Editor's Note: Dark Avengers #14 arrives in stores tomorrow, February 17.
Dark Avengers #14 is one of the series' best issues yet, mixing a large-scale superhero story involving the Sentry and the Void with some smaller, subtler moments that explore the mindset of Norman Osborn as he attempts to maintain control of his super-team.
Whilst I wasn't particularly impressed with Brian Michael Bendis's attempts to expand on the history of the Sentry in the previous issue, those elements of the story are far less prominent here. Instead, the character is used in a more straightforward manner, with the increasingly dominant personality of the Void providing a genuinely compelling threat for Osborn and his Dark Avengers to deal with.
It's a satisfying payoff for the scenes in earlier issues that saw Osborn attempt to psychologically manipulate the Sentry into line, particularly since I get the feeling that Bendis is setting the character up to be the part of Norman's plan that backfires on him at the last moment in the Siege miniseries (which takes place after the events of this issue). In the meantime, however, we're given a chance to see the Dark Avengers actually doing something heroic for once, and in a storyline that makes far more logical sense than their recent adventures with Morgan Le Fey and the Molecule Man.
Elsewhere, there are some enjoyable smaller character moments. I enjoyed the characterisation of Miss Hand in the opening exchange between her and Osborn, as she seems to be becoming a far better defined and stronger character than she was in the early issues of Dark Avengers. I also liked the way that Bendis shows Moonstone using her sexual antics as part of power games with Osborn: it's rare to see sex used in a mature, adult way in a Bendis-penned book, but the writer pulls it off well here, with the scenes involving the character's seduction of Bullseye never feeling gratuitous or puerile.
Mike Deodato provides excellent artwork throughout, with plenty of skewed, unusual layouts that effectively convey the twisted nature of the book (particularly when it comes to the Sentry and the Void). Shadows and silhouettes are also employed liberally, making the darkness of the book's title literal as well as figurative, and capturing the tone of Bendis's script in a visually interesting manner as a result. Thanks to Deodato's art, there's just as much atmosphere in the smaller, character-based scenes as there is in the more explosive, action-packed sequences, and that helps to prevent even the more dialogue-heavy scenes from feeling sluggish or uninteresting compared to the more dynamic sections of the book.
This story might not be quite as direct a Siege tie-in as is boasted by the cover (although I suspect that it may set up some significant character developments for the Sentry as that miniseries draws to a close), but it's no less enjoyable a story for that. This is one of the better issues of Dark Avengers that I've read, and one that demonstrates the book's potential far more effectively than the more traditional superhero stories that Bendis has been telling so far.
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