SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Secret Avengers #22A comic review article by: Chris Kiser, Ray Tate, Danny Djeljosevic
Chris: Hello, faithful Comics Bulletin readers! Ray, Danny and Chris here, ready to give you our take on Rick Remender's anticipated debut on Secret Avengers, where we'll finally see how the respected Marvel Architect-in-waiting manages to transfer his knack for team-based espionage over to the publisher's number one franchise. I, for one, had been particularly looking forward to getting in on the next round of Remender at the ground floor, with the vibrant repartee and big, crazy story ideas that marked his Uncanny X-Force sadly slipping my notice for most of 2011. Although… Wait a minute, guys. Are either of you getting a sense of déjà vu here?
Ray: Somewhat. The only reason why I bought this issue is that my buddy, Link, who, with Beeslo and Mongo, entertains through the Yamagato Industries Business Report podcast, offered to loan it to me or give me a money back guarantee. He'll get to keep his three dollars because this issue is about a million times better than that rank Point One debut. I hope Marvel doesn't do any more of those damn things. I'm a continuity guy, and my one real regret is that the lousy Point One issue does link up pretty smoothly with the debut proper. Crappy villain Max Fury is at the end of the story as is Bagalia, land of green ick. However, if I never read that Point One issue, I probably would have enjoyed the premiere of Secret Avengers a la Remender and Hardman more. At least Captain America is calling Hawkeye Clint now instead of Barton. So, yeah, less dickish behavior is a good thing.
Danny: Secret Avengers #22, besides being a much more auspicious debut for Remender than 21.1 (which I liked pretty well enough), totally confirms my suspicions that the Point One issue was indeed a transition chapter meant to set up Remender's run, even though you don't really need it to understand this issue, which reintroduces the team anyway by following the perspective of new recruit Captain Britain, who I think might have my favorite costume in the Marvel Universe. Plus, I think the Point One issue ultimately sinks the gag where Captain Britain thinks he's being made the new leader of the Secret Avengers. But enough about hindsight.
Chris: I'm all for pretending that this, and not the Point One, is the true first issue of Remender's run (and for all we know, it may have originally been written as such), but I actually think there's a nice sense of dramatic irony in Captain Britain's speech to the team if you already know that he's not been appointed the man in charge. He's going on and on about pride and constant peril, and you're just watching it build, knowing that he's about to put his foot in his mouth. Or, in this case, one of Hawkeye's goop arrows.
Either way, Remender fits in a lot of well executed humor here, most of it surrounding Captain Britain and his sizable ego. The constant bickering between him and Hawkeye is pretty funny in itself, but it also gives the rest of the team something to play off of -- even Valkyrie manages to fire off a nice gaelic font zinger. And then there's that whole scene where the Captain gets a pep talk from the Queen of England! Man, if Captain Britain and MI: 13 was anything like this, then, well, I'd like to personally apologize to Paul Cornell for not buying it.
Danny: Captain Britain and MI: 13 was such a fun read. I think you'd dig it, Chris. It had Draculas on the Moon!
Ray: The humor is a welcome change. The wretched Point One exercise was a humorless affair. Being a fan of Captain Britain, I was delighted to see him among the ranks. Remender has him first tackling a Clive Barker-inspired "monster." A lot of writers seem to have read that short story by Barker. This is the third time a conglomerate like that has appeared in comics. I think the first was in a Justice League International Annual, the second in Project Superpowers. In any case, I loved the bit with Queen--very Doctor Who, and his visit to Saturnyne's palace was a nice little aside. I did find it hard to believe he would abandon Meggan for a simple meeting at the Secret Avengers' Satellite. These two are very hot and heavy for each other. I think Remender did that to establish him as a by the book figure. Traditionally, he's not. He's a scholar. He chose an amulet over the sword. He's not really such a stick in the mud, nor an authoritarian. I'm willing to accept however that he's had a bad day thanks to Hawkeye. I did like that the ladies of the team weren't going to stand for such nonsense. Valkyrie and Black Widow are extremely well characterized.
Danny: I just figured Captain America is the Principal of superheroes, so a call from him is probably a big enough deal to ditch one's girlfriend. Either way, I'm fond of Remender's decision to follow Captain Britain's point-of-view in this issue. He's likely the character the average reader is most unfamiliar with, and as the new recruit we can identify with his surprise at everything that changed between Secret Avengers #21 and Secret Avengers #22. His consternation at how Hawkeye's running the team is both well-founded and coming out of an obvious jealousy/dislike for Clint Barton. I like that kind of humanity in my superheroes, especially as shit gets weird.
Remender writing anything promises at least a modicum of the bizarre and/or outrageous, and he's easing us into what will surely be a characteristic take on the property by introducing a lady that eats fire, enlisting a "protector of the Ominverse" to join the team, giving the Avengers a Pym'd-out satellite base and making one of the villains a lady that secretes tiny superhero malcontents. Basically, anytime I read a superhero comic, I'm not necessarily looking to fap nostalgically to characters I enjoy; I'm more hoping to experience the work of somebody actively having ideas and putting them on the page, and this issue certainly satisfies that hunger enough for my tastes.
