I have to give Kelly Sue DeConnick credit for choosing an unusual method as the impetus for launching the teams (yes, plural) in "Avengers Assemble" #9. Sure, the issue stars fan favorite characters under the banner of "Avengers," but the parsing here makes for some oddly entertaining couplings in a quest to outdo each other while seeking to find a lost common acquaintance of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner.
Banner and Stark are the spotlight characters of this issue, which not only gives DeConnick ridiculously eccentric human characters to write, it also sets up some big action for Hulk and Iron Man. Along the way there are appearances by Captains America and Marvel, specifically what appears to be Steve Rogers in some really odd pajamas just to stay recognizable, as well as other Avengers. By the end of "Avengers Assemble" #9, the primary squad is comprised of Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-Woman and Thor fighting some relatively generic beasties. This is a fairly thin plot, but the characters are propped to really do the heavy lifting here as evidenced by the focus on teammate interaction throughout this installment.
Stefano Caselli's path to this book has provided the artist with ample opportunity to practice drawing some of Marvel's most beloved characters, a challenge also posed here. For the most part, Caselli delivers to expectations and the half-spread of Hulk on a rampage early in this issue is wonderfully iconic. Ten of the first twelve pages are sparse on action, relying upon Caselli's ability to sell the story through character expressions, including a fourteen panel page where Hulk and Stark attempt to charm five of their comrades to join their quest. Caselli also brings his A-game to the battle sequence at the end of the issue, making "Avengers Assemble" #9 a nice sample of the artist's capabilities. Rain Beredo does a nice job of following Caselli's lead and helps to make this issue look like a throwback.
"Avengers Assemble" #9 brings the title focused on the "movie cast" into the Marvel NOW! As DeConnick has made quite clear in interviews -- and certainly in the pages of this issue -- this title is going to be less concerned with only depicting the movie Avengers and more about branching out to the plush cast that carries Avengers ID cards. The first issue in this new direction is slightly underwhelming, giving readers less of a grandiose story than I expected for Marvel NOW! Caselli's art is full of energy and expression. Hopefully some of that will absorb into the story in issues to come.