Friday Slugfest: Secret Avengers #1

A comic review article by: Thom Young, Ross Haralson, Robert Tacopina, Shawn Hill, Jason Sacks
“Secret Histories” Part One

Commander Steve Rogers assembles his shadow ops Avengers as a pre-emptive strike force tasked with eliminating threats against humanity. Together, they embark on their first series of missions--and they're going to Mars!

Ross Haralson:
Robert Tacopina:
Shawn Hill:
Jason Sacks:

Ross Haralson:

Secret Avengers shows a remarkable amount of promise; the book features a great combination of characters, exceptional art, and solid writing that effectively captures the unique dynamic afforded by the diversity of its cast. Almost immediately, issue #1 placates my fear greatest fear: Steve Rogers is quite literally back in action.

As leader of a “shadow ops” team tasked with working in secret (hence the title of the series), it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Rogers to coordinate the movement of his agents from a position far removed from the field; I am thus grateful that Brubaker seems as eager as readers to see the former Captain America get his hands dirty.

Regarding the remainder of the cast, Brubaker naturally establishes within the structure of his narrative his justification for assembling such an eclectic ensemble of characters. Secret Avengers exhibits few, if any, of the weaknesses found in the writer’s run on Uncanny X-Men, and the key difference lies in the structural difference between these two teams. Whereas the X-Men generally battle as a unit, Brubaker’s Avengers seemingly conform to a fully oppositional structure.

If this first issue is any indication, individual “outings” involve only two or three members of the cast, and the chosen characters’ power sets or abilities align in turn with the requirements of the mission. If Brubaker continues to show such discretion when scripting future issues, Secret Avengers should prove to be a success.

In many ways, Mike Deodato is the perfect choice as illustrator for this book. A shoe-in for Dark Avengers due to his preceding run with similarly Norman Osborn-centric title Thunderbolts, Deodato has by this point unquestionably earned his position as one of Marvel’s premiere talents.

Characters are sharply rendered, shadows are prevalent but never overpowering, and faces are distinct amongst unmasked cast members (a frequent weakness associated with disciples of photorealism). Even finer details, such as clothing or hair (fur in Beast’s case), retain a universal sense of fluidity and remain well-defined--never inappropriately blending with a character’s other features and/or the surrounding environment.

On the subject of Beast, it bears mention that Deodato produces what may be the least mortifying depiction of Hank McCoy’s facial structure that I’ve seen from any comic book published following the onset of the character’s second mutation during Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run.

Finally, I would be remiss were I not to clarify that much of the art’s quality stems from the work of Rainier Beredo. It requires a skilled colorist to complement the often dark and heavily textured work of Mike Deodato, and Beredo simply excels.

I imagine this book will sell well regardless of critical reception, so let me instead speak to the handful of fans disillusioned with Brubaker’s former attempt at a team book who may need convincing. The future may be uncertain, but this issue is a clear winner. Set aside your presuppositions and give Secret Avengers an opportunity to impress; I expect you won’t be disappointed.

Robert Tacopina:

When Secret Avengers was announced, I was a bit skeptical as to just how this title would function and what purpose it would serve. A word like Secret in the title suggests that they will skirt the gray areas of Marvel Comics as a sort of black-ops team--much like X-Force is to the X-Men.

Another big question was which characters were going to fill out the ranks of this squad. Part of the fun leading up to this first issue was the speculation as to who these Avengers were. When the roster was finally revealed, I was more than a little shocked and pleased at who rounded out the ensemble--Steve Rogers, Black Widow, War Machine, Valkyrie, Ant-Man, Moon Knight, Beast, Nova and Sharon Carter. That is an impressive line-up that seemingly can contain any situation they are confronted with.

Writer Ed Brubaker crafts a compelling opening issue that uses flashback scenes to illustrate a few key points pertaining to the formation of the team and how their initial mission--the task of locating and obtaining an artifact called the Serpent Crown--comes into being. One of the more interesting developments happens to be the cast and their interactions with one another right from the get go.

The teaming up of Valkyrie and Black Widow as escorts, and of Moon Knight and Ant-Man on a breaking and entering mission, were not only well written but fun--and offering an insight into these heroes that readers may not be familiar with. In this issue alone we see the team tackle a variety of situations from espionage to outer space, and the result is a unique debut of a book that has a fun old-school feel to it already.

Though it is quite strange to see some of these Avengers in the role that they are in, it appears that Brubaker definitely has a feel for the characters he has chosen for this title. My main concern is that with a cast this size, it may be hard to focus on all the characters. As a result, the writer will be handicapped by relying on a select few.

The new look of Steve Rogers is a bit jarring because we associate him with the Captain America mantle, but there could not have been a more perfectly chosen candidate to be the leader of such a squad due to the sheer amount of experience he has attained over the years and the leadership qualities that are second nature to him.

Finally, Mike Deodato adds his gorgeous artistic talents to this title. His character depictions are spot on and full of life. His panel work is also a sight to behold as he has no qualms about experiment with panel placement rather than adhering to what has traditionally worked in the comic book medium. Rain Beredo provides the color art by using the premise of this title to its advantage by suitably resorting to a darker and muted style of coloring technique.

Overall, I loved this premiere issue a great deal--so much so that I have found myself re-reading it despite the fact that I have not made a significant dent in my weekly stack of comics because I am so enamored with this one. When you consider the cast and the talent of the creators, you quickly come to realize that what you hold in your hands is a comic book that is overflowing with potential storylines and greatness.

There are so many different areas where Brubaker can go with his storytelling on Secret Avengers using this eclectic cast. Call me a Marvel Zombie if you must, but I loved this book and urge everyone with a few dollars to spare to consider checking this title out.

