Jonathan Hickman's good at surprises. Not just any surprise, but the kind that lurks in plain sight. He pulled it off in "Secret Warriors" back in the day, and it's what Hickman and Adam Kubert do again in "Avengers" #6. As long as we keep getting these little sparks of awesome, I'm happy.
After introducing the new team in "Avengers" #1-3, Hickman uses the next handful of issues to focus on some of the new characters, like Hyperion and Smasher. "Avengers" #6 introduces the new Captain Universe, who right off the bat had come across as both one of the stranger and problematic characters of the re-launch. A character as powerful as Captain Universe is certainly a bit of a deus ex machina with near-unlimited powers. Here, Hickman follows up on the erratic, almost unstable nature of the new Captain Universe with a bit more of a glimpse into the woman currently hosting the power matrix.
In plumbing the depths of the new Captain Universe, Hickman brings something to the foreground that I wouldn't have expected: sympathy. It's a sad story that we get slowly spun out over its pages, and while Shang-Chi feels like he's feeding into the "Asian Zen master" archetype, I like how he's paired with Captain Universe to slowly unlock her secrets.
What's also nice about the writing of "Avengers" #6 is that Hickman clearly doesn't feel like he has to feature the entire (rather large) cast in every issue. That said, his usage of Cannonball and Sunspot as almost comic relief has been one of the constants that I think works surprisingly well. They're funny without becoming buffoons, and that's something that you don't often see in their sort of role. Add in the interactions with the new Spider-Man, and it feels like Hickman juggles the cast rather well.
Kubert's art in "Avengers" #6 looks sharp. It's some of the little touches that immediately grabbed me, like how Tamara's face shifts over the course of the issue from apprehensive to relaxed, and then that final look of fear on her face before we lose her. Tony Stark outside of his armor also comes across well; modeled to some extent on Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayals in the "Iron Man" and "Avengers" films, he's toned without being ridiculously muscled and that's a shockingly rare body type in comics. Considering that this is a comic primarily focusing on tight views of people's faces, I'm also pleased that Kubert keeps it visually interesting without ever needing some sort of fight or explosion to spice things up a bit. Kubert's an artist I'd like to see as a regular addition to the "Avengers" artist rotation.
As for the big surprise at the end, older comic fans will see the significance and gasp a little, but there's enough information here so people who don't get the reference will still understand that something big is happening. It's a sharp, neat little twist and in hindsight it fits in well with what was already presented in "Avengers" #1-3. Hickman does a great job here, and he and Kubert turn a quiet story into one that's still captivating. I've never been a big "Avengers" reader in the past, but comics like this continue to make me a fan. Well done.