by Jonathan Hickman (writer), Stefano Caselli (art), Daniele Rudoni (colors), and Dave Lanphear (letters)

The Story: The Caterpillars join the battle between the Howling Commandos, HYDRA, and HAMMER.  Meanwhile, HYDRA takes possession of a mysterious box.

What’s Good: Whelp, the Caterpillars are back and I’m a happy man. Some might say that there isn’t enough time spent on individual character development, but for Hickman, that time isn’t necessarily needed. One conversation later between Daisy and Fury, and Daisy grows exponentially as a character. Even when characters only get a single line here and there, Hickman does the most with those little bubbles. His grasp of his characters is so solid, that even isolated, seemingly throwaway lines carry unique personality.

Of course, one character that no one can complain about is Nick Fury himself. The mastery over Fury’s voice never fails to impress with its grit and nuance, a heady mix of salt, vinegar, and dry-as-vermouth humor.  Whether he’s disarming a whole mess of HAMMER troops or giving Daisy a reality check, Hickman has created a Fury that you both love and respect; and that’s exactly the way it should be. For these reasons, the afore mentioned conversation with Daisy is a highpoint; when he compliments her, it truly resonates, yet as always, Nick Fury always knows more than you do, whether you’re a member of his team or a reader of his book.

It would have been all too easy for Hickman to make this issue entirely devoted to the battle, but that would be far too straightforward  for this spybook.  While giving adrenaline junkies the fix they need, Hickman also provides further mysteries with a new, now HYDRA-owned artifact. The artifact continues the trend in this book of things always being bigger than they seem, or at least of there always being something bigger/worse looming around the corner.  As big as the battle is, there’s always something else going on behind the scenes that’s scarier than what you’re looking at.  And as for the ending of the book?  Let’s just say that my jaw just about hit the floor while my eyebrows hit the ceiling.

It’s hard to give Stefano Caselli and Daniele Rudoni enough praise for their work on Secret Warriors. It’s obvious that Caselli’s work is that of a perfectionist, with its level of detail, heavy inks, and distinct without being overwhelming Japanese influences. I  love Caselli’s action scenes, which are fluid, dynamic, and hard-hitting and, thanks to Rudoni, serve as a brightly lit contrast to the dark, greyed out scenes in the bowels of Fury’s base.  This is the best looking book Marvel is currently putting out, and this issue provides further proof of that argument.

What’s Not So Good: I guess the only complaint I have is not getting more frames of seeing the Helicarriers in action or really getting any idea at all of the impact they had on the battle.  Their activation is meant to be a moment that turns the tide of the battle, and yet we don’t really see their weapony in action, or at least their effect.  A couple more frames would’ve been nice.

Conclusion: Forget Dark Avengers, this is the real blockbuster.

Grade: A-

-Alex Evans