Jumping forward in a book that focuses mostly on the psychological consequences is not a bad idea, seeing as how most internal changes happen at a much slower rate than external ones, and this book is all about change. This issue picks up three months after the initial contact with Baron Zemo’s underground collective and it becomes quickly clear that the some of the group are having second thoughts about their initial mission of “bring them down from the inside.” Dennis Hopeless has never shied away from the uglier aspects of being a teen superhero, so the emotions run hot and are constantly shifting, but generally in a way that serves the characters rather than the plot. We also get to see Madame Masque invite a small group of the kids into the bigtime plots, which involve using Mystique and Sabretooth's forces on Madripoor to run interference while a real, major strike goes down. Twists and turns abound and a great many of our core characters are left in a very, very different place than they were eight, or even two, issues ago.
Tigh Walker takes over linework and does a good job keeping the tone of frenetic, frantic action going throughout the issue with some solid facial features and expressions to go with them. The characters, for the most part, continue to look extremely distinct and stand out from one another and the jagged visuals match the hard-edged, sharp tone of the issue well as well. Jean-Francois Beaulieu’s colors are right there as well, muddy and bright, both communicating the twisted, indistinct morals of the cast and juxtaposing the few moments of happiness with the more grim events and overall tone.
I’ve been a fan of this series, and AVENGERS ARENA before it, and never put much stock in the argument that the characters in either title were behaving contrarily to how they’d been previously established. These were teenagers thrust into a situation that was absolutely insane, and teens aren’t known for the coping skills in the best of times, so some erratic actions were to be expected. There’s no reason, then, that Madame Masque be as ditzy, shallow and vapid as she’s written in this issue. She’s never been my favorite villain, but she comes off more like the spoiled, bratty daughter of the actual Madame as she’s written here. Vanity has always been a part of her character, but this leaves her downright undignified and she's central the issue, so it stands out far, far more than it ordinarily would.
The visuals do match the writing and, while there are parts highlighted above that I enjoy, overall this is a very scattershot issue. We’re supposed to be getting ideas of where everyone is after three months, but we barely get snapshots of some characters and the ones we DO get have a tendency to tell rather than show where they are mentally. Additionally, there’s a massive reveal from last issue that only gets a single throwaway panel in this one. I’m all for teasing out an explanation, but we barely get any kind of acknowledgement of it and that's a step too far.
This is a single issue that feels like it should have been at least two issues. I wouldn’t have minded taking our time and really seeing where all the former Murder World kids are, particularly with a little more internal monologue and character focus. I’m still interested in seeing where this story goes, and I still really like these characters, but this issue felt like it was hurrying both in terms of the writing and the art.