"Secret Avengers" #26 by Rick Remender and Renato Guedes is the perfect example of what a crossover tie-in book should be. It tells a non-essential story which expands on the events of the main arc and answers a necessary question: why don't Earth's heroes try and stop the Phoenix before it reaches Earth?
For that purpose, this issue shows us what became of the space-faring team sent to intercept the Phoenix. There's a built-in expectation that they won't succeed (after all, it would basically avert the crossover if they did) but discovering how inventively they fail is just as much fun as seeing them win the day -- particularly when it means you get to see Thor attack the Phoenix head-on. A showdown for the ages!
It helps the story that Remender's team is particularly well-considered, featuring several characters with strong ties to both the Avengers and X-Men (Ms. Marvel, Beast and Captain Britain) and some heavy hitters whose names can claim long-standing synonymy with the Avengers, like Thor and Vision. There's an inherent tension in these characters working together when the two camps are at fundamental odds on Earth and even though they don't fall-out over the same things as Cyclops and Captain America, it's clearly not an easy alliance. As usual, Remender has an eye for utterly gripping scenes and an ear for piercing dialogue which combine to make this a must-read.
It's hard to go much further without mentioning the issue's big surprise: the return of an unexpected character (well, unexpected if you haven't look at next issue's cover). It's not the first time we've been teased with this character's return, but somehow this time around, the resurrection seems more genuine. Whether there's a story to justify it remains to be seen, but Remender has accumulated enough goodwill through "Uncanny X-Force" and "Venom" that the benefit of the doubt can be gladly given.
Meanwhile, even as Remender sticks the book in a high gear and leaves it there, the art team (led by Renato Guedes) deserves kudos for matching his enthusiasm. The visual style of the book is nothing short of beautiful. It has a strangely ethereal quality, which helps give events the disconnected and otherworldly feel being off-Earth demands. The color palette is masterfully chosen, too, with some pages prominently hued in hot reds, oranges and purples and other scenes given cool blues and greens. Quite simply, every page looks fantastic.
It's not perfect -- the art is bound to be divisive and the story seems to veer sharply away from the task of stopping Phoenix in the latter half -- but if all tie-ins were this good, no-one would complain about buying more books to follow the story.