By: Rick Remender (writer), Renato Guedes (art), Bettie Breitweiser & Matthew Wilson (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: A special team of Avengers head off into space in a desperate attempt to contain the Phoenix before it reaches Earth.

The Review: It’s hard not to be skeptical going into this issue of Secret Avengers: it’s a tie-in issue and one that only features half the regular team, the other half of the roster being filled with guest stars (Thor, Ms. Marvel, etc).  This screams “derailment,” the fear that always looms when there’s a tie-in.  Worse still, regular artist Gabriel Hardman is nowhere to be found.

Yet, against all odds, this may very well be the best issue of Rick Remender’s run thus far.

The art will no doubt be the first thing that catches your eye: it’s absolutely gorgeous and incredibly unique for a Marvel title.  This is the best work I’ve ever seen out of Renato Guedes, with a ridiculous amount of detail to it.  Together with Wilson, Breitweiser completely changes up her game as well.  Together, Guedes, Wilson, and Breitweiser make a comic that would look more at home in an issue of Heavy Metal, one that carries it’s Moebius and Geoff Darrow influences on its sleeve.  It’s Marvel superheroes slotted into a European science fiction comic.  Appropriate given that we’re in space and dealing with blue-skinned Kree.  It’s a beautiful, beautiful book.  While some might find the level of detail disconcerting in that the characters may not be “pretty enough,” that’s the case for a great many artists: it’s not like Frank Quitely draws especially beautiful people either.

Script-wise, there’s really fantastic chemistry between Beast and Captain Britain.  It’s adversarial, certainly, but it also looks to bring the best out of Braddock.  I really love the dynamic these two share and look forward to seeing that work in the long run.

Really though, Remender’s script for this issue in general is strong because it all feels, well, incredibly heroic.  Remender does a great job in giving the book a fatalistic, “last stand” vibe that gives this tie-in issue heart and emotional significance.  Seeing how the different characters mentally prepare for almost certain death was a fantastic touch by Remender, giving a  sense of camaraderie while also showing how each character deals with their nerves in different ways.  The result is a cast that feels profoundly human; no easy task given that these are gods and aliens and mutants soaring into space to fight a giant, cosmic fire bird.

In particular, I enjoyed Thor’s speech quite a lot.  It was very well-written and was quite stirring, touching upon the heart of what it means to be a hero in the Marvel Universe.  As far as I’m concerned, Remender can write Thor anytime he pleases.  He does a great job with the Odinson this month.

Oh, and I didn’t even mention the tremendous cliffhanger.  I won’t spoil it and certainly wish that Marvel hadn’t done so themselves through their own solicitations.  Be that as it may, the returning character, for me anyway, is not the true core of what makes the cliffhanger so compelling; rather, much more intriguing is the place Remender leaves two members of the team.  It hints at a possible schism and, even if this isn’t the case,  the two characters are left in such a strange position that it certainly left me hooked for next month.

Conclusion: A fantastic, epic sci-fi experience with stirring heroics in words and deed and truly brilliant artwork.  Who’d have thought that a tie-in issue lacking both the regular artist and the regular cast could be so damned good?

Grade: A-

-Alex Evans