Jonathan Hickman is joined on this issue, appropriately enough, by Secret Avengers’ Nick Spencer and that’s for the best because AIM Island factors prominently into the issue, and it’d be best not to get wires, or continuity, crossed. That definitely doesn’t seem like it’s going to a problem as the story flows beautifully and seamlessly from one location to the next, interweaving as the more combat-minded Avengers battle the strange alien forces on the ground in Perth, Australia and Bruce Banner attempts to unravel exactly the why and wherefore of the strange “life-bombs”that has overtaken large swaths of the world. But threats from the ground are hardly the Avengers’ only concern as a stray Skrull ship breaks through SWORD’s defenses and more mysterious figures are unveiled.
It’s always great to see a truly talented writer, or writers, get to the heart of a character, especially in a book as crowded as this one, and the way Bruce Banner is written in this is absolutely fantastic. Ever since Mark Waid’s series placed him firmly in SHIELD in an advisory, rather than smashing, capacity, the character has had new life breathed into him and Hickman writes him as a truly outside the box thinker, even going so far as to assigning left and right-handed people to different areas of work. I wouldn’t even say the issue focuses on him, but he’s most definitely the star of it.
Stefano Caselli is easily in my top 3 current artists, and would most definitely make it into my top 5 of all time and this book is a great illustration of exactly why that is: no one does faces quite like him. He nails details and subtle tics of facial features better than anyone I can think of and his characters are just so expressive with their faces, and even their body language, that the issue’s lack of narration or internal monologue doesn’t even seem to be missed nor needed. Frank Martin and Edgar Delgado handle colors and they do an absolutely flawless job of showing the sterility of the SHIELD, SWORD and AIM bases as well as the slimy mess of the alien battles. Even the fight scenes communicate so much about the characters participating in them that the breakneck action seems almost incidental.
If ever a book needed a proper, extensive recap page, it would be this one. Hickman is well known for dealing with out there, heady concepts in almost everything he writes, and while I absolutely love that we’re getting new and interesting stories, it can be very, very easy, particularly amidst all the other Marvel and Avengers titles, to follow exactly what’s happening in this book.
The above complaint can be easily rectified with a second reading, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing as the art and dialog make this a book worth going back to. Hickman’s Avengers run has, so far, had such a cohesive, flowing narrative that I truly think the book reads equally well in trade or single-issue format and I can’t imagine it’s easy for Marvel to decide where the division should happen. I can’t wait to see what the book brings to the table next, particularly with Caselli on pencils.