In the years leading up to Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s “Secret Wars,” Marvel had plenty of Avengers books that fans could dip their toes into. There seemed like there was an “Avengers” book for every facet of the Marvel Universe. “Young Avengers” focused on some of the younger Marvel characters. “Uncanny Avengers” had a mix of X-Men and Avengers, while Hickman’s flagship “Avengers” and “New Avengers” would shape “Secret Wars” and the current Marvel Universe. “Secret Avengers,” which had launched as part of the Marvel Now initiative, after two previous iterations was among the plethora of “Avengers” comics. It’s an odd book, one that, compared to Hickman’s universe altering stories, seems to have been forgotten…but not by me.
Written by Ales Kot
Illustrated by Michael Walsh
Colored by Matthew Wilson
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
The new Secret Avengers are ready to get started…but can they be the world’s most eff ecti ve secret squad? Or will their personal issues tear them apart? Why not both? Three missions kick off at the same time, and nobody is ready except the bad guys! Earth is endangered by falling S.H.I.E.L.D. satellites! A post-nuclear warhead goes missing in the Middle East! And the Fury…yes, the unstoppable super hero-killing machine from Captain Britain…reappears deep inside Chinese territory! Can Hawkeye, Black Widow and Spider-Woman save Nick Fury and Phil Coulson from dying horribly in space? Will a wounded Maria Hill figure out what her uneasy ally M.O.D.O.K. is up to? Do the Secret Avengers have a prayer against the Fury? As death hits the Helicarrier, Black Widow faces Lady Bullseye…and Coulson goes rogue!
Whereas the rest of the Avengers titles were pretty heavy–Hickman was on his way to destroying the Marvel Universe as we knew it– “Secret Avengers” is a breath of fresh air. The book’s premise it quite simple: when the Avengers need to do spy work, this is the team that is sent in. After two previous volumes of thrills it’s a joy that the book doesn’t take itself too seriously, and when it does, the emotional impact resonates with readers. This book is not what you think when you’re reading an “Avengers” title, and that’s to its benefit. The first notable thing: None of the heavy hitters are on the team’s roster. Kot assembles a team of randoms, though not unknowns.
Our team consists of SHIELD agents Phil Coulson and Nick Fury, Black Widow aka Natasha Romanoff, Spider-Woman aka Jessica Drew, Hawkeye aka Clint Barton, and the team is run by Maria Hill, the head of SHIELD. For all intents and purposes this is Maria Hill’s book. She can be considered the book’s main protagonist, among its cast. And Maria Hill’s got secrets, one of which is that the “former” villain M.O.D.O.K. is the team’s secret consultant. M.O.D.O.K. is a central figure in the book, and Kot writes him in a way that makes me smile every time he’s in a panel.
The book wastes no time getting to the action. Kot frequently and intentionally drops us into the middle of a scene and will jump back six hours before. We see the results of something before we know what the antecedent was. The opening pages show Nick Fury and Agent Coulson fighting a cybernetic being known as The Fury. That happens before we even know what their mission was. It’s intentionally disorienting because the payoffs that come later are so wonderfully crafted.
Kot can also bring the humor. “Secret Avengers” is chalk full of little thought balloons with one-liners and awkward character moments that build off of past continuity while making it into something fun and new. Clint Barton’s characterization is so strong in this book. He’s like an onion, he’s got many many layers. Some would say Kot rips Hawkeye straight from his solo series by Matt Fraction and David Aja and I would argue that yes, given how he’s portrayed in that book, it seems to make sense to have a goofy carefree Clint, but his arc was so rewarding for me as a reader that the Fraction/Aja stuff never really bothered me.
It would be silly of me not to mention the art. Michael Walsh delivers some grade-A deliciousness. He mixes up his style a lot with nine-panel grids and occasional splash pages. He juxtaposes action with comedy and drama simultaneously and the mood is only solidified with the always gorgeous colors of Matthew Wilson. Wilson captures the smaller emotional character moments from Walsh as well as the action heavy sequences. Having Wilson on a title is never a wrong decision. Walsh’s art has somewhat of a cartoon feel to, which is by no means bad. As I’ve said this comic was a breath of fresh air when the rest of the Marvel Universe was falling apart.Continued below
And that, I think, is the book’s greatest strength. This is a creative team who didn’t get bogged down on continuity–you can literally pick this up and enjoy it without having read a previous Marvel title–and just has fun. The book is fun. The jokes, M.O.D.O.K, the action, the suspense, M.O.D.O.K, Deadpool… Everything about this book is fun and I cannot recommend it enough.