As a prequel mini-series, "Avengers: X-Sanction" is a curious beast. It was billed from the get-go as Cable beating up the Avengers, and that's what Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness have delivered. There's a distinct lack of cleverness to this mini-series, though, and in this third issue that's starting to get hard to ignore.
A lead-in story's main purpose is to interest readers, whet their appetite for the inevitable main course. What it shouldn't do is start to feel tired or stale, because if you're bored in the prequel, why stick around for the actual event that's still two months away? So when we get Cable fighting the Red Hulk for most of "Avengers: X-Sanction" #3, it comes across as a bit lackluster. We've already had two issues of Cable taking down Avengers members, and while they were initially entertaining, it's a chorus that we didn't need to hear for a third time in a row.
Interestingly enough, it feels like Loeb himself realizes that the book is overstaying its welcome, and around the two-thirds mark we finally get something of note to enter the plot. (We'll ignore for now what happened to various Avengers members in "Avengers: X-Sanction" because I don't think anyone expects those situations to last beyond this mini-series.) It feels a little too late for this issue, though; what should have been a deeply emotional and momentous scene feels brushed off to one side in just three panels. From there it's fighting with words instead of fists, and while it's at least a new target, the energy levels are seriously flagging. Loeb's going to need to have a much stronger script for the final issue to try and excite people over the new "Avengers vs. X-Men" mini-series.
McGuinness's pencils are good overall, although there is a notable exception or two. When it comes to the heavily muscled characters of the Red Hulk and Cable, McGuinness is your man. McGuinness still has that beautifully rounded look to all of his characters, and that initial "Plan B" attack on the Red Hulk is staged perfectly on pages 2-3, with Cable getting a respite thanks to a well-timed attack from Blaquesmith. On the other hand, look at the panel where Blaquesmith brings in some reinforcements. The two characters there are both ridiculously muscled; the guy is supposed to be slim and instead he's got thighs and abs that Captain America would be jealous of, and the girl's become not only bustier but also incredibly trim and toned. They look more like generic McGuinness character designs with heads grafted onto them than the specific characters they're supposed to be. It's the one weak spot in McGuinness' art here.
"Avengers: X-Sanction" needs to rally a great deal if it's going to end on a high note. This should be getting readers excited for "Avengers vs. X-Men" and asking retailers to reserve them a copy. If that's going to succeed, Loeb needs to pull a new plot point out of his hat. Right now, it's losing ground.