by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils & colors), Tim Townsend, Wayne Faucher, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, and Mark Irwin (inks), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: Steve Rogers sends a strike-team to Brazil to tackle the Worthy-fied Hulk, including a Spider-Woman still searching for her big moment of redemption.

What’s Good:  While I know that he has his detractors, I personally quite like Chris Bachalo’s art.  It’s cartoony flavour has a kind of good-natured sincerity to it that feels genuine and positive.  His action scenes are also lightning fast and overall, he handles the hectic stuff about as well as anyone could hope.  Mostly though, his strength is in the fact that his unique style does well in making characters naturally likable, which is crucial in an issue like this.

Both Bendis and Bachalo also did really strong work in coordinating the running battle this month.  And really, that’s the best way to describe it: coordinated.  The action had a nice, organic flow to it and really gave off the sense that the Avengers involved were working in tandem and employing strategy.  Better still, we got to see guys like Hawkeye, the Protector, Ms. Marvel, and Spider-Woman at the forefront of the fight, using a whole range of their abilities.  It’s a nice change, given that these characters usually take a backseat to the bigger-names when it comes to sharing page-space in fight sequences.

What’s Not So Good:  ]It seems that Bendis has been using Fear Itself as a kind of narrative vehicle through which characters can define themselves by.  We saw it last month with Red Hulk, and we saw it in this month’s New Avengers issue with Mockingbird.  The thing is, there were reasons to focus on those two and there were fresh motivations and changes to both characters that left them wanting to define themselves.  Rulk’s a former bad guy and had just joined the Avengers, while Mockingbird had just had a near death experience and had just gained superpowers.  Both characters were in new places in their lives.

So why does Spider-Woman get the same treatment?  I mean, aside from Bendis’ personal fixation on the character?  Frankly, it feels artificial, familiar, and even boring.  We’ve got Jessica Drew still going on about her past crimes with HYDRA and her need to atone for them.  We’re still hearing about her parents and her rough childhood.  Listen, I purchased all seven issues of Bendis’ Spider-Woman series, I like the character, but this feels like a broken record.

The issue ends up boiling down to Bendis having Ms. Marvel and various Avengers tell us how great Jessica Drew is while the whole time, the reader is just left to wonder why we’re suddenly supposed to focus on her.  There’s nothing recent in the character’s history to demand this attention and the fact that it comes on the heels of Mockingbird and Rulk’s much more justifiable time in the spotlight only highlights this.

Then there’s the new romance between Hawkeye and Spider-Woman.  It is still completely random and it comes seemingly out of nowhere.  There’s been no real build-up to it, there’s never been much of a connection between the two, and the whole thing is unnatural.  Yet, Bendis writes Hawkeye basically suggesting that he’s had a hard-on for Jessica forever, and we’re meant to buy it.  Right then.

Again, I ask you, why?  Why this sudden romance that makes little to no sense and has no real explanation?  Could it be Brian Bendis’ Jessica Drew fixation manifesting in another way?  I’m leaning towards yes.

Conclusion: A bunch of poorly timed, poorly executed, and poorly reasoned Spider-Woman love.

Grade: C –

-Alex Evans