by Jonathan Hickman (writer), Alessandro Vitti (art), Sunny Gho (colors), and Dave Lanphear (letters)

The Story: The kids get stuck in front of Norman, Hawkeye, and Ares.

What’s Good: This month’s issue in the always solid Secret Warriors was a bit of a jump in quality from last month’s book, and that’s largely due to two big surprises.

First off is Norman Osborn/Dark Reign’s presence.  Often cringe-worthy whenever he shows up to disrupt a book, Hickman writes him amazingly well and manages to load Osborn’s scenes with such a malevolent intensity, that it seeps off the page.  Norman’s monologue to Nick Fury about his rise and Nick’s respective fall pinpointed what Dark Reign should be about and this scene really showed the potential that this status quo can have, if used properly.  Osborn was fantastic, written perfectly, and his presence actually enhanced a book for once.

The second surprise is Alessandro Vitti’s art.  Vitti still isn’t Casselli, but he felt a lot more comfortable this month, feeling more consistent in style and detail.  Sunny Gho’s change of heart aids this significantly.  Last month, it felt like Gho had worked the colors to make Vitti’s art as similar to Casselli’s as possible, which invited unflattering comparisons and ultimately exposed Vitti’s weaknesses.  This month, Gho actually adds colors more appropriate to Vitti’s style, and the book is the better for it.  Gone is the gloss and sheen, and in its place is a lot of darkness and shadow, making this feel like more of a cloak-and-dagger spy comic than the all-out action of Casselli’s arc.  As such, Vitti’s work finally manages to shine on its own, working with the more subdued, less action-intensive story, while evoking a different sort of Japanese/anime influence.

The other big hit this month is Phobos.  It’s always great to see a character, especially a kid character, act like a badass and show his superpowered muscle.  His interplay with his father, Ares, was also well-done.  Hickman avoids any possible overwriting and goes minimalist, making the interaction between the two speak volumes as a result.

Outside of Phobos, we also get some solid character moments and promising new issues for the Caterpillars and a mandatory “Nick Fury is a badass” scene.

What’s Not So Good: It’s better and he’s standing on his own, but Vitti’s art still isn’t perfect.  While he hits far more than he misses, this is particularly noticeable in some of his facial expressions, which can feel a bit off, strange even.

There’s also the Nick Fury scene.  While funny, this was so detached from the rest of the book, that I wondered how necessary it really was, aside from its fulfilling the need to have Fury in every issue of Secret Warriors.  Worse still, it felt a little too stretched out and decompressed.

Conclusion: This book is at its best when the kids are at the forefront, as they are this month.  Though still not perfect, Vitti is also coming into his own.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans