By: Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Keith Giffen, Dan Jurgens (story), Aaron Lopresti (pencils), Art Thibert (inks), Hi-Fi (colors)

The Story: Frankenstein should feel flattered that he’s wanted so badly by his ex-boss.

The Review: The superhero world differs from ours in a lot of ways, but probably the most fundamental difference is how quickly things radically change. In the real world, you can start in one place and five years later find yourself in pretty much the same place. In the superhero world, five years means you’ve lived through seven world-threatening disasters (three of which endangering the universe as well) on top of any number of major shake-ups to society. Talk about not letting the grass grow under your feet.

For all that, characters still tend to gravitate back towards where they started, no matter how far they veer off from their original course. Frankenstein, having apparently left S.H.A.D.E. out of disgust for Father Time’s manipulations, ultimately returns to S.H.A.D.E. for exactly the same reason, as Time brags. “By the looks of it, I didn’t just try [to manipulate you into coming back]. As usual, I succeeded completely, Frank.”

You’d have to disrespect Frank for not sticking to his guns except that his former employer really does have good reason to re-enlist him. S.H.A.D.E.’s awareness of Stormwatch’s existence reveals not only the extent of its knowledge and resources (and its duration; Time claims Stormwatch’s history is “almost as old as S.H.A.D.E.’s”), but also puts them on the trail of the entity that destroyed the Carrier in #1. Right now, Frank’s primary motivation may be seeking revenge for the loss of Nina, his ex-lover, but with the whole universe at stake, he’ll be plenty invested in the mission before long.

Frank’s not the only one being drawn back into his old line of work. This issue has signs that Tim Drake (formerly known as Red Robin) will also pick up where he left off eventually. Despite taking on a new name (Cal Corcoran), career, lifestyle, and girlfriend, the appearance of a new Batman and Lois’ growing interest in him means that he’ll have to confront his past at some point, even though he insists to Madison Payne, his new lady-love, that’s all behind him.

Speaking of Madison, she name-drops Jason Rusch as an absentee member of her study group, which taken together with Frank’s impending investigation of Stormwatch’s demise indicates that JLAG are already starting to weave things together. This doesn’t stop them from continuing to introduce new characters and plotlines, but even these start out having some connection to the establishment, like Plastique, Key, and Coil conspiring to break into TerrifTech.

Unfortunately, not a lot of personality comes through in all this, distracted as everyone is with dutifully delivering their respective portions of exposition. For crying out loud, you have Grifter narrating panel after panel for nearly four pages straight and half of it’s material we’ve covered before: “[Justin’s] sent me out on a million of these missions and I always come through. And believe me—that ain’t easy. Extraterrestrials are surprisingly good at hiding in plain sight.” Buried under all this information, Grifter’s voice barely comes through, which makes it hard to care about him, one way or another.

Lopresti may count among the better artists on this series, but even at his best, he stands only in the upper-middle-class of DC’s artists. As pretty and detailed as his art is capable of looking, it also quite easily recedes into your memory, blending with all the other practitioners of DC’s house art. And this is not Lopresti at his best. Blame Thibert’s inking, but the linework here lacks the aggressive boldness that usually gives Lopresti’s art its depth. There are whole sequences, like Tim and Madison jogging through NYC, that look thin and a little rough around the edges, which is not the Lopresti I remember.

Conclusion: More plot-driven than character-based, and the plot isn’t all that gripping despite its cohesion.

Grade: C+

-Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Nothing says things are going south for certain characters than giving them beards…or an asymmetrical haircut and massive scar.

– For anyone planning to write Frank in the future: enough with the “Hrrn.” Frank’s gruff and grouchy, we get it. No need to have him grumble his catchphrase six times in six pages.

– Not liking the new design for Plastique. It’s just a messy jumble of gym spandex, faux armor, and punk.