This issue, US super soldier Mike Battle teams up with a suave British agent, who turns out to be so competent, reliable and tough that he could easily be mistaken for an American! However, this isn't the Quantum of Ballcocks tie-in one might expect given the timing of the issue, although there are enough nods to the Bond series here and there to keep those looking for such things happy. Instead, the issue is more of an homage to Jim Steranko's famous Nick Fury run, complete with a perfect pastiche of the classic cover for Agent of SHIELD #4.
The usual spoofs and in-jokes are all present and correct, but once again the true strength of the title is a solid adventure narrative running underneath all the japery. It's exciting and well-paced, and many a professional superhero writer could learn much from Pearce's approach to storytelling; the writer even has some fun with the physical layout of the comic, treating the whole as a storytelling device, rather than simply a medium to deliver the narrative. We're not talking Chris Ware type shenanigans here, but it's still fun to see a creator going that little bit further and thinking about how the comic works as an object. The main story ends with a happy announcement, then there's the usual letters page, then a surprise epilogue that throws that ending into doubt. Part of me has always been a bit uncomfortable with the "interruption" of the letters page, but it works well here, heightening the drama and confounding the reader's expectations.
The issue looks good too, as Pearce delivers his best art so far. The linework is bold and confident and the storytelling is energetic, a perfect fit for the tone of the story. Pearce doesn't shirk on backgrounds and detail either, and turns in some complex environments as backdrops for the action. There's only one panel (a shot of a multi-participant brawl) which betrays some slightly choppy figure work, but all in all, the visuals show the same dedication and attention to detail already evident in the writing. I don't know how much material the creator has in mind for this title, but the fictionalized publication history for Mike Battle includes almost a century of comic adventures, and if Pearce can keep up this level of quality, I wouldn't mind seeing the whole lot.
As a bonus, my review copy came with a flyer advertising the newly remastered anniversary edition of WATCHBLOOD, essentially What If... Rob Liefeld Had Created Watchmen? I don't know if this is going to be a real product, but I do hope so, as the Liefeld pastiche seen in a previous issue of SMB: TGAH was spot on.
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