There's an old thought-experiment concerning brooms that "Dark Avengers" #184 by Jeff Parker and Neil Edwards brings to mind. If you buy a broom, later replace the handle, and later replace the brush, is it still the same broom? As someone who, a few months ago, was reading a book called "Thunderbolts" starring the Thunderbolts, it's hard not to wonder whether "Dark Avengers" #184 with its new title, new cast and new concept is the same broom or an entirely new one.
The book sees the Dark Avengers inheriting sole claim over the book's pages, with only Moonstone remaining to tie it to its past in any meaningful way. Cast into an alternate dimension, the team's task is to -- well, it's not clear. Escape alive, presumably.
The lack of a clear objective is a problem here. Most of the characters who are supposed to be the book's main cast spend the whole issue unconscious or mind-controlled, while alternate versions of Iron Man, Wasp, Hank Pym and Doctor Strange take centre stage. Presumably that the thinking is that these twisted versions are "Dark" Avengers in their own right, but that parallel isn't enough to hang a story on. Unless Marvel is planning to replace the title's cast again, these characters are supposed to be the villains of the piece, not the new stars -- so why are we spending so much time with them?
This ultimately leaves readers without anything familiar to hold onto. At the end of the issue, the team hasn't established a goal. Most haven't even woken up. What are readers supposed to come back for next issue? The twist of a New York divided up into gang-territories by warring heroes is an interesting idea, but it's a reason to come back -- not when the title has already spent so much of its time in alternate timelines and dimensions recently.
Although Parker's writing makes it seem as though he'd rather be writing another book entirely, artist Neil Edwards is decent. His work is broadly competent, and there are times when the Alan Davis/Bryan Hitch influences seep through, helping to raise the game just a little bit. There appears to be some awkward photo-referencing on the faces that confuses his style overall, though. Most of all, it'd be nice to see something a bit more ambitious than this technically straightforward issue. Maybe when the story warrants it, we will. For now, we know Edwards can walk, but it'll be more interesting when he tries to run.
As it turns out, it's rather a weak start to the team's new era -- one that spends a lot of time setting up the wrong characters on the wrong world. Is it any surprise that readers might be left feeling like they're reading the wrong book?