This issue started off with a bang. Picking up from the cliffhanger last issue, it gave us insights into how these characters work as a team without their powers. Part 2 of Final Exam really hits home with much of the story with maintaining human moments in what's an otherwise caped adventure.
A few things caught my attention that really stood out.
Clean Slate's Dispersal
This gets a passing mention as the issue opens. It explains away the initial problematic spot of last issue suggesting that X-23 did notice the dispersal and popped her claws once aware of what it was. While it still hindered her healing factor, by her popping all her claws she still has access to them and lessened the exposure to adamantium poison from inside her body. The airborne dispersal seems to have a slower effect than the aerosol Hazmat dosed herself with.
Heat of the Moment Planning
Immediately as the issue unfolds, the seperated students have to put a plan into action to stop the Clean Slate dispersal to the world. Finesse seems to really take the lead here with nods to their lessons from Giant-man on how to take down a size shifter. Of note is X-23's role in this as she handles the blow that hinders Big Zero and allows Finesse to knock Big Zero down for the rest of the team to handle. It seems much of the training Finesse has done with X-23 comes forward here overall. Finesse has a strong emphasis on infiltration and deception without any knowledge on the mystic arts to put into practice. This is something similar to X-23's training and mirrors it quite well. This immediately explains why X-23 seems more quiet during the planning and explaining. With Finesse taking point and how much they've trained together, X-23 is well aware of her capabilities and has nothing to add as Finesse pretty much explains it all for those who wouldn't know, the audience included. All that would be left for X-23 is to nod, agree, and plan ahead for what she's going to do to this madman. If anything, this relates a form of trust from X-23 towards Finesse that was seemingly foreshadowed previously with their travels together as mentioned last issue.
X-23 Hindered by her Lack of Abilities
While this isn't new per se, as X-23 has dealt with hindrances to her powers before. It is interesting to note that this is the first time it's to such an extent that her own body is betraying her. She doesn't take the forefront like previously shown, but she's also conserving her strength for when needed to take down this madman who reminds her of her past. Even in taking high amounts of damage, she's still holding on and fighting forward. She still displays aspects of precision and her other situational awareness, but it's also tempered with the blinding pain she's in and her anger. This is an even more emotional X-23 than we've seen before, and I'm not sure if her fellow students are prepared to see this side of her when she gets her hands on him. It also evokes the X-23 we've seen before where she puts the safety of others above herself. She's not fighting for revenge. She's fighting to stop this madman from harming others and her fellow students. She's fighting to prevent such abuse from happening to others.
Hazmat and Striker
Okay I have to admit it. Both of these characters at one time or another were my least favorites, often competing for that slot. They have had moments where I've wanted to cheer for them and despised them outright. This issue really marks a turning point in that. Both of them have displayed qualities that again make you want to cheer for them. The creative team on this comic has really made both of them quite human in this respect with the tough choices they've had to make. Striker it seems as if they'll be going right for his pride and vanity in the next part, but Hazmat? Hazmat this issue really makes me feel for her. That lingering kiss of a moment you can never share again. A moment that's going to last a lifetime because of how things will change. A moment that just exhudes sadness but also solidarity and hope. It perfectly culminates into a moment of her being able to let her powers go wild. A burning passion and anger that will not be stopped as it melts everything in her path to this madman. A complete and utter total meltdown that will. Burn. Everything. The symbolism is rich here, and it amazes me how well handled it was to the point I'm cheering for Hazmat once again while also empathizing for the moments lost and the times remembered. She's a character that is using what once made her insecure to stop those who hurt her friends and save their future at the risk of her own.
This issue makes me excited for what's to come. Outright this comic has to be one of the best team books coming out of Marvel right now. With characters like these, it makes one wonder where they may land later. With so many stories still begging to be told, what will the future hold for these baptized-by-fire Avengers-in-training.