These Avengers books are coming out as fast and furious as that racing movie. You know: Torque? Nick Spencer keeps amping up the espionage and intrigue, seamlessly weaving through plotlines and character threads before tying them together in unexpected, and imaginative, ways. Now Col. James Rhodes has been called in as a last-ditch effort to regain control of the hacked, homicidal Iron Patriot drones but his methods are certainly unique and not what you'd expect. We also get an update on Taskmaster who, four issues ago, agreed to become a mole to infiltrate AIM Island, but had to undergo the same sleeper agent treatment that would force him to forget his role until "activated." Unfortunately, due to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s tampering that gave him his astounding abilities, (also solidifying his superlative mini-series as canonical) his brain is a labyrinthine maze and SHIELD can't seem to break him out, even as he duels to the death with their other agent Mockingbird.
Butch Guice takes over artistic duties with Rick Magyar on pencils and Matthew Wilson on colors and they're a perfect team to be on this book. The grittier, more realistic pencils along with the subdued art and sharp lines fit, and help establish, the perfect tone for the darker, more grounded book. The characters are distinct and well-defined (with one exception that the book hangs a lantern on, but I'll get to that in a moment), and the action, of which this issue has PLENTY of, is fluid and dynamically framed. It's a truly rare and amazing talent to draw both stationary characters and characters in motion with equal skill and effectiveness, so I hope these artists are here to stay.
This is another book that does a lot in a very limited space, and at times feels just a bit too overstuffed. It juggles all its disparate parts well enough, but occasionally the back and forth becomes a little overwhelming. It's not a huge problem, but it's worth pointing out, though it also sets up plenty and does little to detract from the overall quality of the book.
Despite not fighting for the continued existence of the universe itself, or fending off transdimensional invaders, this book remains one of the most tense, high-stakes superhero comics on the shelf and this issue is no exception. There's something very gratifying about a book that still stars an Avengers cast, but takes its time not only in terms of action, but in terms of some very intriguing political maneuvering. When the boardroom conversations are as intense and engaging as the in-the-field fisticuffs, you've got something very special. The book never forgets to have a sense of humor though, both acknowledging the incredible similarities between Maria Hill and Daisy Johnson's appearance as well as having Rhodey's solution to the drone problem be...well I mentioned it before, but I still can't bring myself to spoil it, you've got to see it to believe it.