"New Avengers" #25, by Brian Bendis and Mike Deodato, is the kind of tie-in issue casual fans dread. When you buy a book called "New Avengers," which ties in to a crossover called "Avengers Vs. X-Men," it seems like a reasonable expectation that you'll find yourself reading a comic containing at least one Avenger and maybe even an X-Man.
"New Avengers" #25 contains neither of those things. Instead, Bendis uses the space to explore the connection between the primal forces of the Iron Fist and the Phoenix through the eyes of Master Yu Ti. Now, don't get me wrong, there's clearly a story here and it's one with a deep connection to the crossover at hand -- but there's something to be said for not veering too far off-piste. Right now, this isn't a story -- it's backstory.
It is possible to do exposition-heavy issues like this without losing the readers. Typically, you'd see Iron Fist making a journey through K'un L'un and discovering that his powers have a connection to/rivalry with the Phoenix at the same time as the reader. Bendis has opted for something a lot less conventional, but there's a definite sense that the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater.
It helps the issue's case that even though it's an infodump, it's one that raises new questions about the Phoenix force and sets up some intriguing mysteries which we can expect to see resolved as the crossover progresses. It's also delivered in an interesting way. Traditionally, Bendis' writing has played with non-linear narrative devices and little else, but here we get dream sequences rich with symbolism and allusion that drive Yu Ti forward. In that sense it's a welcome change.
The dream sequences, combined with the book's unusual locale, allow Deodato to put in a characteristically strong performance, which is more enjoyable than usual simply for being so different. His moody and realistic visuals occasionally give way to more ethereal imagery, and the mystical, eastern look of the world he's drawing give us a rare look at a different side of his artwork. Whatever your opinion of the story, there's no question "New Avengers" #25 is a good-looking book.
But the fact remains: this is an "Avengers Vs. X-Men" tie-in that has no Avengers and no X-Men. On a technical level, it's actually quite good -- but the story itself is so far from what it purports to be that any reader hopping on board for the crossover alone is likely to be nonplussed.