Who's the flavour of the month?
Who's cut from the story to make room?
Giant-Girl and the Hulk.
So this book is still building stories around one-shot guest stars, huh?
But hasn't this approach consistently eroded the book's quality?
Yes, but maybe this month things will work out better...
We open with the Black Widow using her leet espionage skillz (pardon me, her elite espionage skills) to break into the headquarters of a Russian spy agency, formerly the KGB I guess, but with a new name now. Turns out she's just doing it for kicks, because she works here. Her boss briefs her on her next mission: seems that "a small group of former Soviet scientists" (what an odd way for a Russian to put it!) "has liberated a powerful weapon created years ago by their mentor, Anton Vanko." The scientists believe that Tony Stark stole Vanko's designs to build the Iron Man armour, and they want revenge against him. The Widow's mission is to "keep an eye" on Stark while other agents try to avert the attack.
Master spy that she is, the Widow has no problem following Iron Man and his fellow Avengers everywhere they go: whether they're fighting Moloids in the street, dinosaurs on Liberty Island, or training robots in their own headquarters. Over the course of the montage, the Widow, attracted by Tony Stark's courage and charm, gradually develops an infatuation with him. The sequence not only allows a chance to develop the Widow's character, but it also provides readers with the obligatory extended fight scene.
No sooner does that fight scene end than another one begins, as the Crimson Dynamo bursts through the wall (rendered in a nice splash page). Seems the Dynamo armour was the powerful weapon referred to earlier. More fighting ensues, in the midst of which the Widow breaks cover and reveals herself to Iron Man. Between the two of them, the Dynamo is defeated with a minimum of fuss.
It's a story about spies, so a twist ending is mandatory. Turns out that the Widow was not only aiming to protect Tony Stark from the Dynamo, but also to use her Q-style espionage gear to steal the specifications to Stark's battlesuit. Now Russia will be able to use that tech to build a new generation of Dynamo armour! The Widow is pleased enough, but is more piqued by the fact that Tony Stark is unaware of the theft, and thus the Widow faces no obstacle to continuing her low-key seduction of him.
Ho-hum. The art is competent, and the Widow is drawn fetchingly enough. The two fight sequences provide an opportunity to see all of the Avengers, as well as the Widow, in action. The characterization is fine: maybe Spider-Man is a tad lame, and Wolverine and Storm a touch brittle, but it's good enough by the recent standards of the book.
But all of this fails to jell. The story is pedestrian: the Dynamo's motive is as paper-thin as can be, and is elaborated for all of one panel. The rest of it is fight scenes, but as we readers have no emotional investment in the Dynamo or the Widow, the fights are dull and uninvolving. And the final revelation of the Widow's perfidy, and of her crush on Tony Stark, are equally empty.
I'm repeating myself, but as long as it's true I'll keep saying it: guest stars suck all the oxygen out of the book, preventing the development of interesting villains or engaging character moments between the core cast of Avengers. This month's cover features all seven Avengers prominently, which suggests that stories about those seven are what entices casual readers to pick up the book. Until we get back to telling that kind of story, the book will remain humdrum.
The individual elements are fine, but the whole is dull as dishwater. Two webs.