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After decimating the UNITY squad last issue, “Book of Death” #3 focuses on Gilad and Tama as they try to decipher the reason why Earth has embraced death and destruction. Robert Venditti’s script plays to each character’s strengths and, though the plot itself doesn’t take many great leaps forward, it does allow for them all to establish their roles a bit more. Robert Gill and Doug Braithwaite team up on some equally beautiful and disturbing imagery, none more so than the faceoff between Gilad and an army of undead woodland creatures.

Now that the villain of the story is revealed, Venditti lets Master Darque run wild over this installment, chewing the scenery each time he appears. Darque, a major source of evil in the original Valiant stories, is a calculated Voldemort-like figure, abusing the young present-day Geomancer David and subjecting the child to all manner of physical and psychological torture. He is skeevy, manipulative, power-hungry and — most of all — calm. His page time is always the most intense portion of the story. His use of David is disturbing; Venditti pushes the scenes to intense peaks to show the menace of the villain. It serves purpose rather than being exploitative, as it adds weight to the character’s presence, which is enhanced by Gill and Braithwaite’s portrayal. Darque is a lithe, sinewy grin of destruction, whose chalk white complexion clashes against the dark surroundings delivered by colorists David Baron and Brian Reber. It makes the character stand out, even beside young David. The art team works together to make the villain the focal point of any page he appears on through both layout and color.

The highlight of the artwork is a gorgeous, disturbing double page spread of resurrected animals arriving to take on the Eternal Warrior. Staged from behind the action, the distended animals approach Tama and Gilad, full of menace and rendered with disgusting detail by the team. It’s that moment the story officially becomes a horror tale. The creative team’s goal with this series seems to have slowly moved towards disturbing readers, and it works. The fire-lit scene is both scary and another great unspoken display of how vile a creature Master Darque can be.

Meanwhile, Gilad and Tama’s journey leads them to realize the book’s ties to the present day Geomancer and why the Earth is turning on both of them. Pacing-wise, the realization drags a little, as readers have been privy to this information for two issues. The action has distracted the characters from processing and connecting the dots, which is understandable, but a monthly chapter schedule makes the realization feel more like a moment where the characters finally catch up to readers as opposed to an exciting discovery. Though it will probably read better when collected as a whole, this leaves the issue feeling a little slow in terms of development in installments.

Yet again, Valiant has created a series that both makes sense as a crossover and remains story driven and entertaining. “Book of Death” establishes Darque as a threat worthy of main event status. Coupled with a solid script and fantastic art, “Book of Death” #3 is a great tent pole piece for the company. Though the plot development is a little slow, this issue is never boring and continues what has been a grossly entertaining story.