Or – “Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together…”

Warren Ellis: Mind-blowing turbo-crazy awesome writing.

David Aja: Mind-blowing three-dimensional kung-fu hijinks.

Put ’em together, add a dash of Shang-Chi, and you just sold me a comic book, sirrah…

SECRET AVENGERS #18
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist(s): David Aja with Raul Allen
Cover Artist(s): John Cassaday & Paul Mounts
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

Previously, in Secret Avengers:  A mysterious underground organization known as The Shadow Council has been operating behind the scenes in the Marvel Universe for decades, unnoticed until Steve Rogers took over the post of superhuman-mucky-muck-whatever-it-is-he-does-there.  In recent months, they tried to revive the legendary Fu Manchu, and were opposed by Steve Rogers and his secret black ops team, including Fu-Fu’s bouncing baby boy, the man known as Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung Fu.  (Not to be confused with Shang Fu, Master of Tai Chi.)  Now, Commander Rogers has a lead on the Shadow Council’s activities, and has called upon Shang for assistance a second time…

THREE CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF A UNIVERSE.

We open in media res, with Captain America Commander Rogers radioing the Master of Kung-Fu to warn him that the army of the Shadow Council are nearly upon him.  For nearly a page, Shang-Chi stands unmoving, centering his chi, until he suddenly EXPLODES into three-dimensional action.  David Aja (whom many may remember from his work on Immortal Iron Fist not so long ago) delivers on two fascinating visual premises at the same time:  The Master Of Kung-Fu versus a hundred men, and a space-station that seems to have been designed by M.C. Escher.  Flashback to Hank McCoy, the Secret Avengers tech wizard, explaining a bit of Warren Ellis frammistatery (“mining transmatter from bad continua”) to explain the plot, but what it really boils down to is three amazing martial artists fighting in a twisted landscape (though Sharon Carter cheats a bit by arming herself with Baron Strucker’s epic Satan Claw) and looking awesome.

GAMES OF DECEIT AND DEATH…

The moment of the issue comes when the team reunites in mid-space-station, wherein Shang-Chi dressed down Cap (!!) for the situation:  “I came to aid you in a mission of stealth, extraction and honor avenged.  I resent being made your thug.”  It’s the clearest and most insightful single character moment in recent memory, distilling Shang’s distaste for the spy game as seen in his long interactions with Black Jack Tarr, Denis Nayland Smith and such throughout the 1970’s.  The battle is amazingly well-rendered, and Cap even gets to apologize to Shang by reminding him that “you’re here to be an Avenger,” and my love of this issue grows as the villain is revealed to be an imperfect lost clone of Arnim Zola, and we bring things full circle as the heroes capture a Shadow Council ship and return to Earth.  There’s a real Jim Steranko influence in this issue, especially in a sequence where Commander Rogers gets blasted through a strange dimensional void.

THE VERDICT: WOW.

Warren Ellis can always be counted on for a strange bit of MacGuffin magic, but this issue pushes it up to eleven, giving us a very close-up view of a very small three-man operation, giving the Secret Avengers something that the first few issues seemed to lack:  a clear purpose and strategy.  Under Brubaker (and don’t get me wrong, the book was good) there was no real differentiation between this team and the other Avengers branches, but Warren sets these issues aside with a wonderful opening sentence:  “There are missions that no one will ever find out about.  Unless they lose…”  Secret Avengers #18 is an uncomplicated but attractive issue, hitting all cylinders in both writing and art, featuring a character in the midst of a well-deserved but somewhat unexpected renaissance, earning 5 out of 5 stars overall.  It’s just that fine a comic book, folks…

Rating: ★★★★★

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  With Shang-Chi once again all over the place in the Marvel U (not to mention Nova, Power Man, Ms. Marvel, Iron Fist, Valkyrie, et al,) can you even think of any 1970’s characters left who haven’t been successfully revived?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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5 Comments

  1. wdchefdave
    October 29, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    I liked Bill Foster as a lab assistant… then as Black Goliath… (I noticed that Black Lightning never changed his name to Vulcan… oops… Lightning!)
    GOLIATH would be nice to see in any shade of man made by God.
    But, we have giant girls that remind me of the Doom Patrol… and power men who a black superhero was given his name… for a while.
    And, I remember a “Black Leopard” that appeared for one single issue of the F.F. back in the very early ’70s. (Because we all know that the “panther” is actually a black version of a “leopard”… as T’Challa explains while attacking!)
    Sheesh… I don’t know if I want to bring back ANYTHING from the 70’s! Including my ex-wife! (Maybe some early Eagles music.)
    Anyone remember when Ben Grimm was stuck being a normal human and actually zipped up a “Thing” costume to go fight?!?!

    • October 30, 2011 at 11:12 am

      Anyone remember when Ben Grimm was stuck being a normal human and actually zipped up a “Thing” costume to go fight?!?!

      Yep. Right after Luke Cage took a turn in the FF… Moreover, it was roughly the same time that Iron Man got a nose, proving that the Bronze Age ain’t all Hulk #181’s and Savage Tales #1’s.

  2. Slappy
    October 29, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    The Original Captin Marv-ell

  3. Ced
    October 30, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Not related to the question.
    Just to say that I really enjoy the “danger of the week” format of Secret Avengers. I like it to have a conclusion at the end of each issue. It done well and it a welcome change from all of those never ending big events.

    • October 30, 2011 at 11:15 am

      Just to say that I really enjoy the “danger of the week” format of Secret Avengers. I like it to have a conclusion at the end of each issue. It done well and it a welcome change from all of those never ending big events.

      Agreed, especially when it’s a Warren Ellis done-in-one, reminding me a bit of the first issues of Planetary…