D. G. Chichester’s writing for the first two volumes of this series wasn’t entirely convincing, but the setting-up over the final episodes of volume two bear fruit here in a very ambitious plot. We’ve seen the restoration of old S.H.I.E.L.D. enemy Baron Strucker, lefttover Nazi, and we’ve seen him take back control of global domination group Hydra. The opening chapter here details how he brings AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics) and their formidable weapons development back into the fold, and that’s before we get to the Red Skull, another leftover Nazi, also scheming, and the deadly Leviathan.

Chichester brings their plans to fruition very effectively. Since the beginning of this series the writers have surrounded Fury with a tight ensemble cast, most with their own speciality feeding into missions. He may still resemble Rambo visually, but otherwise Pearce is over the disappointment of the last collection, and after the explosive events occurring early, it’s the regular squad who again become the focus. They’re joined by Wolverine, whose prominence on the covers of the original issues was an unsubtle ploy to pull in new readers. Thankfully Chichester’s use of him fits the series, rather than the regulars fitting around Wolverine. Other superheroes also appear, but in minor roles. Chichester also frequently gives us glimpses of what Hydra’s up to, creating a tension as they seem to be setting the agenda. He’s also stepping into the future by using narrative captions in preference to thought balloons, and while some of the dialogue could have been polished, it’s generally right for the characters concerned.

With both hardware and locations, Chichester’s scripts provide the opportunity for artists to shine, and of the four volumes collecting this series, this is without question the best looking. In the early 1990s Jackson Guice (sample art left) was evolving into a really strong all-round artist, providing ornate page design, effective storytelling, excellent action sequences and good visual characterisation. It’s a shame he only draws half the book. Ernie Stiner (sample art right) wasn’t up to that standard, his pages looking more cramped despite the occasional nice design, but still produces better looking art than anyone other than Guice since the series began.

As in all visual action thrillers, there are plenty of guns, but those using them seem unable to hit the Taj Mahal from ten paces, and there’s a cheap unintentional laugh to be had from a villain talking of repelling a cliff, but the longest story in the book is by far the best. The less said about Doug Murray’s plot about statues coming to life, the better, and the final five chapters have Scott Lobdell first teaming with Chichester, then writing solo. The opening plot has too many convenient aspects and Lobdell on his own isn’t pretty, and with the ridiculous code names for the new S.H.I.E.L.D. agents it feels more like G.I. Joe. That’s accentuated by M.C. Wyman’s art. He lays out an action-packed page, but his figures are too exaggerated for the type of series S.H.I.E.L.D. has been.

For some reason the concluding volume reprinting the longest-running S.H.I.E.L.D. series isn’t volume four, but Hydra Reborn. It’s a lazy title, as in essence that’s what occurred here.