Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Olivier Coipel (p), Andy Lanning (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with a group of medical research scientists going over a sample of the red gas that was unleashed upon the Mount Rushmore region, and they reach the conclusion that it's highly accelerated version of the flesh eating virus. As Iron Man & Black Panther find themselves ushered out of these labs by belligerent government officials, who effectively state the Avengers help is not welcome, the book then jumps to the medical camp that has been set up to handle the mounting victims who were exposed to the expanding gas cloud, and Warbird has to step in to calm a military general who was freaking out. However, while doing so she may have exposed herself to the virus, as her containment suit is ruptured. We then move inside the cloud where we see the Vision is dealing with the idea that if this cloud of death isn't stopped, he would be left completely alone. We also see his fellow Avengers are having problems of their own, as Captain America is troubled by Jack of Heart's rather flippant attitude during this crisis, while She-Hulk is struggling with the claustrophobic feel of her containment suit. As the group nears the heart of the cloud, we see they uncover an underground bunker and after they make their way inside, they make a rather chilling discovery about the cloud's possible origins.
The main plot doesn't advance forward all that much, as all this issue really offers up is a better look at the effect the cloud has on people who are exposed to it, and the last page delivers a heads up regarding where this cloud likely came from. Still, Geoff Johns is a writer who understands the importance of developing a threat, and by the end of this issue not only have we been given a very good look at the danger this gas cloud poses, but the last page pretty much ensures that Captain America is going to be asking questions he may not want to hear the answers to. This issue also gives us our first good look at the Avengers' new status as an independent world power, and how this has impacted their relationship with the American government, or at least a decidedly hostile segment of it. In fact if I had to make one quibble about this issue, it's that the scene where Iron Man & the Black Panther are chased away, these government agents come across as a little too eager to slap aside the helping hand the Avengers are offering, especially when one considers that there are some problems that America will need the Avengers to help them with. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that the book makes these characters' villainous motives a little too transparent.
The one thing this book does continue to display is a very strong understanding of the personalities of these characters, and how they would interact with each other. I mean the highlight of this issue would have to be the continuation of the tensions that were established between Iron Man & the Black Panther in T'Challa's monthly series, and I can't help but love the fact that the book makes it quite clear that of the two, T'Challa is still far & away the better of the two when it comes to manipulating a situation to his advantage, with T'Challa's final line being a perfect Black Panther moment. There's also some nice work being done on the Scarlet Witch/Vision relationship, as we see the trip through the red cloud manages to bring one of the Vision's greatest fears to the surface, and with a simple little gesture, the book manages to effectively shatter the wedge that previous writers had driven between these two characters. There's also some nice work done with Warbird as she deals with an irrational general who is spooked beyond reason, and I also enjoyed the way that She-Hulk reacted after her little moment of weakness. Also while I'm not the world's biggest fan of the character, I can't deny that Geoff Johns is doing some great work with the Scarlet Witch & her power.
Olivier Coipel is turning out some truly amazing work in these pages, and I have to say that this issue left me even more excited that he's the book's new regular artist, as he's quite good at thinking big when it comes to the visuals. From the nightmarish shot of Mount Rushmore, with the corpses littering the foreground, to the visual impact of that final page which is perfectly introduced by the look of horror on Captain America's face on the preceding page, the art does a wonderful job selling the threat. There's also some nice little moments, like the departure trail that Iron Man leaves behind after he leaves the Black Panther, and the sequence where the Scarlet Witch uncovers the hidden bunker & She-Hulk rips it open. The art also manages to convey the utter nightmarish quality of the cloud, as we get a good look at the effect it has on the human body, as the Avengers move about within the cloud, and encounter the victims who didn't make it out. My only real quibble with the art is that the containment suits make it a little difficult to tell who's who, and while the dialogue is pretty good at reflecting the various personalities, there were moments where I found myself wishing the art had found a way to identify the characters beyond the clear bubble helmets.
The story is moving forward a little slower than I would like to see, but I will give Geoff Johns the benefit of the doubt, as the issue does a pretty solid job of developing the threat, and we get a pretty solid, if not overly surprising revelation on the final page, as we learn where this deadly gas was developed, and by whom. Where this issue really earns its keep though is with its character interaction & development, as there's some great moments in this issue. From yet another wonderful clash of personalities between Iron Man & the Black Panther, to a fairly touching moment between the Scarlet Witch & the Vision, this issue is sure to leave Avengers fans happy. The book also delivers a pretty solid moment where Warbird gets a chance to show she's an ideal second-in-command behind Cap, and one does have to love the sense of betrayal that is conveyed in the final lines of this issue.
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