Avengers: Solo #2: Van Meter yet again does a good job of telling a complicated story with a lot of moving parts without losing the narrative thread. I'm impressed by the fact that I was pretty much able to follow the story without having to re-read "Avengers: Solo" #1, given how many characters appear here. However, even with the reveal that Marcia is Alicia is Trace, I still have the question I have from the first issue: why were Trace and Tuli fighting at the start of that issue? It made no sense when we thought that Trace was "helping" Marcia, as we did last issue, and makes even less sense now that we now that Trace IS Marcia. My only guess is that Marcia was using the Trace persona to scare off Tuli so that he didn't get hurt (which, of course, didn't go so well). At any rate, I'm hoping we get some clarity next issue. Otherwise, the only other eyebrow-raising moment for me is something that Hawkeye himself notes, the fact that Emi is pretty combat-ready for a doctor. She says something about getting a call that her husband was killed in action the same day she took her boards, but I don't see how they have anything to do with one another. Her husband was presumably in the military and, because he was killed in action, she...decided to learn how to fight and get herself involve in some sort of weird hospital study. She directly connects her involvement in the study to those events, saying "Vanished myself out of a great residency because of all this..." I'm assuming we'll learn more, but everything involving Emi -- from the ability to handle herself in a fight to the her involvement in the study to her lack of concern for her friends -- made little sense to me. But, we'll see. Rule #1: More Hawkeye, less [blank].
Captain America #4: OK, first, I have to say, I love McNiven's work. The page of Cap and Sharon on the moon in spacesuits looking at Earth? Amazing. Writers have always complained that it's almost impossible to give Cap depth, because he's such a goody two-shoes. He doesn't ever really face a moral conflict, because he always just does the right thing. He's boring, in other words. As such, he's also really lacked much in the way of interesting romantic relationships, because he never has any sort of sexual tension with the girl. He always just...does the right thing. The relationship inevitably ends because duty gets in the way. Again, dull. Brubaker has made a go of it with Sharon (and generally does the best job of any writer I've ever read of giving us Steve as a real person and not just a legendary hero). But, on some level, I've always felt like it was forced, like they're just trying to make it work because they're trying to avoid turning Cap into a eunuch. (The closest I've ever come to feeling them as an item is when he was dead and she was mourning his loss. The fact that he had to be dead for me to buy their relationship shows you how weird it is.) However, seeing McNiven's work here, I'm wondeirng if it's just been because no one has drawn Steve sexy enough. He's downright beautiful here, as is Sharon, and you really get the sense of two people in love in the prime of their life. McNiven just infuses the scene with something that I can't exactly describe, perfectly playing up the dream world, giving us an idealized version of the two. (Steve looks like he's about 22 years old here.) In so doing, he conveys more emotion and meaning than I think anyone else, writer or artist, has ever managed to do in terms of showing Cap's love life. You somehow see how much looser a carefree Steve would be and realize how much the weight of his responsibilities affects his ability to interact with people, lovers included. McNiven gives us all that in just three or four panels. Yeah, he rocks.
Turning to the main plot of the issue, Brubaker (who, I can't believe I'm saying it, but has been the weaker link of the two) finally reveals his hand. I was never clear exactly why Bravo wanted revenge on Cap, since, as Steve himself says, it wasn't like Cap left him in the dream world on purpose. But, it makes total sense that the guy snapped when he was re-introduced to the real world and realized just how far it was from the Utopia he had created in the dream world. Brubaker and McNiven do a great job of making both stories exciting, giving us the tension of Cap's slow realization that he's in the dream world and the excitement of his crew trying to hunt down Jimmy Jupiter. I'm not exactly sure who this Queen Hydra is, but it's clear we're not supposed to know, given that she herself alludes to the mystery of who she really is. At the end of the day, Brubaker really saves the concept here, and I'm excited to see what happens in the next issue. (Also, I realized that I was still pretty much reading this title in a state of protest, annoyed that I wasn't getting Bucky, no matter how much I like Steve. The fact that I know Bucky is alive and coming to me in comic form in February clearly made me much more excited about this title.)
Captain America and Bucky #624: Brubaker gives us a one-off issue here, giving us a looking into Bucky's time as the Winter Solider. The issue serves as a prelude of sorts to "Winter Soldier," with Bucky visiting his Alzheimer's-ridden sister to let her know that he's still alive after the events of "Fear Itself." I actually wish we were getting a longer arc dealing with Bucky's time as the Winter Soldier, but my guess is that Brubaker is going to cover that topic in detail in "Winter Soldier." (On a side note, I hope Brubaker is really proud of what he's done with Bucky. Resurrecting him just could have gone so spectacularly bad. Instead, he created, to my mind, one of the best characters in comics today, and he essentially did it from scratch.) I loved the scenes with Bucky and Natasha. Brubaker and Andreyko show us Bucky's charm at its best, and Samnee does a great job making the obvious attraction between them apparent to the reader. (Unlike Steve and Sharon, something about Bucky and Natasha has never felt forced.) It's a really great issue and I can't wait for "Winter Soldier."
New Avengers #18: Huh. OK, I didn't hate this issue. In fact, I found it pretty intriguing. It answers the main question I had from "New Avengers" #17, showing how the Hand and HYDRA threw in their lot with H.A.M.M.E.R. We also see Osborn assemble his new team of Dark Avengers. (I only recognized Ai Apaec, from "Spider-Man: Deadly Hands of Kung Fu," and Barney Barton, from "Hawkeye: Blindspot." I intellectually know who Skaar is, though I had no idea he was living in the Savage Land. I'm not entirely sure who Dark Ms. Marvel and Dark Scarlet Witch are. I'm assuming Dark Wolverine is Gorgon.) I'm willing to give Bendis some time to develop this story, but I'm not entirely sure what the point of a new Dark Avengers would be. The whole point of the previous Dark Avengers is that people thought they were the Avengers. Given the events of "Siege," it's going to be pretty clear that any Avengers team led by Norman Osborn isn't going to be the Avengers. So, why reform them? I'm sure we'll get an answer, so I'm more intrigued than annoyed. Bendis definitely seems to be setting up an enormous story here and, despite my disappointment with "Avengers" #19, I'm still excited about it.
Secret Avengers #19: Ellis has been hit or miss on this title for me, but this issue is a hit. Once again, Ellis gives us a somewhat "out there" story, with the team going after a drug kingpin who grinds up the bones of "ancient beings" whose bodies contained multiple souls and uses the powder to create super-soldiers. But, the way Ellis tells the story, as a more or less straight-forward espionage tale, is what I expected to see from "Secret Avengers," but, for reasons I still don't entirely understand, haven't seen all that often. One of my main complaints about this title is that the rotating door of writers has meant that very little focus has been paid to building a team, showing us the conflicts and relationships that make a title like the "Avengers" work so well (when it works well). Ellis actually does that here; I loved Natasha's snarky comment about the wisdom of trusting a guy who thinks he was resurrected by an Egyptian god and of Steve telling Natasha to can it when she was questioning his decision to attack. All in all, it was a pretty enjoyable read.