Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artist: Andy Kubert
In the aftermath of the Queen's assassination our various heroes slowly become aware that there is an evil plot in motion, as Virginia recuperates under the care and protection of Stephen Strange, while Nicholas Fury has a meeting with the arriving King James who is set to take over the throne in the wake of the Queen's death, and looks ready to push an anti-Witchbreed agenda. Meanwhile, Matt's mission to recover the Templar treasure takes an unexpected turn.
This issue suffers a bit from the mid-series lull that seems to strike most miniseries of this length, as the setup material has pretty much been laid out in the previous issues, and it's a little too early to be starting in on the rousing climax, so this issue is stuck in the middle with nothing much to do beyond cool its heels. Now there's some material of interest to be found in these pages, as Nicholas Fury is called before the monarch-to-be, where he gets a pretty good chewing out for his failure to protect the Queen, and us readers get a fairly good indication that the new king is a rather evil fellow who quite likely played an active role in his predecessor's murder. There's also a somewhat unexpected betrayal in the middle of this issue as one of our heroes discovers the ally that he's put his trust in was simply waiting until he was no longer needed before slipping the knife in his back. The issue also offers up the back-story for a character who is starting to look more and more important as this series progresses, as we learn how Virginia acquired her unusual shape-shifting abilities, and how her protector Rojhaz entered her life. Still, in the end this issue is full of a few too many moments where I found myself getting a bit impatient with the rather slow pacing of this chapter, especially in light of the fact that so many interesting questions were set into motion in the previous issues.
As for the art, we've reached the halfway point of the miniseries and I'm still undecided over whether I like the look of this art, as in many ways I feel the work lacks a sense of definition, and it almost has a ethereal quality to it that makes the more dramatic scenes of the story seem less important. Than again I'm spent my entire comic reading life looking at bold ink outlines, so perhaps I'm simply having trouble seeing the benefits of this new style. I will say that it does seem to have an easier time conveying the lighting effects, as the various environments the story moves through are all beautifully lit, from the bright sunshine of the outdoors, to the cold, and damp looking confines of the caves below Doom's castle. I was a bit puzzled by the scene where Matt douses the candle and then takes out the two men holding the courier captive, as the overlapping effect doesn't seem to be detailing a single, continuous motion, by rather is looks like three separate versions of the character are attacking the two.
Given Neil Gaiman went out of his way to assure readers that this project wasn't the Marvel equivalent of an "Elseworlds" project I remain quite intrigued to see how he plans on shifting this radically altered landscape back into the more familiar confines of the Marvel Universe. However, at the moment he doesn't seem to be inclined to even offer up a hint of what exactly the deal is with this new world, as none of the characters seem to have the slightest clue that their world has been fundamentally altered, and they all seem to be perfectly settled into this new environment, with several of them coming with their newly altered backstories to suit this 17th century setting. However, this chapter of the story doesn't quite pack the forward momentum of its previous chapters, as the only real moment of note is a surprise betrayal, and even this scene is somewhat undone by the unexplained survival of her victim, who looks to have survived a plunge into a mile deep canyon with no real lasting damage. A slow paced issue, but one that hints nicely at the promising material yet to come.
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