First, the bad news: "Avengers Assemble" #14AU doesn't have any of the regular creative team present for this "Age of Ultron" tie-in issue. The good news? Al Ewing, Butch Guice and Tom Palmer have created a surprisingly gripping story about the Black Widow in the heart of San Francisco when the Ultron invasion begins.
Black Widow is the only "Avengers Assemble" regular present for this issue, and as a result she is far and away the star. Ewing gets inside her head using a series of narration boxes that never feels too overwhelming or expository. Considering that Ewing spends several pages setting up who Richard and George are, I have to take my proverbial hat off to Ewing that those three pages flow smoothly and invitingly. I never felt like I was being lectured on who the two were, and Ewing does a good job of getting readers ready for what's to come when the Ultrons arrive.
What stuck out the most for me for the script in "Avengers Assemble" #14AU, though, was how well Ewing captures the growing panic and fear when the people in the San Francisco café start hearing the first snatches of information about the Ultron strike on New York City. It's handled extremely effectively, as live television feeds from New York cut out, Black Widow's connection to the other Avengers breaks up in a way that only increases the amount of fear, and then things just rapidly spiral from bad to worse. Here's the impressive thing: we already know as readers what's going on. It's an "Age of Ultron" tie-in, the threat that's about to strike should not be a surprise in the slightest. But it's still a wonderfully creepy sequence, as you brace yourself for what you know is coming just around the corner.
Guice and Palmer also perform some heavy lifting here; big two-page spreads of characters who are sitting around in a café that give us an overall feel for the city and the normality that's about to be destroyed. Even the opening page, with ten panels of everyday life in San Francisco, is a strong first page because it reminds us of what the calm day should be and everything that's about to be destroyed. Guice and Palmer are great with drawing ordinary people, too; everyone looks different and distinct, not needing special outfits to set them apart. When the Ultrons finally do attack, that spread is grim but still tells a story with a lot of panels showing the destruction in a strong and effective manner.
Once the initial strike is over, "Avengers Assemble" #14AU calms down a bit. The immediate grieving for those who were lost is affecting, and one that pays off from the introductions performed earlier by Ewing and Guice. It's not quite as interesting at that point as Black Widow scrambles to survive, but it's still a good story. At the end of the day, the lack of a script from Kelly Sue DeConnick was no longer an issue; Ewing, Guice and Palmer had turned in a good and pleasing comic. "Age of Ultron" has been a big bust up until now, but this has been one of the bright spots of the entire event.