With "Guardians of the Galaxy" #25, we're officially past the halfway mark for "The Black Vortex," and this double-sized issue provides an action-packed mid-event crescendo. For the first time this event, Bendis' sprawling cast is an asset to the story, and Valerio Schiti's action scenes, expressions and perspective are well-executed. There isn't a phoned-in panel in the whole book. Though it's not strong enough to save "The Black Vortex" from its flimsy concept, it's an engaging escalation of the stakes -- if not a well-earned one.
Thus far, it's been hard for Bendis to give his characters compelling arcs. When they're all stuffed into the same MacGuffin plot, they turn into a giant, joking Greek chorus. However, now that they've been split up, the oversized cast can be used to carry four different plots at once. "Guardians of the Galaxy" #25 flips quickly between its storylines, creating a sense of acceleration as it ramps up for its biggest plot piece. Bendis even has time to give (old) Hank an emotional arc, as the Vortex-ed Beast realizes what he's done to time and space. Most importantly, Bendis is given plenty of space in this issue, and he uses it with precision. Despite the number of pages, it doesn't feel bloated.
This paragraph will deal with the spoilers, so skip ahead to avoid. The catastrophic centerpiece of "Guardians of the Galaxy" #25 is the destruction of the Kree homeworld, Hala. Mister Knife unleashes apocalypse on his old enemies and, while Valerio Schiti does really affecting work, an event of this magnitude doesn't necessarily feel earned. Given the tone of the book up to this point, it's more surprising than actually shocking. I almost thought I'd misread. As a result, I'm torn about its inclusion. It finally breaks "The Black Vortex" out of its pass-the-Vortex plots, but it also feels somewhat out of place.
Still, Schiti is the all-star of this book. This is the most action-packed issue of "The Black Vortex" yet, and the fight sequences are well laid-out and thoughtfully detailed. Even when there are eight different characters in a panel -- not an uncommon occurrence -- he gives each one a readable, appropriate facial expression. The force and vigor behind the figure work is impressive. Schiti also has a great eye for expressions and moments; one two-page spread is split into 10 diagonal slices, and each panel is full of emotion despite being mostly explosions. Many artists would've been swallowed by that layout. Schiti even manages to make me feel sorry for the Supreme Intelligence with one sad, horrifying sequence.
On colors, Jason Keith shines things up to keep them in line with the rest of "Black Vortex," and he handles an impressive range of scenes. From spaceship prisons to deep space to cities under attack, Keith is responsible for a wide variety of moods and settings, and he manages to achieve them all while still producing a consistent book.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" #25 takes full advantage of its double-sized format to deliver a fast-paced, high-stakes story that makes the most of "The Black Vortex."