This entry cover “Black Ops” issues 3 – 5 by Shon Bury, Dan Norton, and Sandra Hope.
Why do I keep getting confused reading this series? It all seems straight forward on review, but when reading closely I just lose the thread constantly. Basically, it’s a deep undercover I/O team (our heroes, the Black Ops) that even I/O doesn’t know are I/O vs. an evil Russian named Markov and his company Spectrum, who were funded by I/O, so before he died, Craven sent out I/O’s Black Hammer’s to hunt down and kill the Black Ops. I’m not going to sit here and lie, I’m not the brightest guy, but I’m not that dim, so I constantly wonder why this book keeps confounding me. Have I experienced this on other books written by Shon Bury? Nope! Have I ever experienced confusion over the art of Dan Norton? Hell no! Do I experience any of that with the follow up “DV8 vs. Black Ops” by the same creative team? Of course not! It’s just this book, so bear with me as I try to gather my thoughts for all of you.
So as we’re picking the book back up we need to recall that the Black Ops team was in Montanna, training with Col. Crane, who is now joining up with the Black Ops team to lead them. Col. Crane lost his significant other Rachel while on a previous mission in Gamorra at the hands of one Gennady Markov. While he and one of his other crew members, Lee Gardener, made it out alive, he just didn’t have it in him to continue. However, with I/O closing in on the Black Ops team at his house, he takes up the burden of leadership to help the team make short work of them.
Wait, Black Razors and Black Hammers are closing in? Yup, and a mole in I/O sent that message along to the Black Ops team! If John Lynch is the only person from I/O to know that the Black Ops team are I/O, and if Lynch is too busy hanging out with a bunch of teenagers at the beach to know I/O is after them… then who is our mole? Either way, as soon as the I/O teams are getting close Col. Crane sends the Black Ops team off to a safe house while he keeps the Razors and Hammers distracted.
Crane is successful in distracting the I/O groups, and hey, check that out, we know those Black Razors! It’s Cyril Fleming and Rose Grady! And their failure is not appreciated when they call up Santini to let him know how it went. Guess who else it upsets that “the terrorists” got away? Newly minted I/O director Alejandro Rios, that’s who. Though a few of his reports at I/O are starting to find out that “the terrorists” aren’t so bad after all and in fact, they may be I/O, and despite what the I/O records show, they’re not dead. News to Director Rios, but not news to some nerdy guy spying on this information download from Marisa. Nerdy dude is very worried about I/O figuring this all out too soon, and that Catherine Kwan will not be happy about it.
Getting back to the Black Ops team, we see the safe house they were sent to belongs to Lee Gardner, Col. Crane’s old friend, who fills the team in on Crane’s past. Once Crane catches up (by pick up truck from Montana to West Virginia?) the team takes off to Estonia to find Markov and put an end to his plan. Markov’s plan? To make a more advanced form of Black Hammer type weaponry. He’s planning to use that to take down any and all comers who challenge him at anything. Maybe it’s for the glory of Russia, but you never can tell with this chap, and I’m sure as hell Craven wasn’t bankrolling him to develop anything other than I/O.
Once the Black Ops team touches down in Estonia they fight a bunch of robots guarding Markov’s research facility. Once that’s done, the Black Razors are back with Cyril Fleming heading them up. This puts Col. Crane even more on edge, as he thought he’d shaken those bastards. And then it all hits the fan, there’s a new heavily armored person present, they go by the name Cricket and they’re working for Markov. With this obviously being no good, the Black Ops team decides to launch an EMP grenade to shut down all electronics. This includes some of their equipment, the Black Razor’s suits, and supposedly the new player on the field. But no, somehow the Markov’s agent has enough power to get back to the facility, and with the Razors taken care of, all the Black Ops team has to do is follow the leaking coolant that Cricket is leaving behind.
Once inside the facility Crane and Shire head one way, and GQ and Redbird head another. There are lots of things to disable to keep Markov from interfacing any more humans with tech to make more creatures like Cricket. I mean, they’re a little late on that, there’s already two more finished, and they’re calling themselves the H.E.A.T.E.R.S and they are hunting down the Black Ops team as they sneak around trying to prevent a fourth H.E.A.T.E.R. from coming online. Of course, right about now is when Shire notices Markov’s head scientist, and old friend of her’s named Misha, who is naturally the bio-matrix engineer that the Soviet Union ever had.
