Sunday, July 1, 2012

These AVENGERS: No Longer A Best Kept SECRET

 

In my opinion SECRET AVENGERS is the best of a slew of Marvel books featuring THE AVENGERS in one form or another.  If you only read one AVENGERS title a month, this should be the one.  Rick Remender took over the writing chores as of Issue #22 and has breathed new life into this title.  It’s fun.  It’s entertaining.  The characters have a unique chemistry, sometimes volatile.  It’s good stuff!

Flashback to 2010 in the aftermath of SECRET INVASION, DARK AVENGERS and SEIGE – just as the HEROIC AGE begins.  A new AVENGERS title is announced - - - SECRET AVENGERS - - - written by the great Ed Brubaker (who thrilled with his work on DAREDEVIL and CAPTAIN AMERICA) and featuring a new team led by Steve Rogers, Super-Soldier.  I really looked forward to this debut.

I wasn’t very excited after reading a few issues.  The mix of team members didn’t seem right.  They didn’t seem to relate to each other well.  The conflicts and plots were not holding my attention.  I kept buying the issues and stock-piling them in hopes that things would improve.  Finally, Dave at Captain Blue Hen expressed his thoughts that SECRET AVENGERS was an over-looked Marvel title and encouraged me to write about it.  I was eager to re-visit the book so I went back to my inventory and read through the first story arc and well into the second storyline.  Nothing had changed for me.  I wasn’t feeling very warm about this title.  I told Dave that I had to decline -- as I prefer to write only about books that I truly feel are worthwhile and also need some more attention. 

Even a change in writers failed to prompt my return.  Nick Spencer took the title through the FEAR ITSELF cycle with SECRET AVENGERS #12.1 through #15;  and Warren Ellis took over the scripts beginning with Issue #16.  Although I admire and enjoy the work of both of those writers I still stayed away.

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     It was Arthur Adams who enticed me to pick up this book again,  with the great cover art on SECRET AVENGERS #22.  I was a little disappointed after flipping through the pages and not seeing Adams on the interior art, but the prospect of a brand new team and the writing skills of Rick Remender were encouraging enough to give it a second chance.  I bought it.  Wow!

     SECRET AVENGERS #22  (April 2012)  Rick Remender, writer.  Gabriel Hardman, artist.  Bettie Breitweiser, color artist.  Chris Eliopoulos, letterer.

     “New Life” indeed.  I think I have read this particular issue almost five times by now and I still get enjoyment each time.  Remender doesn’t waste any time with extra-long explanations here and opens many new doors of exploration simultaneously.

     It took me awhile to adjust and accept the transition between the styles of cover artist Adams and interior artist Hardman. Hardman’s work doesn’t have the same kind of flash but it grows on you. The best description I can think of is a blend of Alex Maleev and Don Heck (from the early early Avengers days!). 

By protecting her infant son from a terrorist bomb in Pakistan, a mother exhibits unusual abilities/powers and draws the attention of a secret empire-building organization who call out their sleeper cell agents (“adaptoids”) to collect the budding “descendant”.  This energy signature also draws the attention of the Lighthouse monitors and prompts Captain America to dispatch the Secret Avengers to investigate.  The new team is led by Hawkeye and includes Captain Britain, Black Widow, Beast, Valkyrie and Ant-Man. 

There’s an amusing and awkward moment when Captain Britain assumes he has been recruited to be the leader of the team and begins his acceptance speech only to be cut off by a brash and cocky Hawkeye. Already things begin to boil.  Others members crack jokes at others expense or tease and cajole. But it’s chemistry, even though it may get explosive, and they mesh like a team albeit a little dysfunctional.  My only quibble is that the miniaturized headquarters and the Pym-portation technology used to get the members inside reminds me suspiciously of a similar set-up in DC’s FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E.

Their very first mission doesn’t end admirably, with the Adaptoids making off with the prize. In the concluding pages we see who is pulling the strings and it’s a roundtable of familiar faces (from both sides of the fence). Are they the real McCoy or imitations?  It’s nice to end with a mystery.

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SECRET AVENGERS #23 (April 2012) same creative team as Issue #22, with cover by Adams  “A Victory For The Little Guy”

SECRET AVENGERS #24 (May 2012) same creative team as Issue #22, with cover by Adams  “Core Beliefs”

SECRET AVENGERS #25 (June 2012) same creative team as Issue #22, with cover by Adams  “Grandfather Clause”

Those covers are fantastic!  Oh, if only Adams could be persuaded to draw an issue once in awhile!

“I’m just a dirt bag hoping if he helps enough people, maybe, someday, he can look himself in the mirror again.”  Remender tells us a lot about the current Ant-Man (who has hitched an undetected ride on an adaptoid escaping with the abducted mother and son) in just four panels.  These quick capsule glimpses of team members helps build the characterization and interest without interrupting the action. Nicely done. The roster of villains grows as we learn that Deathstrike and other Reavers are also present in the “Core” of “Home”. 

Back at the Lighthouse Beast and Henry Pym banter back and forth in friendly jibes, but at the core is Beast’s fear that Pym could create another evil robot (ala Ultron).  Cap seeks more help and recruits both Jim Hammond (the original android Human Torch) and Flash Thompson (Venom).  Although Hawkeye has a temper tantrum as he doesn’t feel Thompson can control the symbiote Venom and decides to keep him out of the second mission. That obviously will change.

