By Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Alex Maleev (artist), Dean White (colorist)

In the prequel chapter to this winter’s “Dark Reign” storyline, Norman Osborn, having inexplicably been given control over the country’s superhero Initiative program and all that encompasses, convenes a meeting of high-ranking villains and rogues and offers them a quid pro quo: if they can work together and agree to his requests, he will use his newfound political power to make their lives much, much easier.  The villains are naturally suspicious, but leave the meeting to consider his offer.

The issue includes three, three-page previews of upcoming titles that will spin out of “Dark Reign”.  I had been considering buying all three titles, so I liked being able to preview them first.  Turns out I hated all three and will not be buying them after all, so I’m grateful to have saved some money.

I know there are legions of Bendis fans out there and I respect their devotion, but that is one bandwagon I fell off of a long time ago, having been disappointed with every event storyline he’s helmed since House of M.    His event stories are heavy on dialogue, light on action, and plagued by tacky resolutions that rarely seem thought out.  It doesn’t help that he brought his longtime art partner Alex Maleev on board for this issue.  Where Maleev’s subdued style shines on dramas like Daredevil, they utterly fail on an issue like this that is all about some of the greatest villains in Marvel.  And why is it Namor looked like a balding porn star that hasn’t shaved in a week!?

After the lackluster conclusion to Secret Invasion, Bendis seems ready to disappoint us once again with another mundane “epic” that promises the world but fails to deliver .  Based on this prequel, I’m hesistant to pursue this story any further.  Buyer beware.

Grade: D-

-Tony Rakittke

A Second Opinion

Ok, so some of the characterization is a bit off and the artwork is all sorts of wrong at times, but I can’t possibly call the Dark Reign one-shot a near failure. All it really had to do was establish Norman Osborn’s vision of the future, and it does exactly that in a fairly entertaining fashion. Say what you want about Bendis, but when he has a handle on a character, his work can be extremely fun to read. Such is the case with his handling of Norman Osborn in Secret Invasion: Dark Reign. Maybe it’s just because I’m a huge Thunderbolts fan, but I definitely got a kick out of the way Osborn attempted to appeal to the various personalities at the secret meeting in a way only the madman/politician could. Sure the comic could have been quite a bit better, but it definitely gets the job done.

As for the previews, they really don’t add a whole lot to the overall package. And since it’s tough to establish an opinion about three pages worth of work, I will leave my impressions on hold until I get a full issue in my hands. However, out of all the books launching from Dark Reign, I find myself looking forward to Secret Warriors the most. Jonathan Hickman and Stefano Caselli definitely have the potential to make one hell of a team.

Grade: C

-Kyle Posluszny