by Andy Diggle (writer), Miguel Sepulveda (art), Frank Martin (colors), and Albert Deschesne (letters)

The Story: Black Widow and Songbird make a run for it.

What’s Good: Diggle writes an interesting script for this issue, one that’s self-referential in many ways.  Whenever a character says a line that sounds ridiculous, cliche, or out of character, another character immediately picks up on it. It’s actually fairly clever.  They pick up on the failings in each other’s dialogue or the more ridiculous aspects of certain characters. There’s an especially funny line regarding the cliche nature of Nick Fury’s voice that isn’t to be missed.

This is overall a fairly solid issue, and one of the reasons for that is perhaps the first time since the beginning of his run, Diggle actually makes his team feel not only competent, but nuanced and outright intimidating. All too often, Diggle’s Tbolts have felt woefully ineffective. It was great to hear them finally speak of with fear. By placing them in the role of pursuers as opposed to main characters actually does wonders for the team and has given them a shot of legitimacy. Too bad this comes at the end of Diggle’s run.

Character-wise, I’m glad that Mr. X was finally was put to good use in this issue, and unlike most martial arts monsters, he actually is as invincible as he should be. Mr. X is a scary, scary dude and his action scene was fantastic, lightning quick stuff that looked and read great. Norman was also oddly competent this month. Dark Reign has often made him seem a bit bumbling, but this month, he puts out the brainpower that one would expect out of someone running the show, in a twist on a twist that’s really rather cool.

On art, Sepulveda brings his awesome shading techniques that make the book look unlike any other, giving it a neat “painted” feel.

What’s Not So Good: But that’s all I can say that’s good about the art this month, which is quite inconsistent. Close-ups of faces often look completely strange, even muddy and distorted. Nick Fury in particular looks horrible, and it’s clear that Sepulveda can’t draw beaten and battered faces. He also struggles with people shouting.

Unfortunately, many of  the other panels aren’t much better. When the shot is zoomed out a bit, a lot of detail seems to be lost, to the point of looking flat-out weird. Inexplicably, Sepulveda’s action scenes look great and don’t suffer from any problems. It’s only in zoomed out panels without action that it all becomes a bit blank and blurry.

Frank Martin’s colors certainly don’t do Sepulveda’s art any favours. It’s clear that Sepulveda’s art looks best with dark colors, but with much of the book taking place outdoors, Martin makes the book look damned bright; and it just feels very off, inappropriate even. Worse still, I feel that the strong bright colors ended up battling Sepulveda’s equally strong shading, resulting in a very weird looking comic book.

Despite the cool action scenes, there’s some sloppy work here, and the overbearing colors don’t work with Sepulveda’s drawings.

Conclusion: A fairly decent issue held back by off-putting artwork.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans