I wasn’t sure what to make of this new Secret Avengers. I had loved all the previous incarnations of it (especially Warren Ellis’) and while Remender may have strayed from the “secret” in Secret Avengers, his story was still deeply character driven and thrilling. The first issue of this new series was extremely by-the-numbers, and worse yet: took its main plotline and setting from the Avengers movie. Don’t mistake, I love the movie, but I truly think the books should inform the movies, not the other way around. To be completely fair, the first issue ALSO had a remarkable twist at the end that immediately redeemed the rest of the issue. The second issue featured Taskmaster and so was completely above my judgement, by which I mean I enjoyed it greatly, so after such a roller-coaster of quality I wasn’t sure what to expect in issue 3. I need not have worried.
We get to see Nick Fury (Jr.) rubbing elbows with some very powerful politicians alongside SHIELD acting director Daisy Johnson, whose role in the Marvel U has vacillated between one of the strongest metahumans in existence and a footnote in larger storylines, as they attempt to wheel and deal through an international defense expo. Seeing more of Daisy is always welcome, particularly when she's written this well. The banter between them is great, and we get to see the kind of man that Nick Fury (Jr.) is: he might be ruthless and dedicated to the job, but he doesn’t have to like it. Likewise Daisy gets fleshed out and gets to express some anger at still not being taken seriously, despite being acting director of SHIELD, because of her age.
While this goes on, Hawkeye, Black Widow and Mockingbird (having a little fun with her ex) maneuver through the tricky espionage of finding out exactly what’s happening on AIM Island in the wake of a massive AIM ship falling out of the sky. They're led in the field by the recently introduced Agent Coulson. What they find on the island could have startling ramifications to the Agent and his role in the Marvel U. If this reads like a plot summary, it’s only because I actually very much enjoyed the plot of this issue. We’re back to much, much more intimate, low-key spy stories that Secret Avengers should be about. There are a LOT of threads introduced here by writer Nick Spencer, and I can’t wait seeing the ends of each and every one.
If Nick Spencer’s writing is perfectly suited to the title, I can’t say enough good about Luke Ross’ art. From the star-spangled suit of armor that makes its return in this issue to the fluid, animated action scenes, Ross’ art is just understated enough while ramping up the action when it’s needed.
It’s a fanboyish complaint, but I really don’t like the movie characters bleeding into the comics universe. SHIELD already had plenty of named agents that could have easily stood in for Agent Coulson, who seems to only be here to give movie fans someone to latch onto...except that movie fans don’t generally read comics, so the whole thing reads as a little desperate. I feel similarly about the changing of the Nick Fury character to cinema Fury as HE was already based on the Ultimates in the movie, making the whole thing feel redundant. It’s almost a nitpick and I’m sure I’ll get over it as long as the series continues to be this fascinating, but for the time being it rings of hollow appeasement to an audience that barely exists.
My (perhaps irrational) quibbles aside, this is still a great issue. I’m definitely feeling more of the Warren Ellis/Ed Brubaker “spycraft with superheroes” tone this time around and I hope it continues. Excellent writing coupled with great art makes this easy to recommend to anyone looking for a superhero story with fewer superpowers and a bit more finesse.