By: Mark Waid (writer & creator), Marcio Takara (art), Nolan Woodard (colors), Ed Dukeshire (letters) & Matt Gagnon (editor)

The Story: We follow Max, Alanah & Annie as they have some downtime after stopping the white-supremacist train-of-death in the last issue.

What’s Good: This issue has a lot of nice little character moments for the two women in Max’s life.  They are continuing to be the most interesting characters in this series and I really like the direction that Mark Waid is taking Annie (a.k.a. Hardcase).  After being just kind of a helper in the past stories, we learn that she is now going out on patrol along (kinda like Kick-Ass) and tangling with criminals and minor super-villains.  In some ways, she is developing a Bruce Wayne-type obsession with crimefighting and I think that will make for a lot of interesting stories in the future.

Waid also spends a lot of time in this issue (and this series) examining the nature of change.  We have the alcoholic cop who has remarked at the need to make uncompromising rules when changing personal behavior, but we also have Max and Annie who both changed their lives completely and suddenly.  It some ways it is a very accurate depiction of how people change their lives (although it is missing some of the internal conflict, bargaining, etc. that usually precedes such a change).

We’re also starting to do some things that make Max more interesting.  Did you know that he’s a super genius?  I sure didn’t, but he’s scribbling all over the walls like Reed Richards.  And I love this aspect of his character where he gets weird and annoying, as he’s been awake for days.  It makes Max much more interesting.

Takara’s art gets a little loose and soft in places for me (the opening scene with Alanah at the therapist’s office), but is generally very good.  And, I think his more cartooning style works for this book as long as Waid keeps a humorous undercurrent in the title.

What’s Not So Good: I’m a little bummed that we never got to see a face-off between Max and the Plutonian and I do kinda wonder what Waid will do with the story going forward.  Surely he has some grand plan for this series that is more ambitious that Max and Hardcase being crime fighters?  Maybe Max will bust Plutonian out of alien jail?

Perhaps it isn’t a “bad thing” but I did start to wonder about Alanah’s relationship with the Plutonian.  In the pages of Irredeemable, we saw that Plutonian has a special candle that strips his mega-powers so that he can sleep with a normal woman without killing her.  But, that’s never come up at all regarding Alanah.  Was there a candle and she just isn’t mentioning it?  I kinda suspect that there will be more to Alanah than meets the eye, but we’ll see.

It also bugs me a little bit that Max Damage is way the least interesting character in this series.  Waid addresses that a little bit with his new tired/whacky personality in this issue, but I’m still finding his sidekicks to be more interesting.  Oh…and I want to see Jailbait come back at some point.  I know I complained about her presence giving me a kinda skeevy feeling, but I take it back.  She was really interesting and this series suffers without her.

Finally, I do have to pick on Takara’s style a little bit.  The softer, cartooning style doesn’t work nearly as well when the comic shifts to discussions of changing who your are.  That’s heavy stuff and the art style needs to shift a little bit.  Granted, Waid is hitting a wide range of emotional notes in this series and that makes a tall demand on an artist, so I kinda understand that not all pages are likely to be perfect, but that one segment still bugged me a little.

Conclusion: A transitional issue.  Now that Plutonian is in alien jail, what will become of Max and gang?  Still, we get some good character development from everyone and that will pay off in the future.  Waid is still telling a very fun and interesting story here.

Grade: B

-Dean Stell