Writer: Daniel Way
Artist: Leandro Fernandez
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with the super-villain Tombstone arriving at the hospital, as the man looks to have suffered a heart attack while he was in the middle of a bank job. However before the hospital staff can find a means to treat him, the FBI arrives on the scene to take Tombstone into custody. We then see Tombstone is brought to the Cage, a prison facility that is designed to contain super-powered felons just like Tombstone. However, while the prison officials subject Tombstone to a barrage of tests to determine the extent of his heart condition, we see they then dump Tombstone into the prison population, and they hold the promise of curing his condition over his head if he behaves himself. However, being Tombstone the man quickly makes himself an enemy in the form of a super-strong goon who calls himself the Kangaroo. After his bum heart allows Kangaroo to get the better of him during their first encounter, we see Tombstone begins to plot his revenge, and to this end he forms himself a gang to carry out his wishes. However, when Tombstone sets his plan into motion and is ready to deliver the killing blow to Kangaroo, we see he's ambushed by a group of guards, who are eager to teach him a lesson.
Tombstone is a villain who I've never been able to work up much enthusiasm over, as he's never come across as a Spider-Man level opponent, so when these two square off there's never any sense of danger established. Now the format of this series acts to remove Spider-Man from the equation, and Daniel Way turns in a fairly interesting twist on the standard prison story, as in addition to the typical plot threads involving murderous inmates, plots to escape, and corrupt prison officials, Tombstone has to contend with a bum heart that seems to decide to give him trouble at the worst times. Now Daniel Way did have an uphill battle to fight here as I entered this issue completely disinterested in it's lead character, but as the issue progressed I found myself developing a very real interest in what happens next, and by the time the cliffhanger rolled around I must admit that I'm rather looking forward to the next chapter of this story. Now there's still a sense that this story isn't doing anything all the different from the typical prison story, but it's making such good use of it's well worn plot ideas that I'm pretty invested in the material.
One of the elements that I do like about this story is that it doesn't play down the idea that Tombstone is an outright bastard, so he'll fit the role as this story's protagonist. I mean the way the doctor acts in the opening scene acts as a perfect introduction to the character of Tombstone, as while his Hippocratic Oath forces him to try & save Tombstone's life, the dialogue makes it quite clear that this is the only reason why he would act to save him. There's also a equally telling scene later in the issue where we see Tombstone deals with a belligerent inmate by kicking the man several times in a fairly sensitive area of the human body. There's also a delightfully chilling scene in the shower, and the scene where he bullies his reluctant cell-mate into helping him is a good glimpse at how Tombstone makes people agree to help him. However while this issue doesn't hide the idea that Tombstone is a very evil person, it also offers up a couple fairly human scenes where you can actually see the idea that Tombstone is terrified by the idea that his heart is giving up the ghost, and there's nothing anyone can do to save him.
I don't believe I've ever seen the work of Leandro Fernandez before this issue, but I was quite impressed by this first look, and I'll keep an eye out for his/her name on future projects. The work does have a nice animated look to it, but it's still able to deliver the more serious-minded aspects of the material, with the opening scene in the hospital being a particularly strong example of this ability. The chaos of this opening scene is capture quite nicely by the art, with the look of pain on Tombstone's face on the credit page being a very effective means of pulling the reader into the story. There's also a nicely disturbing scene a bit later in the issue where we see Tombstone is given a checkup by the machines in the prison's lab. The encounter between Tombstone & the Kangaroo also has itself a nice sense of energy, and the impact shots look quite painful. There's also a great little sequence during this encounter where we see Tombstone's heart turns the villain's rage into terror. My only real problem with the art is that the members of Tombstone's gang are a bit too cartoonish in appearance, so it's difficult to view them as anything more than comic relief.
This issue was certainly more enjoyable than I had expected it to be going in, as writer Daniel Way takes the basic plots that one expects to find in stories set in prison, and manages to make pretty good use of them. Now there's no shocking twists in this issue beyond the revelation that Tombstone has himself a fairly serious heart condition, but the issue moves along at a fast enough pace that one never gets bored. The issue also has fun with the idea that Tombstone is an unredeemable creep who specializes in making trouble for himself & others. It also does a pretty nice job playing up the idea that Tombstone isn't afraid to play dirty. In fact this issue shows us that this is his preferred method of doing things. Still, I couldn't help but feel that Daniel Way could've exercised a bit more imagination on this story, as almost all of the plot elements that we encounter in this issue will be quite familiar to anyone who has watched more than half a dozen films set in a prison environment.
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