Taken on its own, "The Activity" #13 is an easy to follow one-off story that works hard to establish everything you need to know as the story goes along. The main action piece is well-crafted, while the talking heads portion is sharply done. Though I hadn't read any of the series before this, "The Activity" #13 has enough meat on its bones to sell me on more of it.
As a first issue, it's clear readers are being dropped into the middle of an established universe with stories that have come before, and characters that have been established and grown in the 12 issues prior. The series focuses on the Special Forces of the American military, and this issue focuses on one small team, in particular. The lead character has a one night stand to start the issue, though he's clear that it's not how he normally works. Is this part of some series-long characterization? Is this the start of a new relationship or a new angle on an old character? I don't know, but that's OK. It's a quick diversion, but handled well.
After that, the military business kicks in, with a call from an Israeli colleague sending the team to Brazil to help rescue an operative captured by the local drug cartel. There's military politics at work here. This is a favor between special groups, not something officially on the books. There's a matter of honor amongst equals at work, not just followers listening to their chain of command. They're not doing anything necessarily wrong here, but they're on their own. It's an interesting angle to take for a short story.
I've always enjoyed military procedurals. I love the jargon getting thrown around, the confidence of the actors, the knowledge and training imparted on the soldiers as they go into a volatile situation. Edmondson doesn't overload the issue with that, using just enough that even a newbie can understand what's going on. There's not a flood of footnotes in the issue to explain what the characters are saying to each other.
Surprisingly, the trip to Brazil is quick. While there is one complication with the mission, it's not something that's dragged out for maximum dramatic effect. It feels more like regular business for these characters than ramped-up drama from the writer.
The second story in the issue concerns another special ops team member's wife, who's being questioned regarding a recent intelligence leak, while her husband watches from behind the glass. It's, again, a short-lived plot, but an effective one. There's heartbreak and procedure at work here, with surprising results.
The last few pages set the table back up again for the next issue, which looks to be something concerning the movement of Iranian forces and a threat they pose. It's oddly paced as a single issue, but I imagine it'll be fine as the opening issue of a trade paperback down the road. On its own, it feels like the main story suddenly came up short and the creative team had to vamp to fill the pages.
Mitch Gerards' art works well for this type of series. His art is more photorealistic, without looking traced. Characters look and act like real people, not like cartoony or exaggerated versions of themselves. His ink line has a life to it that can often be lost in such a style when trying to show too much detail. His characters are easily distinguished from one another without the help of brightly-colored superhero costumes.
Colors tend to be muted or earth-toned, with color-keyed pages predominantly green and brown. The glossy paper stock helps keep that from making mud of the art.
"The Activity" has a cool look and feel to it. It's too early to tell for me if the characterization is strong enough to carry the series, or if it lives by the action and suspense of its military maneuvers, but that's something I want to read more to find out. In that way, this single issue did its job well. It left me wanting more. Reading more of the back issues will likely give me better context for the story, and I’m looking forward to catching up on those, as well.