by Nick Spencer, Ales Kot (Writers), Butch Guice (Artist), Matthew Wilson (Colorist)

The Story
: As Mockingbird tries to fake her way through a presentation, some faction within A.I.M. wishes to make a deal with S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Review: I have to admit something right now: I don’t know how to feel about co-writers. Not only do I never really know who came up with which ideas, but it always seem to me that even though it might not show which pages or concepts were thrown by which. There were instances where it was a bit obvious, like with Brubaker and Fraction on Immortal Iron Fist or the extravaganza of talents that was 52, but in a title that plays to both writers strengths, it plays as a bit of a mystery. It makes it a bit hard to see where the strengths and weaknesses comes from which sources.

With the return to the main cast and the real storyline of the book, Nick Spencer brings along Ales Kot with him to write this issue, as the scribe of Zero (best known for his short stint on Suicide Squad) collaborates with him. Does the return to the conflict against A.I.M and the new co-writer makes this comic enjoyable, though?

It’s a case of hit and miss, really, as some of the best aspects of this run are on display here, with some new high and lows showing to spice things up.

One of the better aspects of this issue is the implementation of new ideas to the mix, with some that are rather surprising and welcome. The fact that some agents of A.I.M. are ready to split up from the new establishment to work for S.H.I.E.L.D., with their leader (a rather delightful last page reveal) being ready to start negotiation. The focus on certain of A.I.M’s leader is also a nice touch, which shows a new way to see that even this organization has the same problem as S.H.I.E.L.D. There is a mix of things new and old here, which is rather good.

One of the biggest flaw of this issue is the cohesion, though, with several scenes not exactly working well together. A good chunk of these are rather well-done, like how Mockingbird tries to fake her way through a presentation, or how Agent Coulson tries to give an unexpected news to Maria Hill. However, a lot of them simply don’t mesh well with the overall narrative and events, keeping the tone and themes intact without contributing to the flow of the issue. The scene with Mentallo on the beach, the one with Taskmaster washing a robot or the one in which Marcus Johnson and company gets attacked gets their point across, yet they feel isolated rather than cooperative or parts of the great whole.

Despite all that, the characterization and dialogue remains on the same level, with some rather funny lines and some very decent bits from most involved in terms of action and interactions with each other. Not everyone gets to shine equally, of course, with some like Taskmaster being written in ways that may irk some, but others like Mentallo, Maria Hill, Jude the entropic man and Superia still do manage to be memorable, in-character and advance the plot all the while. It’s uneven, but it has way more highs than down over all, so it’s still rather positive as a whole.

The art of Butch Guice does count as one big positive, as he brings his darker visions of the spy world without making some of the sillier aspects of the story and characters issue-destroying. The last-page reveal, the A.I.M helmets and some of the costumes of the cast never distracts from the seriousness of the story. What makes some of the characters work is in how he portray them, with Guice being rather great when it comes to poses and body language. His facial expressions may be a bit too minimalistic, passing off as too subtle sometimes, yet the mannerism of the characters more than make up for it, pushing the emotions aptly on the page. Despite all that, his panel layouts are a bit simple, making his pages look a bit non-ambitious at times. Guice is still very great with panel composition, though, making sure each of them count for something or build up to something else. There are also a few moments where he seems to be a bit expansive or playful, yet those are few and far between. All in all, his rough, yet calculated art works very well with the story told, which is highly commendable.

The work of Matthew Wilson, the colorist, is something else, though. Through an economy of style and diversity, he is able to hit the right notes, yet does so in ways that are highly competent, yet not that impressive. It works, yet it’s a bit subversive all the while. Moments like the A.I.M. council are shown with backgrounds of light blue and black, working with cold and darker colors, which are then reflected in the scenes with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Maria Hill where grey and white are preeminent. As a result of these colors invading the issue, some scenes do tend up to become much more apparent in diversity, like the Mentallo beach scene or the panel which showcase several aspects of Mockingbird showing a lot of warm colors. It’s effective storytelling, yet it lacks a bit of punch, which is regrettable. Good, yet just on the verge of great.

The Conclusion: There may be some problems in terms of cohesion and a few characters comes as being a bit annoying, yet the story, art and some of the great ideas and characterizations makes this an enjoyable issue despite some of the minor flaws.

Grade: B

-Hugo Robberts Larivière