Since the launch of "Dark Avengers," "New Avengers" has felt a little less vital than it used to. The edgy, streamlined stories that once graced its pages now belong to its sister series and, as a result, "New Avengers" has floundered, turning its mythology inwards -- particularly in setting up an ongoing rivalry with The Hood.
This issue, at least, blows out a few of the cobwebs, casting aside Bendis' love of conversational scenes and slow, deliberate pacing in favor of a lot of Immonen-pencilled action. Throughout these scenes, Bendis delivers the kind of character moments that team books should be full of -- in particular, Ms. Marvel gets a classic moment against Norman Osborn that reminds us exactly why Osborn is doomed to failure and why Ms. Marvel was ever deemed worthy of being an Avengers leader.
Despite Bendis' success with the details, it's Immonen's broad strokes that make the issue work. One could have never imagined that Ares fighting Bucky-Cap would ever look this jaw-dropping, and it's a stark reminder of how good comic-drawn action can be under the right person's pencils. Immonen's style might not be photo-realistic or painted, but his skill lies in using so few lines to convey so much movement. Sequences like this remind you exactly where comics have the edge over other mediums.
This arc took a while to get going, but one good thing about "New Avengers" is that the stakes always feel high. The idea of this title having a status quo is laughable, so when Luke is taken away by Osborn, we actually feel as though he's in danger. Similarly, when Jessica races off after him, there's no guarantee she'll come back. It's easy to become cynical about the artificial peril comics characters find themselves in ("Will Spider-Man escape? Well ...yeah, it's his series") but "New Avengers" is one title precarious enough that some characters genuinely don't seem bullet-proof.
If anything about "New Avengers" disappoints, it's the sheer lack of focus on the Avengers themselves. At times, it feels as though Bendis is happy to write anyone but the team -- Night Nurse, The Hood, Osborn -- they all get a look in. That's fine on occasion, but sometimes you wonder if the word "Avengers" belongs in the name at all...