Quite an introduction!
Though I'm mainly an X-fan I begrudgingly participate in every Marvel line-wide event, which is how I happened upon this book – it's the first title in the Siege: Prelude TPB.
Having outright despised Secret Invasion I was skeptical of the entire edition as well as anything Bendis. Imagine my surprise when this issue was a taut, engaging intro to a series I suddenly have a deep craving to catch up on.
Disclosure: I haven't read any Avengers comics other than Disassembled since the 1990s, everything I know about Norman Osborn I mostly learned from Spider-Man movies, and I wasn't entirely sure what Thunderbolts even is, but I was able to follow this book with no issue.
Likely working in my favor: I read Secret Invasion, I have a reasonable awareness of the SHIELD folks, and I'm a dedicated Ms. Marvel fan.
Story & Script
Part of what makes this issue so engaging is the narrative structure. Bendis's cold open with Morgana le Fay was bewildering but intriguing, and he follows it directly with an in medias res setup of the issue, starting at the end of the story.
Is the one-two punch of writers' devices a cheap shot? Sure, but first issues have to sell comics and hook readers, and Bendis clearly knows how do to both. For a plot that's a fairly straight-forward origin, Bendis does a good job at keeping the reader off-balance but intrigued. It helps that not all of the Dark Avengers from the in medias res intro spread are actually who they appear to be – and, while Thunderbolts readers could probably guess on a few, the shapely Spider-Man clone and the seeming Wolverine are both surprising.
Bendis is on point with his distinct snappy patter throughout – Osborn's exchange with the abruptly promoted Victoria Hand is hilarious, as is the generally acerbic Moonstone (now Ms. Marvel), murderous Ares, and unstable Venom.
I don't know that quartet too well, but I do know Ms. Marvel, and her resignation is pitch perfect – Bendis gets her tonally more right in a pair of pages than Reed does in dozens of issues of her own book. If he's doing half as good a job on the other characters then he's found success.
Mike Deodato has come a long way from the big breasts and super-exaggerated hair of his 90s Wonder Woman run. From bold choices like the varied page layouts to small details in Osborne's office, the art in this issue is mature and altogether spectacular.
Deodato isn't afraid of the dark, but he doesn't overuse it like some edgy artists. Shadows are deployed wisely to add depth instead of to obscure. Combined with incredibly detailed faces, the issue feels realistic without being photo-realistic. It has detail and credibility. Osborne's cornrows don't look ridiculous.
Basically, I loved the art, full stop. My favorite panel is the painterly detail as Ms. Marvel sheds a single tear on her resignation, closely followed by Bullseye's wide-eyed disbelief in visiting the Avenger's Tower.
Altogether there's not too much plot content here, but there's undeniable charm in watching the oily Osborne's scheme come to fruition. With strong dialog from Bendis and flawless, textured art from Deodato, this book is worth a try even if you are Avengers-adverse.