The odds are against our heroes as they continue their adventure in The Core. Facing off against a city with a population consisting of Deathloks, Doombots, Adaptoids, Sentinaughts, Reavers and every other artificial life the Marvel Universe can throw at them the Secret Avengers are not doing well. Rick Remender cranks up the tension in his most balanced issue of the series so far. Its success is aided by Gabriel Hardman, who has improved from his last few outings.
You can’t deny that when Remender wants to do big, over-the-top story lines, he delivers. Infused with danger, intrigue, fascinating antagonists and a select group of heroes who are coming into their own in his capable hands. As the narrative’s focus shifts between the three pairs of Avengers, Remender has delivered a sense of urgency to the proceedings that gives the book a great pace. It bounds along entertaining at every turn as the team find themselves in a city with no friendlies. Trapped behind enemy lines we see most of our heroes fall to the robotic masses. It is a simple but effective plot mechanism, to have them overwhelmed, and it is genuinely thrilling. Even the moments between The Father and his children where interesting, which where distinctly flat last issue. There is a final page reveal that might annoy some people, but it had a heroic charm to it that suited the typical third act turning point of a narrative like this.
Aside from the efficient plotting, Remender gives every member of the team, and the villains, a bit of characterization. Something that was lacking in his previous issues works wonders here. We now feel their plight from Remender’s script, as oppose to seeing it. Also Black Widow and Valkyrie get some significant dialogue. Granted Valkyrie’s opening gambit would be better served battling The Borg from Star Trek (“Adapt to this”), but on the whole Remender does a solid job giving both female characters a distinct voice that is in keeping with their characters. That is his secret weapon when it comes to his character work, Remender can spin a fresh perspective on someone (for example Captain Britain or the Human Torch) whilst keeping the qualities that are intrinsic to him or her. As the ladies of the team get the majority of action within the issue, Beast and Hawkeye aren’t fair behind. The archer’s mission has gone seriously wrong and he knows it, marry those feelings with the appearance of Wasp and you have one seriously emotional leader. By the end of the issue as he tries to help Beast there is a sense of despair to him that is rarely seen as his confidence has been shaken. Although he continues on with his gallows humor, which is reinforced by the injured Beast, he is definitely effective by recent events. Beast has been given less to say but still manages to get a rise from his humor. What was once over the top and annoying has been brought completely under control and his comic relief angle helps to alleviate some of the tension of the book. Captain Britain has a nice opening moment as his monologue reinforces his moral standing, which is in contrast with recent events with his sister over in Uncanny X-Force. It is these little moments that give Remender’s books a sense of cohesion as each title is subtly referenced. Jim Hammond joins the fray and his connection to The Core is touched upon and his search for answers definitely seems engaging.
Gabriel Hardman has improved somewhat from previous issues; due to the fact The Core has been given a visual identity. A sprawling neo-noir metropolis that, although not heavily detailed, works wonders for the book’s tone. However even though the tone is dark, there is a surprising amount of white in the book thanks to the layouts. This in turn lessens the visual impact of the book, as the gutters are so prominent. But Hardman does deliver in his character depictions; emotions are clear and well directed allowing the script to sell those important character moments. Also their bodies are a consistent shape and his line work is less sketchy. His Beast is still a messy visual, but he doesn’t detract from the issue as much as previous installments. Hardman’s grasp on action is coherent this time with all the fights having a frenetic nature to them and in his style they look distinctly more brutal than normal. On a purely joyous visual note Hardman’s Jim Hammond is a striking figure and teamed with Bettie Brietweiser’s colors he pops off the page.
So what we have here is Remender deftly balancing plot, action, character and intrigue to make a simple yet compelling issue. He moves his pieces around the bored like an old pro and his next moves are always highly anticipated. Hardman brings with him a sense of consistency and clarity to his art, which removes the problems he once had. The two together work as a well oiled machine as they deliver a succinct tale of superheroes in danger, which is easily makes this one of the more entertaining comics on the shelves this month.