What’s Been Happening: Major flashback time, as it turns out the kindly old duffer who Hughie unloaded his problems on in Scotland was actually Greg Mallory, former leader of the Boys, gone undercover to gather reconnaissance on Hughie and, in effect, on the Boys themselves since the Butcher took over. Concerning his performance during events among Hughie’s old mates and the drug trade some of them were involved in, Mallory awards a generous C-, finding Hughie failing in both nerve and wariness, acting out of anger and fear rather than conviction, and refusing to make harsh final solutions when they were warranted. Yet another in the series of harsh wakeup calls our nebbish anti-hero is prone to.
And he just got an earful from Annie too, his girlfriend whom one can see in a variety of ways (depending on which point of view character is looking). Is she a counter-agent from the other side? Is she a means to attack the Seven someday, or instead the worst traitor in their ranks? Or is she, as she says, her own sort of anti-heroine horrified by all she’s been subjected to in relation to having powers, and clinging desperately to Hughie because he’s the only genuinely nice person she’s ever met, who ever even gave her the time of day?
Guest artist McCrea is back, and while he’s a frequent Ennis collaborator who always gets the tone right, his lack of detail at times makes for pretty static compositions (as in the Hughie and Annie conversation, a series of very similar talking heads enlivened mostly by her stylish pink coat). However, the modern-day portion of the book does contrast nicely with the flashback, which sees McCrea and Burns achieve a kind of gritty realism that is an excellent foil for the reveal of Mallory’s involvement in World War II.
Yes, you heard right, it seems Compound V has life extending benefits, and of course Ennis could hardly leave the formative era of super-hero comics out of his series of satires on every super-group ever. Vought-American’s entry into the war effort would seem to be a pastiche of the Justice Society and the Invaders: we’ve got a dude with an eagle-emblazoned shield, a perky sidekick, a winged archer, a saucy chick in red and fishnets, and a couple of other guys in armor of various makes.
You know they’re going to need it, because the message of Mallory’s clearly bitter backwards look is heavy on the macho manpower and military ordinance, and colorist Tony Avina lays in those drab army greens and browns just to make the spandex of these “mystery men” pop all the more ridiculously. It’ll take a little more than gumption and a solid right hook to win the upcoming battle, methinks. Or even survive it.