Now things in the narrative are coming together a bit. The three H.E.A.T.E.R. units online are all Americans. So that sorts out what Craven was up to, he was having Markov get the units created and ready for him. We also now find out that the H.E.A.T.E.R.s are still reporting to Kwan at I/O and she and her little weasel are trying to get away from I/O quickly. We also now know that Markov was “skimming off the top” a bit by creating some of this advanced technology for himself to use as needed. He’s currently trying to interface with said tech inside a bio-bath chamber at Misha’s misgivings. Sweet, straightened out… time to get back to the action? Sure!
So we have GQ and Redbird fighting Cricket, Crane and Shire fighting the H.E.A.T.E.R known as Pinpoint, and Geek and H.E.R.B. fighting the giant red unnamed H.E.A.T.E.R. (I say unnamed because I cannot remember it, and flipping through the book a few times I couldn’t find it… yet someone in the comments will probably correct me, and I look forward to that.) Despite being at a slight disadvantage, the Black Ops team manages to hold their own against the H.E.A.T.E.R.s, but it isn’t easy. A stroke of luck occurs when Kwan decides the best course of action for her is an immediate disavowal of everything that Markov was up to. This means zeroing out Markov’s slush fund, erasing all information on having anything to do with his organization, asking Cricket and Pinpoint to immediately destroy the building and all inside and leave.
Things don’t go exactly according to plan for anyone. Geek and H.E.R.B. take out the big red robot while H.E.R.B. is pulling the same media quoting schtick as Jeff the Monster from “Scud the Disposable Assassin.” Cricket and Pinpoint were told to leave their fights, so our Black Ops team is safe for now, and even when they all have the same agenda, to destroy Markov’s work, they still won’t get along. In fact, a bit of a pissing match between Crane and Pinpoint on who gets to kill Markov ultimately leads to H.E.R.B. becoming destroyed. Either way, neither one of them could’ve done the job from outside the bio-bath and Misha ends up sabotaging it to kill Markov and set the self-destruct countdown for good measure.
The Black Ops manage to get out of there, with Geek carrying H.E.R.B.’s head, in the nick of time. While flying over the Atlantic back to who-knows-where (Montana?) they are discussing something that didn’t feel right, and how ultimately their mission isn’t quite over yet. There are things they’ll need to get into once the heat is off but until then Col. Crane still has a few friends in high places. Oh, and that mole at I/O who was in communication occasionally with the Black Ops crew? Oh, that was Marisa Chambers. Also of note, not only did she trace everything back to John Lynch, but also went to find him and ask that he contact I/O so that Director Rios can officially “bring them back home.” But clever-clever Lynch is all “Nah, we need folks like Crane out there fucking shit up old skool. Besides, I’d like to point the Black Ops at my old enemy Ivana, because mark my words, that bad-ass so-n-so is up to something… she always is…”
- At the end of “Black Ops” issue 2, the team was being trained by Crane to be able to rely less on their Razor suits to get their jobs done. I figure this could account for the days that “Fire from Heaven” took place over.
- I consider “Black Ops” issues 3 through 5 and “Hazard” issues 1 through 4″ happening at pretty much the same time. Pretty much a few days after “Fire from Heaven” and lasting a week or so.
- We have the flashback to the Gamorra mission that went wrong for Crane, I figured it might’ve been tied to the one that we’ve been reading references to in various books, but I didn’t see Cray, Waering or Alex Fairchild anywhere near it.
- It’s nice that when we’re dealing with the Black Razors, we’re seeing a familiar face in Cyril Fleming, but also, if you keep your eyes peeled, there’s a cameo by Rose Grady too. I really thought WildStorm was building to a full-on Black Razors title.
- From the battle we saw, the H.E.A.T.E.R. named Cricket survives, but I don’t think we ever see her again.
- We see Shire start to mention that at the initial CEO meeting that the Black Ops team broke up, there was one person that wasn’t there that should’ve been, one of Craven’s best puppet directors, and all she says is “Arm-” before getting cut off. Who the hell is she talking about? Armand Waering? He worked with/for Craven? Am I not remembering something right? Who else could it have been?
- At the end, we also have Crane saying that he’ll be contacting his friend Giovanni, who we’ve seen a bit of in the pages of “Backlash” at this point, but don’t know too much about. He’s the director of P.S.I. and when we see the Black Ops crew again in “DV8 vs. Black Ops” they will indeed be working at P.S.I.
- On the last page, we see a set up for the upcoming conflict between the Black Ops team and the DV8 team, and the DV8 team is clearly on Caballito Island. This is where they had been previous to “Fire from Heaven” once we get to their full-on book they’ll be based out of New York. I don’t take this to literally mean Ivana and the DV8 kids stopped there after “Fire from Heaven” before continuing on to New York (they didn’t, Frostbite even says as much in the first issue of “DV8”) it’s just a rad and relevant establishing page.