*If you came here looking for a potentially updated body count... sorry, this review's spoiler-free!*
As expected after last issue's cliffhanger, issue #9 revolves around Apex and why she's a terrible, terrible person. Buffy fans are sure to draw some parallels to Glory and, while I didn't think her origin story was particularly engaging, it did an able job establishing the character. While writer Dennis Hopeless does make the plot take a few steps forward, it's Kev Walker who continues to be the real star of this book. Even if you're steaming from the ears over Hopeless putting some of your favorite characters in a kill or be killed scenario, there's no denying the fact that this book looks terrific. Facial expressions are spot on, pulling us into this abysmal scenario and seeing how each character is holding up. Action is delightfully fluid and, thanks to Jean-Francois Beaulieu's coloring, each energy blast or impact is gorgeous and lively.
As if there wasn't already enough to worry about, the new conflict surrounding Apex is definitely a somewhat interesting variable. Initially, I was concerned over the motivation that would place these characters at each other's throats, but the dramatic events are piling up and, soon enough, it'll be understandable why they may or may not be more prone to dealing with certain characters in a lethal fashion.
Believe it or not, I actually like how Hopeless is handling X-23. He's keeping her on a moral path and it's clear she's using any and all restraint possible. She's developed so much as a character over the years, so I am concerned knowing she'll eventually try to rip apart Hazmat (more trigger scent, perhaps?). But in the meantime, I'm pleased with her decisions and her drive to avoid fights -- if possible, of course. Speaking of Hazmat, where is she and Reptil? I find it a tad odd to not chime in on them over the past two issues. We'll obviously see more from them in the future, but a status update after their encounter with X-23 would certainly be appreciated.
Every now and then a tale has a moment that makes you want to scream at the character out of sheer frustration. You know, something like, "What are you doing?!?!" Yeah, this issue has one of those moments towards the end. Sure, we all knew Apex would eventually take control again, but I would have loved to see more from Tim before that happened. I will admit, though, his final remarks definitely have my interest piqued. He came off as a glimmer of hope for resolving the situation, but now it appears he doesn't have the courage to truly stop Apex's terror. Put in that situation, would you honestly sacrifice your own life to save them? I know it's easy for us to think we would be that noble, but given the circumstances, his lack of courage is understandable. Will that change? Only time will tell. Seeing as he may be developing feelings for Death Locket, I'd like to believe so.
Nico's reaction to Chase felt totally out of left field. It went from a somewhat rational debate to a vicious and merciless verbal assault. I understand they're young and at that age people can certainly lose their cool at a moment's notice, but this seemed over the top and unnecessarily harsh. In my opinion, it was clearly thrown in there just to reduce the group's numbers and set the stage for even more future conflict. Additionally, issue #7 did a brilliant job expanding on Arcade, so I'd like to see him more involved in his Murder World. Based on what we've seen, it's tough to believe he's cool with sitting back (for the most part) and letting the chaos unfold. Hopefully he'll play a bigger role in the near future.
Up until issue #7, my opinions on this book have been all over the place. Now there's quite a few variables thrown into the mix and you can feel the tension building (even if some of it is over the top). The concept and these variables aren't exactly original and some feel forced, but despite that, this and the previous issue haven't been shabby. If I could give half stars, I'd be leaning towards a 2.5, but Kev Walker's phenomenal visuals warrants a boost to a 3.
For the crowd who hates this book based on the premise: I understand why, but if you don't like what Dennis Hopeless is doing to the characters you love, please speak with your wallet. Ranting about it on the internet will accomplish nothing if you're still shelling out $2.99 for each issue. To Marvel, that says you're enjoying this concept and that completely negates what you're trying to accomplish, doesn't it? So please, if you loathe it, don't spend a penny on it. You of course have every right to complain on the internet, too... just make sure you're not financially supporting what you hate. It's that simple, folks.