Secret Avengers #18 brings a return of the Shadow Council, an organization we haven’t seen much of in recent issues. This time they’re searching for “transmatter,” or matter from a badly-formed multiverse that adheres to the laws of physics of that universe and not our own. In this case, we’re told it’s transmatter capable of turning the entire Earth into a sun. In order to prevent the Shadow Council from getting a hold of it, Steve Rogers, Sharon Carter, and Shang-Chi must infiltrate their base.
Hank McCoy explains to Sharon and Steve that new universes are forming from the Multiverse every day. However, “not all of them have a perfect Big Bang. Some emerge broken or malformed. These are called bad continua.” These “bad continua” don’t operate by familiar laws of physics, and that’s echoed in both the storytelling and art in this issue. With scenes in the present sandwiched between flashbacks and scenes doubling back to be shown from another side later in the comic, the writing itself mirrors the non-linear nature of these “bad continua.”
The art plays on this as well, with non-traditional panel layouts and pages that appear as if they could be straight out of MC Escher paintings. Color is chosen carefully throughout the comic, with red-hued panels placed against blue, making the action scenes seem to pop against the background. There’s a careful use of panels as well, with stylistic and varied layout to each page that aids in giving the comic its overall alien world feel.
Even though much of the comic is lighter on dialogue than it is on action, character development isn’t thrown to the side in favor of flashy action scenes. We see the continued toll that being a part of the espionage side of things is taking on Steve Rogers. It’s not a role that he assumes naturally, and it’s one that is clearly difficult for him, as when he turns his back on Sharon and states, “Never let me play spymaster again,” after revealing to her the fate that met his source. He is, however, a man who does what he feels must be done despite its emotional toll, and Ellis successfully conveys that struggle even in the midst of what is primarily an action comic.
Ellis has consistently been delivering solid comics with his run on Secret Avengers, and this issue is certainly no exception. It reads more like an espionage thriller than a traditional superhero comic, with action that moves the story along without ever hitting a lull. It’s both fully engaging and visually stimulating, with a plot that delivers almost as many twists as the stairs in the Shadow Council’s base.
Sara McDonald started reading comics in the third grade, and now puts her English degree to good use talking about them on the Internet. She currently resides in Western Massachusetts with a roommate, three cats, and an action figure collection and spends the time she isn’t reading comics working for a non-profit. You can visit her blog at Ms. Snarky’s Awesometastic Comics Blog.