Huh. Well, that's a surprise. Just when you think you have Brian Michael Bendis pegged, he does something unexpected. Normally, he's known for a decompressed style of storytelling where plots like the whereabouts of Skrull Jarvis and Danielle Cage, or the Dark Avengers usurping the identities of many New Avengers to play out over six (at least) issues. But, here we are, two issues after Luke Cage and Jessica Jones's daughter was abducted and one week after the debut of the Dark Avengers, and both plots get dealt with directly here. Quelle surprise.
At the end of last issue, Luke Cage agreed to work for Norman Osborn in return for Osborn using his resources to find Cage's daughter. This issue begins from there with Osborn, Cage, Bullseye, and Venom paying a visit to Skrull prisoners and Osborn using extreme means to obtain the necessary information. Bendis really underplays the idea that Cage has "sold his soul" here, which works well. Instead of beating the reader over the head with that fact, he just lays it out there and lets events unfold.
That things move swiftly and efficiently is a bold choice after the ineffective actions of the New Avengers and Fantastic Four last issue. Bendis seems intent on demonstrating that, while Norman Osborn may be a villain, he's also a man who is very good as what he does. If you strip away his past, he may, in fact, be the right man for the job of running H.A.M.M.E.R. His methods are harsh and morally questionable, but he does help Cage here.
Billy Tan continues to improve here, his best work being heavy on shadows. His Skrull Jarvis is very strong, a beaten down man who doesn't know quite what to do anymore, hoping to just escape with his life. His page constructions also continue to evolve as he experiments with panel sizes and positions. One page that does a gradual pullback is really nice as he uses vertical panels that aren't quite level with one another. But, to balance that, there are moments where Tan's art is just plain ugly. His facial expressions need a lot of work, particularly Luke Cage when he's angry.
The issue ends with a lean-in to next month's "fiftieth double-sized anniversary issue" where the New Avengers will take on the Dark Avengers. The final pages here show the response to the press conference found in "Dark Avengers" #1 and the reactions from this group of Avengers is what you'd expect with Clint Barton leading the charge.
"New Avengers" #49 delivers a strong resolution to the missing Danielle Cage plot and sets up a confrontation with Norman Osborn's Avengers next issue well. Instead of dragging these stories out, Bendis is charging into them head-first and giving readers what they want.
(Billy Tan's artwork continues to get better each month as demonstrated in CBR's preview!)