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!
Artist: Mike Deodato
Issues: Secret Avengers (2010) #1-12
In 2009 Steve Rogers returned from the minor setback of death. To be fair he was dead quite awhile in comic-time (several years). It caused quite an upheaval for the Avengers, and lead to some of Ed Brubaker’s best work on the continuing Captain America series at the time starring Bucky Barnes (ex-Winter Soldier) as the new Cap.
So when Steve Rogers returns, he actually doesn’t want the shield back. The world is a far darker place, and he doesn’t want the political climate of fear to lead to another Civil War between superheroes. And Bucky’s done a pretty decent job as a new gun-toting Cap.
Instead, Steve starts his own Secret Avengers team where he takes on more of a Nick Fury role. It’s similar to when Cyclops created X-Force, only way less bloody. This is a team that sneaks in and gets shit done before it hits the fan.
It’s also a pretty wacky group that works surprisingly well: Steve and Agent 13 (Sharon Carter), Black Widow, Moon Knight, Ant-Man (the sassy Eric O’Grady version), Valkyrie, Beast, War Machine, and sort-of Nova. I say sort-of because he needs rescuing in the very first story, and afterward goes off to do more Cosmic-level stuff.
In both Bendis Avengers series that start around this time, the groups team up and immediately have to deal with some crazy situation, from time-travel to demons. Here Brubaker layers in a Hydra-esque plot that feels both natural and crazy.
In “Mission to Mars” (1-5) a hidden installation is discovered on the red planet. Nova goes in first, only to succumb to a powerful artifact that possesses him. The rest of the team hightails it up there and splits up to try and both rescue him and take him down.
Meanwhile we’re steadily teased with our new villains, including a Nick Fury clone called Max, a nearly-immortal cowboy-turned-businessman named Thorndrake, and undead mastermind Zheng Zu. Most stories are only as good as their villains, and here Secret Avengers really nails the intrigue. Max even gets his whole backstory explained, courtesy of the real Nick Fury in a fun one-off issue (#6).
The first story is an action-packed romp but ultimately pulls the cliché superhero finale of just working together to punch down the big bad. The plot improves immeasurably when our teased villains take center stage in the following story arc, “Eyes of the Dragon” (#7-10).
Secret Avengers basically does a mystical Kung Fu story featuring Marvel’s own thinly veiled Bruce Lee, Shang-Chi. His evil sorcerer father is returning and needs his son’s blood to fully resurrect. The Secret Avengers engage in a protection mission, then a rescue mission as plans go awry and secrets revealed.
Steve really shows off his battlefield tactics and leadership throughout each comic, setting up ambushes and keeping an ace up his sleeve – or in this case, an Ant-Man on the enemy ship.
Artist Mike Deodato is a perfect fit for these relatively low-powered heroes as most of the battles come down to melee attacks. Deodato is easily one of my favorite Marvel artists and his work here is just sublime. The fight scenes are an amazing ballet of punches and kicks and each page is a dynamic variety of box-in-box, slanted panels, and other awesome staging sequences.
The final two issues focus on yet another interesting villain that’s added to the mix: super-soldier John Steele. Steele used to fight alongside Captain America in WW2 (like every other superhero apparently), but clearly something went on between then and now.
Cap captures Steele and uses some mind-probing technology from Beast to try and suss out the problem in issues #11-12. It mostly just leads to more questions but it’s a fun ride. Brubaker loves jumping back into WW2 stories as much as he can.
Of the three post-Dark Reign Avengers series I’ve read, Secret Avengers is far and away the strongest opener. The team is fun and diverse, the villains intriguing, and the plot is a deft blend of reasonable and outlandish. Come for the fun team and plot, but stay for the phenomenal art work.