This book doesn't happen by accident. Hickman has carefully plotted this story, with its double-crossing, triple-crossing, and secret handshakes. These characters were complete ciphers to me coming in (save Fury, who was in the first "Marvel Team-Up" I ever got) but on the other side of the issue, I'm intrigued. This issue challenged me a bit as far as establishing a scorecard of who's who and who they're against, but the story moved so deftly that I decided to just enjoy the ride. Afterwards I did a little research, found out what I could as far as the characters go, and found a re-read to be more compelling.
Leviathan's big bad, Magadan, has a conversation about Viper with Madame Hydra. The course of their conversation includes a reveal about the Madame that is sure to give regular readers of this title a jolt. The conversation takes them to a super-secret hideout that reveals the secret weapon Leviathan hopes to use to turn the tide, and it also brings us to the end of the issue.
"Taunt the Baron, tempt the Fury. . . let the settling of old scores begin." With that, Leviathan's super-weapon is prepared for battle. There's plenty of action, suspense, and even a casualty or two. This is espionage comics at its level best. This issue serves as a junction point for a number of storylines, but it does so in a manner that moves forward. I may not have had much interest in this book for its first thirteen issues, but I'm definitely keeping an eye on it now.
With deceptive simplicity and intricate details, like a comic book cover version of Norman Rockwell, Cheung delivers some of the most stunning covers every month. This issue's cover featuring Contessa is no exception.
Unfortunately for Caselli, he has to follow up on Cheung's cover masterpieces. Fortunately, Caselli's style is different enough from Cheung's that any comparison really does stop there. I enjoyed Caselli's work on "Avengers: The Initiative," but I feel he is definitely more in his comfort level on this book which relies on Caselli's darker tones. Gho's colors are less fluid than what I'm accustomed to seeing from Marvel these days, and the end result looks like the Photoshop Cutout filter was used aggressively, giving it a feel similar to the recent style of the Schwab commercials. It works in the quieter moments of this issue, but seems incomplete in the bigger scenes, almost rushed.
If you're intimidated by the thought of jumping into a new title and are waiting for the "perfect jumping on spot," there is an interview with Hickman right here on CBR wherein he talks about that spot, "Siege: Secret Warriors."