by Matt Fraction (writer), Salvador Larroca (art), Frank D’Armata (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: World’s Most Wanted comes to an end as Hill, Pepper, and Black Widow try to escape HAMMER and Stark tries to survive the Iron Patriot.

What’s Good: The best thing I can say about this book is that it feels like the giant finale of a 12-part arc.  As far as scope, scale, action, and closure, there’s nothing underwhelming.  This issue truly does feel like a high-budget, high-stakes blockbuster summer movie.  Everything reads and looks very cinematic.

The fight between Osborn and Stark feels highly personal despite the  two metal suits scrapping.  Stark’s last words are fantastic, the definition of bittersweet.  It’s tragic, but impossible not to smile at in a way only Tony Stark could make you smile.  Similarly, the image of the Iron Patriot after the battle with Stark is truly one of the most memorable panels you’ll find in any Marvel comic this year.

Norman Osborn, as the cover suggests, is the real centerpiece of this issue and Fraction writes what is perhaps the definitive Dark Reign Norman.  Arrogant and professional with that cackling villain always seeping through, Norman continually straddles the line between asshole and lunatic.  With all his evil and menace, he eats up every page he appears on and he was an absolute joy to read.

As far as Larroca’s art goes, that cinematic flare wouldn’t be possible without him.  All of those memorable images stand alongside continually impressive displays of destruction, technology, and flight.  Rescue in particularly is rendered gorgeously.  If there were such a thing as a high-def comic, this would be it.

Finally, I should mention that the cliffhanger ending is made of pure, hair-raising awesome.  If gut reactions are anything to go by, Marvel’s going to have a good 2010.

What’s Not So Good: Larroca’s art epitomizes both his strengths and weaknesses.  While his depictions of machines and the Iron Men look absolutely stunning, his faces often leave something to be desired, particularly when it comes to our three female stars, whose facial structures and features seem to change throughout the issue.  In particular, Larroca seems to really struggle to separate Widow and Pepper and the result is some truly bizarre work on Ms. Potts.

Also, while the resolution of Stark and Osborn’s battle made sense and felt good, I can’t help but see it as being nearly identical to how Fraction resolved the recent Utopia crossover.  The unfortunate thing is that it was actually done here far better than it was in Utopia, but Utopia came out first.  That being said, this doesn’t change the fact that Rescue/JARVIS felt a little bit too convenient as a plot device.

Similarly, Maria Hill’s final escape tactic was also bit easy and familiar.  She essentially gets out by doing what Nick Fury has been doing since the beginning of Dark Reign.  The result, which should feel like impactful characterization, borders on being a little contrived.  It’s also not entirely believable that HAMMER soldiers would have her back, given how they treated her when she was fired at the beginning of World’s Most Wanted.

Conclusion: Overall, it’s satisfying. That said, it’s the Michael Bay movie of comic books: epic, explosive, pretty, with some awesome moments, but not without narrative corner-cutting.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans