Given my well-documented problems with Jonathan Hickman and his propensity for overly pompous drip-fed meta-plots, it should come as no surprise that when he delivers a smaller-scale, more character-focussed issue, I’ll like it a lot more than when he goes all ‘architecture of human morality’ on our collective asses. This issue makes the best use so far of the expanded roster and smaller mission crews within that roster by sending a select few Avengers to Asia to investigate an AIM auction, and by giving each of them a chance to shine.
First off, you’ve got Captain Marvel, who plays Poker with the AIM chief in some very well-written scenes that are filled with tension. Then there’s Sunspot and Cannonball, who instead of fighting AIM, get drunk with them and make friends with them, whilst at the same time finding out crucial intel. I loved this stuff with the former New Mutants, it fit their role as younger, more laid-back characters and also was something you weren’t expecting. Not unexpected however was how Black Widow dealt with the various crime-lords she and Spider-Woman were dealing with, she shot them all in the head point-blank. It was hardcore and it was awesome, I really like Hickman’s take on Black Widow in this book, she is one deadly motherfucker.
Then, last but not least, you have Shang-Chi, who gets into a kung-fu battle with a new group of evil Ninjas, the Chimera. I’ve always been a big fan of the idea of Shang-Chi, but never really read anything about him that lived up to how cool he could be. That Ellis/Aja issue of Secret Avengers was kind of like that, but I think Hickman could be on to something with the Master Of Kung-Fu. His narration was very interesting, as I can take a bit of Hickman pontificating coming from a Zen Warrior, and I also like how he’s moved on to using weapons, he’s no longer just the Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu, he has nunchuks too! Electric nunchuks!
So yeah, this was probably my favourite issue of Hickman’s run so far, yes it is part of his big plan, but it worked as a standalone story and it also had actual character stuff, which is cool, I like it when the heroes aren’t just cogs in some big cosmic plan, but seem like actual people. Throw in some very good artwork from Mike Deodato, and you’ve got yourself a winner. If you’ve been wavering on this Avengers series, this may turn you around.