Writer: Bruce Jones
Artist: Mike Deodato Jr.
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with the Secret Conspiracy doing a S.P.E.C.T.R.E. impression as one of the underlings who failed in their assigned task is treated to a rather horrific death. We then see the unseen leader makes mention of releasing something called the Kri, whose very mention causes the surviving underling to become extremely agitated. We then look in on Banner who is busy in conversation with the man who was following him last issue, and after the two discuss a plan which will send Banner to meet a potential ally in New Mexico, we see this man is summarily executed by the Secret Conspiracy. We then look in on the mysterious Mr. Blue, who is busy getting herself cleaned up in the desert cafe that Nadia Blonsky runs, and we see the two woman are not exactly best of friends, as Mr. Blue doesn't seem to approve of Nadia's willingness to sleep with Banner to advance her interests. The book then looks in on Doc Samson and Sandra Verdugo, who abandon the underground base after Samson uses the computers to locate Sandra's missing child, that Samson has recently learn is also his child. As these two are attacked on route by a helicopter, with Sandra taking a bullet in the head, and their car sent end over end in flames, we see the issue ends with Mr. Blue and Nadia coming under attack by the Kri, which have surrounded their desert hideaway.
I do think the X-Files comparison that is often made about Bruce Jones run is an even better fit as the story moves forward as much like the X-Files when this book first started out the idea of a secret conspiracy taking action against Banner, mysterious allies that left readers uncertain which side they owed their allegiance to, and the teaser bits of insight that are offered up were enough to keep me quite happy. However, much like the X-Files eventually my desire to start seeing some answers to the questions started to steadily increase until it reached a point where I was somewhat annoyed to learn next week's episode was a conspiracy related chapter, and not a monster of the week, as once again we would get caught up in the labyrinth of half answers, and big revelations that seemed to contradict what we had gotten before. Now, much like the X-Files you can see a genuine effort is being made to offer up a compelling product and clearly the creators involved are of the belief that the mystery is riveting enough to sustain one's interest, but they underestimate the patience of the audience, as there's only so many times one can be offered up the promise of gaining some clarity into the big mystery, before you simply stop believing this promise. Than again this arc has been the one that Bruce Jones has said will provide answers, so maybe just maybe he might be done yanking our chain.
The issue does have a greater sense of urgency to it as we do get a better look at the Secret Conspiracy, and while I don't like the revelation that they've got a disinformation campaign in motion as this means we can expect at least one of two false reveals, the simple fact that we know such a campaign exists is enough to leave me a little more cautious about accepting the information being offered up. We also see Banner is busy getting answers instead of simply running around like a headless chicken, and the death scene of one of his contacts makes it seem like Banner's search for information is being closely monitored, which means Banner is likely heading straight into a trap. We also have Doc Samson and Sandra Verougo rushing around trying to locate her kidnapped son, while bantering back and forth about the recent revelation that it's his son as well, and this plot thread gets a particularly exciting finish, though given this character has been shot in the head before, it's not a huge shock, though seeing Samson's reaction to these attackers should be a lot of fun. Finally we have the ever mysterious Mr. Blue, who is busy running around in various states of undress in the middle of the desert with Nadia Blonsky, and while this plot doesn't really offer up any new insight, it does end on a particularly exciting note, that made for a rather solid cliffhanger.
Having Mike Deodato Jr. on art certainly helps this book considerably as his work is able to capture the more horrific elements of the issue quite nicely, as the scene where the lackey is dissolved by the organic acid is a truly disgusting sequence, as is the scene where the other operative is essentially cooked alive inside the steam room. There's also some solid work on the moments where the dangers are essentially lurking in the shadows, as there's a wonderful sense of danger conveyed during the scene where Banner is moving through the airport, or in the final pages as the two woman discover they are surrounded by some truly nightmarish creatures. I mean we don't even get a good look at the creatures that are threatening these two, but the art does a wonderful job convincing the reader that perhaps it's for the best that the women can't see what it is they are facing. There's also a fairly solid display of action when Doc Samson's speeding car is attacked by a helicopter, as the art does a nice job of showing us the people attacking them are using highly coordinated attacks. Mostly though the art is worth a mention because it does a wonderful job of placing the story in a very real looking environment, as the characters look real, as do the expressions, and the body language that is used to covey their various emotional states.
I will concede that this issue does deliver the sense that we are moving somewhere important, and based on the comments I'm read online from Bruce Jones himself, I was left with the impression that is the arc that will reward readers with some answers. However, based on the track record this series has, I'll believe this when I see it, as I already half expect this arc to finish up by offering up new questions instead of resolving the ones already on it's plate. As for the issue itself, there are moments where I find I'm a little disappointed by the rather conventional aspects being offered up as the Secret Conspiracy seems to be of the mind that the best way to operate their organization is to kill anyone who fails in an assignment, or comes to know to much about the true goal of the organization, or looks like they might not be 100% committed to an organization that will kill you at the drop of a hat. This issue is also a classic example of how to offer up a moment where it looks like we're seeing something very important, when really we're simply getting a repeat showing of something we've already seen, and it's not clearer this second time that it was the first time out. Some solid action in the final pages looks rather promising though.
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