Last issue took us forward eight months to show us a world where the sinister Cabal, made up of some of the most heinous characters in the Marvel Universe, was halting Incursions with a brutal effectiveness. We got to see Namor beseech Doom for help, but his pleas fell on deaf ears and now we catch up with what Reed Richards, Beast and Hulk, along with a newly joined up Captain Britain. While they duck, dodge, dip, dive and...dodge a vastly expanded S.H.I.E.L.D., we also get to see what happened with Amadeus Cho from a couple of issues back. Jonathan Hickman’s vision for the future is a fascinating, fearful one and apparently we’ve got quite a bit more time before we discover every secret behind it. The most compelling part, surely, is Susan Richards on an opposing side from her husband and while this has happened before, it’s never gone quite like this.
Kev Walker’s art is truly great, hitting a new high of detail and facial expressions communicating a wide range of emotion. From Cho’s snide smirk to Beast’s wide-eyed concern and everything in between, Walker is proving that his run on AVENGERS ARENA and UNDERCOVER was only the beginning of what we were seeing from him. Frank Martin and David Curiel’s colors are likewise suited to the dingy, dark and ultimately grim future they’re coloring. The colors in this book are almost always dark, even when lit by the blinding fluorescents of the Helicarrier’s overhead lighting. There’s something sharp and sinister about even that brightness.
Here’s the thing that's always been consistent about Hickman’s storytelling: even when it's baffling or not all the information is being made explicit there's been a reasonable expectation that things will become clear, and until they do there's still an emotional core to connect with in the characters. That is, unfortunately, not the case in this issue specifically. It’s unclear how these characters got here, why some of them ARE here and while that could make for an intriguing, interesting mystery, the central conflict that split these two factions is neither made clear nor even hinted at. It likely has something to do with the secrets of the Incursions and reformation of the Illuminati, but Hulk is running with them. The guy they conked on the noggin and shot into space. Apparently the Capt. Britain Corps is gone, and S.H.I.E.L.D. has expanded ridiculously. Last issue was confusing, but ultimately the spectacle of the Cabal’s slaughter coupled with the contempt of Doom for Namor was a solid core. Here, we have the conflict of Sue and Reed, but since it lacks a solid core, it comes off as emotionally hollow.
This will all likely make sense by the end of the arc, or even series, but this issue as it now stands is merely good. This is still a story arc with an absolute tone of potential still excited for what may be coming in this title, but I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed after how stellar the last issue was that this one backslid on both emotional impact and the sense of time and place. The art is still amazing and the concepts are, at the very least, interesting enough to keep me coming back, but this is a definite bump in the road.