As each issue of Secret Warriors brings us closer to the series finale that looms right around the corner, it’s hard not to speculate on what might have been. Considering that the initial plan for 60 issues was winnowed down to a mere 30-something, there’s no doubt that Jonathan Hickman’s original vision for the book was significantly altered. Given the high quality of what has been produced so far, I’m not complaining, but it’s easy to imagine that more would have been better.
With the release of this month’s issue, however, it’s time to seriously call that notion into question. What may have once been intended as a lengthy multi-parter is condensed into an efficient and effective standalone offering that is, quite frankly, a superb achievement. The veil over Nick Fury’s heretofore unseen “Grey Team” is finally lifted, and the whirlwind of character introductions that follows is nothing short of amazing.
By the end of these 22 pages, you’ll wonder how anyone ever accused Hickman’s knack for characterization early in this series of being subpar. A rapid-fire succession of short scenes manages to establish the history, personality, and powers of each of the new characters to a surprisingly sufficient degree. Empowered by brevity, Hickman is forced to make each of these moments count. From outlandish conspiracy theories to the recitation of ancient epic poetry, no technique is left unturned in making you care about a group of characters who would otherwise be a flash in the pan.
Bookending this collection of gems is a framing sequence that turns out not to be exactly what it seems. I’ll do my best to hold back the spoilers that plagued the last Hickman comic that all of us read, but I’ll go so far as to say that this issue has more in common with that one than you might expect.
I’m normally disappointed to find that an issue of Secret Warriors features an artist other than Stefano Caselli or Alessandro Vitti, but David Marquez does wonders to reverse that trend. His work is undeniably strong, consisting of great detail without sacrificing the dynamism that he lends to the book’s action-packed climax. His ability to imbue each character with a distinct, expressive look is absolutely crucial to everything Hickman achieves here in his accelerated exposition.
We may never learn the true story behind the 30-plus Secret Warriors issues that hit the cutting room floor, but it’s more than reasonable to suspect that their elimination was the product of a purposeful effort to trim the fat. Compressed into the space of a single standard-sized comic, the tale of Nick Fury’s Grey Team is hard-hitting indeed.