Secret Avengers #1
Writer: Ales Kot
Artist: Michael Walsh
Color Artist: Matthew Wilson
Letters & Production: Clayton Cowles
Review by Joey Braccino
“Run the mission. Don’t get seen. Save the world.”
Hankering for some top-secret high-octane SHIELD ops featuring Phil Coulson and Nick Fury (Jr.)??? Eager to see Black Widow and Spider-Woman kick some arse up and down the New York rooftops??? Want to see Hawkeye get punched in the nose (again)??? Then pick up Secret Avengers #1!!!
Of course, you could probably get the Black Widow stuff and the Hawkeye stuff over in their titular (and much better) solo series… right down to some of the character beats and gags that Ales Kot incorporates into their scenes. So yeah, the Coulson and Fury (Jr.) and Spider-Woman stuff might really be the only draw here… unless of course you’re really into that dark, hard-boiled espionage.
Of course, the main takeaway is that Secret Avengers feels like a niche book. When Ed Brubaker launched the series back in 2010, he brought over that pulpy suspense-thriller tone from his run on Captain America. Warren Ellis took over for a short run (and established the tagline at the head of this review) and added a world-weary whimsy that has permeated the series since. When the series relaunched, Nick Spencer took the book and added a tinge of Big Brother government suppression and corruption that elevated the series in the eyes of fans. With this new volume, Ales Kot takes over. Just from his work on the incredible Image series Zero, I hoped that Ales Kot’s gritty, brutal, nigh-psychedelic approach to similar content would prove perfect for Marvel’s band of black ops Avengers.
Alas, Secret Avengers #1 never quite clicks. A critical element of the first issue is to establish a tone, a mood, a conceit that will differentiate this Avengers title from the rest of the Avengers titles permeating the market; unfortunately, Secret Avengers doesn’t seem to have one. Even the central premise of Spencer’s recent volume (the mind-wiping and geo-political bent) is practically forgotten entirely as instead we get Agents of SHIELD-esque mission running. The “high points” of the issue are Kot’s attempts at humor with Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Spider-Woman. Some of the jokes hit, but for the most part, the sequences with these characters feel like poor-man’s versions of Nathan Edmondson and Matt Fraction’s work on the characters’ solo series. The real death knell, however, is just how flat or off-kilter the characterization feels. Coulson doesn’t seem like Coulson; Nick Fury Jr. is still an amorphous entity in his own right; and the rest of the heroes could be swapped out for anyone else (except perhaps Black Widow). There is a Latverian subplot simmering underneath, but it isn’t prominent enough to warrant attention; instead, we’re given some AIM agent bashing and some outer-space gunfire (#notsafe). At least the cliffhanger is promising, though the stakes aren’t necessarily
Michael Walsh’s artwork is a fascinating choice for the series. His pulp-inspired aesthetic is reminiscent of Chris Samnee’s work on Daredevil. While it might not provide the moodiness of prior renditions of Secret Avengers, the artwork is dynamic and engaging. And yet, even the visuals don’t quite click for the series, as Matthew Wilson’s vibrant colors seem too bright for the darker subtext of the action.
Unfortunately, skip it. Secret Avengers #1 is the perfect example of all the right pieces put in the wrong order. Ales Kot is an excellent writer, Michael Walsh an innovative artist, Matthew Wilson a brilliant colorist, and yet the final product just doesn’t jive together to form an engaging story. More problematic is the fact that previous iterations of Secret Avengers established that “Run the Mission” ethos immediately both literally and aesthetically. Here’s to hoping that the cliffhanger picks up the pace and puts the pieces in order next issue.