by Jonathan Hickman (writer), Alessandro Vitti (art), Sunny Gho (colors), and Dave Lanphear (letters)

The Story: Fury and the Caterpillars get some much needed funding and Baron Strucker asks for help from a surprising source.

What’s Good: The opening sequence of the issue, which sees Fury and the Caterpillars pulling off an old-fashioned bank heist, is easily one of the best scenes of the series thus far. It’s definitely my personal favourite, anyway. It’s just flat-out cool and sees nice touches of characterization as well. It also reminds me just how much more attached I am to the kids than I am with the older Howling Commandos. It’s great to see them being the badasses and the focus for the second issue in a row.

Hickman also continues to write a perfect Nick Fury. Gruff and uncompromising, Fury this month again shows a sense of humor in his unwavering resolve, even if that humor comes at the expense of the kids.

JT, and Alex in particular, are also given some needed characterization this issue. JT provides the usual humor, while Alex is a fun character, as “wise beyond their years” children always are. In just a couple of pages of dialogue, Hickman makes these two incredibly likable in a light-hearted way.

I also enjoyed the conversation between the Baron and Osborn. Hickman gives a good sense of the war of egos going on here, and apparently the term “it takes one to know one” applies to megalomaniacal sociopaths as well. Seeing Strucker and Osborn call each other out for their obvious failings was fun and fresh.

What’s Not So Good: Stefano Casselli isn’t drawing this. Alessandro Vitti’s art is very good overall, but coming after Casselli, it’s hard not to be extra critical of his work here.

That said, there are some obvious “first issue jitters” for Vitti. Several characters, Daisy and Osborn in particular, look different from panel to panel. Nastasha Romanoff also just doesn’t look quite like Natasha Romanoff.

Vitti’s style also shows some difficulties as well. When drawing close-ups, his work is absolutely outstanding. However, the moment the camera pans out, so to speak, there is a huge drop in detail. It’s as though Vitti puts in a huge amount of work for his close-ups, only to slack off on the other panels. At times, it’s as though the guy doing the close-ups is a different artist. It’s certainly very odd.

Furthermore, while I enjoyed the dynamic of Strucker and Osborn’s conversation, I’m still not entirely certain how Strucker is getting Osborn to do his bidding. The logic here is a little hazy and it’s never exactly clear why Osborn actually decides to help Strucker. Also, I had no idea we were entering a full-fledged crossover with the Thunderbolts; I’m a bit burned out on crossovers at the moment, and I doubt I’m the only one.

Conclusion: It’s still a good issue and a fantastic comic, but it’s hard not to see this as a transitional comic, setting up a crossover and a Dark Reign-related conflict. It’s a book that’ll read better as a chapter in a trade. Also, Vitti, while good, isn’t in Casselli’s league.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans