by Matt Fraction (writer), Luke Ross (pencils & inks), Rick Magyar & Mark Pennington (inks), Rain Beredo (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: The newly formed Dark X-Men battle mutant rioters in their first field mission. Meanwhile, Emma Frost begins to have second thoughts regarding her allegiance with Norman Osborn.

What’s Good: The dialogue between Beast and Xavier continues to be a highpoint, always carrying an ominous and desperate tone. Fraction also writes a good Sentry, his dialogue really manages to convey a character who is constantly in a state of befuddlement. I also enjoyed seeing Emma in such a central role, leading her own morally ambiguous team into the field.

As always, Fraction’s now trademark captions identifying the characters are humorous, all of them being well-worth reading. Uncanny X-Men fans are no strangers to these, but unacquainted Dark Avengers readers should get a kick out of them.

Lastly, the “negotiation” between Cyclops and Norman hits the right notes. Some might find Cyclops resorting to an ultimatum to be a bit overly simple, but I felt that this very simplicity succeeded in giving Norman something that he’s not at all used to. In fact, in this Dark Reign-centred universe, Cyclops’ words are downright shocking and the reader will no doubt be as surprised as Norman. Certainly, a trainwreck is now unavoidable…

Despite being a last minute replacement for Deodato, Luke Ross gets the job done. His action scenes serve to highlight each particular Dark X-Man and he does his best in imitating Deodato’s dark conversation scenes. A special mention has to go to his depiction of Emma’s diamond skin, which is fantastic.

What’s Not So Good: Several moments just lack believability. For instance, Emma Frost joins up with Norman and is now suddenly suspicious about his abuse of mutant prisoners? Really? For such a famously intelligent character, Emma comes across as utterly naive this month, and therefore totally out of character. One would think she would be well aware of Norman’s dark deeds. I just can’t go along with Emma Frost of all people signing up with the bad guys only to just now realize that, yes, they are the bad guys.

The scuffle between the Dark Avengers and the Dark X-Men also feels completely forced, lacking any firm motivations. Since when did Bullseye give a crap about loyalty to the Avengers? Furthermore, Daken’s anger didn’t at all match Bullseye’s comments; even by Daken’s standards, his reaction here was illogical.  Fraction was clearly hellbent on having the two teams fight, motivations be damned.

In addition, Fraction’s banter during the the battle between the Dark X-Men and the rioters is also absolutely awful. Real cringe-inducing stuff here; so painful to read and horrendously written. Similarly, Cyclops’ bizarre alien jokes were also completely terrible.

The biggest letdown, though, comes with respect to the Dark X-Men themselves, who get all of one line of mid-battle banter apiece. No character development, no info regarding how/why they joined, no motivations, nothing. That is downright unacceptable, particularly when one of them is an A-list heavy-hitter like Namor (whose shocking enro;lment is still unexplained, by the way; all Namor even says this issue is “Imperius Rex” and “Silence!”).

Conclusion: Neither smart nor good, this was a big and stupid comic that made me wish for a regular issue of Dark Avengers instead.

Grade: C –

-Alex Evans