Before I dive into this book, I just wanna say right off the bat: THIS COVER IS PHENOMENAL! Giuseppe Camuncoli has always been a fantastic artist, and this cover is really striking with a lot of depth and nuance to it. I love it and if I hadn’t already committed to this book, the cover to this issue would have sold me immediately. Even better is that the insides of this book likewise ramp up the quality, as if the writers realized they needed to make an issue that lived up to its own cover. While there’s still some improvement the book needs, there’s no denying that this is the strongest issue so far in pretty much every way.
I’ve complained about the backstory taking away from the more interesting parts of the book in prior issues, but this one has finally cracked that nut. The backstory about the siblings felt far too nebulous and deliberately designed to tease rather than give any answers, but this issue’s backstory on Ace Kenyatta feels like a real thread to grab onto — it’s a whole story with a shoe drop on the last page, and it feels properly built up to and paced within this single issue. Ace is an immediately engaging character in a way no one else has been so far — he’s intelligent and desperate, without feeling smug or condescending. The flashbacks are also interspersed really well into into the main story, something that the book has struggled with in the past. Now they feel like proper additions to the overarching plot, rather than intrusive jumps to a tangential flashback.
Unfortunately, the increase in quality of the flashbacks and their connection to the main story came at the cost of other parts of the present-day story, specifically once again about Charlotte and Daniel. The tension and betrayal between these two characters never feels convincing, and it’s easily the weakest part of the book. It’s frustrating because the focus on these two causes the worldbuilding to slow down, despite it being probably the strongest portion of the book. The marketplace scene was full of that — it’s one more exploration of American culture taken to an absurd degree, and how stereotypically American values and icons still have a presence in this almost unrecognizable landscape. Camuncoli’s eye for design is incredible — this book is striking to look at on almost every page, especially with Matt Wilson on colors.
This issue gives perhaps the clearest look at the future of this book, both its story and plot as well as its future as a comic. The revelation at the end of the issue provides a clearer direction for the story to go, and is really the most interesting thing to happen since the series started. More importantly, though, is that Soule and Snyder answer some fan questions at the back of the issue and discuss their plans for the future of the book, namely its runtime. Here they talk about their plans for how long the series should run based on fan response, and Snyder claims that if the series wasn’t very popular they’d have capped it at around 30 issues but with the response they’ve gotten it’s likely going to go to 50 issues or even higher. While I criticize this book a lot and do wish it was better, I’m excited for the creative team to have this long to explore the nuances of the world they’ve crafted. It’s quite likely they’ll hit their stride soon.