by Brian Michael Bendis (script), Howard Chaykin & Mike Deodato (art), Rain Beredo & Edgar Delgado (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: Nick Fury and friends race to stop the Red Skull while in the present, Mockingbird continues to fight for her life while Victoria Hand gets an offer she can’t refuse.

The Review: The key problem with this arc remains intact (the fact that Bendis is simultaneously telling two stories that have nothing in common),  but it’s minimized by the fact that one story, the Howard Chaykin drawn flashback tale, gets the bulk of the page-count.  So, at the very least, there is a greater sense of cohesion than there has been thus far.  Yes, the transitions between the past and present are still irritating and yes, I’m still wondering why the hell these two stories have been smashed together, but at least things are more coherent.

Because of this, I got a bit more enjoyment out of the Chaykin story than I have in prior issues.  It’s nothing overly special, but it’s decent, harmless fun with lots of action and old school Red Skull goofiness.  It’s helped along by the fact that this is by far Chaykin’s best performance in this arc thus far, with his Red Skull in particular looking funny to the point of being a bad guy out of a kids’ cartoon.

That said, while it is good fun, there’s a sense of half-baked ideas here.  The Nazi-created Captain America is dealt with before even being explaiedn in the remotest way and the ending is, well, more bizarre than tantalizing.  It also doesn’t help that Fury’s squad all starts to blur.  There’s Fury, Sabretooth, Kraven, Namora, and….uhm….no one else of real significance.

But really, the worst part of this issue is that, much like last month, the present-day portion is still the more interesting story.  The greater page-count of the flashback story does distract from this a little more, but the little space the present story gets are still the more interesting.

Hell, the last two pages involving Victoria Hand and Superia are probably the best in the comic.  I love the ideas being bandied about here: the precarious position of Victoria Hand, the idea of the remnants of HAMMER resurging as a real threat, Mockingbird’s fate, and Hawkeye’s call for blood are all really, really cool.  Unfortunately, with that other, far less interesting, Nick Fury story taking up space, none of these plot points get the exploration they deserve.

In some ways, you could say that this means that this issue takes a step forward, only to take a step back.  Yes, giving a heavier focus to one story reduces the chaos of the structure we’ve been getting thus far but, unfortunately, that story happens to be the weaker of the two.

Conclusion: An improvement over last month’s issue, but I still feel like this is an arc that keeps shooting itself in the foot and neglecting its potential.

Grade: C+

-Alex Evans