Or – “Goddess, Thief, Centurion, Spy, Walking Tank, Mutant And Loon: Attorneys At Law.”
The Avengers have been through hell and back since the events of Avengers: Disassembled several years ago… The core membership changed, split, changed, dissolved, reassembled and split again, and the only real constant has been change itself. Now that Norm-O has been outed as the head of superhuman affairs in the Marvel U, Steve Rogers has taken over and vowed to relaunch the team in the light of the Heroic Age. But as much as he’s a star-spangled super-soldier, Rogers also has extensive experience with SHIELD, and understands the need for steath, the need for non-costumed sanctions, the need for dark-ally shenanigans. To that end, we give you… The Secret Avengers.
Previously, on Secret Avengers: Tony Stark may be an untrustworthy, undependable sack at times, but he has proven himself on occasion to be a futurist in the truest sense of the word. I like to think that it was the murder of his oldest associate that threw him into the spiral that led to the end of SHIELD and the $#!+storm that was the Dark Reign. Now that Steve Rogers has returned from beyond the pale (courtesy of a magical time-travel gun, for those who don’t recall) he has revived ANOTHER of Iron Man’s ideas… Of course, when Iron Man did it he called it “Force Works,” and it was basically X-Force with A’s on their jackets, but whatever. Now that he’s the public face of heroism (and I suspect, now that he’s no longer the active Captain America) Steve has assembled a team of Avengers designed to handle the things that superheroes can’t, to inject themselves into situations BEFORE they’ve devolved into costumed chicanery and slugfests.
To quote the man himself, “Our world is out of control…” Steve Rogers narrates his explanation of how odd and how vicious the human race in the 21st century can be, as we witness a Roxxon functionary returning to his hotel room, drunk, with a skank on each arm. Once locked in the comfort of his suite, it is clear that one of his paramours isn’t interested in Mr. Roxxon-schmuck at all, and she quickly punches him across the room into a wall. “Do NOT paw at me,” intones the Valkyrie as she and Black Widow prepare to deal with Roxxon’s security forces. (The Roxxon corporation, for those not in the know, is an evil concern, known for genetic manipulation, endangering human life, extreme perfidy and general unpleasantness. I’m pretty sure Dilbert works there…) The shield maiden and the SHIELD agent make quick work of two dozen rent-a-cops, allowing the all-new Fighting American Captain Steve Rogers to bust in and take their target. Rogers praises them for getting in and getting out without casualties, but the Valkyrie isn’t thrilled with the denoument of the mission. As the Avengers race away in their VTOL transporty ship, they are observed by mysterous armored types with dragons on their chests… Ominous.
Mike Deodato’s art is mighty pleasant throughout this issue, by the way, especially his rendition of the next member to show his fuzzy, blue face: The Beast. Still in his feline form (or at least still sporting a feline nose) Dr. McCoy and Captain Rogers analyze the MacGuffin, revealed to be (maybe) a Serpent Crown. Cap has a romantic reunion with his coordiating liaison/girlfriend Sharon Carter, and we get to see two more Secret Avengers in action: Moon Knight, and the new Ant-Man (updated to a more classic look. We get to see how Rogers brought both men into the fold (Moony’s initiation is interesting, Ant-Man’s a little cliche) infiltrating a Roxxon location to install a data skimmer. The intel indicates that Roxxon is up to something sneaky on Mars (!!) and Steve casually mentions that he’ll have it looked into. (The reactions of the Avengers as they realize he has someone who can just fly to Mars is pretty awesome…) Smash cut two days forward, as Rogers gathers his forces and tells them they’re headed for the Red Planet, as he lost contact with his Mars agent that morning. A flashback shows us Nova-Prime Richard Ryder (YAY!) investigating Mars and finding exotic weapons and a hidden catacombs where he finds another Serpent Crown… Nova drops his helmet, ignoring the protestations of the Worldmind, and reaches for the crown. With her team off on a big space adventure, Sharon Carter is caught unawares as her ship is invaded by snake-armored guys led by… Nick Fury???
This is a strong launch issue, certainly stronger than Avengers #1 last week, but there are some issues that I have with this assemblage that the book doesn’t really address. Moon Knight’s mental issues, Nova’s cosmic status, the Valkyrie’s identity problems over the years, The Beast’s moral problems with the X-Men leading him HERE… This issue basically throws us striaght into the action without so much as a “by your leave,” which is somewhat off-putting. Still, Brubaker’s character work and dialogue get us through it, and even the characters who get little to no screen time (War Machine for one, Sharon for another) having a voice that is distinctly theirs. Even as I wonder, I enjoy the lineup here, and Moon Knight acting as the team’s Wolverine/crazy man is at least a change of pace. Marvel has got itself a good start here, leaving me wanting more and certainly up for purchasing the next issue to find out. Even Steve’s costume isn’t enough to pull me out of things as much as the promotional shots made me worry that it would. Mike Deodato has finally balanced out some of the stunt-casting and female anatomy problems that made early issues of Thunderbolts so distressing, and Brubaker does what Brubaker does best: credible spycraft without mocking the costumes or the tricks of the trade. Secret Avengers #1 has potential, and has in my eyes the strongest overall cast of the relaunched books, earning a satisfying 4 out of 5 stars overall. Interestingly, for the first time in months, we’re dealing with old-school Avengers business, something I’m happy with.
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Is anybody else glad to see a top-tier Avengers books not written by Bendis?