The first pages of Secret Warriors #20 feature writer Jonathan Hickman doing one of the things he does best. It’s a technique you could call the ‘double reveal’ or the ‘one-upper,’ involving a single surprising moment being immediately followed by an even greater shock (often in a larger panel). The device has been used consistently well throughout this book’s run, serving to imbue many an issue with the sense of a bigger bang than those previous. Seeing it at play here to open a new story arc that, as some have suggested, marks the beginning of a build up to the series finale seems to indicate that we’re in store for quite the doozy of a yarn.
Sadly, the rest of the issue never really lives up to the expectations set by the gripping introduction. The plot revolves around Nick Fury unleashing his endgame to the war he’s been fighting against Hydra since day one and it’s a rather mundane scheme. Essentially, Fury’s plan to mortally wound the enemy consists of launching a direct assault upon the bad guys’ base of operations, as if such a task would be both attainable and effective. There’s no explanation given as to why a stratagem so simple wasn’t attempted before, making it all seem less like a preplanned ending and more like a last minute rush job.
Add this to a smattering of clichéd dialogue and you have to wonder what’s going on with this normally cutting edge comic. “I never signed up for something like this.” “Take a deep breath, Fury. Enjoy it…for it is the last one you are ever going to get.” Did Hickman get Stephenie Meyer to ghost write this issue for him or something?
The visual storytelling takes a hit this month as well, but I want to be careful not to pin all the blame for that on new artist Mirko Colak. It’s true that Colak’s style is much simpler than we’ve grown accustomed to on this title, but it’s no crime that he’s not Stefano Caselli. The point that things begin to fall apart is during a climactic battle scene wherein plot relevant action becomes detrimentally difficult to follow. Part of this failure may indeed rest on Colak’s abilities to illustrate the story, but we aren’t privy to the quality of the script’s panel descriptions.
As much as I am tempted to complain, however, this is still an issue of Secret Warriors and it contains pieces of story that are no doubt integral to the outcome of this years long epic. If Hickman has failed to live up to anyone’s standard, it has been his own. The problem with continually upping the ante is that you’re now on the hook for calling the bets.