by Brian Michael Bendis (writer) & John Romita Jr. (artist)

The Story: The Illuminati are caught in the act and the Hood comes back more dangerous than ever.

What’s Good: Already, I’m enjoying this second arc quite a bit more than its predecessor.  The title feels less hamstrung in its storytelling thanks to the lack of all that time-travel nonsense.  If anything, this feels more like a true Avengers tale: a big, important story, a team of good guys that feel like a dysfunctional family, a cackling villain, and a heavy touch of the cosmic.

All that aside, I want to start with John Romita Jr.’s artwork this month.  While this was a more dialogue heavy issue without any pyrotechnics or major fight scenes, I actually feel that this may quietly be the best issue he’s put out for this series thus far.  His work feels a lot more polished and not at all rushed.  It just seems like more time and love was put into this issue.  Granted, some of that may be due to the new colorist(s), but either way, I liked the art quite a lot.

On Bendis’ side, I always respect when a writer can cram two completely different narratives with two different tones and locales into one 22 page issue without making the issue lose cohesion, and that’s what Bendis does this month.  More than that, both sides are equally interesting.

You’ve got Rogers and the gang discovering the Illuminati’s continued existence.  Bendis did a fantastic job illustrating the boiling over of tension between Iron Man and Steve Rogers.  It didn’t feel at all forced and came across genuinely and logically.  More than that, Bendis highlighted the awkwardness of it all; that it’s basically a persona conflict/agreement escalated into and taking place in the public sphere.  I also quite enjoyed how Bendis used the other Avengers to good effect here, making them feel like awkward bystanders.

The other half of the issue sees the Hood’s meeting an Inhuman in prison.  Again, the fact that Bendis was able to balance the above story with a prison drama was fairly impressive.  The Hood’s machinations are as fun to read as ever, while the character he meets is creepy, likable, and certainly intriguing.  The final two pages of the issue are also the sort of high-drama/big event stuff that’ll have you wanting the next issue ASAP.

With so much dialogue this month, I also have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to see the Bendis-speak (when Bendis uses repetition in a weird attempt to emulate conversation) nearly absent.  When it does crop up, it highlights moments of tension or rapport, meaning that it never dominates the writing.

What’s Not So Good: Given how slam-bang the new Avengers series has been, it may be a bit surprising to see such a dialogue heavy issue with no punches thrown.  I’ll admit that it was a major change of pace.

Also, while the character is used well, I did feel that discovering the Infinity Gem collector was good old Parker Robbins after all was a bit underwhelming.  I’m not sure what I expected, but there was a vague sense of “same old, same old,” probably due to just how much Bendis has pushed the Hood over the last few years.

Conclusion: Minor quibbles aside, this was a really good issue.  More than that, it was a really good issue where Bendis and Romita Jr. managed to eliminate, or at least minimize, their usual weaknesses.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans