I’m no longer sure what to think about this series after this issue, and I mean that in the best way possible. The first two issues seemed to satirize obsession with celebrity culture and reductionist thinking, and while this issue is a great send-up of a great many James Bond tropes (whether intentional or not), there’s also some truly amazing character development and one absolutely incredible ending. Dennis Hopeless does some macro teamwork this time around, no one member of the team has the spotlight (until the last two pages), but it’s great to see them move and work as a team. This is not a book bereft of hope, regardless of what the author’s name might suggest, but it definitely doesn’t emphasize it either. This is still a very bleak issue, but it’s one that does a lot to establish where it’s going, and the complaint about a lack of Zemo that we were promised at the book’s outset is definitely put to rest. No one character having the spotlight doesn’t mean that everyone becomes generic, quite the contrary, it means that everyone’s voice comes through with an amazing clarity despite the somewhat scattershot narrative.
I was somewhat reticent when artistic duties shifted to Timothy Green II, though Jean-Francois Beaulieu was still on colors, simply because Kev Walker had helped define so much of both this and Avengers Arena, but that concern was quickly put to rest. Green has an excellent command over character design and panel control, making the book easy to read and lending an incredible sense of impact to the action. Beaulieu’s colors are, as always, appropriately subdued and muted without becoming plain or boring, and that suits the tone of a superspy heist. If I were to compare it to a Bond movie, I’m not sure I could because we get the darkness and impact of Daniel Craig combined with some winking camp of Roger Moore. The characters also all look fantastic, particularly since a great many of them are “woman in cocktail dress with black hair”-types. It’s rarely confusing who is who.
Rarely doesn’t mean never, unfortunately, and every now and then it’s hard to tell the women of this book apart, particularly since more than one not only fit into the “black hair, cocktail dress” motif, but have SHORT black hair. They all have various traits and accessories that allow them to be told apart, but sometimes it takes a bit of scrutiny.
The book’s buckshot approach to characters for the majority of it also means that, while each one is excellently written, we have an early numbered issue where there’s very little development in most of the cast.
One cast member, at least, gets an incredible development but, again, not until the end. It’s a great, satisfying moment, though, so it’s well worth the trip there. This issue is a great example of why I was thrilled that this book was announced so close to Avengers Arena’s ending: events like those that happened in Murder World SHOULD have severe, psychological consequences in comics that are aiming where this one is aiming, and this delivers on that premise while STILL not being completely dark and gritty. In fact there’s very little “grit” to be found, and that’s been replaced with some genuinely funny, if darkly so, moments that make this one of the more interesting books in mainstream superheroing.