Editor's Note: Dark Avengers #9 arrives in stores tomorrow, September 16.
After two issues that saw Dark Avengers get dragged into the "Utopia" crossover with Uncanny X-Men, this issue sees Brian Michael Bendis return to the book, reuniting with Mike Deodato to pick up where they left off with the cliffhanger of issue #6.
That said, even the return of the book's original creative team apparently doesn't guarantee a renewed focus on the title characters, as this particular chapter of Dark Avengers turns out to be as much a Secret Warriors story as anything else. However, seeing as Bendis was also responsible for the launch of that series--which features many characters of his own creation--this crossover doesn't feel as forced or unnatural as the recent intrusion of the X-Men into Norman Osborn's world.
One element that might prove a little confusing for followers of "Dark Reign" is that some slightly different Osborn/Fury shenanigans are simultaneously playing out in current issues of Secret Warriors and Thunderbolts. Ignoring such editorial clashes, though, this is a fairly organic crossover that allows Bendis to focus on two related characters--Dark Avenger Ares, and his son, Phobos, of the Secret Warriors--shedding some light on their individual motivations, their common relationship, and the way in which each can function as a member of their respective team without provoking the ire of the other.
One of the most pleasing aspects of this issue is the fact that Ares isn't written as a one-note character. Instead, Bendis develops him far beyond the role of mere comic relief, with the writer acknowledging the character's godly roots and long history whilst also exploring his mixed feelings over his son's membership of Fury's group. Equally, Phobos is given greater depth of characterisation than we've seen in Secret Warriors, making me keen to see whether he has a more meaningful role to play in that book in the near future.
Mike Deodato has made the characters and environments of Dark Avengers his own in the space of just six issues, so it's reassuring to discover that he's just as adept at handling the cast of Secret Warriors, too. His takes on Fury, Daisy, and Phobos are distinctive but instantly recognisable, and his shots of Fury's hideout are atmospheric and faithful to the work of Stefano Caselli on the first Secret Warriors arc.
In addition to this, Deodato experiments with some complex and original layouts, particularly when it comes to his double-page spreads. One spread sees the artist play with square panels laid out on an isometric, three-dimensional grid, whilst another sees him lay out his panels in the form of a crumbling, inverted pyramid. There may not always be a particularly strong in-story reason for these experimental layouts, but they look good, they don't inhibit the flow of storytelling, and they help to liven up what could have otherwise been static talking-heads pages.
Without giving the ending of the issue away, Bendis manages to provide a resolution that serves the needs of his two characters well, without compromising their roles in their own books. The only major complaint that I can imagine readers having with this particular issue is that we see very little of the other Dark Avengers, who only show up for a bit of banter on the final few pages.
Still, the closing pages of the issue see Bendis throw in a surprising and unexpected cliffhanger involving one member of his team that should really get people talking. Hopefully the next issue of the book will explore the ramifications of this development in full, and we'll see Bendis and Deodato make a real return to a story that was just starting to get good before the "Utopia" crossover got in the way.
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