"Running the Asylum, pt. 1"
Plot: In the first issue from the new creative team, nothing changes. Also, Captain Marvel finally shows up at Thunderbolts Mountain (which he's already done in at least two other titles). The former is good news. The latter is somewhat suspect in addition to tardy.
Comments: Christos Gage does his homework before taking on a new title, and he seems content not to fix what ain't broke when it comes to this one. He's got Bullseye back in action, Venom more psychotic than ever, Radioactive Man depressed at events in his recent oneshot, Songbird asserting her newly negotiated leadership, and a surprise in store for the always unreliable Swordsman (who was once half of Fenris).
The dialogue isn't as clever as it was under Ellis, but with team dynamics preserved, Gage lets the Norman Osborn we know use an extremely bitchy Moonstone in the mode she serves him best: to give him the most cynically apt rundown on team psychology she can offer. This roll call lets us know that Gage gets his characters, and it also provides a humorous moment when Karla reminds Norman that Songbird thinks one or both of them killed her mother. Neither of them blinks an eye as they refuse to confirm or deny any involvement in said crime.
The change in art means the loss of the photographic detail of Deodato studio, but it also means Norman looks like Norman again rather than like Tommy Lee Jones, and I like as few painfully obvious swipes as possible in my art. Blanco's clear, serviceable cartoonishness has more in common with former series artists Tom Grummet or Jim Califiore, and that's mighty good company. My only objection is Karla's butt-ugly costume, which is extremely unflattering to the team's resident brain, and the least interesting of any of her former looks. Upgrade needed there, desperately.
There are more surprises in the issue, the first being the return of ancient Champions villain Swarm, who probably hasn't seen the light of day in 30 years. Another surprising revival is somebody very important to Baron von Strucker, which is surely a long-term plotline rearing her head.
Of less certainty is Captain Marvel's role on the team. Is he to be a new member, or is "Secret Invasion" tying up a loose end in this title that the main story left dangling? Battling legally sanctioned former criminals seems an odd place for Mar-Vell to work out his problems, but Gage hits the right notes by having Songbird confront him verbally, alluding to her relationship to his dead oldest son.
This entertaining issue challenges my usual practice of dropping a title I liked when a creative team change occurs, fearful of it all going wrong; Gage and Blanco are keepers.
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