by Robert Kirkman (writer), Ryan Ottley (pencils), Cliff Rathburn (inks), FCO Plascencia (colors), and Rus Wooten (letters)

The Story: The fight with Conquest comes to its bloody end while a certain character makes his/her shocking return.

What’s Good: Once again, Kirkman brings the brutality. While it’s actually not as hard to read as last month’s issue, Kirkman still shows no mercy, delivering possibly the most vicious headbutting I have ever seen in a comic. He also writes a fantastically vengeful Mark, as it becomes all the more apparent that the angrier Mark gets, the more he sounds like the Viltrumites he opposes.

Kirkman also does a fantastic job of further developing Conquest, who almost shows a kind of vulnerability as he is forced to begin to take Mark seriously. His last line of the issue was brilliant, fully encapsulating what the character is all about: live or die, it doesn’t really matter; it’s all about enjoying the violence.

Ottley, Rathburn, and Plascencia may very well be the best overall art team in comics today, with every man enhancing the work of the others while also shining in his own right. Beautiful, glorious splashes meet dynamic panel layouts with violence that makes you feel every hit. The real achievement on art this month, however, is Ottley’s work depicting facial expressions. He hits every note absolutely perfectly in displaying each character’s respective emotions. Indeed, often times Ottley’s drawings of his characters faces actually do a better job of telling the story than Kirkman’s writing. From the tearful, bloodied Mark, to Conquest’s expression as Mark surprises/ impresses him, this is a masterclass by Ottley, who is the real star this month.

Of course, one can’t discuss this issue without a quick word on the huge swerve Kirkman drops on us this month.  It works especially well given Kirkman’s track record, which would not at all lead you to expect this (and perhaps  makes it more acceptable).  Most fans should be happy with it as it creates a touching moment at the end of the book that almost made my eyes water.

What’s Not So Good: Some fans, however, may find the swerve a bit irritating.  Kirkman has always been treading a thin line with his plot developments, occasionally being guilty of throwing twists out there purely for their shock value. Some may accuse him of that this month, and while I ultimately find this issue satisfying, they may not be entirely wrong. I also can’t help but lament a little over this development, which basically stops the book from going down the darker path that I thought it would. It does provide a heartfelt moment, but one can’t help but ponder the lost opportunities.

Perhaps most criminal, however, is how fast a read this book is. Ottley’s work is incredible, but I can’t emphasize how quickly this book flies by. If you thought last month was lightning, this month is even faster. It really is over before you know it.

Conclusion: About as fast a read as you can get, but definitely a good one.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans