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

The Story: The Avengers come to blows with Normal Osborn in their final battle for all the marbles.

The Review: The last couple issues of Avengers, this one included, has been a real case study in just how far great art can carry an issue.  There’s a great deal that is conceptually wrong or weak about the HAMMER War, but Daniel Acuna’s art is just so gorgeous, so evocative, and so full of brooding moodiness that when he draws an issue for this story, I find myself being much less critical of its failings.  Instead, I’m stuck staring at the pretty, pretty pictures and soaking in the tone and atmosphere of the story, rather than focusing on the plot holes and logical difficulties.  It makes what should be a problematic experience into something more…enjoyable.  Put simply, once again, the art is amazing and the best part of the issue.

That said, Bendis’ work here actually is fairly solid.  His choice of having Norman narrate the issue actually leads to the story feeling a lot smarter and more meaningful, something which this story has needed for quite a while.  It makes the issue’s tale more psychological and makes it feel smarter and more sincere.  This immerses the reader into the story a bit more and makes it feel more intense and, as I said, meaningful and, along with Acuna’s art, makes it easier to forget that this is all a bit recycled.

The ending sequence is a bit of an anticlimax, however.  The reveal in how Norman got his new powers is pretty underwhelming and it’s a case of some very convenient technology.  I have no idea how Bendis could’ve been more creative about it, but this was nonetheless a disappointing way to go.  It led to some great action scenes that led to Acuna being able to stretch his legs, but it’s a shame to see a story, and the one really mysterious element of the plot, wind up being something so mundane and familiar.

Also, the penultimate scene between Cap and Obama addresses the Avengers’ public image issue.  It’s well-written but it nonetheless highlights the fact that it’s still unclear and underdeveloped just HOW exactly the Avengers gained this problem or why people ever listened to Osborn.  Bendis’ last minute explanation seems to be “it was only the stupid people anyway.”

That being said, I thought the last page was appropriately ominous and will lead to what i think will be a much better story than this one was and I look forward to it.

Conclusion: On the one hand, it underachieves a bit.  On the other hand, it’s better than expected due to wonderful art and solid narration.

Grade: B-

-Alex Evans