Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artist: Andy Kubert
As our heroes make plans to travel to the New World, we see Doctor Strange pays a steep price in order to learn the identity of the time traveler whose presence in the past has brought the Marvel Universe into existence 400 years before its time. Meanwhile, the Grand Inquisitor manages to make his escape from King James, and he too makes plans that will likely carry him into direct conflict with our heroes efforts to right the time line.
I have to say I imagine my expression mirrored Peter's when we arrived at the point of the story where a lead character is beheaded, as this is a truly unexpected plot twist that I had not seen coming. This scene is also a wonderful display of the sinister qualities of one of the book's villains as King James' smug expression in the background of this scene is captured perfectly. There's also a powerful sequence where we see Magneto makes his escape and this scene has one eagerly anticipating the moment when he arrives to impede the progress of our heroes, as his power levels look to be quite imposing, and his ruthlessness is also full display in this sequence. The big revelation in the final pages is also worth a mention, as I must confess it took an e-mail from person who had read my reviews to open my eyes about the identity of this character, and I look forward to next issue's explanation for how this character came to travel into the past, and how their presence resulted in the emergence of the Marvel Universe four hundred years before its time. Also while they don't do much in this issue, I have to say I greatly enjoyed the exchanges between the members of the Fantastic Four, as the transplanting of this group into this earlier era works perfectly with the group's mission status as explorers of the unknown, as the New Land act as a fantastic new realm that out foursome have already traveled to. In fact I'd love to get a miniseries that followed the adventures of this group, as they explored the New Lands, and did battle with the various dangers like the dagger mouthed lions and hairy oliphants. In fact from Ben's description I'd guess the New Lands isn't North America, but rather it's the Savage Land.
I'm still undecided when it comes to the digitally painted art combo of Andy Kubert and Richard Iasnove, as there are times when I feel it looks washed out, but there are other times when I have to say the art looks absolutely gorgeous. I will say that the art does a fantastic job with its big action scene, as the Grand Inquisitor's escape is a wonderfully ominous display of the character's power. I also loved the joyful innocence that we see on the face of the young Virginia when King James states he's not going to execute Stephen Strange for being a magic user, and her look when she learns King James was just being facetious. There's also some nice work on the page where the execution is carried out, as Peter's expression in that final panel really sells that scene without actually showing the beheading. There's some nice big impact visuals like the visual spectacle that follows the death of one of our heroes, and the sudden change of expressions by the character in the final panels is surprisingly effective at delivering the big surprise.
There's a couple unexpected deaths in this issue, and the last page offers up a truly surprising revelation as we learn the identity of the time traveler. However, given this is the next-to-last chapter of the story I had to say I was a little disappointed by the slow forward progress that we receive in this issue. I mean decades of comic book reading have conditioned me to expect that this is the point of the story where the stakes are supposed to be raised to a ridiculously high level, with the big, bad villain standing moments from victory, and our heroes seemingly helpless to stop them. Now Neil Gaiman is an award winning writer so I fully expect I'll be happy when I put down that final issue, but frankly there is a very real sense that our heroes are arriving at their goals a little too easily, as even with a pair of deaths in this issue, we discover one of them acts as a necessary move, as the hero had to die before they were able to gain access to information that would aid our heroes. Now Magneto's big escape is fairly ominous and one has to imagine the character is going to arrive to muck up the works as our heroes are busy trying to restore the proper timeline. However, the truth of the matter is that we've arrived at the stage of the story where most writers would've pulled out all the stops to set up a memorable climax, and Neil Gaiman seems content to keep things chugging along at a rather subdued pace that doesn't exactly leave me with any expectations of seeing a climax that will reward the reader's patience.
Off With His Head:
Another issue that manages to be entertaining enough but once again leave me with the feeling that there's something missing. I mean there's some fairly big developments in this issue as a key character in the story executed, and another character dies of the injuries they received in the previous issue. However, there are a few too many sections of the issue where the characters are discussing elements of the story rather than actually taking part in it, as most of our heroes spend the issue on a ship traveling to the New Lands, and the only action in this issue results from the Grand Inquisitor's escape. I'm also a bit concerned that we only have one issue left in this tale and the story still has a great deal on it's plate, which leaves me concerned some plot elements be resolved by returning the time traveler to his proper time rather than receiving a proper resolution. I mean King James is a villain who I really don't expect to see again, and as such one wonders why so much effort was made to develop him into one of this book's primary villains when it looks like he'll play no role in the climax. In any event I am glad to see Grand Inquisitor is being drawn to the site where the story will arrive at its big climax
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