by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Walter Simonson (pencils), Scott Hanna (inks), Jason Keith (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: Cap sends Thor and a team of Avengers to space on a suicide mission to head off the Phoenix.  However, all is not what it seems for Noh-Varr.

The Review: Let’s be clear here: the big selling point on this issue is Simonson’s artwork.  I imagine that there will be a lot of readers who won’t enjoy his style.  Admittedly, it’s not the polished, photo-referenced stuff that’s become commonplace in comics these days, nor is it the labour intensive awesomeness that you’d get out of a Lee Bermejo or Alex Ross.  In fact, Simonson’s art is basically a throwback.  Really, though, that’s part of why it’s so much freaking fun.  It’s filled with gleeful nostalgia and it’s really dynamic, fast-paced stuff.  This is also reflected in Simonson’s layouts as well.  His work has a tremendous amount of energy and character to it and it really just breathes “comics” in its purest form.  Hanna and Keith do great work in supporting Simonson’s work as well: Hanna simply emphasizes the already present strengths to Simonson’s work while Keith matches Simonson’s energy with simple but vibrant colors.

It also helps that Bendis realizes that Simonson is the big selling point here; he essentially writes a script that offers plenty of time for Simonson to shine.  Obviously, this means we get to see a lot of Thor, which is great, especially for that priceless nostalgia.  More than that though, Simonson gets to draw the Avengers battling the Phoenix in space, which is so much grandiose fun to read and look at.

Unfortunately, while the art is a lot of fun, the script is a puzzling one in that I’m left wondering why this story had to be told.  The problem is that Bendis is basically telling the exact same story that Remender told last month in Secret Avengers.  Both books are focused on the same team, the same general story/conflict, in the same setting.  It’s a bizarre duplicate.  Of course, this also leads to problematic contradictions between the two – the Avengers rig  up a second device in a second attempt to contain the Phoenix (which never happened in Secret Avengers), while Mar-Vell, a big part of Remender’s version of the story, is not present (here, all the Kree double-crossing is left to Noh-Varr).  It’s stuff like this that really makes your brain  hurt.  Why are two creative teams telling the same story in two different books, at the same time?  And how can there be such glaring contradictions between the two?  How did editorial okay this?  I understand that they wanted to give Simonson a Thor story, but surely it didn’t have to step on Secret Avengers’ toes to this extent.

There’s also a scene in which Noh-Varr says farewell to his girlfriend that got mixed reactions from me.  On the one hand, the dialogue was written quite well, feeling sincere and doing a lot to flesh out Noh-Varr a little in the context of this team/story.  On the other hand, it feels a bit cheap for Bendis to try to get a pay-off from a relationship he’s never invested a single moment in.  Hell, I’m not sure that we even knew about this relationship prior to this issue.

Conclusion: Timeless artwork is paired with a story that, while technically sound, is problematic plot-wise.

Grade: C (if you read the last issue of Secret Avengers already), B – (if you didn’t)

-Alex Evans