This is the sixth issue of the annual, on-going New Avengers comic that is produced by Marvel and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) to be distributed exclusively to the members of the U.S. Armed Forces on Military bases.
This issue opens in southern California, some 80 miles north of San Diego, where a squad of National Guardsmen is on patrol in a wooded area. Leading the squad is the newly-promoted Sergeant Matthews (we met Matthews and his sister — who is also in the guard, only stationed in the MidEast — in the last issue). As the soldiers continue on their patrol only their electronic gear has an unidentified blip in the forest near them. The soldiers initially joke about that the blip might be Bigfoot.
Needless to say, they aren't so upbeat or glib about their situation when they realize that the "bigfoot" their electronics have identified, does indeed have big feet, and they are green, and tend to get very, very angry. Yep, the blip is The Hulk, who — like legendary Hollywood Greta Garbo — simply wants to be left alone. Understanding that they are wickedly outclassed, the soldiers turn around and advance to the rear, leaving the big green goliath as alone as he wants. Understanding that they had no choice in the matter, the Hulk lashes out and smashes a nearby power line, which causes a spark, and then a fire, even as the Hulk bounds away.
Eighty miles to the south, Tony Stark's company, Stark Enterprises, is demonstrating some of their newest technology at the San Diego Convention center (yes, where the San Diego International Comic Con is held). A spokesperson for Stark shows off a pair of personal body armor built by Stark, one version for the military, and a second, lighter, version for private use. As the moderator states, neither version contains any offensive weapons, only defensive.
As the moderator is addressing the audience, both Stark (who is backstage) and a certain photographer we all know and love (who is covering the event for some great metropolitan newspaper) both get calls to attend to some other event, offsite from the technology fair. That other event is a growing brush fire in the woods to the north of San Diego; yes as a result of the Hulk's actions. Iron Man shows up at a Forest Ranger watch tower to get a Sitrep on the fire. He is briefed by the Guardsmen who tell him that firefighting planes are on their way, but he needs to assist them now, as the planes won't be there for a while.
The Golden Avenger, and head of SHIELD, presses his technology into placing mass reverse 911 calls to everyone in the area that is in danger from the fire. However, before he can head out to lend a personal hand, he comes helmet to mask with none other than Spider-Man, who offers his assistance. Iron Man reminds Spidey that he is still an outlaw, and that he should stand down, leaving the heroics to those who are registered (a sideways reference to what has recently gone on in-continuity in the Marvel Universe; this story obviously takes place after Civil War, but before the Secret Invasion).
So saying the Mighty Avenger takes off and heads for the fire, leaving Spidey behind to inquire from the Guardsmen what else can be done. They inform the webbed New Avenger that they need to create a fireline (that is to say, set up controlled fires to burn away debris in the way of the fire in order to stop the fire dead as when the fire reaches the burn zone there is no longer anything to burn, and thus is contained). Immediately recognizing his own limitations in this area, Spidey indicates that he might know somebody who can help.
So saying, Spidey swings off to assist in whatever rescues in which he can assist. Meanwhile, Iron Man does what he can to help, even as the Guardsmen coordinate rescue efforts from their command post. It is from this position that Sgt. Williams learns that the fire has shifted, and starts heading towards the home of one older resident who Sgt. Williams know simply won't answer his phone; requiring Williams and a second soldier to head off to retrieve him themselves. Boarding a chopper, the pair head out to the individual's home, even as the fires rage all around them.
Landing in a nearby clearing, Sgt. Williams leaves his pilot behind with instructions to wait as long as he can and to take off if the wind shifts; then he rushes off to rescue Mr. Tully, the trapped old-timer. However, when the Sergeant reaches Tully's cabin, he runs across the Incredible Hulk, who is truly ticked off that he is being bothered once again by soldiers. However, before the jade giant can go off on him, Sgt. Williams manages to convince the Hulk to assist in the rescue of Mr. Tully.
As Hulk goes after Tully, the two Stark employees who were demoing the new body armor swing by to air-lift the Sergeant to safety. They are joined by Stark himself, who spots Hulk bounding away from the cabin, and takes off after him. Hulk lands at the clearing by the chopper, and passes off Tully to the pilot before warning him off, and then bounding away. Iron Man, Sgt Williams with the two armored Stark employees, all arrive at the helicopter at the same time. After assessing the situation, Iron Man states that he will go after the Hulk, only Williams keeps him from chasing his former teammate by getting Stark to focus on the fact that the fire is the higher priority.
Stark agrees, but indicates that he simply can't affect the burn pattern of the fireline with his repulsors. At this point Spidey swings in and informs Stark that while Tony may have Paris Hilton, Donald Trump, and Bill Gates on speed dial, he simply doesn't have access to Spidey's Rolodex. Pointing skyward, Spidey indicates the arrival of his old buddy, The Fantastic Four's Human Torch. Igniting himself, Torch scorches a fireline in the path of the approaching blaze even as Sgt. Williams takes off in the chopper with Tully in the cab and Spidey hanging on the outside.
Spidey convinces the Sergeant to "Indulge a fellow science geek" and explain how all of this way-cool technology works, something that the Sergeant is happy to do. As the three heroes and the National Guard continue to extinguish the blaze, Williams explains to Spidey how all of the Guard's hi-tech equipment (unmanned drones, burning the fireline, and the planes dropping water on the blaze) assists them in their efforts to fight the fire.
Once the fire has been fully extinguished, Spidey hitches a ride with The Human Torch in the Fantasticar back to the East Coast, making good his getaway before the Iron-clad director of SHIELD returns to place him under arrest for being an unregistered superhero. As Torch and Spidey slip away, Williams remarks that even though these guys sometimes don't get along, in his opinion, they are all heroes.
This story reads quite well (better than the last couple of stories in this series), and it is especially nice to see the return of Spider-Man who has been missing for the past two issues. Granted, given all of the upheavals in the Marvel Universe lately, it is understandably difficult to work up an in-continuity story that utilizes many of the Avengers who are often at odds with each other these days.
Needless to say, Stewart Moore managed to do that fairly well this time around. His portrayal of the various heroes comes off as quite well, except for the Hulk, who for some reason, is speaking in full, complete sentences. Not quite sure why that is, as in his own title the Hulk back to his broken English style of speech patterns. This particular bit was jarring, but Moore did manage to get the other heroes in character. I also especially did like the way he played up the Spidey Johnny Storm angle, by having Spidey call on his oldest hero friend to assist with the firefighting. A very nice touch indeed, I also liked that this story reprises the role of former private-now-Sergeant Williams.
As stated, the appearance of Spidey made this story much more enjoyable for this reviewer. That, plus the fact that there was some realist byplay between Spidey and Stark, as well as the inclusion of a solid nod to Peter's scientific leanings gave this story a higher rating than the previous story. However, having Hulk speak more like Banner than the mindless brute he is these days, takes back half a point. Still, perhaps the best part of the story is that it celebrates the heroic activities of the upstanding soldiers serving in the National Guard. I especially liked the fact that it showed them in their non-combative role as assisting in extinguishing forest fires.
As stated, this is a Marvel specialty comic that was distributed exclusively to soldiers on U.S. Military bases. It is also available on online auction sites (which is how this reviewer acquired his copy.