Picking up from the previous issue, the Winter Guard are trying to piece together where Fantasma came from and what to make of her eerie warning. The story isn't groundbreaking by any means, and it certainly has some moments that could use more polish. Red Guardian's battle banter is corny and weak, especially as Gallaher tries to make it relevant to the battle. Vanguard's sudden willingness to cooperate is equally weak, especially after the two factions (Vanguard's Protectorate and Red Guardian's Winter Guard) had an all-out cliche superhero misunderstanding battle.
The complications back at Citadel -- Fantasma's big reveal, the Presence's scheming, the return of the Dire Wraiths, Dmitri Bukharin's problems with the computer -- is where the suspense of the story happens. These are characters that can be played a little more fast and loose than, say, the Avengers. Unfortunately, they're not as compelling at all times. Darkstar begins to feel a bit like a child of privilege in this issue while the Crimson Dynamo here is not a polished or fearsome warrior.
I'd be stunned if the Protectorate don't mend fences, bury hatchets, and spout cliches in the next issue with their comrades in the Winter Guard. It's almost prescribed here, but this issue isn't the next.
Ellis' art leaves a little to be desired in this issue as the characters are more cartoony and less diverse in body type, expression, and size. Reena and Galina could be related, as could Immortus and Bukharin. Ellis' situations and settings are loud and compelling, and Staples colors them to be comic-book bright. The garish red and gold of the presence pops from the page against the oily purples of the Wraiths. There's potential for this art team to be great, with a bit of spit and polish, but for now, the drawing is slightly right of average.
This issue does also include a tree-killing abomination from yesteryear in the form of a reprinted tale from "X-Men Unlimited" #28. The art by Brett Booth is typical 1990s dreck, with excessive cross-hatching, and one body type used for all of the characters - male and female. Did I mention it is from the era when the blue-furred Beast wore a skullcap and goggles? The less said about this, the better.
This is an average book that really needed to step up a little after a nice debut. It didn't. This issue is a bit of a disappointment, but the set-up accomplished here gives me hope for a strong finale to this three-issue story.