Scott Beatty finally moves things out of the VR arena. Welles falls to a somewhat ghoulish comeuppance, but given her tacit approval of Number of the Beast she deserves it. She was Condoeeza Rice to General Somerset's Donald Rumsfield. Good riddance. The Paladins walk among the humans again. As the High takes out the trash, the Authority crash the party in the final pages.
Beatty in this chapter introduces a new character named Slyxx, and he's important for several reasons. First, he's the alien that designed the VR prison. Clearly I've been reading comic books too long. I simply took the idea of virtual reality as a given. I didn't question where the technology came from. Slyxx is as much of a prisoner as the Paladins. Though given amnesty, he is still under the Pentagon's thumb. Second, he creates a counterpoint to the lack of honor in the entire chain of command: "Even my kind considered a slumberer's dreams and thoughts inviolable in the sleepnet, General Somerset."
The soldiers treated the dreams of their prisoners as entertainment. Regardless of rank, the military were either sleazy voyeurs or the enablers of such behavior. This makes the High's payback fitting. Even an "inhuman monster" would not do such a thing to its enemy, but the government invaded the privacy of its former heroes.
That's the concept that gives Number of the Beast depth. Beatty creates a criminal situation that every reader can immediately identify. You feel uneasy about reading about this treatment of the good guys. The first two issues of Number of the Beast let you become involved with the Paladins' lives, and as the layers peeled back to reveal the eyes of the government, you realized that these heroes deserving of praise were getting nothing they deserved.
The contempt for the heroes is underlined by the liner notes on the end page sketches. The conceit is that these notes weren't written by Beatty but by General McCandles in 1947. His prejudice, religiously-fueled hatred drips from the words.
With this issue, Number of the Beast gains two more artists. Normally, that's a death sentence for maintaining the quality of a book. However, Brian Stelfreeze and Andy Smith smoothly mesh their art with the layouts of Chris Sprouse. In fact it's very difficult to see their styles in what looks to be just really good Sprousework. The weird thing is that these artists are actually talented enough that their individual styles wouldn't have become intrusive, yet their respect for Sprouse seems to be key to their rendering.
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