by Brian Michael Bendis (writing), Daniel Acuna (art), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: Norman Osborn confronts the Avengers as he and his allies prove to be a step ahead in their war on Cap and the gang.

The Review: Well, it’s a hell of a lot better than the last issue of New Avengers.

While the HAMMER War is still a poorly conceived idea, this issue succeeds in its completely ignoring the new “Dark Avengers.”  Instead, it focuses on Osborn, Hyda, and HAMMER.  The result is that the comic feels at least a little less recycled.  Osborn’s effort has a more underground, insidious feel and it at least feels fresh and not a diluted rehash of Dark Reign.  It’s really strange seeing a the same writer write basically the same storyline in two books at the same time, but in two distinct ways.

There’s some nice meta styled comedy on Bendis’ part as well.  Through Norman Osborn, he points out the obvious absurdity of Madame Hydra’s utterly ridiculous octopus head, which is thankfully done away with.  Later in the issue, there’s also a bit of a jibe at Jeph Loeb’s frequently derided run on Hulk.  In some ways, these little spots of humour may jar tonally with the rest of the comic, but long time readers should nonetheless crack a smile.

Yet, for all these bright spots, there’s just no escaping the fact that there’s so much about this “HAMMER War” that is undercooked or poorly conceived.  For instance, we’re still not really clear on why the Avengers are suddenly hated and protested by the public.  I like to infer that it’s due to perceived failure during Fear Itself, but I don’t think that’s ever been explicitly referenced; it seems to be left up to the reader.

More importantly though, is the fact that I’m still not sure what Norman Osborn’s argument here is?  Is it that he was imprisoned without a trial?  If so, given the extent of his crimes, are we really supposed to believe that the American public would reject the Avengers on his behalf?  Then Osborn also suggests that his escape shows a failure on duty on the Avengers’ part.  Again, that’s a really weird, and rather feeble, argument.  Frankly, I really have no idea what Osborn’s trying to get people to rally around except a vague, and never explained, “we hate the Avengers sentiment.”  The fact that anyone other than bad guys would side with him is similarly unbelievable.  This massive vagueness with respect to a core element of the story really plagues the entire issue.

Thankfully, Daniel Acuna’s artwork remains excellent.  His art has proven refreshing for Bendis’ Avengers series.  It lends the book a feel that’s surreal and atmospheric, almost ethereal at times.  Those aren’t necessarily traits I look for in Avengers, but it’s actually quite alluring and it carries the issue through rough spots.

I also did enjoy seeing Cap hounded by reporters.  It made the book feel more “real,” and was one of those interesting scenes where we see the concept of the superhero intersect with reality.

Conclusion: Despite the bright spots in this issue, the giant, glaring gaps in this storyline weigh it down quite heavily.

Grade: C+

-Alex Evans