by: Dennis Hopeless (Writer), Kev Walker (Artist), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (Color Artist), Francesco Mattina (Cover Artist)
The Story: They did indeed find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy, then decided to stay.
The Review: While the first issue of this series contained some necessary but tedious plot-grinding, this issue benefits from having all that out of the way and just letting the characters bounce off each other and those they encounter. The final scene and splash page lives up to the series’ name– these characters have finally set themselves up to be “undercover” in a sense, in order to put themselves in a position for a major showdown. I’m sure the next issue will complicate matters a bit, but that anticipation makes it an effective cliffhanger.
In the meantime, the setting, an “underground super villain mega city,” allows for some interesting moments. The characters aren’t really a team, aren’t really confident heroes in their own right, and in most cases, aren’t really fully trained in what they (or their erstwhile teammates) can do. Their vulnerability in this setting allows for great characterization, and balanced panel time is given to all. I bet you didn’t know that Hazmat could do a Stanky Legg, did you? Thankfully, Cammi and Nico remain the more level-headed to keep the rest (and the plot) on track.
Show-off time! I love that Hopeless doesn’t broadcast every cameo, allowing for the fun to track down the names of all the costumed villains in Bagalia– the Young Masters (Excavator, Coat of Arms, Egghead, Melter, Executioner, Black Knight, and Mako, now re-headed), Mudbug, Morg from the terrible Infinity Hunt miniseries, Snot, Constrictor, Madame Masque, Porcupine, Eel, Titania, Letha, Trapster, the Wrecking Crew, Hellstorm, Satannish (for some reason), and the Tinkerer (in a really neat design). How’s my Geek Cred? Curiously, despite the set up and his presence last issue, Baron Zemo is not present.
Kev Walker should be commended for his work here, which demands a lot of particular character interaction among the expansive set pieces. Close up and medium shots are used purposefully, and care is taken to use both background and foreground. Beaulieu’s colors really help, too, by defining each scene with a particular palette as well as helping highlight particular emotional and tonal beats. There are a couple of times when things get a little muddled when SO much has to be compressed on the page, such as the bit of fight scene in the beginning, but overall the storytelling and depictions are quite remarkable. I particularly enjoy the facial and body expressions, especially on Cammi and Death Locket.
Bottom Line: This is a good example of a well-done comic book. I care about what these characters have gone through, how it has shaped them into who they are now, and am anxious to see how it all plays out. There is no foregone conclusion to the events and characters in this title, and even if you disagree, there are hints (such as Constrictor and Masque’s conversations) that there is still more to be revealed. The sheer amount of stuff going on in a “villain city” is a bit over the top, and I do think the book is still suffering from some interrupted momentum when shifting from Arena to Undercover, but this issue shows a lot of upward trajectory.