Brian Michael Bendis’ Mighty Avengers series is set in the aftermath of Marvel’s first Civil War, when Tony Stark/Iron Man supported a government initiative to licence, train and regulate all metahumans. A significant faction of other Avengers refused to surrender their autonomy and anonymity to the bureaucratic vicissitudes of the Superhuman Registration Act.

Attempting to restore public confidence when the unregistered, rogue New Avengers continue to defy Stark’s orders to surrender to government authority, he forms an alternative, sanctioned Avengers team. After their baptism of fire in The Ultron Initiative, Venom Bomb begins the lead in to Secret Invasion.

This scintillating volume is written throughout by Brian Michael Bendis and primarily illustrated by Mark Bagley in his efficient style prioritising storytelling. It starts with New Avenger Spider-Woman switching sides to bring Stark the corpse of a shapeshifting Skrull who had replaced ninja assassin Elektra. Her own team thought they could handle the prospect – and feared Stark and/or his squad might also be alien infiltrators – but Jessica Drew, a triple agent simultaneously working for S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra and the rebel Avengers felt that only by going to the nation’s security chief could the situation be successfully handled.

Stark keeps the corpse secret but invites Drew to join his team in hopes that her presence will cause any Skrulls in his Avengers to betray themselves. However, no sooner has Stark officially inducted the Arachnid Amazon to the squad (field leader Ms. Marvel, Black Widow, Wonder Man, the Wasp, Sentry and Grecian war god Ares), over their very strident protests, than a tiny ball of stellar debris crashes into New York City and unleashes an horrific, highly communicable plague. The capsule contains a voracious iteration of the alien Symbiote Spider-Man inadvertently brought back from the Beyonder’s Battleworld and contact instantly transforms any organism into a voracious duplicate Venom.

Soon the city is a seething mass of rampaging, shapeshifting monsters, which is almost a relief for Stark as his constant scrutiny has detected no impostors. More worrying though is a desperate snatched conversation with Sentry’s wife Lindy, who begs the genius to find a way to de-power or kill her husband before his growing mental instability makes him a threat to the entire planet.

Bendis escalates the tension with some provocative cliffhangers, experiments with the storytelling by presenting a Sentry chapter as a visual pastiche of 1970’s Marvel stories (sample art), and with guest artist Marko Djurdjevic explores Doctor Doom’s sorcerous dabblings with Morgana Le Fey. There’s also a trip to the past and the threat of the Avengers endangered by one of their own.

Venom Bomb offers another slick and stylish slice of breathtaking all-action entertainment soundly setting the scene for the startling Secret Invasion main event which follows. Alternatively, Bendis’ entire run is collected in The Mighty Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis: The Complete Collection.