The final issue of “The Last Ride of the Howling Commandos” lives up the story arc’s title as Jonathan Hickman juxtaposes the end of the most recent Howling Commandos reunion with a mission gone wrong in China. While it’s no surprise that the mission went south given Dum Dum and Sitwell ending up prisoners of the United Nations, how bad it goes is surprising. What’s even more surprising is how moving the downfall of the Commandos is because of the cutting back and forth with the reunion. Hickman plays up the sentiment surrounding the group perfectly
After a raid on a Chinese Hydra base brought reinforcements, the Commandos are outgunned and caught by surprise to a degree, putting them at a disadvantage, especially when their helicarrier is so damaged they must abandon it. The ensuing fight causes heavy losses, including at least one prominent member of the Commandos. It’s made all the more poignant by the cutting back and forth between the conclusion of the Commandos reunion a few days previous, which involves one of the surviving members (in this case, Gabriel Jones) saying a few words about the Commandos that have died. Pairing those words on the deceased with the harsh battle that ends with a Commando’s death heightens the drama and emotion of both effectively.
It’s also shocking how the Commandos were dismantled in a short three-issue arc. After the build-up to Dum Dum and company acting on Fury’s behalf, decimating the group like this shows just how formidable the enemy is. At the end of the reunion, Steve Rogers asks Fury if he’s in over his head and, while the events in China are still a few days off, he seems to recognize that this may not be a war he can win. Up to that point, Fury’s side hadn’t taken any heavy losses, giving the impression that he’d win no matter what, but this issue casts some serious doubt on the matter.
Alessandro Vitti has been one of the title’s regular artists and he outdoes himself in this issue, bring more emotion and energy than ever before. He particularly shines in his depiction of Gabe as he talks about his dead friends with the right mix of sadness and stoicism. You can see the pain on his face, but only to a certain degree; he obviously holds a lot of it inside. I love the way he adds a panel border around Gabe’s head on the third page when he says that Clay Quartermain was his best friend and he misses him. It sets Gabe apart from the rest.
When it calls for the action scenes, Vitti also delivers strong work. With Imaginary Friends Studio’s bleak, muted colors, those scenes have the feeling that this is the End for the Commandos. Everything is dreary and spacious, highlighting how alone the small group is. It’s pure chaos with smoke, guns firing, and people dying. Vitti really delivers on this issue.
With “The Last Ride of the Howling Commandos” kicking off the second half of this series, Hickman sets up a rather hopeless feeling for Fury and company’s chances against Hydra and Leviathan. But, he does in style with Vitti in one of the issue’s most affecting and powerful issues to date.