Nick Spencer’s tale of espionage and spycraft started out as a very slow burn that has now become a raging inferno. This is another title I can’t believe we’ve only had seven of because it feels like it’s been going for years, and I mean that in the most complimentary way I can. Last issue, Maria Hill was infuriated to learn that, not only had Daisy Johnson sent an unauthorized S.H.I.E.L.D. wetworks team to A.I.M. Island with the objective of assassinating their leader/scientist supreme, but that op had actually failed spectacularly, and now things are going from bad to worse with an old, old villain showing up. This issue deals with the very, very dicey proposition of extraction and, of course, nothing goes quite as it should.
Spencer shows, yet again, that his flair for writing action-packed espionage (this is definitely less Bond and more Bourne...or Daniel Craig Bond) extends far beyond the boardroom all the way onto the battlefield. He never forgets the characters’, never sacrifices their individual voices for expediency and never forgets that a lot of them have very different reasons for doing what they’re doing and being where they are. His ability to give all these very similar characters very unique voices cannot be understated nor can his brilliant tactic of including Taskmaster in as many panels as possible. There’s a very strong consistency of not just voice, but also tone to this issue and that pervades the entire book, which is absolutely critical when you’re writing a serious political thriller that has an archer named “Hawkeye” in it.
Butch Guice handles most of the artistic duties with Steve Epting and Brian Theis taking over on occasion and Rick Magyar helping Butch himself on inks while Matthew Wilson handles colors. If that sounds like too many cooks spoiling the chili then worry not: the tone, tenor and action stay consistent for the entire issue and the artists, for the most part, do their usual excellent work. The action is extremely impactful, but there’s not a great deal of it, so characters looking engaging as they converse is of equal, if not greater, importance and it’s in these situations that he art shines. The characters all project an amazing level of intensity and determination. Between Maria Hill and Daisy Johnson butting heads, Mockingbird going deep undercover, or even the masked characters like Taskmaster and Scientist Supreme, everyone simply radiates authority and power.
As great as the close-ups are, the distance shots sometimes lack detail and the crispness that makes a book like this really come alive. A great deal of that may also come from a few panels that simply too busy and a few plot threads that come together a little too conveniently and rapidly. As well as Spencer has juggled an inordinate amount of plotlines and characters with incredible skill, it DOES become a bit much at times. The writing is, of course, very solid overall, but there were two threads left dangling last issue that I thought had more potential for a slower burn. Hawkeye’s intense scruples about lethal force last issue are also a little bit laughable when he’s launching incendiary arrows into crowds of A.I.M. agents and shooting others out of towers. I know, I know, comic book physics, things like explosions and impacts don’t do as much damage as they should, but the tower one looks especially grievous.
This is still one of the most interesting superhero books on the shelf by virtue of how unique and different it is from any other. It brought together a predictable, but completely appropriate, team to do what a team like that WOULD do best: espionage and a whole lot of it. Hawkeye’s issues may not be as spotlighted, but the characters are still interesting and consistent and the art is still perfectly matched to the writing and does a fantastic job of establishing and maintaining and tense, thrilling tone.