Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Luke Ross
Color Art by Matthew Wilson with Lee Loughridge (Marvel Now! Point One #1)
Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover art by Adi Granov (Marvel Now! Point 1 #1), Tomm Coker & Daniel Freedman (1-4) and Nic Klein (5)
Published by Marvel
There’s a moral fluidity to a good spy story that makes it read like nothing else on Earth. If you’re interested in the field, and you haven’t read it, track down John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. It’s dated but it’s still one of the all-time greats. From there you’ll find your way back to the other George Smiley books. In fact, start with the Gary Oldman-fronted Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It’s a stunning cast (Including a certain Mr Cumberbatch) and a great introduction to that series.
From there you’ll spiral out in any number of different directions. Odds are you’ll bounce off Steve Mosby and Jeremy Duns’ books, as well you should because they’re amazing. You’ll also hit the weird, pseudo-existential espionage action movie Ronin and the Greg Rucka-scripted comic series Queen and Country. That, the story of the three ‘Minders’, the agents who do the dirty work for British Intelligence, is one of the best pieces of espionage fiction ever written. It’s also a fascinating counterpart to Spooks, or MI:5 as it was known in the US. Similar subject mattered, unique approaches.
Every single title I quoted up there is fantastic. This run of Secret Avengers can legitimately stand next to them.
The basic idea is simple and remarkably horrid; SHIELD have developed technology that selectively wipes the minds of those it’s implanted with. They can call on these people, brief and deploy them and then when the mission’s done, wipe their minds. These Avengers don’t know they’re Avengers, the perfect deniable assets in a world that requires deniable action.
The team is led by Nick Fury (Actually the original Fury’s son, just roll with it) and consists of Hawkeye, Black Widow and Mockingbird. They’re run by Maria Hill, acting director of SHIELD and Daisy Johnson, her eventual replacement. Logistical support is provided by one agent Phil Coulson.
Yes. That Coulson.
The presence of the single greatest thing to come out of the Marvel movies would be recommendation enough, but Spencer continually folds SHIELD, and these heroes, into fascinating new shapes. The Reverie code, the device that wipes their minds is actually used on the book itself at one point and the reader is carefully positioned to have as a few answers as the characters do. He also never loses sight of that moral fluidity, especially with regard to AIM, the book’s lead villains. Their establishment of a nation state not only changes the game but neatly echoes the seminal Larry Hama work on GI Joe in the ‘80s, arguably the first great run of western espionage comics. There are no easy answers here and whilst the characters have tremendous power, they have almost no knowledge to back it up. Hard choices are made in every chapter and the ease with which those choices are made tells you a lot about the people making them. That’s perfectly summed up in chapter 5, featuring a cameo appearance by the Hulk and one of the single smartest, nastiest uses of him I’ve ever seen.
Time and time again, the book takes established pieces of Marvel lore and looks at them new ways. Tony Stark’s guest appearance is a perfect example, managing to do something new with him whilst not over-writing any of the 19 other books he’s appearing in right now. Even better, Spencer constantly takes old characters and finds fun new things to do with them. Taskmaster hasn’t been this much fun since the Gail Simone run on Deadpool and Agent X whilst Mentallo may have never been this much fun before. Ever.
The book’s slick, fun and very nasty and that’s clearly the work of the entire team. Luke Ross’s shadowy artwork fits the mood of the book and balances character, implication and detail beautifully. The work Spencer, Ross and Mathew Wilson have done with AIM in particular is amazing. The ‘beekeepers’ have never looked more sinister, or martial than they do here. Lee Loughridge’s colour work on the Marvel Now! Preview included here is also worthy of note, setting the visual tone for the series very well. Clayton Cowles, as ever, produces lettering that works in service of the book perfectly.
Secret Avengers is the perfect combination of slick and nasty, a morally fluid story about people doing what they hope is the right thing. The Avengers books in general are on an absolute tear at the moment but this one is the real standout. Intelligent, ambitious and reading like nothing else on the market, it’s a look at the dark side of SHIELD, and the Marvel universe, you absolutely cannot miss.