by Jason Aaron (writer), Renato Guedes (pencils), Jose Wilson Magalhaes (inks), Matthew Wilson (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: It always comes down to those damned ninjas.

What’s Good: In another flashback into the past of a “Wolverine victim,” Jason Aaron gives us an inside look into the Hand.  Overall, I enjoyed Aaron’s take on the ninja cult You get your honor-based suicides, your unsettling scenes of children killing each other, but most of all, Aaron adds a very, very unsettling wrinkle to the Hand with the role of its women.  I won’t spoil it, but in both dialogue and….occupation….it’s genuinely disturbing stuff and due to Aaron’s writing of it and Guedes’ unnerving illustration of these women, it may very well be the creepiest thing I’ve read in a major Marvel comic this year.

The art continues to be solid.  Renato Guedes’ action scenes are fast and fun and his illustration on the world of the Hand is appropriately dark with a hint of the grotesque.  His level of detail is rock solid as always and there’s little to complain about, particularly given that Matthew Wilson continues to find the best possible palette for Guedes’ work.

And oh yeah, we get one hell of a cliffhanger as well.  It’s really one of those endings that’ll leave you salivating for the next issue, but without feeling cheap or leaving you feeling cheated.

What’s Not So Good:  I’ve been very positive on this flashback-based arc thus far, but I’ve officially lost my patience with this issue.  Even more than previous issues, Wolverine is nothing more than tertiary, as in a story called “Wolverine’s Revenge,” Wolverine is hardly present at all.  I can give Aaron a pass on using flashbacks to delve into Red Right Hand members for a few issues, but this is the second to last issue of the arc!  And we’re still getting an issue that’s mostly a flashback of background info!

But that wouldn’t be quite so bad if the flashback was a good one and, unfortunately, this is by far the weakest of any that we’ve gotten so far insofar as its character and story are concerned.  The problem is that, in making this month’s Wolverine victim a member of the Hand, it’s harder to really empathize with the character.  So much of what has made the flashbacks compelling thus far has been the various victims’ simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time and/or their general powerlessness.  In making this victim a member of the hand, there isn’t that same sense of tragedy.  The character isn’t at all in the wrong place at the wrong time (she’s a Hand ninja!) and, though she pales in comparison to Logan, her and her ilk are trained killers.  It’s harder to relate to her, harder to feel bad for her, and harder to fault Wolverine.  That just doesn’t make for an interesting story.

But it’s not only here that Aaron shows signs of losing steam.  Thus far, I’ve loved the crazy bad guys he’s had Logan brawl with.  They’ve been utterly ludicrous in both their concepts/abilities and their kooky dialogue.  So it’s a real disappointment to see that the best Aaron could come up with this month was Gunhawk….who is nothing more than a sort-of modern cowboy with two revolvers with knives attached to them.  It’s amazing that we’ve gone from the insanity of Cannonfoot to….a cowboy with knife-guns.  And Gunhawk isn’t even interesting in his dialogue, either.  He’s just a regular old mercenary.  Aaron even seems to be aware of how relatively boring Gunhawk is, as unlike past issues, his fight with Wolverine takes up barely any page-space at all.

Conclusion: By far the weakest issue of the arc thus far.

Grade: C

-Alex Evans