Ray: I agree with you on that front, Danny. Imagination just bursts out of these pages. It almost makes up for the Lighthouse being similar to the Watchtower in the Justice League. Of course, one expects a certain amount of cannibalism in comics, and the Pym twist is a good one.
Chris: It's actually even more like the Ant Farm from Jeff Lemire's Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., which is another tiny mobile base that requires the characters to shrink to get into. The ideas are so similar and have been introduced so close together that Remender's version can't realistically be intentional plagiarism. I'm sure when Frankenstein #1 came out, he slapped his forehead and screamed, "Are you kidding me?" It's really just a case of two really brilliant creators independently coming up with two cool ideas that happen to be really similar.
Of everything Remender dreams up here, it's the monster made of people Ray mentioned that struck my fancy the most. I mean, it involves a villain named Riot, of all things, manipulating a bunch of folks from the underclass into lashing out against the wealthy establishment. That's gotta be meant to drum up thoughts of current events, right? Now, I've got no idea what Remender's personal politics are. He lives in Portland, so he's probably just as left-minded as all the other Obama worshippers in this industry, but since I'm not, I'm going to just tell myself that this was some kind of clever jab at the herd mentality and terminally unclear goals of the Occupy movement.
Ray: Actually, though, the Pym shrunken headquarters predates Frankenstein. He had that since Avengers Academy. The mansion resided in Pym Space, accessible via dimension doors, but I digress. You bring up a good point. Remender fuses reality issues like the Occupy Movement and fanaticism to Avengers continuity almost effortlessly, and there’s a terrific scene where Hawkeye punishes Taliban-like terrorism by siccing Black Widow on them -- a Russian woman. I really must say that I would have liked to seen at least a panel where she cleans their clock rather than the quick cut to comedic moment. I would have liked to seen a panel where she takes them all out simultaneously a la this week’s Batgirl.
Danny: Part of me wants to address Riot as exemplifying how superhero comics can't handle the nuances of politics no matter how creative and/or liberal the writer, but it's problematic to look at it that way and way more satisfying to just see it as a cool supervillain idea with some mildly political shouting as shorthand for "this is my character motivation." Any 1:1 comparison just raises more questions.
Hey, let's talk about Gabriel Hardman. He drew this thing! And drew it pretty well. I have no idea how to describe his style except to lump it with guys like Michael Lark and Alex Maleev as far as moody cartooning, but Hardman is at least less terminally grounded than Maleev. By which I mean he can handle the superhero stuff really, really well, like the aforementioned fight with Riot or the reveal of the Lighthouse. But the best moment happens on Page 2, when the Pakistani woman swallows all tat fire with what looks like an unhinged jaw. In a comic book that takes place firmly in the Marvel Universe, a character displaying superpowers is still surprising and weird, and I think Hardman's art is essential to making that moment seem as anomalous as it does.
Chris: I'll ashamedly admit that I had no idea who Gabriel Hardman was, and I just assumed he was the guy drawing these really wacky covers where Beast looks like he's about to bite someone's face off. Ooops. Turns out that was Arthur Adams, who's giving this book an outer wrapper that looks markedly different than the interior content. Once I got over that confusion of expectations, though, I really enjoyed seeing what Hardman brought to the table. Michael Lark is exactly the guy I was going to compare him to, which may seem like an odd fit for such a sci-fi oriented book. I think you hit the nail on the head, though, Danny, when you described why this style worked. Hardman is just realistic enough to sell us on real world locales like Pakistan but loose enough to make towering giants made up of people or a woman hatching miniature doppelgangers out of her back seem equally believable.
Ray: I agree. Hardman's special effects actually reminded me of a good computer-designed subtlety found on X-Files as opposed to the great honking bad CGI creatures that I've seen elsewhere. I saw an advert for one of the interminable Twilight things, and they were so obviously horribly rendered werewolves. I thought to myself, they should sit kids down in front of The Howling. See what old school can do for you. It was a very cool moment, grotesquely illustrated, something Hardman's not really known for. Hardman debuted with Agents of Atlas. So he's very adept when illustrating superheroes, but in Secret Avengers, he's made his art a little sketchier, which actually works within the framework of what this book is supposed to be about.
Chris: So, even though the rating I'm giving it is only a half-star higher, as I write I'm realizing that I liked this issue considerably more than the last. I think that's largely because it genuinely made me look forward to reading the next one. The interpersonal team dynamic, as we've already discussed at length, is excellent, and the antagonists Remender has cooked up are pretty dang interesting, to say the least. Can't wait to find out what happens when the Avengers throwdown with the Brotherhood of Evil Robots.
Ray: The Round Table of villains at the end of the book was the only thing that disappointed me. It means if I pursue this series, I'm going to bump into Max Fury in the city-state I hate Bagalia, but that's enough to damper my enthusiasm.
Danny: The evil robots alone should earn Remender a giant pile of money to fuck on. That's right -- Rick Remender is the Diabolik of comics.
Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found at @Chris_Kiser!
Ray Tate's first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, "Spider Without a Web," published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups, where he reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he's young at heart. Of course, we all know better.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery. His webcomic The Ghost Engine (drawn by Eric Zawadzski) will debut in Spring 2012.