Following Captain America's orders to "Assemble at dawn," the new recruits joining the call in Jonathan Hickman's and Jerome Opeña's "Avengers" #2 find themselves hurtling towards an opponent capable of taking out Thor, Iron Man and Hulk (not to mention Hawkeye and Black Widow). That opponent comes in the form of a trio of new characters: the horned, golden Ex Nihilo; his sister, Abyss; and their progenitor: Aleph, an automaton predisposed to harsh judgments measured in stark tones.
The treacherous trio poses a very real threat, having defeated the Avengers in the last issue. They sent Captain America back to Earth as a warning, unaware of the collection of heroes the Captain would call upon. While I can almost understand that Hickman wanted to make his own mark upon the Avengers brand by bringing in characters that are "fresh" to the team rather than retread Hercules, Black Knight, Tigra and the like, I must say my biggest gripe is that Hickman foregoes an almost perfect opportunity to sound the rallying cry of the Avengers. The writer makes up for it by providing the origins of Nihilo, Aleph and Abyss as well as the recruiting pitches delivered to a number of the "new" Avengers. That fills this issue with lots of talking heads, but those talks are meticulously (and almost clinically) constructed by Hickman, making this set-up issue thoroughly enjoyable. Of course the art team helps out considerably.
Jerome Opeña's is gloriously detailed, and the coloring from the trio of Dean White, Justin Ponsor and Morry Hollowell at times accentuates the sketchbook energy Opeña commits to the page. There are some traces of sameface going on (like the worm's eye view of Hyperion on a page facing a near-exact portrayal of Steve Rogers and the profile of Steve's sharp nose almost identically matching a mirrored image of Cannonball) but fine details and context help distinguish any characters trending too close to one another. The coloring gradually morphs throughout the issue, starting off with an appearance like colored pencil on Canson paper that is raw, delicate and wonderful, but those are replaced by the end of the issue with highlights, dodges and burns that are more technical in nature.
"Avengers" #2 may not have a great deal to do with the feature film, and the layman coming into comic shops looking for the silver screen team might be put off by the cover price or double-shipping schedule, but there is simply no denying that Hickman has a plan. As the plan begins to take shape and the characters start to settle in to their roles, "Avengers" is a wonderful offering from Marvel NOW! It's the one title I'm actually damn glad to spend eight dollars on a month for what I get, especially since it's so far a story worthy of the "Avengers" brand. Hickman proved his mettle on "Fantastic Four" and his investigations of the perimeter of the Marvel Universe in this title pick up where that left off, adding more depth to the universe around the Avengers. I may not be exceptionally keen to the inclusions and exclusions on this team, but I trust Hickman will continue to make a strong enough case for me to appreciate the work he's done.