In the penultimate issue of "Avengers Assemble," Kelly Sue DeConnick, Warren Ellis and Matteo Buffagni manage to literally assemble the Avengers in the final panel, so that they can team up with Anya to fulfill her mission and take this series out with a bang.
DeConnick and Ellis start this issue very strong, with the same elements that made the previous issue work so well -- i.e. pairing Anya up with an Avenger and letting them lead her (and thus teach her) in a natural and engaging way. This time out, it's Iron Man lending Anya a hand in her mission. Stark and Anya have a hilarious chemistry that is utterly different than her chemistry with Wolverine in the previous issue, but still hits similar beats of teacher and student. DeConnick and Ellis also get some great mileage out of basically having Anya's teachers contradicting one another as Stark questions Anya's outfit -- which Logan basically put together. Through it all they do a good job of letting Anya hold on to her own personality -- she may be being shaped by the greats, but you never doubt for a moment that she is still her own woman (and superhero).
Unfortunately, when Captain America gets involved, the concept comes screeching to a halt. What had been effortless in the way that the Avengers handed Anya off from one to the next to help her in her mission now becomes after school special-ish as Steve takes to explaining to her what they had been doing and why. It's awkward and far less nuanced than everything that came before, coming off as a bit saccharine and uncool. Still, count me excited to see what happens when Anya is "part of the team" in the final issue that's bringing the band back together. I certainly hope Logan comments on Anya's revised costume.
Buffagni's art continues to have the crisp clean lines that just feel like a superhero book. He makes nice choices, especially when it comes to Anya, perching her in odd "Spider-Girl-type" places. Buffagni also excels in how expressive he makes her, both through her body language and acting, which is made doubly difficult by her bulky facemask. This issue is light on action but he makes the most of a couple visual opportunities -- like A.I.M. agents hung up under the bridge, and speared on the iron fence of a churchyard. For the most part he also does a great job with the city of New York -- the aforementioned church feels definitively New York, as does his Brooklyn Bridge, however, there's a shot calling itself Madison Avenue that feels nothing like Madison Avenue (at least to this New Yorker).
Ruth Redmond's colors are a nice complement to Buffagni's clean and crisp style -- bright in the way that superhero books often demand, but with some softer more muted tones when it works. There aren't many opportunities for Redmond to cut loose with color, but a bit more push on the palette as lighting changes things would have made the book look even better.
Buffagni's Anya is exceptional (as were his Spider-Woman and Logan in the previous issue) and his Iron Man is strong, but his Captain America is oddly weak. Buffagni's Cap is a bit ill-defined, almost literally, as his face is full of tentative lines. The final splash page that calls together the larger team lacks punch as well. It should feel epic and huge, but instead feels a bit thin and rushed with an ill-conceived layout choice.
"Avengers Assemble" continues to be, despite a little hiccup in this issue, a really great venue for telling tales with a rotating and flexible Avengers cast. It's been accessible in a way that some other big team titles aren't, and I'll miss it greatly when it's gone. Perhaps more to the point, DeConnick and Ellis are a great writing team, and they've proven that Anya/Spider-Girl probably deserves another shot at her own title, preferably with some heavyweight guest stars. Here's hoping she gets it!