In Father, Remender has introduced a new intriguing villain and manages to make all his talk of superior godlike races and evolution sound less clichéd and familiar than it is. The Core is an entire city (also reached via teleportation) populated by the Descendants - - with “every citizen committed to one cause: Serve Father.  Protect the Core.  Kill all Avengers.” 

In a strange consequence, the Descendants react to the Human Torch’s rescue of a beaten-down Captain Britain with bows of worship as their “Grandfather.”   Those familiar roundtable faces turn out to be Doombots, Life Model Decoys, Sentinaughts, Reavers,  Androids and Adaptoids  - - all variations on synthetic life.  The matriarchal Father has called them all together not to consider their opinions, but to “give” them their opinions.

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My favorite lines occur while Hawkeye tries to stop the bleeding of a serious-wounded Beast. Hawkeye to Beast:  “Listen. Don’t die, Hank.  It’ll make me look horrible. . . . And . . I’m sorry I screamed at you before, okay?”  Beast’s response is:  “N-not your fault - - overcompensating - - for never being seen as A-list.”

The Human Torch has a confrontation with an cyborg  Miss America who addresses him as a “Messiah, the first of our people” and shares with him their history, beginning during the Cold War as scientists (“Brother”, “Mother”, and “Father”) sought to create an army of controllable androids using a blend of science and magic.

The first story arc ends with a minor success for the Secret Avengers. They escape with the boy, but not the mother. However, Jim Hammond has been altered (can’t say anymore than that) and it appears he’s not the only member who changed.   This is a really nice beginning to Remender’s run on this title.  I hope to see more of the Descendants and the Core.

 

SECRET AVENGERS #26 (June 2012)  Rick Remender, writer.  Renato Guedes, artist.  Bettie Breitweiser & Matthew Wilson, color art.  Chris Eliopoulos, letterer.  Alan Davis, Mark Farmer & Laura Martin, cover art.   Avengers Vs. X-Men tie-in

SECRET AVENGERS #27  (July 2012) same creative team as Issue #26, including cover artists  “Operation Phoenix: Part 2 -  Sacred Ground”

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The roster page for Issue #26 shows a completely different group, with the only common members being Beast, Valkyrie and Captain Britain.  They are joined by Thor, Ms. Marvel, Protector, War Machine and The Vision.  This issue is central to the AVENGERS VS. X-MEN min-series in that it details the special team dispatched to space to try and head off and halt the coming of the Phoenix Force. It’s also important in that another plot thread is unraveled, one detailing the Kree’s involvement and use of the M’Kraan Crystal. 

There is a nice interlude with a boisterous Thor trying to persuade a reserved Captain Britain to get drunk and rowdy with him. 

The art work of Renato Guedes is a lot easier to go down.  It’s a somewhat unique style, like a metamorphosis of Mobius and Jim Starlin.  It’s very appropriate then, that this story has a cosmic theme.

The Avengers team fails to stop the Phoenix.  Thor, War Machine and Captain Britain are injured. The Kree succeed in getting the attention and re-direction of the Phoenix Force.  The Avengers divert their ship to Hala, where they hope to get help for their injured.  The Protector and Ms. Marvel seem to have a strange alliance.  And here comes the latest version of  - - - Captain Marvel (aka Mar-Vell).   Remender deserves some credit  - - he jumped right into the Avengers Vs. X-Men melee – added an interesting side-story to the proceedings and kept this just as entertaining as the last four issues.

RATING FOR SECRET AVENGERS #26 - - - - FIVE STARS  (all criteria met)

The events in SECRET AVENGERS #27 take place before the outcomes in THE AVENGERS #26-27.

Thor and Captain Britain continue to bond, this time as Thor consoles a remorseful Braddock.  But there’s dissension in the ranks as the new all-powerful Captain Marvel with two loyalists savagely attack the Avengers. And one loyalist seems to deeply love him.  Something occurs in the general populace of Hala that stirs some memories in Mar-vell as if to imply that he may not be totally under the control of the Supreme Intelligence.

RATING FOR SECRET AVENGERS #27 - - - - - FIVE STARS  (this seems essential to the main story)

SECRET AVENGERS #28  (August 2012)  Rick Rememder, writer.  Renato Guedes, artist. Matthew Wilson with Jeremy Mohler, color artists.  Chris Eliopoulos.  Alan Davis, Mark Farmer & Laura Martin, cover art.   This story also takes place before the events of THE AVENGERS #26-27.

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     Captain Mar-Vell realizes he’s been listening to the wrong crowd and moving in the wrong direction, just as the Phoenix Force arrives on Hala. Most of Hala has been influenced by another Marvel - - Minster Marvel - - who misguidedly seeks to atone for the disgrace of the Marvel family honor. Remender does a fantastic job of making us understand this fanatic (through his short speech)  without agreeing with him. Well done.

     A lot of heroes step up to the plate in a moment of pure valor, ready to risk everything to halt the Phoenix Force.  Only one succeeds with dire consequences.  Hala is saved, but the Phoenix Force moves forward.   A lot happens in the final pages of this issue.  Remender handles it with tact, sincerity and does it in concise fashion.  If you have any attachment at all to some of these characters, you will be moved.  It is a fine piece of powerful story-telling.

     Make Mine Remender.

     RATING FOR SECRET AVENGERS #28 - - FIVE STARS (a hat-trick)

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