Shawn Hill

Yes! This is how you start an Avengers series! As much as I wanted to love (and really did like) Slott's Mighty Avengers, it was pretty mired in a lot of Marvel Universe larger distractions (Inhumans, Dark Avengers, old curses). It did a lot of fun things with Hank Pym, but c'mon, he's Hank Pym. Yellowjacket was the only ever fun version of the character, and he was mentally unstable!

Brubaker opens with two statuesque women posing as "escorts" (oh, to have Valkyrie's way with words), in an operation that goes south when one of them can't put up with being fondled one second longer. Or it would have gone south if the two women weren't the aforementioned Norse shield maiden (now apparently being played by Fergie of the Black-Eyed Peas, but, hey, could be worse) and the Black Widow.

What are they after? The Serpent Crown, of all things. You had me at "Roxxon," Brubaker! This is a fun comic with snappy dialogue! Not overly mannered, stuttering dialogue. No excessive expository monologues. Instead, clipped chats and pithy comments amongst old friends, all of them seasoned pros. Steve Rogers sets the tone, but he's picked a surprisingly varied team that makes sense to him.

Moon Knight and Ant-Man are no less adept at their own covert operation. Brubaker makes the newest Ant-Man (in a great old-school costume at last) less grating than usual, while the Knight is a totally different sort of man--a mysterious loner not given to a running narrative of whining. The exposition comes from Beast and Rhodey--which means at least it's not dull--as the trail leads to Mars, of all places. Of course Cap has that covered, with access to a Kree spaceship and the final member, Nova.

Or he thinks he does, anyway.

Nova proves to not be impervious to the Crown's subversive seductions. This scene of entrapment is rendered in a wonderfully deadpan sequence by Mike Deodato, who hints at mysteries and wonders while showing Rick falling prey to a magickal threat--and that's the main thing that makes this issue so successful. Namely, Brubaker and Deodato work in tandem to capture that peculiar mix of scientific wonder and mystical might that keeps life interesting for our heroes on Earth 616.

That balance actually mirrors the teammates Rogers chose: a spy (and fellow super-soldier like himself), a knight of technology and another knight of spirit, a science policeman, and a Norse warrior. There's a scene where Cap confronts his new allies which recalls similar displays Deodato drew for Dark Avengers, though this one can't help but be brighter and more optimistic because Steve picked good guys.

While colorist Rainer Beredo keeps things shadowy, there's a sense of vitality and direction that instantly galvanizes the team in a way that serial-killing antics never could. Some new faces, but some old--because, as Hank says, "once an Avenger and all that."

Jason Sacks:

Of all the new Avengers titles premiering this month, the one I was both most excited about and most dreading was Secret Avengers.

I was quite excited about this title because it's being written by Ed Brubaker, one of my favorite mainstream comics writers. He has done a terrific job in the last few years on such mainstream Marvel titles as Captain America, Daredevil and The Immortal Iron Fist. The man's writing has seldom disappointed me, and it has often really excited me. Thus, the fact that he is writing one of the new Avengers revivals was the source of excitement for me.

However, I was also dreading this title because it seemed like such a misbegotten and random set of characters. I could see War Machine, the Beast and the Black Widow as Avengers, sure.

And a non-costumed Steve Rogers as the team leader--well, if Brubaker could make Rogers a compelling character in Captain America, then why not in this title?

However, to then also bring in Valkyrie, Nova, and Moon Knight as Avengers? Somehow the team seemed to me to be less than the sum of its parts.

I'm happy to say that I had every reason to be excited, and the early returns indicate that I had no reason to dread this title. The reason for the success all comes down to the writer.

Brubaker has an amazing talent for getting right to the core of a character with just a few quick strokes. He has the rare ability to show readers a bit of a character's inner life with just a few quick words or a small scene. The key to a successful team book always has been for the reader to enjoy reading about each member of the ensemble, and Brubaker does a professional job of making the reader care.

There are so many wonderful little character moments:
  • Valkyrie hating to be mauled by a Roxxon executive

  • Moon Knight not wanting to join the team because "Teams and me, we don't work . . . too many voices"

  • The real love between Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter

  • The doubt that Nova feels about being an Avenger
These are all small moments, but each character has at least one all to himself or herself--and each moment makes the reader care about the characters and what will happen to them.

The villains seem more evil because they're opposing characters who are unique and about whom we have come to care. It's the triumph of character over plot while still allowing the story to develop in interesting and surprising ways. And if you see an implied criticism in my comments toward the work of a certain other Avengers writer . . . yeah, that's definitely intended.

Yet, what's really cool about it is that the isolated moments make the group seem to work together well as a team. It makes them seem like more than the sum of their parts. Far from being misbegotten, the Secret Avengers seem like a fascinating collection of diverse and intriguing characters. It seems like these people have reasons to come together--a mission that each finds deeply interesting and fulfilling.

Plus it's just plain awesome to see the Beast back in the Avengers where he belongs!

Oh, and the book is pretty damn funny, too. Characters crack jokes, seem to take real pleasure in their work, even goof around with each other at times. Talk about team-building, Brubaker has his characters act in the way that friends actually act around each other.

I've never been a fan of Mike Deodato's art. His work has always seemed overly stiff to me, and his characters always seem to have been drawn with annoyingly large torsos that I found distracting. However, his artwork here is solid and professional.

While there are some stiff figures and distorted bodies, Deodato also does a good job of conveying passion, energy, and a real life to his characters.

I enjoyed the hell out of this book, and the final-page cliffhanger has me curious to read the next issue.

Yeah, this was a good comic. Typical Brubaker. I should have learned to trust him years ago.

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