by Brian Michael Bendis (script), Chris Bachalo (art & colors), Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey, & Wayne Faucher (inks), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story: The Avengers recount the early days of Fear Itself.

The Review: This is a very difficult issue to review.  Quite frankly, if you don’t like Brian Bendis, particularly Bendis on an Avengers title, stay the hell away.  I don’t care how much you love the franchise, this sort of issue is one that sure to make people get out the torches and pitchforks.

Honestly, it’s not because Bendis noodles with continuity or flubs characters’ voices or whatever.  Rather, it’s because this is a very Bendis-y issue that’s almost entirely composed of talking heads.  This is the more indie-minded Bendis, as evidenced by the fact that this issue uses interlocking monologues on pages with a large number of small panels, a technique that’ll be very familiar to anyone who has ever read Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s Powers.  Essentially, this doesn’t feel at all like your standard Marvel superhero fair, it’s just a whole lot of dialogue, there’s next to no plot development or real set narrative, and there’s absolutely zero action.

Yet, because I am a confirmed fan of Mr. Bendis, I, for one, enjoyed it, as I expect many of his fans will, even those more keen on his creator owned work than his superhero stuff.  It’s dialogue heavy and feels genuinely more human and it’s unique as far as Marvel comics go.  The dialogue feels quippy, but in a natural way that feels fluid and quick as opposed to forced.  It puts a relatable, human face on the trauma of Fear Itself and the nature and burden of being an Avenger in the face of such calamity.  Without action, and really without much else to look at but the characters’ faces, you’re really forced to take in the events and the characters on an intimate and personal level.  The result is a cast that has a charming kind of vulnerability, a big group of Avengers that feel like people above all else.

Chris Bachalo steps in on art this month and in a month where facial expressions are so crucial, Bachalo succeeds admirably.  More than that, Bachalo’s style makes for characters that are likable on appearance alone, which goes a long way to helping this issue along.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t a fan of the colors, which were funnily enough provided by Bachalo himself.  The palette is too muddy and a little too dark;  the art its charm would’ve benefited from a brighter, more vibrant hue, the sort that we often see Stuart Immonen or Mike Mckone’s art treated to.

I also wasn’t a huge fan of a Hawkeye/Spider-Woman romance.  It’s really randomly introduced and comes out of nowhere, which isn’t good when it’s awkward from the get-go in concept alone.

The one thing that really frustrated me, however, and caused me to drop the grade a bit, was the plot and timing of this issue, or lack thereof.  In being a Fear Itself tie-in, the time frame of this issue is a bit nebulous and head-scratching.  This doesn’t help the fact that plot-wise, this was fairly thin.  While all the chatting was fun, without a firm plot to hold onto, this did feel scattered at times.

Conclusion: An issue that’s sure to be divisive.  Despite the complete lack of plot development, I enjoyed it and found it a unique read as far as Marvel superhero comics go.  Certainly, reading this comic, there’s no way anyone but Bendis could’ve written it.

Grade: B- (but again, if you don’t like Bendis, stay far, far away)

-Alex Evans