Nick Spencer took a shaky premise and has delivered one of the best under-the-radar hits since either the Marvel NOW renumbering. The trio of Hawkeye, Nick Fury, Jr., and Black Widow infiltrate the newly formed, and UN sanctioned, AIM Island in order to perform the politically dodgy move of assassinating their leader. The presence of superpowers ensures that a book like this can never truly be “real-world” in terms of it’s politics, but this issue gets about as close as it can to that level. It’s also very, very interesting to see Hawkeye being the odd man out on the team as he as a strict non-lethal policy that neither Black Widow nor Nick Fury, Jr. share and this becomes a source of some major conflict throughout the issue. Spencer has truly made this the book that Secret Avengers always should have been: an Avengers version of Wolverine’s X-Force. Covert and lethal.
Luke Ross and Matthew Wilson tackle the black and white and colors respectively and, as much as I’ve enjoyed their work on past issues, this one really shines because of the sheer amount of dynamism required of them on these issues. From the more subdued, low-key moments of the heroes catching their breath, to the raw tension of the moments before a shot is taken, and the controlled intensity that erupts when everything goes wrong, the panels and pages are controlled but never subdued. Even the diplomacy becomes interesting in their hands.
Every now and then a panel goes a little over-the-top, especially with the faces, but ESPECIALLY with Maria Hill’s face. She appears near the end of the issue, and while she mostly looks fine, she occasionally looks like she’s full-on screaming at someone when the dialog does not match that intensity. Additionally, the idea that Hawkeye would join this team, knowing full well what their main objectives are, with no intention of using lethal force toes the line of being ruinously poor judgement on Barton’s part. I get that he’s not exactly known for his amazing decision-making skills, but it is at times difficult to see why he’s on the team.
This book teases that things are not at all what they seem and that the next issue will touch more on the events of it, and that’s a good thing because it’s an issue that ends with an excellent, if somewhat baffling, twist. I’m hoping the explanation is something other than what is obvious (sorry to be vague, but I’m tip-toeing around some major spoilers) but based on Spencer’s track record, things will only get more intriguing from here. This remains a premiere book for anyone looking for a superhero book that behaves more like a spy book and is a great example of how far the superhero genre can be stretched and still remain both firmly entrenched in a world of fantasy, but also one of grounded reality. The occasional artistic trip-up, and somewhat nebulous character reasonings, absolutely don’t keep this book from being a recommendation to anyone looking for something a little different from their mainstream Marvel book.