By: Dennis Hopeless (Writer), Timothy Green II (Penciller), Jason Gorder (Inker), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (Color Artist), VC’s Joe Caramagna (Letterer), Francesco Mattina (Cover Artist)

Spoiler Alert: Red Level

The Story:
“Shooting people is so much FUN!” she says, until it’s not.

The Review:
That opening line actually provides a great opening sequence to this issue, which starts with Death Locket’s embrace of being among the Masters of Evil, and then ends with her trauma of having shot a friend in point-blank range. It brings the premise of the series into the forefront in order to show a very character-driven internal conflict and to see how it then plays out when the conflict gets personal.

The only thing that would make this a more perfect opening line is if it was reinforced by the art, which makes me think this is a missed opportunity. Look at the final shot/final panel of Death Locket, with her extreme close-up and distraught expression in a half-page splash. Then look at the first shot/first panel, which does feature an ecstatic expression but is barely an eighth of the page– meaning the dune buggies are more important than that opening line.

The art returns to Green and Gorder from Kev Walker’s previous issues. The first time that happened, there was a confusion of characters since they all shared the same cocktail dress/attire. Here, at least, that problem is removed since the characters are all in costume, and the issue really only focuses on three people in particular. However, there still remains some significant problems when depicting female anatomy, which really is a problem when this issue features Death Locket, a 16 year-old girl. Check out the page when Death Locket announces that she was “just getting the hang of this whole punching thing.” Her torso is so completely elongated. To be fair, other depictions are more competently rendered (see two pages previous where she transforms her metal hand into a mace), but the figure is still highly stylized. Perhaps it’s just that comic art in 2014 has different expectations, and what is displayed here is more of an aesthetic of twenty years ago.*

The key moment, of course, is the moral dilemma presented here, and you don’t even need to have read the previous 5 issues to understand it. It’s set up both as a plot point and its complication is foreshadowed in this issue as Chase keeps trying to help Death Locket but can’t quite do it. There’s more of a force to Chase’s arguments and to the foreshadowing if you’ve read previous issues, of course, meaning that Excavator, the other point of our story triangle, is really just a “type” and has no real motivation or characterization except to be such a story point.

So, spoilers are unavoidable here. As Chase continues to berate Death Locket into “pick[ing] a side,” there is a nice page-turn reveal which shows that, surprisingly, Chase is the one that is shot. A very only-in-comics moment. Even more nicely, it’s not entirely clear why Death Locket shot Chase, or even if it was her true decision, as her last panel shows that she is distraught over the outcome. It makes an effective emotional and narrative cliffhanger for the next issue.

Which does remind me that last issue also had an effective cliffhanger, but those characters and situations are entirely absent here. I would have liked some panels keeping that subplot in our minds (along with a couple others that should be in the background too) as we anticipate its fallout, but it’s hard to complain when we have such a solid issue here, too.

The Bottom Line: In an effective character-driven piece focusing on a fast-becoming fan-favorite character, Avengers Undercover brings its premise to the fore to show how it creates conflict both internal and external. The art is competent but still a departure from Walker’s signature touch on the series, and there are some subplots missing here, but the cliffhanger and its implications are great, as always.

The Grade: A

by Danny Wall

*This applies to Marvel in 2014, not DC.