Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Olivier Coipel (p), Andy Lanning (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with Captain America & the Avengers investigating the underground facility where the deadly virus was presumably created by a group of scientists working for the US government. As the investigation reveals that it was being designed as a weapon that could be unleashed upon foreign nations, they also discover that no cure was developed. With the bullet ridden walls suggesting that this facility was attacked, we see an overeager She-Hulk manages to place the team in grave danger when she rips open a set of massive doors, and sets free the squadron of A.I.M. agents who had gotten themselves trapped inside during their attack on this facility. The book then looks in on Tony Stark & T'Challa as the two manage to put aside their differences while they search for a cure to this deadly virus, but when they comes under attack by government troops, we see both heroes are knocked unconscious, as the leader of the troops that raided the lab state the Avengers have been charged with treason. Back at the underground labs, we see She-Hulk's suit is breached by a hail of bullets, thus exposing her to the virus, and we see she's not immune to its effects. What's worse we see Jack of Hearts' power seems to have a odd effect upon She-Hulk, as she transforms back into her human form at the worst possible moment.
It's always interesting to see Captain America's belief in America being put to the test, but Geoff Johns is guilty of overplaying the villainy card a little too much in this issue. I mean the horrific manner in which this weapon kills its victims was more than enough to convince readers that this is not a good project, so the revelation that the scientist were working on a way for the virus to selectively choose which race it was going to attack struck me as overkill. Now given this story is set within the Marvel Universe, he could've easily have tied into the mutant/human tensions by having the scientists working on a way to target the mutant genes, but having them working on way so the virus infects only non-whites felt like a story element that was a bit behind the times. Still there is some solid story value to the scenes where Captain America is moving among the bodies of the soldiers, and the idea that the virus was a man-made weapon is a terrifying idea. The involvement of A.I.M. is also a fun surprise, as this is exactly the type of weapon that they would love to get their hands upon, and the issue also manages to keep the readers on the edge of their seats when a member of the Avengers that entered the cloud looks to be infected in the final pages of this issue. Of course I'll be rather annoyed at Geoff Johns if he actually kills this character.
I do have to wonder if the Black Panther can actually be charged with treason given he's the recognized leader of a foreign nation, and as such wouldn't he be protected from this charge by diplomatic immunity, not to mention the simple fact that he's not an American citizen. Then again the idea that he could be knocked unconscious by an electrical attack while he's in costume is also a bit suspect, though knowing T'Challa he could very well be faking his unconsciousness, to give him the time he needs to reassess the situation. Still the idea that the Avengers' new status as a separate body has put them at odds with the American government is a unique shift in the status quo, though speaking as a fanboy I would've preferred to have S.H.I.E.L.D. act as the group that moved in on the Avengers, as if nothing else I would've liked to see Captain America & Nick Fury standing on opposing sides. As it stands, it's a little difficult to get too excited by this conflict when one side is so clearly in the wrong, and it would've been nice the see the other side represented by people who could conceivably defend the actions of the U.S. government. I realize it's easier for a writer to divide the sides into the black & white hats, but it also results in a story where there's very little doubt about the outcome, as the villains have been clearly labeled, and the story isn't required to dig any deeper.
Olivier Coipel is really emerging as an exciting presence on this book, as he looks to have a firm grasp of how to deliver the big visual punch when the story calls for it. From the look of disappointment etched on Captain America's face as he gathered the dog tags, to the inhuman appearance of the Vision as he stands in the smoking crater that was made by the grenade, it's the art that truly sells these moments in the issue. There's also some strong work on the scene where Tony & T'Challa find themselves under attack, and the visual that this issue ends with is pretty much ensured I'll be counting the days until the next issue. I also have to give him credit for making the A.I.M. agents look pretty darn cool, as while the old school fan in me missed the bucket head helmets, and one has to wonder how the Avengers recognized these guys as A.I.M. agents right from the word go, our first shot of these villains does project a nice evil vibe. There's also some nice little details like the Vision's insides becoming momentarily visible when he diverts his energies to other tasks, or the way the art manages to project Jack of Hearts' cocky attitude using his body language to convey the sense that he's not treating the situation as seriously as he should. We also get a lovely painted cover by J.G. Jones, which is always a welcome addition to any comic.
There's some wonderful moments in this issue, from one of the most impressive reminders of the Vision's inhuman nature as he talks to a group of dying A.I.M. agents, to the downright harrowing cliffhanger that this issue offers up. There's also a nice Captain America moment in the opening pages of this issue, and the tension between Iron Man & the Black Panther continues to make for some very enjoyable reading. However there are also a couple moments in this issue where Geoff Johns is far too obvious in his bid to cast the villains of this story as outright baddies, and personally I feel this story would've been far better served by at least making an attempt to justify the actions of the group responsible for this horrific weapon. Sure Captain America is allowed to express his regrets about the soldiers that were killed guarding this facility, but having the scientists working to make it so that it would only kill non-whites felt like an ill-conceived attempt at social commentary, that would've found a better fit admits stories produced in the 1970s.
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