by Rick Remender (writer), Gabriel Hardman (art), Bettie Breitweiser (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: The Secret Avengers fight to survive in the Core.

The Review: First thing you’re going to notice when you flip open this issue: this is a gorgeous comic book.  It can’t be said enough that Gabriel Hardman and Bettie Breitweiser are a match made in heaven.  They give the book a fantastic, pulp sci-fi feel that perfectly matches Remender’s outlandish story of underground cities and robot civilizations.  It makes the book feel otherworldly and heavily atmospheric.  Despite being a clearly modern comic, there’s a sense of nostalgia to this book that reflects the science fiction stories of a bygone era.  That said, the world that Hardman and Breitweiser gives us is one that’s dark, dangerous, and constantly threatening with a hint of the weird and the surreal.

And really, it’s a good thing Hardman and Breitweiser bring the goods, because so much of this issue is about atmosphere.  Remender gives us a comic that is as much about the underground city itself as its character.  It’s an issue where the Secret Avengers are constantly hunted and hopelessly trapped in this other world.  Remender, particularly given the ending of last month’s issue, gives us a script where the heroes really seem vulnerable and in a hopeless situation, constantly on the run.

Much as there’s a surreal edge to the artwork, the same can be said for Remender’s script.  It’s fantastic seeing some of the characters run into cybernetic versions of friends, mistaking them for people they knew.  It only makes this world Remender has created all the more threatening and, well, bizarre.  Along with the fact that they’re surrounded by enemies and constantly hunted through dark, dank underground streets, this element of some of the cyborgs looking like old friends only increases the psychological burden that the Core is placing on the Avengers.  There’s a constant vibe that the longer they spend down in this city, the more their  psyches begin to fray along the edges.

Remender also expands a bit on the Descendants this month and it really is a very cool idea for a group of villains.  I love the idea of the Core being a civilization created by “liberated” robots: Visions, Doombots (led by the awesomely named Emperor Doombot), life model decoys, adaptoids etc, it’s basically a civilization made up of scraps.  It’s a really fun idea and putting Father at the heart of it only increases the ominous tone already so effectively created by the city itself.

I will say, however, that I was disappointed a bit by the ending.  Sure, it makes for a cool character-moment, but it’s another one of those irritating “gotcha” moments that writers use in comics that often has looking back and realizing that certain things were done for nothing more than shock value, with no ramifications.  Unfortunately, I can’t say more without spoiling anything.

I will confess, however, that there were moments where this issue did feel like it was dragging a little.  It’s difficult to pinpoint when exactly this occurred; perhaps it was in the more dialogue heavy scenes.  Or perhaps seeing the Avengers spend so long battling random goons is getting to me?  I’m not sure what exactly it is.  I think it may be that despite everything, there is a LITTLE bit of water-treading this month in that I think they could’ve pulled the curtain back a little more on Father’s ultimate plan.

Conclusion: A rock-solid issue with a really creepy tone and brilliant art.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans