by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Michael Gaydos (art), Rain Beredo (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: The New Avengers reel from the news of Cage and Jessica’s departure while a mysterious mystic enemy takes possession of a friend, intent on hunting down the Marvel Universe’s folks of mystic inclinations.

The Review: Bendis has been on New Avengers, whatever the numbering, for one hell of a long time.  As is so often the case in massively long runs, it’s been a bumpy road, one that often had me thinking that Bendis may have, whether he realized it or not, exhausted his Avengers repertoire and overstayed his welcome.  Well, I’m happy to say that at the very least, New Avengers looks intent on closing the show in fine form.

Reading this first issue, it really does feel like the beginning of an apt farewell for Bendis.  I say this because this one issue basically encapsulates all of the unique strengths of Bendis’ run.  For instance, I was really drawn by the strong human element present here, as Bendis really does a fantastic job in his writing of the teams’ varied reactions to Luke and Jessica’s departure, as well as their own emotions as they say goodbye.  In many ways, with Jessica and Cage being Bendis staples (or creation, in the former case), Jessica and Cage’s leaving the team in some way feels like Bendis himself saying goodbye.  Naturally, this also leads to the New Avengers wondering if the team can continue without them – much as the New Avengers comic can only be dramatically different without the man who created it.

This meta-commentary aside, the couple’s impending departure brings out the best in Bendis, allowing him once again to portray the team as a family, a bunch of close friends more than anything else.  It’s not just a group in spandex who fly out to pound out the bad guys – these are living, breathing people attempting to deal with the relationships and bonds forged between them over the years.  It’s retrospective and it’s very sincere.  And, of course, in a highly personal, character-driven issue of Bendis’ Avengers, you know there are going to be some funny bits as well.

However, before any of Bendis’ detractors get on him for the dreaded issue full of nothing but superheroes chatting about mundane things (which I never minded, myself….), Bendis also introduces a fun, page-turner of a story involving a mystery enemy possessing Victoria Hand to do his/her dirty work.  I quite enjoyed Bendis’ playing up the mystery element here; it’s creepy and  he did a good job in making me really wonder about who really is behind all of this.  It also leads to a great cliffhanger.  It’s a plot that teases quite a lot and leaves you really hankering for the answers and, as such, fully engaged in the story.  I’ll also confess right now:  whether Marvel or DC, I’m a big sucker for mystic storylines.

Art-wise, I loved this.  Michael Gaydos has never exactly been heavy on details and, honestly, I think he’s a few steps behind the other  Bendis buddies (Maleev, Oeming, and Mack), but there’s no denying the natural chemistry that he has with Bendis.  The two just click and the result is a really energetic book that flows quite well.  Honestly, judging from this issue, I feel as though Gaydos has actually matured and grown a bit since his time on Alias.  His work feels more fluid, less posed or stiff, and I really like the subtle changes he’s made to his inking style, which thicker and does a better job of emphasizing his strengths and hiding his weaknesses.

Conclusion: This is just about everything that was fun or good about Bendis’ Avengers.  Of course, that also makes it very “Bendis”, so if you hate that…well, why the hell are reading issue #31 anyway?

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans