Writer: Al Ewing
Artist: Paco Medina
Inker: Juan Vlasco
Color Artist: Jesus Aburtov
The Secret Empire took over America, and all hell broke loose for the Avengers. Cannonball was caught in a space explosion and presumed deceased. Berto was shot by an AIM traitor and left to die in a Hydra holding cell. His cellmate, Toni Ho, and Red Hulk were also apprehended. Only Squirrel Girl and Enigma are free, having teleported to relative safety in Paris, where they encountered even more Hydra agents. Basically everything sucks.
I hope you like Dr. Toni Ho, cause this issue is pretty much all about her. It starts with a flashback to her childhood, when she learned that her dad died after saving Tony Stark’s life and helping build the first Iron Man armor. Toni compares his sacrifice to her current predicament- locked in a Hydra detention center with a dying Sunspo… er, I mean Citizen V. This codename begs the question: why? And who are Citizens 1 through 4 (or A through U)? But I digress.
Berto’s powers, already affected by the M-Pox mutant virus, were pushed into overdrive after being shot by an energy flare. He looks awful- shiny jet black skin, as his power usually manifests, but slumped over and mumbling incoherently. Without any tools, and being watched by Hydra guards, Dr. Ho has to figure out some miracle to save him, and then presumably, get the hell out of jail.
Putting on her thinking cap, Toni deduces that the TV screens in their cell are monitoring them. After “innocently” covering them with Berto’s jacket, a guard comes by 16 minutes later to remove it. That’s as much lag time as she has to work her magic. Checking their cell’s vending machine, she discovers nothing but foil wrapped protein bars and gum. Before she can explore further, though, she’s sent to mandatory exercise, which is essentially walking in a circle next to Philip Vogt. They engage in a whispery chat which is basically just a bit of cross-promotion for The Ultimates series and will neither make any sense nor be of any interest to you if you don’t read that title. Toni Ho feels the same, and cuts him off, breaks his glasses, and pockets one of the earpieces as a makeshift tool.
Back in her cell, Toni macguyvers some sort of power regulating headband for Citizen 5 (yeah, that name isn’t any less ridiculous the more I type it) using the ear piece, a belt, gum, and foil wrappers (remember the vending machine?), but the guards return sooner than expected. Toni slips the headband on Berto, and then manages to blather to the guards long enough for him to pull himself back together. The issue ends with Roberto rising from his bed, facing the guards and crackling with solar power. He’s aliiiiiiiiiive!!!
Oh, other stuff briefly happened, too. Cannonball is ALSO imprisoned, but not dead, about to be sold into intergalactic slavery on some alien planet. He is suddenly, improbably approached by some American professorial type named Howard Mason, who… offers him a teaching job? Weird. Also, Squirrel Girl and Enigma continue their teamup with a bunch of European heroes, which include a newly resurrected Ares for some reason, and Brian Braddock- Captain Britain- who is apparently a ginger now? Again, weird. Anyway, they storm a Hydra stronghold in Paris, but we’re left hanging as to how it turns out. Next issue, I suppose.
The Good, the Bad, and the Meh:
I like Al Ewing, I do. I think he does an excellent job of slowly building stories to an exciting crescendo. He balances action and character interaction well, which is a challenge that not everyone can meet (cough Uncanny Avengers cough). And, stupid new codename notwithstanding, he’s done magnificent work with Roberto DaCosta, who I have always adored. But this series is just not doing it for me. It showed a lot of chutzpah on his part to take a bunch of the supporting characters from New Avengers and make them the core team of this book. Unfortunately, while they worked well as supporting characters, they just aren’t interesting enough to carry a title on their own. Dr. Toni Ho’s smarts and grace under pressure are admirable here, but I just kept thinking I would rather be watching Songbird or Wiccan in her position instead.
And the whole Paris side storyline is a non-starter for me. I don’t know why marvel is so invested in making Doreen Green a thing, and I have tried keeping an open mind for awhile, but I just. don’t. care. Especially not when she’s teamed up with a bunch of euro-superheroes I’ve barely heard of,except for Brian Braddock who looks like some random guy doing mediocre Captain Britain cosplay. Oh, and the other side storyline, with Sam? What is even happening? Are we supposed to know who this Howard mason guy is? It’s just bizarre, and not particularly enthralling. Also, as fantastic as Berto’s character evolution is, Cannonball’s shift from strategic, focused X-Force leader to this wishy-washy rookie continues to frustrate the hell out of me.
Artwise, I have no complaints. I wouldn’t consider Paco Medina an all-time favorite, but he’s talented and consistent, and his pencils help tell the story and are in line with the overall tone OF THE BOOK. As far as colorist Jesus Aburtov, it’s all good except that CAPTAIN BRITAIN IS A FREAKING BLOND AND I WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS NEW RED HAIR.
A mildly entertaining but pretty forgettable issue, which is what I could say about the issue as a whole. Hopefully next issue we’ll see Berto kicking ass and taking names.