I am rapidly developing a strange love/hate relationship with "Avengers," although hate isn't really the word that should be used to describe it. Perhaps a more accurate term would be a love/frustration relationship; I love the ideas Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver spin together in the series, but this issue is a good example of everything that does and does not work with the comic.
With the earlier revelation of New Universe characters Starbrand and Nightmask having burst forth into the Marvel Universe, coupled with the destabilization of the planet, one would think that "Avengers" #9 would bring big revelations and some sort of resolution as the story wraps up here. What we're actually getting, though, are lots of hints, teases, and half-servings of plot. On a grand scheme few of the comic, there's a lot to love here. The overall huge plan involving the Gardeners, Earth, and Mars; the explanation of what the seven "bomb" sites on the planet really mean; the White Event bringing a new Starbrand and Nightmask into the Marvel Universe. It's a series of fun, huge, crazy ideas that can barely be contained within "Avengers" #9.
Perhaps that's the problem with the issue -- Hickman is so busy fitting in all of these big ideas, told with a relaxed and almost languid writing style amid enticing visuals, that he seems to lose sight of the fact that he's writing a serialized comic instead of a massive novel. There are pages of exposition, only to randomly explode into violence that just as suddenly and arbitrarily stops. When the dust metaphorically and literally settles, it's a conclusion that clearly is meant as more of a pause button; Hickman's putting this storyline onto the back burner for a little bit while he moves off on some other tangents, with an unspoken promise that he'll provide a real resolution later. And while that will no doubt work in a huge "Avengers Omnibus by Jonathan Hickman" collection years from now, it doesn't fix the problem that "Avengers" #9 comes to an unsatisfying conclusion so quickly that all of the characters inside should be treated for whiplash.
Weaver's art is beautiful, there's no doubt about that. Nightmask's new transformed appearance is entrancing, with an almost dimensional sarong wrapped around his lower half and energy emanations for shoulder pads. It's a bizarre and creative appearance, one that appears simple but somehow different at the same time. The bomb sites are even more attention-grabbing; the pieces of debris along the shore of Split, Croatia are alien and enticing, and the streets of Perth, Australia almost make your skin crawl. Weaver is joined by Mike Deodato who tackles a few pages, and it says a lot about Deodato that I'd turned the page and my first thought was, "I had no idea Weaver drew panels like Deodato with the little scratchy, jagged edges." It's much bigger and more mainstream superhero when Deodato draws the pages, and it makes the obligatory fight scene feel almost glossed over because of the lack of any real detail on what's going on. Deodato's pages are less about panel and character progression and more about an overall feel that big things are happening. It's an interesting tactic and one that wouldn't work for most comics, but in "Avengers" #9 it gets the idea across that it's less about the fight and more about what happens next.
"Avengers" #9 is an odd duck. I want to love it as much as I have some past issues, but once again this is a comic where it doesn't work as a single issue. Add in that this is also an issue of "Avengers" where the Avengers themselves do almost nothing, and you end up with a book where the stars appear to be the supporting cast, not the heroes themselves. Like before, I'm sure that the next issue will come down the pike and instantly suck me back in to being a full-speed cheerleader of the title. But for now, this installment feels like a bit of a letdown. A lot of the winning components are there, but it's missing a few vital pieces to jump into the realm of great.