Marvel has mined forgotten and under-utilized characters more than once to great effect. With "Darkstar and the Winter Guard," they've found another niche to scratch. Twenty-three pages of original story reveal the inner workings of the Winter Guard to us while also shelling out a plug for the recently rebooted "Atlas" franchise. The story starts off with a team-up between the two groups, but takes us to the "locker room" of the Winter Guard as masks are removed, helmets set aside, and composure dropped. Gallaher spoke to CBR about the series and his thoughts about the team where he made it quite clear that the Winter Guard is a collection of heroes who are frequently replaced. Darkstar is one of those heroes, replacing the original who was slain in Grant Morrison's "New X-Men" run. She is unsure of her place and performance on the team and confides in Winter Guard stalwart, Ursa Major. A former Crimson Dynamo, Dmitri Bukharin, serves as the liaison to the Winter Guard, giving them their assignments and debriefing them upon their return.
From their most recent appearance in "Hulk: Winter Guard," which my comrade, Timothy Callahan, reviewed some time ago, the Guard returns under the same writer and artist team that crafted that adventure as well as Zuda's "High Moon." Gallaher and Ellis work well together, giving this story a couple of beats without weighing it down unnecessarily. The story plays the Guard up as Russia's answer to the Avengers, right down to the merchandise based upon members of the team.
The art is raw and cartoonish, but heavy and dark. Ellis and Hanna use plenty of heavy lines to lock the characters onto the page, giving the story less of a superhero vibe and more of a mystical feel. Clayton Henry's cover image plays closer to the superhero look I expected to find inside this book, but by the time I finished reading this book, I was hooked by Ellis' work. Val Staples is onboard to help brighten things a bit, adding classic comic book colors to this story and providing depth to the backgrounds of panels that are left empty without causing a distraction from the action (or conversation in most cases) within those panels.
Adding bulk -- and little else -- to this issue is a story pulled from an issue of "X-Men Unlimited" where the X-Men (Beast, Jean Grey, Gambit, Storm, and Cable) just so happen to be in Russia and just so happen to run into Darkstar who just so happens to be possessed when this all occurs. Did I mention the art by Brett Booth and Ron Lim just so happens to be really bad? Every character, from Gambit to Storm to Cable, has the same facial structure. The characters have two body types (male and female) and that's it. There's a bit of intrigue to this tale, but it really doesn't do anything to enhance the experience and certainly doesn't offer additional value to this issue.
Gallaher and crew do a great job of world-building here, offering the readers insight on a team of heroes that shows up infrequently at most. I've always enjoyed the appearances of the Soviet Super Soldiers and look forward to more of them with the next issue of the Winter Guard.