Spoilers in review

Following  from Descent, this volume stumbles, taking down the unbroken high standard of series involving several of these characters, way back through Avengers Academy and Avengers Arena. However, it must be noted that diverse sources attribute the failure, at least in part, to executive meddling on the part of Marvel Comics. Writer Dennis Hopeless has stated  he was compelled to expand issue one of the original comic series into two, cut issue four extensively, then told the series would end with issue six, then that it wouldn’t after all. This results in unnaturally compressed and expanded storylines in all the wrong places, and the latter half of what was eventually a ten issue series – the contents of this volume – suffers badly from this mucking about.

An additional problem is that Kev Walker, the artist long associated with many of these characters, draws only one chapter, and the replacement artists simply aren’t up to snuff. Timothy Green II misfires particularly laughably in the case of Death Locket, previously drawn as an adorkable tween, slightly chunky, on the verge of womanhood. When Green takes over, she’s a tall stack of curvy, leggy VAVOOM, implying that she somehow grew up around five years between the events of volumes 1 and 2. Blame it on those freaky cyborg implants?

Tigh Walker, who draws the latter part of the book, has great vitality and an excellent sense of page design, but is very inconsistent with facial features, which sometimes seem disconcertingly on the verge of sliding off the characters’ faces. Perhaps he was under deadline pressure, but his work oscillates between highly appealing and, frankly, sloppy.

There’s still fun to be had. Nico, our resident cosplayer of the dark arts, was previously reunited with her dead ex (her mentor is the scion of Hell – retreiving a condemned soul’s no biggie), but has been dithering about whether she’s all in with the relationship. Erm, perhaps the fact that he was in Hell might have been a guideline? But that’s not even the gravest choice facing our cast. Their cunning plan to infiltrate and bring down the Masters of Evil and the villainous nation of Bagalia coming unstuck, they have to make the decision as to whose side they’re really on – and at least one of them is no longer interested in the path of redemption.  Speaking of plans revealed, the actual agenda of Zemo and his cohorts comes to light, and our young protagonists realise that they’ve been pwned again.

Along the way, Arcade – not that dead after all, soz, spoilers – gets his comeuppance as the real mastermind behind Murderworld is duly feted, and the ending is at best bittersweet. Most heroes are back in the light, but most of the major villains, despite the odd bloody nose, relatively unscathed and ready to wreak more mayhem. It’s still a satisfactory read, but how much better it might have been without external interference?