REVIEW: Secret Avengers #37

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As Rick Remender ends his run on Secret Avengers, will he be able to answer all the questions that readers have wanted to ask? How can they be “secret” when they’re fighting giant robots in Manhattan? How many world-wide calamities can happen concurrently in the Marvel U before the evil plots start interfering with one another? Does Damage Control have some kind of sign-up sheet for the villains to keep the scheduling straight? Find out after the jump.

Secret_Avengers_Vol_1_37SECRET AVENGERS #37
Writer: Rick Rememder
Artists: Matteo Scalera
Colors: Matthew Wilsoni
Letters: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Editor: Tom Brevoort with Lauren Sankovitch
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

 

Previously in Secret Avengers:

The “Decendants”, a race (species?) of robot life forms based on the original Human Torch, is taking over the world. Not content with infiltrating the world as sleeper agents hidden among humanity, these robots have released nano-mist that will assimilate all the humans, bringing peace, prosperity, health and immortality. Obviously, the Secret Avengers have to prevent this. But first, they have to deal with the enemy in their midst: Ant-Man has been killed and replaced by a Life Model Decoy, known as the “Black Ant” (racist?).

THE GOOD, THE BAD

This was a good comic but with a couple parts that bugged me. A lot. But it was still pretty good. It’s a very angst-ridden story with heroes making hard choices and figuring out what it means for them to be heroes. Captain Britain argues with the “original” Human Torch on the nature of humanity. Hawkeye has an internal monologue detailing the takeover of his mind by the nano-mist and how that impacts the moral question of whether he is allowed to kill in self-defense. That was all fairly cool and just the kind of thing that I like to see in a comic.
And yet I was disappointed. The foundational moral questions do not withstand careful review. In the first sequence, Venom (who kills with impunity when he appears in other books) struggles with killing Ant Man (in direct self-defense) despite it being made clear that Ant Man is not his former teammate but just a robot that looks like him. This sucks the drama out of the scene and makes the hero look foolish.
Then the biggest question of the story is why are the all fighting? The Descendants are turning everyone into robots against their will. OK, that sounds bad but it will make everyone smarter, healthier and effectively immortal. With a product like that, you wouldn’t have to force people. Just do a partnership with Apple and everyone will buy-in.(Yes, there was one statement a couple issues ago that humans wouldn’t accept it, but no explanation why.) They even have a civilian begging Hawkeye not to stop the transformations because otherwise he will die of cancer. That’s right, Remender brings up curing cancer: the third rail of speculative fiction. “Why doesn’t Reed Richards/Tony Stark/Bruce Banner cure cancer?” is the mac daddy of all do-not-think-about-this-too-hard questions in comics. You could do it in a limited series, but in an ongoing universe answering a question like that would quickly make the setting diverge too far from our own to allow readers to identify with it.
So why are the heroes fighting this utopia? This is a common story setup and usually there’s an underlying flaw to the utopia, like it requires an oppressed underclass (e.g. Magneto stories) or it takes away everyone’s free will and/or emotion (e.g. Star Trek Borg stories). But neither approach is taken here. The main reasons for fighting are because the Descendants look weird (always a good reason to hate an enemy) and Captain Britain’s impassioned speech about how Humanity is defined and given worth solely by death and suffering. It’s a good speech, but I’d rather hear it coming from Thanos than from Captain Britain. Give me a reason to cheer the heroes other than just the fact that they punch the freaky-looking. (For you wrestling fans, think of CM Punk and the Rock last year. Who has had the reasonable arguments and who was the good guy?)

Finally, a lot of focus was put on Hawkeye clinging to the maxim that “Avengers don’t kill”. This is another case where the genre details do not bear scrutiny. Look, I like the fact that comic book heroes as a general rule do not kill. It usually makes for more satisfying and morally-comfortable stories. However, it only works when the villains almost never kill either. And usually it’s a contrivance on the part of the plot. If a police sniper shoots a criminal in a hostage situation, the sniper is a hero who kills. Comic book heroes don’t have to kill because they aren’t put into situations where they would have to. They have super-powered, magical options. Which is something I love about comics but you can’t make it the focus without making it deconstructionist and my point is that deconstructionism and ongoing continuity are incompatible.
Anyway, after my cranky rant, I want to bookend this with praise for Remender’s skill. Even with the flaws, I am impressed with the craft involved. I love the character beats, the pacing and the balance between drama and action. The fact that much of it was so good is what drives me so crazy that some of it was wrong. If it was all crap I wouldn’t have gotten upset.

AND THE UGLY

I don’t mean that the art is bad. It’s quite good, in fact. But it is good pictures of ugly things. The line work looks scratchy and frantic and each page is peppered with ink splatters. The effect serves to show how quickly and drastically the world has gone to @#$%. The stakes are high, the heroes are beaten down the bad guys are closing in. The art does an excellent job capturing that mood and supporting the narrative.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Well, that certainly ended

I give Secret Avengers #37 two and a half stars—if you’ve been reading Remender’s run, then see it through. If you haven’t, then this ending shouldn’t put you off catching the trades, but doesn’t make it a must-read either.

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Rating: ★★½☆☆

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