As a writer, you need to raise the stakes on a regular basis. That much is a given, making sure that the conclusion of a story never seems too easy to the reader. Reading the latest "Dark Avengers" issue, though, makes me think that there is definitely such a thing as raising the stakes too much. While it's becoming increasingly likely that "Dark Avengers" is almost at the end of its run, there almost certainly had to be a more reasonable way to bring about the beginning of the end.
Part of the problem was the foe that Brian Michael Bendis chose for the current "Dark Avengers" storyline. Molecule Man is by definition one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe, able to re-arrange reality to suit his whims. With each new way that he's been defeated or taken off of the playing field, the chances of another group being able to stop Molecule Man should grow smaller and smaller. The end result is one of the stranger endings I've read in a while, because of a strange disconnect between what was certainly authorial intent versus reader perception of the conclusion. Bendis is certainly a skilled enough writer that the decision to have the Sentry's powers jump up to the next level didn't come out of the blue. After all, the subplot involving the Sentry's wife was clear foreshadowing to this moment. So I certainly get it that this was planned all along, and is part of Bendis's destiny for the character.
The thing is, reading "Dark Avengers" #12 makes it feel so completely random that it's hard to not label it a deus ex machina; doubly so when you remember that the phrase refers to a god appearing and suddenly solving everything in the blink of an eye. The foreshadowing happened so long ago that this conclusion is too sudden, too out of left field, too unbelievable. I don't know if this is a case of stories needing to be sped up behind the scenes and additional foundation being lost as a result, but whatever the cause it feels artificial. I'm certain that's not the reaction Bendis was going for.
Mike Deodato's art is probably the crispest and nicest I remember seeing on "Dark Avengers." Maybe it's due to only drawing part of the issue (with Greg Horn painting some of the Molecule Man created scenarios for our protagonists), but his art seems much more defined and sharp, especially on the faces of some of the characters. The confused look of the Sentry at the end of the issue, the stunned Molecule Man as Victoria Hand negotiates, the terror on Norman Osborn's face, it's easily Deodato's best work to date.
More than anything else, "Dark Avengers" #12 seems to promise that the Sentry's story is coming to an end soon, or at least radically depowering and/or changing the character. After so many issues of the Sentry not seeming to have much of a purpose in this series, for that alone I'm looking forward to seeing that conclusion. "Dark Avengers" #12 was a real turning point for the series, but on some level I'm not sure it's all of the turns that Bendis was hoping for.