The "Prelude to Infinity" banner at the top of "Avengers" lately is still a bit of a mystery on how, exactly, this is connecting to Marvel's next big event crossover. That's the bad news. The good news is that Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer, and Stefano Caselli don't seem to be worrying about that one bit. Instead they're continuing to tell the story that Hickman began in "Avengers" #1, as Earth and the Avengers fight off a planetary infection.
There are really several different threads interwoven through "Avengers" #16. I suspect for some readers, all they'll care about is what the Avengers themselves are up to. Their part of "Avengers" #16 is actually the weakest part of the comic, though, pitting them against the organism that burst out of the pod hidden on AIM Island. That, and to a lesser extent Bruce Banner's attempts to figure out how to stop it, feel almost like page filler this month. Hickman and Spencer seem to be sticking to the idea that an issue of "Avengers" needs to star the Avengers, and the issue has page after page of them attacking and getting walloped in return. The problem is that the idea is very easily grasped: it's incredibly powerful, more than anything on Earth. The fight ends up overstaying its welcome a bit as a result, perhaps in part because it doesn't feel inventive or innovative, just a big slugfest.
The thread that does stand out picks up with where readers last saw Starbrand and Nightmask, as Starbrand starts to learn more about the changes that are happening to him and what it means for the future. Honestly, I think I'd have preferred an entire issue of the two of them talking; this is where the future of this storyline appears to reside, and Hickman and Spencer make two people talking about power abilities and maturation a surprisingly engrossing conversation. Who knew?
It doesn't hurt matters that Caselli draws Starbrand and Nightmask beautifully. I love the symbols and energy arcs that appear around Nightmask, whose lower body looks like a merger between a skirt and a shroud. He comes across alien and unknowable, the perfect contrast to the still-human figure of Starbrand. Starbrand's confusion at his continual evolution is equally well drawn, and it makes the story click that much more. He's good with the rest of the issue too, happily. Captain America's grim expression when he says, "Then we give it what it wants," is a beautiful piece of art. The focus is on him and his emotions -- written all over his face -- even as we get the rest of the Avengers in the background. Another artist might have needed a full page for that image, and Caselli makes it sing with just a quarter of the space.
"Avengers" #16 is fun, but it's hard to keep from feeling like the best parts of the issue are too short and the most average parts are too long. Still, even with the balance a bit off, it's an enjoyable read. I still have no idea what "Infinity" will be, and I don't care, so long as Hickman and company get to keep telling their "Avengers" saga. Avengers assemble, indeed.