Ok, I loved this issue, but before I tell you why, I have to nitpick a little about some lettering/editorial problems I noticed. At one point, I'm pretty sure there is an entire word missing. Pym says, "I find myself instead on other projects in the lab," and I have to believe the word working belongs in there somewhere. Also, just a few pages later, a dialogue balloon that's clearly meant for Pym is given to Toxie Doxie, actually linked to her previous line. This is really sloppy stuff, and even though the rest of the issue soared, I was jolted twice out of the same scene by these easily-catchable mistakes. It's a shame, and I wouldn't even bring it up except that in both instances it broke the rather enjoyable rhythm of my reading experience by confusing me and forcing me to reread the guilty panels a few times before figuring out what was going on. Without those interruptions, I might well have loved this more than I already did, so it matters, even if these seem like tiny mistakes.
Alright, that's out of the way. Let's sing some praise, shall we?
What do you do when you finally wrap up an expansive story about a team lost in time, and have to start a fresh arc with an almost entirely new cast? Why, you make them a team lost in a parallel universe, of course! It's a brilliant move on Jeff Parker's part to drop the Dark Avengers in an even darker alternate reality, one where they are familiar with many of the faces but don't know the rules of the game just yet. It certainly ran the risk of being too similar to the time-tossed Thunderbolts we've been following in this series for a while, or even just being too reminiscent of the innumerable other parallel universe superhero stories that've been written over the years, but it's to Parker's credit that he creates a fresh and full enough new reality to avoid those problems. His meaner, more militant Iron Man and Dr. Strange are both given just enough time and attention to make them understandable but still intriguing. Acting as generals in an endless turf war, they are both gruffer and more direct in their language than the versions we're used to, which make them sound and act more like classic villains than heroes, though I suspect the truth is more nuanced than that. But it's great and efficient characterization from Parker, who also continues to write an intelligent, daring, and very funny Moonstone, as well as already appearing more than comfortable with Skaar and Toxie Doxie. Oh and his dark Hank Pym is great, very unsettling with his whole detached (because of mind control) attitude.
Also yay Tigra! I hope she gets to do more stuff. Also Agamotto Alert will be the name of my dance music project, if I ever start one.
Speaking of Agamotto Alert, the page where that goes off is a serious artistic feat, the most impressive panel in a generally quite well-drawn issue. Neil Edwards is a good fit for this new universe. His design for dark Iron Man (actually, the whole fleet of Iron Men) was excellent, a strong way to kick the issue off, and the small yet important changes he makes to this world's Dr. Strange help set the appropriate mood of lurking creepiness. The massive floating eyes don't hurt that, either.
There's some really strong color work from Sotocolor as well, like Moonstone being lit in bright reds while Skaar, further behind her, is still his solid green. And, again, the legion of Iron Men, each with his or her own color scheme yet still fittingly uniform. The book is called Dark Avengers, the arc is called "Darkness," and the colors underline that darkness without feeling the need to become obscured. It's a carefully-struck balance that I appreciated here.
Where art and story most successfully come together, though, is in perhaps the least important scene of the issue (though I expect that it'll be more significant down the line). Janet van Dyne is stuck in her tiny form, and so her husband has her on a microscope slide so he can experiment on her and try to bring her back to normal size. The panels of Janet fleeing a protozoan and subsequently sobbing amidst a mess of particles were my favorite part of this issue. I can't even pinpoint why...it certainly starts with an attention-grabbing image, and the conversation between Janet and Hank is very sad and interesting, but I think it's just a matter of the overall effect being something greater than sum of its parts. I just really dug that scene, and hope it's not the end of this Janet's story.
Any worries I had about the final, decisive shift in cast for this book have been firmly laid to rest. I was looking forward to seeing some USAgent action this issue, but didn't miss him when he never showed up, because Parker gave me plenty of brand new characters to enjoy, while keeping up the solid work he's been doing all along with the members of the titular team. In many ways, Dark Avengers #184 is the beginning of a new series, but it's one I'm already glad to be reading.