By Ron Marz (writer), Michael Broussard (pencils), Chris Johnson (background assist), Rick Basaldua, Joe Wee,s. Jason Gorder and Sal Regla (inks), Sunny Gho and Felix Serrano (colors) and Troy Peteri (letters)

The Story: Events are happening quickly now that (nearly) all the Artifact Bearers have chosen sides. All that remains is the discovery and recruitment of the unknown Thirteenth Bearer, on whom the outcome of the fast-approaching final confrontation hinges.

What’s Good: Marz and company continue to deliver the goods as the slow-burn buildup of Artifacts gets set to explode in the second act. This is not a big, flashy issue, however–its beauty (and meat) lies in smaller character moments and confrontations (Magdalena coming face to face with Tom Judge was easily the highlight for me), and that works very well indeed. Although the looming fear of Armageddon still hangs over every word and action, its nice to see the characters interacting on a more personal level, and doing something besides fret about the fate of creation. It was a much-needed break, and very well handled. It also goes to show the tenuous nature of the alliances on both sides (although our heroes do seem to be in a slightly worse spot than the villains on that count.)

All the discussion about the Thirteenth Artifact Bearer has me very, very curious as well. Fan speculation right now is leaning towards the notion that Sara’s daughter Hope is the Thirteenth Artifact…but not only would that be a little TOO clichéd and convenient (I hope) for what Marz seems to have in mind, it also seems to be, if not disproved, at least made far less likely by the fact that the villains do currently posses her. If Hope does turn out to be the Thirteenth Artifact itself (or something similarly important), it’s going to make the villains look awfully, awfully stupid. Like I said though, I don’t think that’s the direction this is heading…. at least I hope it isn’t.

Also: art is still outstanding. Feel free to cut and paste the gushing from my previous reviews here. Broussard and company are continuing to knock this thing out of the park.

What’s Not So Good: While the mystery of the Thirteenth Artifact is absolutely intriguing, and the axis around which this whole story is currently revolving, It’s getting close to the point where the creators need to throw us readers some kind of a tidbit of information in that department. The book is so well paced and written that I can’t say I exactly feel like I’m missing anything, but it IS time to reveal at least one of the many, many cards that the creators are still holding. Specifically (and this is more a personal thing than a creative direction I think is necessary for the series), I want to know exactly what Hope’s significance is to the overall plot. As I theorized above, I don’t think she has a particular connection to the Thirteenth Artifact, but I DO want some answers as to what, if any, her greater purpose is here. Or, if the villains simply kidnapped her to gain extra leverage with Sara and the good guys, I’d like to know that too. It doesn’t have to be anything major, just a line or two of dialog clarifying exactly what Aphrodite wants to accomplish by holding Hope would be nice.

Conclusion: This series continues to be one of the best investments any fan of fantasy comics can make. The storyline is suitably epic and globe-spanning, and the art brings the characters and settings to life in a way that few books can do nowadays. Kudos to Top Cow and Image for continuing to put out this kind of quality product, and for employing creators of such high caliber.

Grade: B+