Writer: Bruce Jones
Artist: Mike Deodato Jr.
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with the mercenary who was hired by the Secret Conspiracy to obtain the golden disk booting up the disk on his computer. The book then looks in on Nadia who finds herself in a rather precarious position, as Banner has transformed into the Hulk, and the Hulk is currently towering over her. As the Hulk lifts her off the ground and tries to figure out whether she's a friend of foe, the book jumps back to the mercenary, as we see the disk contains video footage of a surgical procedure, in which a woman has her face removed, and then a new identity is surgically reattached. We then see the video jumps to where the bandages are being removed, and when our man gets a look at the new face he decided to increase his asking price for the disk. As the Secret Conspiracy responses by sending in a second operative who makes a failed attempt to kill our mercenary, we see this attempt doesn't keep him from repeating his offer to sell them the disk, and what's more we also learn the alias of the person on the disk is the infamous Mr. Blue. Meanwhile back with the Hulk we see Nadia manages to get Hulk calm enough that he reverts back into Banner, and while she doesn't tell him about the Hulk's arrival, Banner gets some hard to ignore clues that the Hulk was on the scene.
As is often the case on this book this issue adds to the mystery & intrigue, and to a certain extent I'm starting to grow a little concerned that we're never going to see any resolution to the various ideas that are bandied about in these pages. Now I'd like to think that Bruce Jones has some big chart posted on the wall at home that is keeping track of all the various ideas he's brought into play, and when it all starts to come together, I'll be singing this book's praises for how well it all tied together. However, there is something rather disconcerting about the idea of this book moving from arc to arc, without having really resolved anything beyond the most basic elements of the main plot. While the X-Men books from the 1990s hold the record for longest running unresolved subplots, this series is starting to look like a strong contender for the second slot, as I don't think the Hobgoblin mystery in the Spider-Man books went on for quite this long. Still, I do have to give credit for keeping things interesting, as the main reason I'm so eager to start seeing answers is because the book has done such a strong job of developing engaging questions, and revealing just enough information that one is never quite able to commit to solutions that you feel fully comfortable with.
While we don't really get any answers, the issue is still quite impressive in how it plays with the reader's expectations, as the encounter between Nadia & the Hulk is a great little scene where one can't help but be impressed by her ability to keep her head in the light of this major threat. There's also the big discovery in this issue as we learn Mr. Blue may not be the ally Banner believes them to be, and what's more any arguments one could make about this character not being Mr. Blue go right out the window thanks to the identity switching surgery. In fact if Bruce Jones takes this idea where it looks like he's heading I have to give him full credit for playing this hand so perfectly, as I don't think a single fan even came close to guessing the correct identity of Mr. Blue. Now it's rather difficult to talk in circles about this idea without revealing who it is that I believe we're being shown in the final panel, but in the interests of protecting the big reveal that I'm sure is imminent, I'm doing my best to hold my tongue. As for the secondary plot involving the Abomination, I do have to say that while the impending danger is being developed quite nicely, there is a part of me that's a little concerned that Bruce Jones is going to leave this potential fight simmering for too long, as we're three chapters in, and the two have yet to meet.
Mike Deodato Jr. providing the art is a real big plus, as his work on this book has convinced me that not only is he the perfect fit for this title, but his new style has to be one of the most impressive changes I've ever seen an artist undergo. I mean truth be told it's almost like he's a completely new artist, as this new material looks nothing like his previous work. The work certainly deserves full credit for it's ability to detail the story, as there a wonderful sense of terror established during the sequence where Nadia is confronted by the Hulk, and when she slaps him one is almost cringing at what the Hulk will do next. I also enjoyed the little moment where Banner spots the Hulk footprint in the sand, that effectively tells him more happened than he was told. There's also a nice bit of action in this issue as our agent working for the Secret Conspiracy finds his employers don't really trust him, and his fight against the killer they send to do him in is a fairly intense little fight. However, the highlight of this issue would have to be the scene involving the Abomination, as how can one not love the promise that is shown in the final shot, as the villain smiles in the darkness. As for the cover, it's a great looking shot, but I do have to ask what's the deal with the blue eyes?
A enjoyable issue that offers up a fairly interesting revelation on the final page. However, eighteen issues into his run on this book and Bruce Jones is still adding new elements to the underlying mystery, while on the other side of the equation we've received very little in the way of answers. Now speaking as an X-Files fan, who like many, became rather disillusioned with the series when it didn't seem to have satisfying resolutions for the mysteries it had slowly developed, I have to say I'm a little concerned by this book's similar writing style. I'm not saying that the book has to start providing answers, but there comes a point where one starts to wonder if Bruce Jones is simply adding more layers to the mystery to keep us from noticing that we haven't really received any concrete answers. Still this comic is one of the best on the stands when it comes to developing a sense that we are building toward something big, and this issue continues to keep one guessing where the story is heading next.
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