Writer: Christopher Priest
Artists: Joe Bennett (p), Crime Lab Studios (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with the body of a young women being thrown off a building, and we see her killers are annoyed that her body happened to land on their car below, instead of the dumpster it was supposed land in. We then jump to Oakland, where we find Jim Rhodes, who has fallen on hard times, as he's bankrupt, suffering from depression, and he appears to be haunted by the memory of a woman, as he's taken to calling every woman he meets Marcy. We then see him spurred into action by a phone call as we learn the woman murdered in the opening pages of this book was his younger sister. As he travels to New York to identify her body, we are left with the impression that he had lost touch with his sister, who we learn had fallen on hard times herself, thanks largely to a drug habit that had her selling herself to score another fix. However, family is family, and Jim Rhodes isn't going to let the six years in which he's never made any attempt to make contact with her stop him from tracking down her killers. As her ventures into the drug infested neighborhood where she was killed, we see he's able to draw himself into a heated conflict with the drug pushers that his sister ran with, and it is here that we see Jim Rhodes is still able to hold his own in a fight. However, when the police look to be unable to connect the people he brings in to the murder, we see Rhodes decides he's going to have to take it to the next level.
This opening issue gets everything off to a very strong start, as while the lion's share of the focus is centered upon Jim Rhodes, given he's the central player in this murder investigation it's only sensible that he would act as the primary player in the early stages of the plot. If nothing else this issue acts as a wonderful reintroduction to the character, as I haven't really been keeping track of the character since he left the pages of Iron Man, with the last time I remember seeing the character was in the early issues of the previous Captain America series, when he retrieved Cap's lost shield from the ocean floor. This issue offers up a Jim Rhodes who has been kicked into the gutter of life, as he's near penniless, haunted by a woman who has left his life, and it takes a tragedy that would leave most people an emotional wreck to spur him into action. The Jim Rhodes that Christopher Priest offers up is clearly a fallen man, and from this he's able to make his return to form seem even more impressive. I mean when he first enters the neighborhood looking for information on his sister's death I was almost certain that he was simply looking for an easy method of getting himself killed. However when the bullets start flying Jim Rhodes springs into action, and by the end of this sequence the character almost seems unstoppable.
As for the other cast members of this book, this issue doesn't really offer up much, as I'm sure only the regular readers of the "Black Panther" series will recognize the idea that the police officer sent to pick up the two murderers that Jim Rhodes had tied up is going to be a regular cast member in this book. However, we do get a better look at the new character that will be a part of the Crew, as we're introduced to Josiah X , as he looks like a man who knows how things are done in his neighborhood, and more importantly he knows how to get things done. The interaction between Josiah & Rhodes is also quite strong, as the two start off trading barbs before they settle into a pretty solid working relationship, that nicely reflects the idea that both of these men are very good at what they do. In fact the exchange between the two on the final page is a wonderful, yet decidedly simple overview of how the two men deal with the problems they run up against. This is a very interesting character dynamic and I can't wait to see what the less than experienced Kasper Cole brings to the mix. It also doesn't hurt that the murder mystery that is drawing these three together is actually quite intriguing, as we don't really know who killed Rhodes' sister, or why she was killed. I also enjoyed the idea that Rhodes did attempt to work within the law in the early stages of this investigation.
Joe Bennett is an artist whose work has always impressed me so I'm delighted to see his name in the credit box, and hopefully he's finally found his way onto a regular assignment. His work on this issue is some of the best I've seen from him, as right from the opening shot of the body slamming down onto the car hood, the art conveys a wonderful sense of energy. The sequence where Rhodes single-handily takes on an entire gang is a wonderful display of the character's ability to hold his own in a fight, and it also acts as a nice indicator that Joe Bennett knows how to deliver a visually dramatic action sequence. The art also managed to impress upon me its ability to convey the rather complex plots that Christopher Priest is fond of turning out, as while this opening issue is fairly easy to follow, a large degree of the credit should go to Joe Bennett, as he's able to clearly detail the material, so that there are no moments of confusion. In fact his ability to tell the story in a visual engaging manner is what really sold me on the art as there's some great moments in this issue where the art does a fantastic job conveying the mood & atmosphere of the story, such as the one page scene where Rhodes is making his way into the neighborhood, and the art almost takes us on a tour of the place, so that we get a very strong indication of the danger he's walking into.
A pretty enjoyable start, and oddly enough for a Christopher Priest written story, this opening issue is also a rather straight forward affair, with a single plot thread acting to draw all the characters together. Having Jim Rhodes' younger sister murdered does act as a pretty solid launching point, and the book also does some wonderful work establishing that Rhodes has fallen on some very hard times. In fact after his conversation with the police officer when he's called in to identify the body, I'd even go as far to label him as an unsympathetic bastard. However, the simple fact that he's putting his life on the line to track down her killers managed to somewhat temper this idea, and I'm always game for a display of a character's ability to battle their way out of a seemingly hopeless situation. The only real problem that I have with this book is that it really could've made a greater effort to identify Jim Rhodes for newer readers, as except for the out of continuity Chuck Austen maxiseries, the character hasn't exactly been active in the past five years.
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