By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Mike Deodato (art), Rain Beredo (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: The Illuminati call a meeting in an effort to reach out to Namor.

The Review: Yes, it’s an issue of Avengers by Bendis that is entirely composed of a bunch of character sitting around the table chatting and you know what?  It’s awesome.

The core of the issue is the unique relationship and mutual respect between Cap and Namor.  Bendis keeps it somewhat small, all captured in a moment in WWII where Namor referred to them as brothers, and really, this intimacy makes it all the more effective and heartfelt.  Just one line after a routine battle suddenly makes for something that feels heartfelt and sincere and makes Cap’s final effort to reach out to Namor believable for the character, even as the others consider it unrealistic of him.  When Namor does show up, the mutual respect between the two is wonderfully portrayed by the Bendis.

Honestly, I just loved the way this issue was structured.  Essentially, each of the characters gets the spotlight.  The result is that Bendis is able to show the unique stance, mannerisms, and opinions of each and it makes for compelling reading.  Professor Xavier is riddled with guilt and almost overwhelmed with grief and emotion.  Reed Richards is almost coldly detached and empirical, as befits his scientific nature.  Tony, on the other hand, is full of inappropriate wisecracks and bitterness, the barely repressed pessimism, fatigue, and desperation always palpable in his dialogue.   Dr. Strange, meanwhile, seems distracted to the point of only being there in body, if not in mind.  Meanwhile, Cap holds onto a 70 year old memory that lasted all of a split second.

Each character truly shines and, better still, each seems frail, vulnerable, or flawed, each in their own unique way.  We see how each of them reacts emotionally, behind the scenes, to a worldwide crisis.  It really is a “peeking behind the curtain” sort of issue, allowing us to really delve into each of these characters’ psychologies, letting us delve into the minds of the major players behind all the punching.

And that’s the other thing that Bendis does really well: while never coming out and saying it, there is a tremendous sense of weight and gravity to this issue simply by virtue of who’s at this table.  It’s always clear that these are the real movers and shakers of the Marvel universe and, as such, every word feels meaningful.

Art-wise, it’s hard to imagine that much can be done with an issue that is entirely spent in conversation, but Mike Deodato does his best to prove otherwise.  He nails the nuanced facial expressions required for an issue like this and despite the relative lack of pyrotechnics, this issue is just as strong as any of the more recent fiery issues that Deodato has been illustrating.  The guy has been on fire lately, and this does not buck that trend.  It’s a book laden with shadows and emotion and gravitas; Deodato matches Bendis’ character-driven script step for step.

Conclusion: Possibly the best single issue of New Avengers this year.

Grade: A-

– Alex Evans