By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Walter Simonson (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Jason Keith (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer)

The Story: The Avengers confront the betrayer in their ranks as Noh-Varr strikes a deal with the Supreme Intelligence.

The Review:  As someone who also reads Rick Remender’s Secret Avengers, this arc of Bendis’ Avengers poses an odd conundrum, essentially following the same characters through a story with shared and conflicting plot elements.  That said, while last month I was less certain, I’m actually thinking that Bendis’ story might be the better one.  While Remender fell back on ye olde mind control plot device to explain Noh-Varr’s betrayal and the general Phoenix obsess of Hala’s residents, Bendis goes for a simpler, but more genuine idea.

Instead, Noh-Varr turns out only to be doing what he thinks is best, taking big risks, playing people against each other, and making sacrifices in a desperate gambit to save Earth.  The result is a more human story and, more than that, by issue’s end, Bendis delivers the repercussions that “mind-control” devices are used to skirt around.  Without such a “get out of jail free card,” Noh-Varr is forced to face up to the consequences of his betrayal and we get a more meaningful story.

Bendis’ take also makes for more interesting motivations for Hala’s people.  Instead of mere mind-control, we get a nice little mirror image, or echo, of Scott Summers’ mutants.  Like Cyclops, the Kree see the Phoenix as a source of rebirth that can power up their Empire.  It’s a nice parallel that Bendis draws.

If there’s a downside to Bendis script, it’s that there are some unfortunate character moments.  When Noh-Varr seemingly expects the Supreme Intelligence to put Earth’s needs first, it seems far too naive.  Furthermore, being on Kree, Noh-Varr no longer gets the “fish out of water” bit to make such naivety forgivable.  He’s in his element, dealing with forces he should understand.  There’s also a very strange moment where Beast of all people goes nuts and starts throwing out genuine death threats.  It goes completely against who Beast is as a character and there’s really no reason why Bendis HAD to have Beast say these words, which could’ve easily been delivered by any other Avenger on the “away team.”

I also could’ve done without Bendis again trying to make us care about Noh-Varr’s girlfriend at issue’s end.  This month, I think I’m crossing the line from “ambivalent” to “mildly irritated.”  Maybe it’s the “bouncy college student thing” (and honestly, there’s something vaguely creepy about Noh-Varr dating a undergrad who’s probably 19 or 20 or even 18 for all we know) or the fact that the character’s only defining feature thus far has been her Hot Topic fashion sense, but either way, she’s nothing more than a walking stereotype who is only of any interest due to who her boyfriend is.

Walt Simonson’s art, meanwhile, can best be described with one word:  fun.  His style is dynamic and full of nostalgic character and he packs quite a bit onto every page.  His lay-outs are also really dense, making for energetic storytelling, while his action scenes are almost overwhelming.  He also draws a really nice Beast.  That said, I imagine that there will be readers less taken with Simonson’s work, as admittedly, it’s not always the most detailed, polished, or realistic.  Of course, that’s not the point and it’s not the sort of style that Simonson strives for.

Conclusion:  I’d say it’s an improvement over last issue, though there are character issues and your mileage may vary on the art.

Grade: C+

– Alex Evans