By: Jonathan Hickman (writer), Adam Kubert (art), Frank Martin (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: Get to know the new Smasher.

The Review: I noted last week that Hickman’s Avengers was moving in a stronger, more character-focused direction, delivering a stronger script as a result; I’m happy to report that he continues in that direction, delving even more deeply into the background of one of the new recruits, this time a young farm-girl turned cosmic super-hero.

This is really the first issue of Hickman’s run that I can honestly say has something that’s been utterly lacking thus far: heart.  Our new Smasher is relatable and likable, with Hickman managing to trace her ascendancy from a girl who’d seemingly given up on her potential for more pressing concerns right up to her adventures in space and promotion by Gladiator, he of the mohawk and purple skin.  The result is a character arc that, while compressed, also feels uplifting and optimistic, emphasizing the power of the individual and his/her potential for greatness, much like any good superhero comic does.  This was really the first issue of Hickman’s that actually felt human, which is vital, as Hickman’s first arc, while it had its strengths, often felt cold, losing its emotional core in favor of all that epic scale.  As such, this closer focus on a more grounded character was well needed.  The relationship between Daring/Smasher and her grandfather was also a nice touch which led to a line repeated throughout the comic that harkened back to the running theme of Hickman’s Fantastic Four: the importance of never self-limiting and always pushing the boundaries.

That being said, you can say that the character’s origins, while effective, are also familiar.  It’s really ye olde “fish out of water” story with the average person thrown into superheroic craziness, the sort of thing that Green Lantern books have been doing forever.  On the other hand, it’s undeniably effective and when executed with confidence and bombast, as it is here, there’s an argument for not trying to hard to fix what isn’t broken.

What’s interesting as well is Hickman’s seeming structure for Avengers going forward – between this issue and the last, it appears that after the first arc, he’s going to be giving us issues focusing on each of the new members.  In a monthly book, this sort of pacing decision could grind an ongoing to a halt and shed readers en masse.  However, on a double-shipping book like Avengers, it actually is something of a stroke of genius and shows that Hickman is really tailoring the book not just to be read in singles, but also with the shipping schedule in mind.

Last week I was pretty hard on Kubert’s art.  Thankfully, this week’s issue was a dramatic improvement, although I’m not entirely sure where the credit should go.  On the one hand, while there are still a couple of iffy panels, I think that Kubert’s pencils HAVE tightened up a bit, so things are a little less rough.  But it’s hard to tell just how much of the improvement comes from Kubert, given the massive difference new colorist Frank Martin brings to the book.  Martin’s unique style, particularly with his shading, lends the book a much more polished, high budget feel to the book that makes the art seem much more impressive than it may perhaps really be.  Frankly, bringing Martin on-board was a great idea:  he managed to fill Dean White’s boots as much as anyone could hope possible on Uncanny X-Force, so it makes a lot of sense to bring him on here as well.  Between Martin’s work and Kubert’s subtle improvements, the book is much closer to the grandiose, slick-as-hell feel that it had under Opena.  Kubert’s work still isn’t perfect, but visually, things aren’t as forgettably mediocre as last week.

Conclusion: Hickman gives his Avengers book some much needed heart – a substantial improvement all-around.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans