decompression, to some extent.  It works, but the fact is that no, you don’t know what the main conflict is by the end of the issue or what the exact direction of the story is.  I suppose that is more a prelude that a straight-up first issue.  It works, but if decompression really annoys you, this issue isn’t for you.  It’s far from Bendis’ worst use of the narrative technique, but this isn’t a pedal-to-the-medal, reveal-a-minute experience.

Also, don’t be fooled by the solicitation or the cover: Red Hulk does not join the Avengers in this issue and barely even interacts with them.  In fact, he only shows up in three or four pages, a couple of them a double-page spread and, in total, has all of two lines.  He’s a non-presence this month so if you’re buying this issue because of him, you have been warned.

Conclusion: A fun start to a promising new arc.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans