Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artists: Chris Batista (p), Rich Perrotta (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with Moonstone manipulating her Hero Reborn counterpart as part of some unknown plan, but this plan looks to go completely off the rails when the man turns out to be a complete loon, who develops a murderous obsession toward Karla. As this man kills a woman in a fit of rage, we see the murder investigation is conducted by the Thunderbolts, and they are able to deduce that the murder would've had to have been committed by someone with powers similar to Karla's. After Dallas narrowly avoids becoming the man's next victim we see the Fixer creates a device that will temporarily cancel out the man's power, so he'll be unable to escape by using his ability to phase through solid objects. We then see that Karla uses herself as bait, and when he emerges she triggers the nullifying device which also acts to cancel out her own powers. However thanks to her greater experience Karla is able to get her powers back before he's able to do the same, and she uses this momentary advantage to forcibly remove the gem that give the man his powers. We then see her add the second gem to her own which serves to double her original powers, and one is left to wonder if this wasn't her plan all along.
While I do like the idea that the character still possesses the ability to sit on the fence when it comes to her acting like a villain or a hero, I must confess Moonstone has never really grabbed me as a character, as the duel nature of the character has always been more confusing than intriguing. I also find myself wondering why people that she plays her mental games upon never seem to catch on to the idea that she's manipulating them, as her previous efforts have never been exactly noted for their subtlety. Now this issue does start off with a nice attention grabbing sequence, as we see that one of her little manipulations turns her Hero Reborn counterpart into a disturbed stalker/killer, and the scene later in the issue where this man closes in on a seemingly unaware Dallas did a very creditable job making me believe we were about to be treated to a shocking death. I'll also give Fabian Nicieza full marks for how Moonstone deals with this problem, as I must admit I was completely unprepared for the utter ruthlessness of her solution, and it also creates a fairly interesting change in the character's status quo.
While most of the Thunderbolt cast is running around in these pages, I find myself far more interested in what is going on inside the minds of the characters who weren't really part of the team before this book hit its split format, as Baron Zemo & the Fixer continue to be the most interesting elements of this book. I mean sure Atlas' current situation has me looking forward to the chapter that will tell the story from his/her point-of-view, and MACH-3 has come across as so emotionally detached from the situation that I'm eager to see what's going on in his mind. However the scenes in this issue that really held my attention was the fairly chilling conversation that Moonstone has with Baron Zemo, and the little bit where the Fixer makes an observation about Moonstone's relationship with her Hero Reborn counterpart. The rest of the book is pretty much dependent on the threat that this man poses to others, as Jolt & MACH-3 are pretty much no-shows in this issue, and Atlas' sequence is largely a teaser scene that is capped off with a momentary hint of danger. In other words this book isn't really coming across like a team book, but rather it's a collection of individual stories.
Chris Batista is a pretty solid artist, and since it would be unfair to expect Patrick Zircher to provide the art for both arcs, I'm glad to see the second artist is a pretty close match, both in style & in the amount of detail that ends up on the page. This issue also shows us that Chris Batista knows how to deliver some fairly powerful impact shots, as the sudden switch from a seemingly pleasant romance to the chilling murder scene was a wonderfully jarring visual trick. He also does a pretty nice job on the scene where Dallas looks like she's about to become the next victim, with the art capturing his murderous intent & her seeming blissful lack of knowledge about this looming danger perfectly. I also enjoyed the scene where Dallas transforms into her Atlas form, though Hi-Fi Design also deserves credit here for the impressive coloring work on these pages. The art also does a pretty fair job on the final confrontation, as Moonstone's actions grow more & more disturbing as the art shows us what she's up to. As for her new costume, since I wasn't enamored with her old one, I find myself preferring the new color scheme, but the jacket seems like a throwback to the forgettable costume designs of early 1990s.
It certainly took me long enough to catch on, but I finally figured out what Fabian Nicieza's doing on these issues, as I noticed that each issue is being narrated by a different cast member. Now this does serve to give each issue a nice standalone quality, as while the opening page recap helps to get new readers up to speed, one pretty much gets a complete story in every issue. Now this was a pretty basic story as we see Moonstone finds that her counterpart on this Earth is a basket-case. However, it does have itself a nice twist at the end, and depending on how evil one believes her to be, you can either say that Karla drove him into a situation that she could exploit, or she managed to make the best of a rather disastrous turn of events that she unintentionally triggered. Personally I believe it's the former, as it neatly mirrors her past behavior when she was a outright villain. The one problem I did have with this issue is that having the spotlight centered on Karla, does leave the other members of the cast pretty much out in the dark, waiting for their turn on the center stage.
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