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

The Story: The Avengers and the Illuminati raise to secure the rest of the Infinity Gems before the Hood does.

The Review: It’s always something of a treat to see a creator take a big creative risk on a major, mainstream flagship title, and that’s exactly what Brian Bendis does this month.  The entire issue is narrated, heavily, but Uatu the Watcher, with little actual dialogue, by Bendis standards anyway.

When I first realized that this would be the case, I’ll admit that I wasn’t enthused at the prospect of reading a comic with that many words on the page.  Admittedly, it does get a bit exposition-heavy and Uatu’s plot recap early on isn’t the most thrilling, but rest assured, it grows on you.  Over time, Uatu’s narration lends scope and importance to this story.  It makes Bendis’ narrative feel as huge, epic, and vital as it should be.  I mean, they’re battling over the Infinity Gems for crap’s sake!  Amidst all the punching, it’s often easy to forget just how great the stakes are, but Uatu’s solemn role in the comic brings the focus heavily onto that.  His narration also manages to add layers and nuance, essentially going out of his way to tell you exactly why all of this is very, very dangerous.

That’s not to say that there isn’t decent dialogue.  Spider-Man pulls a couple of funny jokes and Bendis throws a jab at Thor’s manner of speaking.  Little bits of humor in a story like this are a surprise, but also welcome.

More than that though, Uatu’s narration allows the comic to speed along at a much brisker pace.  The end result is a comic that is literally a mad-dash all over the world, as the Hood and the Avengers jump from one gem to another.  It lends the race a frantic and exciting pace, and that excitement is something that last month lacked.  In covering more physical ground in one issue, this really does feel like a competition between the Avengers and the Hood where every second counts.

Furthermore, John Romita Jr. helps this along even further by delivering quite possibly his best performance yet on this title.  A couple of his lay-outs are just awesome and his illustrations of the Astral Plane and the gems in action are positively gorgeous, while his action scenes are as fun and dynamic as always.

That’s not to say that it the issue is perfect.  There isn’t a great deal of character work done this month, other than a cool bit involving the Red Hulk.  Bendis also falls prey to the old superhero-comic cliché of an entire team of unconscious superheroes waking up simultaneously, and at just the right time.  It’s a moment that’s pretty cringe-worthy.

But you know what?  That moment is made up for by the last page which is so awesome, that in itself, it bumps the grade up a bit.  Even though Bendis hints at the development throughout the issue, seeing it happen is just mind-blowingly awesome and promises a fantastic direction for the comic that may very well lead to some of its best outings yet.  It’s an ending that literally had me go “ohhhh” out loud.  Suffice it to say, Parker’s been a bad boy.

Conclusion: Bendis does something different, and it ultimately pays off in a big way.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans