Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Steve McNiven (p), Dexter Vines (i), Morry Hollowell (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Plot: In Arizona, S.H.I.E.L.D. officers and Hank Pym supervise the training of new superheroes for the California Team of the Fifty States Initiative, while in the Baxter building, the Punisher works his way into the data core and retrieves the plans for "Number 42," the pro-registration's Negative Zone prison. Meanwhile, Sue Storm travels to Atlantis to ask Namor for his help, but he refuses. Later, the Secret Avengers plan their attack on Number 42. Super villains led by Diamondback want to help, but the Punisher viciously and mercilessly guns them down. This leads to a fight between the Punisher and Cap The Secret Avengers, now joined by Storm and her husband, make their way into Number 42 where Spider-Man says his spider-sense is out of control. The team is met by Iron Man and his team along with the Thunderbolts. Tony reveals that Tigra has been spying on the team, to which Cap retorts that he already knew this and that they also had a spy in Tony's ranks. Hulkling of the Young Avengers is revealed to be the spy impersonating Pym.
Commentary: There is some good dialogue throughout this issue. I enjoyed the funny comment on Greek gods which parodies comic book conventions which have various characters with the same name running around.
I think the most interesting sequence of the entire comic was Namor's exchange with Sue Richards. I haven't read enough Fantastic Four comics to know if Millar has drawn on previous Marvel continuity to devise this subplot of Marveldom's first family's matriarch being involved with Prince Namor but the fact Millar is willing to widen the chasm between Sue and Reed shows that there is no returning to the status quo, even for Marvel's first super hero team. It's a very interesting development.
Spidey says it's good to be back in his old costume, and I think the fans will agree. Everyone knew that the armored suit was made exclusively for Civil War and switching sides symbolically means going back to his old duds. Make no mistake about it, every move the "House of Ideas" makes seems calculated to coincide with a certain event. Soon Spidey will be donning his black costume in anticipation of the summer's upcoming blockbuster movie season. It's called marketing, my friends!
The first part of this issue ends with a great reaction from the Punisher upon super villians offering to help Cap's camp. Frank Castle doesn't compromise with criminals! This leads to a bloody skirmish between the Punisher and Cap, or at least the semblance of one since Castle doesn't strike back after Captain America beats him down. Presumably he has a lot of respect for Cap, though the latter thinks he's insane.
The Punisher continues to be the one character in a book where mischaracterization has become common place that is dead on every time he appears.
After the "moles" have been revealed, there's a dopey sequence in which both sides face off each other after Cap's side has freed the captive heroes from their respective cells in the Negative Zone prisons. Though McNiven should be given a lot of credit for his work on pages with multiple characters standing around (including Sentry, Ms. Marvel, the New Thunderbolts, Taskmaster, Mr Fantasitc and many others), usually the domain of more established artists such as George Perez and Phil Jimenez, this sequence is reminiscent of the opening credits to the old Batman series from the 60s and equally goofy.
It is frustating to realize that the entire issue has been a build-up to the royal smackdown which is sure to ensue in the series' final installment, and it also worries me that the ending will be rushed and more of a setup for subsequent Marvel Civil War aftermath series (advanced solicitations for some Marvel titles are sure to confirm this) than a suitable conclusion for this one. I guess only time will tell.
The artwork is still too grim and dark for my tastes. Though McNiven does a wonderful job of drawing all these super teams, I'm afraid that the lighter shades and tone of a comic book like Beyond are more to my preferences, but since this is more a personal choice than a knock on the overall style presented here, I won't dock it any bullets.
Final Word: Overall, a bit on the thin side plotwise, but still a satisfying enough read which makes you want to pick up the final installment.
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