Writers: Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza
Artists: Barry Kitson (p), Gary Erskine (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
As the Avengers work to bring down the Cobalt Man who has hooked up to a nuclear power plant, and looks to be on the verge of unleashing a nuclear meltdown, we see the Avengers efforts are not meeting with much success. However, the Thunderbolts arrive and do a pretty admirable job of resolving the crisis, but in the aftermath the group of former villains run off with the depowered Cobalt Man. We then see the Avengers poor performance was all part of a clever ploy to learn more about the Thunderbolt's current activities.
The final page of this issue offer up a clever little plot twist that I must confess I didn't see coming, which deserves full credit as the writing wasn't exactly hiding the fact that there was something wrong with the picture, as the Avengers put forward one of their most awkward looking efforts as they tried to stop Cobalt Man. However, instead of arriving at the idea that perhaps the poor performance was the direct result of a plan that the Avengers had put together, I instead played right into my fanboyish mentality as I was mentally preparing my scathing commentary on how this issue made the Avengers look like a group of bumbling idiots in order to sell us on the idea of how effective the Thunderbolts had become. Instead the issue offers up one of those moments where one is left slapping the forehead, as the writing offers up a plot element that addresses the perceived problems perfectly. In any event this plot twist is also made even more interesting in that it would appear that Hawkeye was left out of the loop when it came to that aspect of the plan, and being the temperamental sort that he is I can see how this treatment by his teammates is going to result in an interesting confrontation with Captain America. There's also a couple fun little moments that I rather enjoyed, as I had to smile at Baron Zemo's gaff about the name of the local football team, and the little exchange between Captain America and Zemo worked exceptionally well, as one can practically feel the seething hatred steaming off the normally calm, cool, and collected hero. I also enjoyed the idea that it was Hawkeye's orders that spurred the Thunderbolts into action.
Barry Kitson's work on this issue isn't the most impressive effort I've ever seen from him, but a sub-par effort is still better that many artists best efforts. The art does have a nice simple clarity to it that's quite charming, as the arrival shot of the Avengers is a great looking image of the team, and I have to give the art full makes for the clever way it manages to place a character at the site of the battle without spoiling the big surprise, and when one looks back on the opening battle with the new knowledge it's rather clever at how many visual clues that the art offers up on the situation without actively spoiling the surprise. The art also manages to deliver the final page surprise with the proper sense of impact, as the last page visual is a great image. There's also a nice looking sequence where we see Hawkeye is in the middle of a training session, and I have to say I also rather enjoyed the sense of discovery that the art manages to convey as Hawkeye enters the lab.
I realize that artists hate stories where the character have to be sealed inside environmental suits as it makes it difficult for the readers to identify the respective heroes, but when the story offers up the idea that a character is building to a nuclear melt down, and the art has this character seething with energy, it always bugs me when we have the characters running around expressing no concern about being exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. Now I realize that in comics exposure to radiation more than often results in superpowers, since it's not likely that any member of the Avengers is going to be given a second set of powers in the pages of a miniseries, it would've been nice to see at least some effort to show the team had recognized they were battling a radiation based villain. I mean if nothing else having them running around with no protection against radiation exposure makes the threat less convincing, as it tells the reader that the main danger that the villain can pose to the heroes during the battle doesn't even look to be a concern. The issue also doesn't really deal with the idea that the Avengers could address the problem of the overloading reactor by taking the steps to manually shut down the reactor itself, as both Iron Man and the Vision were capable of accessing the control rods without dropping dead from exposure, and while their inability to deal with the crisis was a key plot point, having them seemingly caught twiddling their thumbs as the core was melting down would make the Thunderbolts suspicious.
He's Not Evil, He Just Looks That Way:
The surprise twist on the final page helped to elevate the book, as I was ready to write this issue off as a poor portrayal of the Avengers, until the final page opened my eyes to what the big hook of this issue was. Now that I sit back and look at the complete picture I have to say it's one of the more clever plans that the Avengers have come up with for dealing with a sinister sounding plan, as most times the Avengers typical response upon learning of a worrisome plot, it's to tackle it head on, so this issue's different spin is a refreshing change of pace. The issue also manages to hold up it's end when it comes to the Thunderbolts as we still haven't fully committed to the idea that the plan the Thunderbolts are working on is a sinister one, as while there are ominous signs, there's also a feeling that the members of the Thunderbolts that are wearing the white hats also look to be embracing Zemo's project as something that will benefit the entire planet. The issue also sets up what I'm expecting to be an explosive confrontation between Hawkeye and Captain America, as we see Hawkeye has been kept out of the loop.
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