Avengers Undercover #8

“Avengers Undercover” #8 skips three months of development and goes straight for the denouement. With the series finale coming in issue #10, this is an understandable acceleration, but it inevitably feels a bit hurried. Though Hopeless keeps his focus on the teens themselves, the biggest developments are plot rather than personal — making this a little less satisfying, if not less exciting, than previous issues.

The new speed is emphasized with a new artist, Tigh Walker, whose style is messier and grittier than Kev Walker’s. Thicker, spikier line work makes the characters look older and grungier, mapping the aesthetics to their emotional evolution. Death Locket in particular looks more like the desperate experiment she was, and Aiden really looks like a stony Celtic warlord.

However, the effectiveness of the art is somewhat diminished by Walker’s overemphasis on the female characters’ midriffs; I do wish he could understand a more accurate language of female maturity than skimpy clothing, especially given the personality ranges of the characters at hand. Apart from this misstep, though, Walker communicates the changes in the Murder World survivors very well. They look harder and more independent, less lost and scared. His work also jives quite nicely with Beaulieu’s colors, in some ways better than his predecessors.

As ever, Hopeless’ script is interested in all the best things. In this issue, he explores what could be so fun about being a villain. It’s satisfying to ask how superpowered teenagers, initially compelled to heroism, might be tempted to come out the other way. Three months after going undercover, even the least corrupted of the Murder World survivors are having the time of their lives. Hopeless takes nearly half the issue to emphasize that they’re exploring the world, goofing off, escaping their problems, and getting credit from the adults (for once) for their hard work. Morals aside, the issue asks, what’s not to like about the supervillain lifestyle?

There’s something delightfully subversive in suggesting that Baron Zemo can recruit people for his operation not because they share his evil aims, but because he’s a good boss who offers better benefits, opportunity for advancement and time off than the good guys. (There’s a metaphor for cushy jobs in corporate America somewhere in this.)

Now, this coming paragraph is in many ways just about personal preference, but the major appeal of “Avengers Undercover” for me has been watching these teenagers develop and discover. I’m much less interested in Baron Zemo’s schemes than I am in the powerful adults these teens could become, and as the series comes to a close it does seem to be turning more toward his schemes. I hope it will keep the same focus, but in order to finish things up speedily, Hopeless may need to sacrifice some of the character work that’s made ‘Avengers Undercover” such a success thus far.

“Avengers Undercover” #8 gives me hope, though. This issue is full of twists and developments, but the lens is squarely on the teens’ reactions. The dialogue is still pretty top-notch, even if some of the emotional moments feel phoned in. Hopeless it at his best here when the characters are angry, spouting lines like, “Why can’t you answer a question without being insufferably smug first?” or “Do you people ever have anything to say that isn’t self righteous mad girl crap?”

I am still so on board with this series, and majorly disappointed that it’s ending.

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