With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Writers: Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Stefano Casselli, Alessandro Vitti, Gianluca Gugliotta, Ed McGuiness
Issues: Secret Warriors (2008) #1-16, Dark Reign: The List – Secret Warriors #1
It’s GI Joe, Marvel style!
Nick Fury had been written out of comics for a number of years around the era I started reading (2004-05). He’d been operating in the shadows, occasionally popping up to help other people like Spider-Woman and Winter Soldier. He finally resurfaces in triumphant fashion with his own superteam in the middle of 2008’s Secret Invasion, immediately kicking skrull ass.
Following the Secret Invasion and the new regime change that puts Norman Osborn in charge, Nick Fury’s team received its own official series called Secret Warriors. The roster of mostly original characters benefits from Brian Michael Bendis’ grandiose serialized writing style and plot development, but the actual team remains frustratingly underdeveloped.
Part of the problem is that the series wants to be a team-up book like Avengers or X-Men, but spends the bulk of its time exploring Nick Fury as a grizzled veteran with the world on his shoulders, as well as cultivating multiple enemy factions with various villains and back stories.
I’ve become much more used to Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and had mostly forgotten about this older comic version. It was nice to see him again, and I actually fell in love with his portrayal as an unflinching, cold-hearted old spy-soldier. But this book is billed “Secret Warriors,” not “Nick Fury,” and I felt like a bit too much time was spent building up Fury’s and Hydra’s various agendas and armies.
The Nick Fury Show is evidenced in the title of the first story arc, “Nick Fury: Agent of Nothing” (#1-5). We’re introduced to our team of super-powered folks, all having powers we’ve seen before: JT James with Ghost Rider’s fire chains, Yo-Yo Rodriguez the speedster, Sebastian Druid’s minor magical skills, son of Absorbing Man Jeremy Sledge, Phobos – young son of Ares (God of War, currently a Dark Avenger), and team leader Daisy “Quake” Johnson – most recognizable these days from the television show Agents of SHIELD.
It’s not the most diverse team but it’s better than average at the time. More interesting than their ethnicities or power-sets is there age. This is a young, inexperienced group who were aggressively recruited from SHIELD’s dwindling records of potential powered people they could use as assets. Phobos is ten or twelve while Yo-Yo is fifteen. Daisy is also full of self-doubt, and endlessly frustrated at Nick Fury’s constant absence and limited knowledge he’s willing to impart. I don’t blame her!
Another big chunk of the comic is spent on creating essentially a new villain group, complete with multiple foes. Hydra’s always been a factor but until then had taken a backseat to the machinations of Red Skull, MODOK, and more world-destroying problems like Ultron.
With Secret Warriors, Bendis reveals one of the biggest twists of the time – that all of SHIELD was really Hydra! This has already been done in the MCU in both Captain America: Winter Soldier and Agents of SHIELD, but it’s still a pretty awesome twist.
Following the skrull invasion Hydra roars back with a vengeance, as Baron Von Strucker rebuilds the organization with fellow Hydra leaders Kraken, Viper, Madame Hydra, and others. Juggling all these villains along with our own crew is tricky, and the comic definitely feels like it plods along for this first arc, ultimately culminating in a GI Joe-style army battle in which everyone escapes to fight again.
“God of Fear, God of War” (#6-10) brings our team in direct conflict with Osborn’s Dark Avengers. Given Fury’s SHIELD ties, Phobos’ father issues, and the grand political scheme behind Dark Reign, it was only a matter of time.
Thankfully it’s not a literal crossover. Instead supplemental reading is suggested by reading a few issues of Thunderbolts, some of which literally just retells the exact same scenes (like Nick Fury getting captured). It’s actually quite fascinating watching the same scene play out with slightly different dialogue and art styles.
I ended up reading a single issue of Thunderbolts and then went back to Secret Warriors. I enjoyed Thunderbolts up until they restructured the team and sent most of them to Dark Avengers. Apparently the real Black Widow was posing as the blonde one on that new team, so her story (along with Songbird’s) intersected with Nick Fury’s in an interesting way. Including this crossover further lessens the time we spend with our actual team of young powered people, however.
Issue #10 focuses solely on Phobos. With the team battling the Dark Avengers (somewhat, they’re vastly outmatched), the young telepathic God of Fear reunites with his frightening father. Their complex relationship is surprisingly well done (and further expanded in a later issue…or maybe it was a Dark Avengers issue…). At the end it made me enjoy and respect both Ares and Phobos a lot more.
“Wake the Beast” (#11-16) finally puts Hydra back as our main villains. New writer Jonathan Hickman, like Bendis, is unafraid to spend huge amounts of time and space developing the villains.
Hydra has their own traitor to deal with, and another faction rises up. Leviathan is essentially the Soviet version of Hydra, and seemingly operates in a similiar way with a huge army of faceless troops and a few superpowered foes. Adding them into the mix dilutes everything else that’s going on. Hopefully it leads to some interesting twists, turns, and mega-battles in the future. I say hopefully because the entire 3-arc Volume ends on a damn cliffhanger involving the betrayal of one of our heroes!
Secret Warriors: The Complete Collection Volume 1 has some fantastic art, most of it by Stefano Casselli. It’s an easy, comfortable style that skillfully portrays a haggard, aging Nick Fury along with a frustrated Daisy, and all the crazy cool designs of Hydra and Leviathan villains.
The storytelling gets a bit lost with the number of characters and factions in play. After sixteen issues I only feel like I know maybe half of the actual Secret Warriors team. However, Nick Fury is delightfully entertaining and well written, and the GI Joe-style battles are a lot of fun. Secret Warriors is methodically written and slowly evolving, and I look forward to future payoffs.